Jesus, in his agony on the cross, chose to quote the 22nd Psalm: "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" Haven't you ever wondered why he didn't quote the 23rd instead? "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil." Though God the Father was a daily reality for him, in that moment of desolation the humanity of Jesus was caught up by the seeming futility of it all. His world, for the moment, had fallen apart; God seemed far away, and doubt drove him to momentary despair.
I'm happy for you, if so far, your world has never fallen in upon you. For some who hear this, it has; for the rest of us, it is a daily possibility.
I'm happy for you if you're plugging along more or less without incident, also. But I hope you'll listen anyway, because sometimes worlds fall apart one piece at a time; lives blow up, but they also burn out. Some of us feel at times like the serviceman who wrote his father from Guadalcanal: "Write and tell me who's winning." We need encouragement to hang in there and keep on "keeping on."
MOVING TO THE FRONT SEAT
Growing up means risking loss. Becoming adult implies accepting uncertainty. I read the essay of a 13-year-old reflecting on the transition from childhood to adolescence. He called the essay, "Security." "Security," he wrote, "is sleeping in the back seat of the car when you're a little kid...You don't have to worry about anything. Your mom and dad are in the front seat, and they do all the worrying...BUT IT DOESN'T LAST. Suddenly you're grown up...suddenly it's over and you'll never get to sleep in the back seat again. Never!"
We'll be better prepared to face the day when our world falls apart if we accept the risk of being adult. To grow up spiritually is to move to the front seat. Too many of us want the privileges of adulthood without its liabilities; you can't stay in the back seat and be responsible spiritually. "When I was a child," said Paul, "I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; but when I became a man, I gave up childish ways."
It comes down to this, doesn't it? When calamity strikes, we cry out, "Why me?" But if we do well in business or one of our children turns out to be a genius, we never say, "Why me?" In effect we say, "Why not me?" Something assures us that we probably deserve any good that comes along, or at least we're as worthy as the next person, so why NOT ME?
Yet when troubles come, when tragedy hits us, disaster descends -- who of us would think to say, "Why not me?" No, we're apt to shake our fist at God or fate, cry out at the injustice of life -- quote Psalm 22 not 23, and despair of it all.
The great promise of the Christian gospel is not success but meaning. The reward of a faithfully lived life in Christ is not ease but joy. The guarantee of our faith is not freedom from pain but companionship. "Lo, I am with you always to the close of the age!" When your world falls apart, the great good news is that you are not alone. You do not sit desolate, like Job, on an ash heap amid the ruin of his life. Whatever befalls you, God is there in the midst of it.
When your world falls apart, know this: you don't weep alone. God is there, wonderfully there, that abiding presence that hurts where you hurt, a God for losers, and what you've lost God has lost, but you can get through it because this same God will restore. The cross wasn't the end; the despair was real, but temporary. After the cross came the bright morning light of Easter. And so it will be with you. Believe it.
Yes, we've all got to move up into the front seat; but we won't be there alone. "I will never leave you nor forsake you," says this abiding God; "Lo, I am with you, to the close of the age!"
YOU CAN HOIST A SAIL
But there is more to it than weeping. Grieving has to be followed by action. Life goes on, and after most losses it can go on quite successfully. My counsel to those whose world has collapsed has always been, "life will never be the same, but it can still be good." What calamities often show us is that our foundations are too shallow. We need to dig deeper before we try to rebuild.
Once in New York I heard a sermon that was prompted by a great office building about to rise in the Manhattan forest of skyscrapers. The preacher said, over and over in that sermon, "the higher you want to rise the deeper you have to dig your foundation." So if you want a 50-story building that's one thing; but if you want to soar 100 stories then the foundation has to be deeper, much deeper.
If the God of Jesus is for losers, the God of Jesus is also, and very much, for starters-over. On a particularly tough day in the wilderness, when the people were grumbling and mutiny was in the air, Moses and Aaron said to the people, Hold on; for "in the morning you will see the glory of the Lord." Dig your foundations of faith deep tonight; be ready for the dawn. For tomorrow we soar, tomorrow we are resurrected, tomorrow is a new day.
When your world falls apart, after you stop weeping, dig deep; make those foundations deeper, stronger, unshakable. Trust God and wait for the morning. Getting knocked down is not the worst thing that can happen to you; refusing to get back up, is. Just as you can't stay in the back seat, neither can you stay on the mat. The God of Jesus, that God for losers, is also the God for those who need to start over. For those who will not give up.
God never sends us a Good Friday without the possibility of an Easter. With every calamity comes the possibility of a resurrection. With regard to the resurrections I'm like the man who asked his neighbor, "Do you believe in infant baptism?" Replied his friend, "Believe in it? I've seen it with my own eyes!" I have seen resurrections in the lives of many people
Over and over again, in fact. I have known people whose world has fallen apart, who with their Lord cried, "My God, why hast thou forsaken me" and who repeatedly asked an unanswering God, "Why me?" I've seen them weep, and lament, and despair. But then I've seen them dig new foundations, painfully, slowly -- and they then build new lives that soared higher by far than the old. Believe in resurrection? Why, I've seen it with my own eyes!
Yet, even then, it's not all over. Sometimes the old doubts come back. Sometimes that strange surge of energy you get in times of sadness and loss that enables you to get going again, sometimes that energy leaves, the newfound faith falters, and you're in danger of the doldrums again. How do you keep going after you've recovered from the initial shock? In theological terms, the answer is the Holy Spirit, that aspect of God that abides in us, that is given and guaranteed in the baptism.
The "Holy Spirit," I must confess, used to scare me, maybe because when we were little, the term was the Holy Ghost. Or maybe because it got identified too much with people who speak in tongues, or maybe because many of us don't know what to make of the third person of the Trinity. The word in the Bible is pneuma, and it means "wind." The Spirit is the "wind" of God, invisible, blowing where it wills, and we don't know where it comes from, or where it's going. We just know it is God with us.
Remember when your world has crashed down around you and you're sitting there in the rubble of what once was, that God's Holy Spirit is surrounding you. The wind-Spirit of God is always there for you, always there for you to use.
A little boy, down at the dock, looked out at the sea, the clouds, and the sailboats driven along invisibly by the breeze. "What is the wind?" the boy once asked an old sailor standing there. The grizzled old salt pondered the sky for a while and then said: "Son, I can't tell you what the wind is. But I do know how to hoist a sail!"
There it is. When your world falls apart, what you need to know is not what the Spirit of God is; you need to know how to hoist a sail. When you're down and discouraged, the answer isn't in definitions but in doing. After you've cried out, "My God, why?" get on with hoisting a sail to catch the wind of the loving, saving spirit of God. The wind is always there; but you have to catch it and let it move you on out of your sorrow and self-pity, move you on to that new morning when you'll see the glory of God with new eyes and new hope, so that, having been part of the crucifixion, you'll now be part of the resurrection.