Tag Archives: suffering

Lent Day #25 | Mourning

In Psalm 30 we find one of the most raw and transparent reflections David ever penned. In it we see him praising God for his faithfulness in both discipline and in blessing. For David, the relationship he valued with God contained the possibility of both sides of the spectrum of love. God’s love includes both of these realities. As a matter of fact, I believe David would argue they are necessary if we are to claim fellowship with God as a father.

Let’s take just a moment and go through the Psalm.

1 I will extol thee, O Lord; for thou hast lifted me up, and hast not made my foes to rejoice over me. 2 O Lord my God, I cried unto thee, and thou hast healed me. 3 O Lord, thou hast brought up my soul from the grave: thou hast kept me alive, that I should not go down to the pit. 4 Sing unto the Lord, O ye saints of his, and give thanks at the remembrance of his holiness. 5 For his anger endureth but a moment; in his favour is life: weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning. 6 And in my prosperity I said, I shall never be moved. 7 Lord, by thy favour thou hast made my mountain to stand strong: thou didst hide thy face, and I was troubled. 8 I cried to thee, O Lord; and unto the Lord I made supplication. 9 What profit is there in my blood, when I go down to the pit? Shall the dust praise thee? shall it declare thy truth? 10 Hear, O Lord, and have mercy upon me: Lord, be thou my helper. 11 Thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing: thou hast put off my sackcloth, and girded me with gladness; 12 To the end that my glory may sing praise to thee, and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks unto thee for ever. (KJV)

What I find interesting is how David accepts as a given the reality of suffering in the human experience. It seems David was not thrown off by the fact of suffering and what it produces–mourning. Mourning is the sorrow we feel as we come to grips with the reality of our situation. As we process what has happened and we move into life with a different set of assumptions than we had before. Life after divorce, betrayal, death, depression. Life in the new normal.

Dancing into Morning, Psalm 30

As I read these words this morning I was struck by another assumption by the psalmist. This mourning we all must walk through is temporary. It is not supposed to last forever. Not because the pain has gone away, mind you. Rather, the reason it does not last is due to God’s ability to take what we have lost or has been taken from us and turn it for our good (Romans 8:28). Not all the events of our lives are good, but God can turn them toward good. He takes the tattered remains of our brokenness and reorganizes and reestablishes and recreates so we are no longer what we used to be.

David gives us insight into the nature of hope through our mourning not in spite of it. The shepherd-king is so sure of God’s transforming and redeeming promise he says, “Thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing: thou hast put off my sackcloth, and girded me with gladness.” It don’t know about you, but I desire for this to be how I live out my fellowship with God. When God leads in the dance called life, where we begin and where we end will seem like a dream that has come true.

Book Review | “The Bishop of Rwanda”

bishop-of-rwanda
DISCLAIMER: While I understand that this is one man’s retelling of the events, I will engage and comment based on the good faith effort of the author to represent the events he related.

There are few times that I can remember when I have read a book and been moved by its content. The Bishop of Rwanda by Bishop John Rucyahana is one of those books. It truly is not for the faint of heart. The gut wrenching, horrific events described (sometimes in graphic detail) are terrible to imagine and even more tormenting to the heart to know that other human beings endured. With the precision of a historian and the compassion of a pastor, Bishop John diagnoses the multiple streams that led to the murder of close to 800,000 of the nearly 1.2 million total Tutsis killed. Think of it for just a moment. The following description helps to put in perspective what that means.

“The typhoon of madness that swept through the country between April 7 and the third week of May accounted for 80 percent of the victims of the genocide. That means about eight hundred thousand people were murdered during those six weeks, making the daily killing rate at least five times that of the Nazi death camps.” [Kindle Location 1626]

The shear horror that was endured by the Tutsis and those who stood for and with them could not even be portrayed in film, described on paper or evoked through words. There is simply no way of understanding the full fledged depravity of the genocide. I would read descriptions of what happened and catch myself shaking my head at what I had just read. I know that we are almost two decades removed from the events Bishop John described, but there is a freshness to it all.

There are two aspects of the book that were particularly poignant. The first was the historical overview of what took place in Rwanda on a national-political level. The picture painted of the “imperialist” and colonial nations of Belgium and France are so unflattering as to be caricatures. The problem is that the truth will many times be unflattering and down right scathing. If even a portion of what was done by outside nations was done to Rwanda it reveals the tendency of the Western, first world nations to attempt to get away with whatever they can. The misconduct of the international community in the events leading up the genocide are not only deplorable, they are reprehensible. The intellectuals of the west failed to see the barbarism that was being unleashed in a small African country. The western world needs to look in the mirror and stop acting in such a duplicitous manner.

The second aspect of the book that stood out was the reality that what took place in the hearts and minds of the perpetrators of these crimes against humanity was of a spiritual nature first. Bishop John is quick to recognize the demonic currents underlying what took place among the general population. Even if those who killed were not motivated by hatred, to be carried along with the wave requires a kind of acquiescence to the spiritual forces at work. There is no doubt in Bishop John’s mind that the reason the effects of the propaganda and fear was so far reaching was because there was not true conversion among many who claimed to be Christian. The most disgusting of the acts enacted, and that go to the heart of my identity as a clergy person, were those of the religious leaders who became accomplices to the murders, sometimes even participating in them. It just doesn’t make sense!

As I finished the book and read of the changes that have come to Rwanda I was shocked to see that reconciliation was at the heart of the healing process. The programs and efforts by those who suffered and those who caused the suffering to reunite the nation were impressive and awe inspiring. Over and over again the reality of repentance and of forgiveness were put on display. Probably the greatest lesson that I will take away from reading The Bishop of Rwanda will be that forgiveness is a power designed by God himself. I leave you with the following insight forged in the crucible of suffering and pain.

“Forgiving something does not make the forgiven act less horrible, but it does break the power that act holds over you. The truth is that those who don’t forgive are dying from their unforgiveness. The bitterness eats them up. When you forgive, you are healthier and more alive.” [Kindle Location 2262]

The Dark Night Rises In Colorado

If anyone needed a reminder of the reality of suffering and sin, we have seen another example this morning in the early hours of The Dark Knight Rises premier. Reports are still being clarified, but the alleged suspect arrived and threw a tear gas like gas in the theater and then proceed to fire an unknown number of weapons and rounds of ammunition. As of this writing twelve are reported dead and over forty injured in a variety of ways. As many may be asking at this point in the day, “What was the point?”

The sad truth is that there may never be an answer that will satisfy those of us that are wondering. There will never be an answer that will ease the pain of the loss of life. Events like this occur far too often, but it is not until a sensational event takes place, like the one this morning that our attentions are sharply drawn. I am frustrated by this. I am angry that this has happened again. But, some of my frustration and some of my anger is pointed at a culture that insists that it understands the deepest longings of the human heart, mind and soul. We have become so enlightened that we are more ignorant and more perverse than ever before.

I find it somewhat ironic that James Holmes, the suspect that was arrested, was released from the University of Colorado where he was a PH.D. student in neuroscience.

While I was finishing my undergraduate degree, I had to read The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera. It is an interesting tale of a man by the name of Tomáš. His defining characteristic is that he has an insatiable sexual appetite. And yet, he never seems to find any peace or satisfaction. Instead of finding a weightiness to his existence, Tomáš realizes that his being is unbearable light. There is no substance, no significance, nothing of value or worth to his life. As you read the book you find that it is not in the abundance of pleasure that you find meaning. This is the strange existential reality of life. While many of us who heard about this terrible event feel sorrow and mourn with those that have lost; and while we feel a righteous anger toward the one who committed these heinous acts, we eventually all turn our attentions inward.

We turn inward because we think about what we would have done if we had been there. We turn inward wondering how we would feel if we had been injured, known someone who died or second guessed our decision to get out without helping others. We turn inward because we all are faced with the undying and unrelenting question, “Am I doing anything with my life worth remembering?” This is a fundamental reality.

If we were honest with ourselves we would have to acknowledge the general self-centeredness of our lives. I hate to even admit it, but it is true. We more often than not are looking out for “good ole #1.” What do we have in our lives that helps us to counteract this? The only example we have is Jesus’ self-less love for sinners. Jesus died for those that deserved it least. We are the reason for his death and suffering and he is the reason for our life and joy.

Paul says it this way in Philippians 2:

5 Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, 7 but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. 9 Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (NKJV)

The mind of Christ, as Paul calls it describes the change that takes place within those who follow Jesus. This change affects everything that we do, especially how we see and respond to tragedies like the one that occurred this morning. I do not make any claims in knowing how Jesus would respond to this event. I do think that it would include sorrow, weeping and a desire to serve those affected.

A dark night rose last night. It just was not the one that everyone was looking forward to.

The Epistle of Joy and A Theology of Suffering

In the first chapter of Paul’s letter to the Philippians there is an interesting dichotomy developing. Paul gave thanks for what God was doing in his life and in the life of the believers in Philippi. He then turns his attention to what is happening to him. And what is that? He is in prison because of his preaching of the Gospel. He is doing exactly what God wants him to do and he gets thrown in jail.

There is no easy road to evangelism. It is paved with the rough stones of adversity. There is no beautiful scenery. There is only the destruction of sin and the carnage of willful disobedience. Jesus never promised that the task of communicating the message of salvation was going to be easy. Whenever we grumble that it isn’t we have not paid attention to what Jesus taught us on the matter.

There are several passages in the first chapter that truly reveal this paradox of faith. How can Paul write such encouragement when he is shackled to a wall or guard all day long? How can he rejoice because of his situation? I just doesn’t make sense. What are we missing that Paul seems to have understood?

Here are a few samples of what I mean.

It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.

12 I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel… 14 And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.

These three verses are Paul’s introduction to what he believed about his current state. He did not see being in jail and suffering as a concern. He was actually pleased at the effect that it was having on those around him. The entire guard had heard the Gospel, and many of the believers outside had been stirred to action as well. It really does challenge our modern, American sensibilities to think that going to jail for our faith is a good thing. But, Paul doesn’t stop there. He goes and says the following.

15  Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. 16 The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment.18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.

Paul knew that there are some people preaching the Gospel for the wrong reasons. They were out there for profit, for acclaim or, as Paul writes, to make it more difficult on Paul! Can you image that. You are sitting in prison and someone dislikes you so much that they are intentionally trying to make things worse. And yet, Paul looks past all of that and says that the reason is irrelevant to him because the truth is being proclaimed. Now, those preaching for the wrong reason will be held accountable, but God is so good that he will even use these wrong motives to accomplish his ultimate purpose.

But again, this is not the end of what Paul said. He continues.

19 for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance,20 as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. 

Really?! It is hard for you to decide whether you want to stay on earth or go to heaven? I sometimes wonder why we don’t talk like this? And then I realize that many of us are not willing to go where Paul went. Paul knew and understood something that many in the Western church have not learned to even acknowledge. I don’t know what it is exactly, but I believe that Paul’s commitment to the proclamation and spread of the Gospel had a lot to do with it. The power of evangelism to motivate and refocus the believer is largely lost in our day.

Here is Paul’s final salvo in the chapter 1.

29 For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake30 engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.

Paul really does lay out for us his theology here on the subject of suffering and the Gospel. There is a mysterious way in which our faith in Jesus will lead to some form of suffering. If we are not making any effort to spread the Gospel to those whom God sends along our journey, we will find no resistance. The intentional advancement of the Good News of Jesus is what causes friction between what we believe as followers of Jesus and what the world is leaning towards. We are not merely interested in propagating a religion. We want to produce fruit because of a relationship with Jesus the Savior.