Monday over Coffee: Raising our Hands

Need Some Words of Encouragement?


Raising our Hands

As this unusual school year gets fully underway, I was struck with an unusual thought. What if, as a student, I’d had the wherewithal to simply ask more questions? Back then, when my math teacher asked if the class fully understood how a particular equation was worked out, and I didn’t quite ‘get’ it, I’d never raise my hand to confess I was flummoxed by the concept at hand. I have a feeling in retrospect I wasn’t the only one.

While the sort of pain and tragedy we’re chiseling our way through right now can be traced back, to some degree, to various human mistakes and hubris, I feel obliged to raise my hand and say, “I still don’t get it. Why is all this happening?”

Genesis, Eden, Adam, Eve, apple, serpent — they all shed some light on the matter of suffering for us. However, notions of free will, sin, and brokenness don’t explain everything. There are storms. Injustice is diffused throughout the world and history in a way that most often bears little resemblance to what we conceptually think of as fair. The most vulnerable seem to get hurt worst — abused kids; hatred for the oppressed; the aged dying alone; the innocent suffering. That’s all to say, I think there’s still a lot of explaining to do. Maybe you feel like raising your hand right now too.

As a minister, people ask me about this sort of thing and I’m expected to give a good answer. What I usually encourage folks to do is bring their deepest lamentations, their rawest emotion, their most unvarnished honesty, and their hardest questions directly to God. And while I still think this is good advice, and in fact, sourced in Scripture — the Psalms in particular — I admit it sometimes sounds hollow, as if I’m saying, well, just pray about it super-hard. That’s not really what I mean — so let’s try this:

We often think, consciously or subconsciously, that God’s presence is announced in our lives based on our circumstances — in the lack of difficulty in our days; in our prosperity; in smooth seas all around. What undergirds this mostly errant thought is the very human desire to feel like we’re in control; that our obedience, goodness, and faith will somehow slip us karmically, contractually, into a successful relatively trouble-free life. This notion is grounded more in the tenets of insurance industry than in real life. What’s worse, it carries a mean whiplash, as when trouble arises, we begin intuitively to think it has happened because we didn’t exhibit enough faith. We’d never quite put it this way, but there’s something in the back of our heads pinging away a false message: If all’s going well, God must be thinking, ‘I’m pleased with you,’ but if things are not going well, God must be thinking, ‘I’m pulling up my stakes to move on to someone who actually has their life together.’

Christian Scharen is an author who writes about something called the theology of the cross. The cross, he posits, tells us that God tends to show up in the world, and in our lives, not typically in power, glory, prosperity, strength, and in winning — not from the sky, as it were, but instead, in all that’s symbolized in the cross, from the ground in a sense — in loss, in sorrow, in the rubble, and in the complicated, storm-driven moments like the one we’re working through right now. The cross readily acknowledges the yawning gap between how things are and how things are ‘supposed to be.’ It embraces the dissonance of history and hope, encouraging us toward that raw honesty and authenticity we all really yearn for in our relationship not only with God, but with each other.

When I raise my hand and ask God about suffering, what rings back to me as true is this: God’s most sacred work is usually hidden in the crosses we carry, and often God’s voice arises mysteriously in the midst of the storm. That’s all to say, I believe with all my heart, God is with you and me right now.

God—

I raise my hand and spurn the platitudes I often reach for in the midst of travail and instead reveal to you my questions and my deepest inner struggles. I pray the cross would shape and frame how I interpret all that’s before me. Help me to embrace the dissonance between my experience in this season and the hope my faith teaches — so that I may see Your work and find my part in it. I raise my hand. I raise my hand to find it. 
 
Amen.

—Greg Funderburk 


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