(click on the Tornado link and watch the video in Dropbox… DO IT!)
Before you read my jumbled up words, take a few minutes to watch the video posted above.
Something has happened to us. And I don’t like it. We’ve become creatures of the need-to-know era, a people that demand to know answers to all of our questions immediately and simply, without giving serious issues the serious amount of thought they constitute. We are willing to let our surroundings dictate our response. We have become obedient to society’s pull on us to let the temporary situations, good and bad, shape our views and opinions on unchanging, consistent truth.
If any of you are reading and don’t know what the above video is about, here’s a brief explanation. A tornado destroyed pieces of Hattiesburg, MS 12 days ago, and left many people with only fragments of their homes still standing. It destroyed a beautiful strip of the University of Southern Mississippi, and seemed to impact our community in ways that I haven’t seen since the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. The above video is a slideshow, put together with the help of the talented photographer, Miss Kate Dearman, of the damage and destruction inflicted by the tornado. But moreso than just the pictures, I want anyone reading this to pay more attention to the song playing in the background.
“I see your face in every sunrise. The colors of the morning are inside your eyes. The world awakens in the light of the day. I look up to the sky and say… You’re Beautiful.”
That first line isn’t exactly the response that the pictures seem to deserve… Flipped cars, uprooted trees, and pieces of homes are on display while a prayer of praise is being sung by Phil Wickham as a testament to God’s beauty…. Uhh what?
The fact that such an idea of combining tragedy with praise is so outlandish is exactly what made me put together these words. I feel like for a lot of Christians, the topic of Suffering and God’s role within such circumstances seems like a huge elephant in the proverbial room of conversation. I know for me, I feel like I’m supposed to know the answers to all these questions that people throw at me about why X, Y, or Z happens… and it makes me feel inferior and uncomfortable when I have no answers to bring to the table. Bingo! There’s a message.
If you haven’t explored the book of Job, I’m gonna need you to immediately pick up a Bible and read his incredible story. The Message version is pretty crazy good, if you’re looking for a specific version to peruse, but regardless, his story is a testament to so many aspects of situations involving and revolving around suffering.
As a debrief, the story of Job goes through this series of time where Job, who was considered blameless and upright in God’s eyes, undergoes a series of TERRIBLE tragedies. I mean from losing his kids to getting skin diseases… This dude had it rough. And it made no sense whatsoever according to our flawed philosophy of “good works producing good outcomes”. Job was awesome. I mean God himself tells us that there is no one quite like him. But yet still, God puts Job in the hands of Satan with stipulations guarding Job’s life. What the heck.. Why did this happen? Why does it happen now?
Job’s friends seem hell-bent on convincing Job that the reasoning at play is obvious– Job has clearly messed up and sinned before God, and this “punishment” he was enduring was his just rewards. But such advice anything but true, and Job (as well as all of us who have read the Book of Job) knows it. Job’s friends are frantically searching for answers to give Job for why his suffering is occurring… and in the process, they begin to piece together cliche’ truths and shallow sayings, eventually formulating one big lie. Wow… pretty terrible friends, right? Well, unfortunately, the correlations between those friends and us are uncomfortably numerous.
Let’s look back at the video above. The fact that a bridge seems to be lacking between suffering and God’s beauty for a lot of us is concerning. When we begin to let the events that happen around us shape our view of who God is (unchanging, consistently beautiful and flawless…), what does that say about our relationship with Him? Since when do the justification formulas in our heads equal up to God’s idea of justice, suffering, and fairness? When we begin to put our thought processes and thinking patterns on the level of God’s… we are desperately missing the point.
You know, a lot of people have come to me enduring suffering, hard times, etc. in their lives, and in retrospect, I’m seeing how much I’ve resembled Job’s friends in my “answers” to them. Because of this need to have everything together, to have all the answers for these people that I care about and feel responsible for, I provided them with the cliche’s that they didn’t necessarily need to hear. Sometimes… the truth of the matter is that it just sucks. Losing your house in a random tornado that popped up out of nowhere–SUCKS. Going through a divorce with your spouse that seems unavoidable and unfixable–SUCKS. Losing a loved one that could have been a saint–SUCKS. There are so many times in life where we don’t have the answers for… and suffering falls within that category a lot of the time.
As the book of Job points out… the mystery of suffering is not the correct issue to focus in on here. What’s IN that suffering? What can we learn and how can we respond from unexplained tragedy in our lives? I wont’ pretend to know all the answers, but I do know the first step in exploring the mystery of suffering is diverting our focus to the bigger mystery within suffering–the mystery of God.
No matter what occurs in this world, no matter how unjustified and unexplained situations are… they don’t have the power to change the nature of God. Nor does any tragedy have the power to break a man’s faith and hope in such a God. Suffering in this life is NOT used as a punishment tool as some people advocate. Our God is a God of mercy and grace, and under the new covenant, we are no longer subject to the punishment that Jesus intercepted for us. In the midst of a tornado’s destruction… He is beautiful.
At the end of Job, God addressed both Job and his friends. And this is what He says:
“I’ve had it with you and your two friends. I’m fed up! You haven’t been honest either with me or about me– not the way my friend Job has.”
Honesty with AND about God– I think that’s what we can learn from Job’s suffering. If we aren’t honest with God then how can we be honest about him to others? Being in tune with what His Spirit is saying is vital for communicating those Spirit-truths to others in the midst of desperation and tragedy. And sometimes being honest with God requires admitting that we don’t know what’s going on or why it’s happening… but retaining a confidence in God’s unequaled and unparalleled sovereignty, justice, and beauty. Being honest with God in those areas enables us to be honest with others as well.
So here I am on this road trip I so often call life, and the airstream has seen better days. Areas of despair, destruction, devastation… On both sides of the highway. But in the midst of asking the why’s of suffering, perhaps the question itself is the problem. Though the windshield is crowded with terrible sights, perhaps there’s a beauty that requires a bit more investigation than a cursive glance. It’s time to see the beauty in what isn’t beautiful, and to respond to a Navigation System of much higher standards than my own.
I end this with words from Mrs. Miranda Lambert (I know you’re all surprised):
“Desperation– there’s danger in frustration. Complicated words slippin’ off of your tongue, and ain’t one of them the truth.”
Let’s not become people who are so desperate for answers that we are willing to overlook truth.