Friday, February 4, 2011

Where’s God When Life is a Mess?

Back in 1989-1990 I spent a year doing what's called a "residency" in Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) at Sutter hospital in Sacramento California.  CPE is training not only for becoming a chaplain, but really for being a pastor and walking with people through all of the traumas and troubles that come with life.  One woman, whose husband had suffered a severe heart attack and was on the verge of death, sticks out in my mind for the way her faith was rocked by her husband's illness.  Mary was a kind woman, in her early 50's, who had always been a dedicated catholic.  One afternoon, we stood in a long hallway that connected hospital wings, and talked.  She spoke of her fear regarding her husband's condition.  I asked her where she thought God was in all that was happening, and she replied something like this:
Mary: I don't know.  I don't suppose I've really thought about God much.  I've prayed, but that's about it.  I think of God as being very distant from all of this.  He's God of course, and he's far beyond all of this.
Me:  Hmm. Do you have questions for God, or are you frustrated or angry with him?  (Though I knew better, I'd often stick my foot in my mouth and "suggest" to people how I thought they might be feeling...)
Mary:  Angry or frustrated with God?  No.  That wouldn't be right.  You should never be angry with God.   
Me:  How do you talk to God, then?  What do you say when you're going through a time like this?  
Mary:  Well, I pray at church.  And my church worships only in Latin, so our prayers are in Latin and everything we do is in Latin. 
Me:  So you understand or speak Latin?  That's wonderful.  
Mary:  Oh no, I don't understand it at all.  
Me:  You don't understand it?  Then how do you know what's going on in worship and what's being said?
Mary:  I don't.  But I think that's how it should be.  It's so different.  I don't think we're supposed to understand it all, do you?  There's just something about being there with the stained glass, the incense, and the chants and prayers all in Latin.  It's so mysterious and holy to me.  That's what worship is.  

We talked more over the coming days.  I shared with Mary how God might be a lot closer than she realized, and how reading the bible in English might be a good way to know God personally.  She was intrigued by the idea, as if she'd never considered it before.  A tiny hunger for something more from her relationship with God seemed to start.  But I don't know if that hunger ever deepened. Her husband went home after a few days, doing better, and that was the last I ever saw of them.

Mary has remained in my mind all of these years because she's stands at the extreme end of how some people view God as so "other," so distant that he is virtually uninvolved in what happens on this earth.  Such faith sees God as One who set the world spinning and then pulled away to attend to other matters while we humans fend for ourselves.  That brand of faith can be nice for those in religious power who broker knowledge of, and communication with, God.  But it has nothing to do with the picture of God we see in scripture.  What the bible reveals is a God who is shockingly involved, even when it seems he is not. A God who keeps the world spinning each day; who is kind and forgiving, but also angered at our destructive and selfish ways.  He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous (Matthew 5:45).  Perhaps strangest of all, God welcomes (or at least tolerates) our angst and aggravation towards him.  

During the next few Sundays, we're going to look at four stories of people in the bible who shared their heartfelt struggles in life with God. Some cried out to him in pain, others pointed a finger at him in frustration or anger.  Some questioned aloud if God had forgotten them altogether, or if he had renegged on his promises.  What they discovered about God in the process will surprise you.  This week we start with the questions of Habakkuk.  Buckle up, it's going to get bumpy.
- Curtis

1 comment:

  1. Hey God,
    People are gaining more and more knowledge about the cosmos, about nature, about life, about all kinds of things. Does all this knowledge bring us any closer to you? Is it you that is revealing all these things to us?


Thanks for posting!