“When’s your appointment with the neurosurgeon?”
I shook my head at the screen and glanced up at the clock. 4:14 am. I’d been chatting with my friend for nearly two hours. She’d struggled through a year of turmoil, one thing after another, and yet somehow she was holding on to her belief in God. It was as impressive a display of faith as I’d ever seen. Still, the question that kept coming to her, the one I couldn’t really answer, was why. And where was God in this mess?
Some of her friends had told her that she just needed to be more positive. That she didn’t have enough faith. That if she would just believe, things would turn around. Another friend had heard similar comments when his father became sick. They promised him that if just said the right prayers, that if he just believed, his father would be healed. When his father passed away, my friend found his faith shaken to the core, and in our late night talks, the hurt and bitterness would leak into the conversation.
“I believed them, Steve. I know what you said, what you warned me about, but it was my dad. My best friend.”
His jaw would clench shut, and we’d stand out on the porch in silence. I would feel the anger rising, silently bemoaning the idiocy of these shallow Christians who would never know what kind of damage they’d done.
I chatted for another two hours with my friend, wishing there was something more I could do. It was with a sad, powerless feeling that I finally signed off. My thoughts drifted to another friend who couldn’t seem to find peace in her marriage, and still another who’d been battling an addiction to alcohol and porn for fifteen years.
All of these people believed Jesus was the Son of God. All of them did what they could to make a difference, and all of them had gone through the ‘guaranteed’ evangelical/fundamentalist short forms of rescue. Prayer. Anointing with oil. Exorcism. You name it, they’d tried it, mean while their heart felt cries to God had echoed into an empty blackness, and the storms in their life had continued.
I grabbed my jacket and headed outside. It’d been a mild day, so I didn’t bother zipping up my coat as I headed out onto the stoop. But the weather had changed, and a strong, icy wind swept snow across the grass and sent me scurrying to a spot underneath the balcony. It was incredible. The weather had changed so drastically I forced to run inside and get a coat. When I came back outside, the wind continued to howl, but I tucked my hands inside my jacket, and watched the snow blow across my street. I'd never understood this black and white approach to God, and to life. Although, to some extent, I'd been raised in this environment, it seemed a kind of empty folly to me to anyone who bothered thinking about it. How could we know the 'right answer' when it came to God, assuming that we believed Him to be both all knowing and omnipotent. It seemed to me we spent more time proving that we were omnipotent and all knowing than God was.
What bothered me the most however, was the simple ignorance. It was fine to say 'Jesus saved' when your life turned around, when your marriage was restored, or when your addiction broke. But what happened when your life DIDN'T change. Or when it got worse. Seemed to me we didn't have a lot of room in our theology for that kind of heartache. For too many, either Jesus made your life 'perfect' or there was something wrong with you. But if that was the case, why were so many Christians hurting. Why was divorce and abuse at the same levels both inside and outside the church? Could it be that Jesus didn't make everything 'new?' Or was the fault simply with us?
The snow continued to blow, whipping across the houses and driveways in front of me. It'd been a long time since I'd seen a storm like this, and tomorrow would be a headache for anyone wanting to leave in the morning. As a kid however, these sudden storms had been the norm, and so much of the fervor revolved around the simple fact it rarely happened anymore.
I tried to get my friends out of my head; my struggling, God-fearing friends who loved God but for the life of them could not catch a break. I thought about my own past, how eagerly I would have dumped my advice on them, even a few years before, as if the 'solution ' was always a matter of choice, of human action.
Unfortunately, it wasn't that easy. And for many of my friends, the best that I could offer them was to walk with them, to wrap my arm about their shoulders and listen. In so many ways, it seemed inadequate, but as I remembered the dark times in my life, I remembered what a difference it had made for me.
It's easy to put God in a box. Easier still to sell Jesus like He is the Great Solution for a Perfect Life. We know that isn't true. (Heb 11) And yet sometimes we insist on hammering away at our friends and loved ones for THEIR shortcomings, when their struggles are completely out of their hands. We do this to feel better, to feel like we humans have all the control. But the hard truth is that we don't, and we don't have the answer or right action for everything. Jesus may be the Savior, but not for everything. Sometimes God calls us to walk through the difficulties of life, and ask that others walk with us. This may not be the answer that sells T-shirts or commercial spots for Christian television, but it is the most common answer we find in Scripture.
My prayer this week is that you will find someone to put your arms around and walk with, and that you would encourage them, not by your advice, but by your love.