Object Lesson

Mr. Spit and I were driving home from work last night, and on the radio news, we heard a pastor, commenting about a member of his flock killed tragically in North Dakota yesterday. The week before, the congregation had prayed over the family asking for safe travel. The pastor took a deep breath, and remarked that he would have to preach this Sunday about when God doesn’t answer our prayers.

And Mr. Spit and I looked at each other. That’s a hard question. That’s a hard sermon. That’s a hard sell.
*****
I was reading a story in Christianity Today, about a man that lost his job. As the sole breadwinner in the family, this was bit of a crisis. And the wife talked about running out of church when the pastor prayed for those looking for work. Suddenly she was the victim. She wasn’t the strong, capable one, she needed prayer. And she wasn’t ok with this. She wasn’t ok with being broken.

Tragedy is the great equalizer. Oh, you can say it’s getting sick or losing your job, or death, but no. Actually, it’s tragedy. What makes those other events awful is their tragic nature. A lack of independence, a life cut short, financial worries and woes. A loss of identity.

And tragedy is a funny thing. Because, really, sooner or later, it comes to all of us. It’s part of the human experience. My tragedy is visible, and visibly not with me. Don’t think that Mr. Spit and I don’t see the pitying looks, almost 2 years after Gabe’s death, when I have no swelling stomach. Don’t think we don’t see how people hide from us on Mother’s Day and Father’s day, and don’t think we haven’t had a conversation with someone who was patently pregnant and refused to mention it. Gabriel is my tragedy, and an inability to have another child, the reality that a dead child looks to be our only child, well, that’s obvious. You can point to it, and pity us, if you are so inclined. We are, visibly, broken.

But tragedy that open and acknowledged, tragedy, when we stare it in the face, and proclaim that it is undeserved, the effects of evil, that is tragedy that loses its power. Bringing things into light removes some of their pain, removes the isolation and in removing the isolation, removes some of the sorrow. And as a church, we seem to be spectacularly poor at making tragedy visible. I’ve had many a conversation with Julia, and I think she’s hit at least part of the issue on the head. We Christians have the Resurrection. And the Resurrection is the most profound part of us. In my darkest hours, I have recited the words of Job.

And as for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and he will stand upon the earth at last. And after my body has decayed, yet in my body I will see God. I will
see him for myself, yes I will see him with my own eyes. I am overwhelmed with
the thought. (Job 19:25,26)

I don’t think there is a more commanding description of the power of the resurrection in the Bible. Without reducing that power, I assure you when you are crushed by pain, the Resurrection isn’t the answer. We Christians rush in to pet hands and tell people of the Resurrection, the cornerstone of our faith. And we assume, because the dead aren’t truly dead, because death has been defeated, that there is no more tragedy. We insist there is no problem that Christ has not already overcome. Even unto death, and we pound our pulpits. And yet. Merely because something is true does not mean it is the answer. The Resurrection isn’t the answer to the pain of tragedy. In fact, it’s not even the question. The Resurrection is the future, and as David so eloquently points out, the pain is now. David frames the question the right way:

O Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever? How long will you look the other way? How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul, with sorrow in my heart
every day? Turn and answer me, Oh Lord my God! Restore the sparkle to my eyes, or I will surely die. (Psalm 13: 1-3)

And we wonder why the broken are silent and hidden in our churches. Because we are giving the wrong answer to the wrong question. We wonder why our churches are declining. No one attends. Churches aren’t relevant, the world around us proclaims. And when we give the wrong answer to the wrong question, they are right, we aren’t relevant.

Remember what I said at the start. Tragedy is the great equalizer. Because it comes to all of us. We all experience it. My tragedy, our tragedy is Gabriel, and infertility. My neighbour’s husband died suddenly – a widow at 37. My other neighbour has been away from his home country and family, for 40 years. He cannot go back to North Korea.

The church is made for the broken. The scriptures don’t just tell us to be mindful of the broken, they tell us, over and over we are broken. We are broken before we are born, and it is only through God that we will ever know any healing. But, and this is a big but, knowing God doesn’t guarantee a tragedy free life. Instead, he exhorts us to be a community that lives amidst tragedy. The Ressurection isn’t the answer, the love of God that caused the Resurrection is.

So, on Sunday a pastor will talk about when God doesn’t answer our prayers. Really, what he will talk about is tragedy. The great equalizer.

Amen.

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16 Responses to Object Lesson

  1. Mr. Spit says:

    Amen.

  2. Trish says:

    Found myself nodding through the whole post. Very profound.

  3. Shinejil says:

    Wow. Thank you for this.

  4. Debra She Who Seeks says:

    I agree that the Christian promise of Resurrection is the wrong answer to the wrong question. But if the answer is Divine Love, doesn't that beg the question? Then we're right back at "why do bad things happen to good people?" (Or "why do good things happen to bad people," for that matter).

  5. Sigrun says:

    Well said. If you don't mind, I will send our priests this bloglink.

  6. Brown Owl says:

    Amen.

  7. ScientistMother says:

    profound. harsh. true. you amaze me

  8. Aunt Becky says:

    Amen.

  9. Sue says:

    Despite her infertility and loss, and the resulting pain, my sister says, "Why *not* me?" She is not religious; indeed, she is an atheist. And yet this reminds me of Hillel in the Talmud (though I am not religious, either) who says, "If not me, who?" I believe this is more in relation to changing the world, taking responsibility for making it a better place. But I think it relates, somehow.

    My sister's question comforts her, somewhat — she is not being singled out. As you say, no one is immune to tragedy, and she recognizes this.

    Perhaps this is also where compassion comes from. We will all suffer at some point. How would we like others to respond to our crisis?

    Thank you for this post.

  10. Heidi says:

    I've never thought of it as God not answering prayers, but as God just not giving us the answer we were hoping for.

    (and I am no longer religious, so I don't know if my thought really counts.)

  11. Martha says:

    Amen.

    I think my spirituality and faith has demanded of me and taught me the question no longer matters, It Just Is. My lesson is to learn to Just Be.

    We are all broken because each one of us has loved something, lost something, and feared something. For dead baby parents, it's unfortunately the perfect storm of all three.

    I love my brokenness, it gives me a unlimited capacity for love and caring, compassion too. That's the light that it lets in for me.

    Baruch Adenoi Elehenu
    Blessed Art You, O God of the Universe, Please send Shalom to Mr. and Mrs.Spit

  12. JamieD says:

    That you so much for sharing. What an amazing post from an amazing writer.

    You have given me so much to think about.

  13. Sunny says:

    Beautifully said.

  14. Candid Engineer says:

    God bless you, Mrs. Spit. May you and your husband continue to heal.

  15. Bluebird says:

    Amen indeed.

  16. Tash says:

    Sometimes I think when lessons like this get glossed over, what superiors are in fact saying is "Don't feel. Don't bother!" And that goes for pain or joy. And I think that's kinda demeaning and sad.

    This is an awesome post.

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