Sometimes it looks like this:
It is a warm, bright Sunday afternoon at the park. I sit on a wooden bench, watching my small children play and dance and rejoice.
It is just the kids and me. Kathi is on her way to a special evening church meeting. The couple scheduled to speak that night minister in gifts of healing. Kathi asked me—begged me, really—to go with her. She is aware how intensely I dislike going anywhere Sunday evening. It is enough for me to drag myself each week to the morning service, and endure a couple of hours of fear and boredom and dismay, clammy with the desperate hope that maybe this time God might touch me, somehow free me from the howling wasteland of disappointment, emptiness and despair. I have sunk deeply into the mire of self-pity; what I want, God is not giving me. I don’t understand or appreciate the difficulties that have come to my life. Each week I dutifully attend church, but I am not happy, nor engaged.
So, this Sunday late afternoon, I won’t go. But I feel a nagging guilt; like the psalmist, I am troubled as I recall “how I used to go with the multitude, leading the procession to the house of God, with shouts of joy and thanksgiving among the festive throng” (Psalm 42:4). I am also angry–and certainly justified in my enmity–because God claims to love me, and He won’t behave the way I want. He could fix my difficult circumstances; He could take away my pain; He could let me know He is listening and ANSWER MY QUESTIONS!
But, as I think of how badly my wife wants me to join her, remorse gets the better of me, so I dutifully pack up my little ones and head to church.
We slip in the back, late, and I scan the crowd to find Kathi. She sits, beautiful and peaceful, near the front of the sanctuary. There are empty chairs near her–saved for me?–so we quietly join her.
I listen with mild interest to the message preached, but then to my surprise, I suddenly finding myself standing at the front of the sanctuary, in a line of people who want to receive prayer. Most of them are excited, anticipatory, eager for a touch from God. Me? I sigh with frustrated, fatalistic pessimism.
And hands are laid upon me. People praying with faith, for me of little faith. I don’t expect anything to happen, really; I will receive a polite prayer and I will mutter polite thanks before I return to my polite chair. That is all I expect; that is all I want. What I get, as the speaker gently touches my chest and speaks a few words, is a sensation of light and heat and the realization that my legs—suddenly weak—have buckled beneath me and I flop on the carpet, staring at the ceiling as astonished light fixtures glare back at me.
I lay for a few seconds, stunned. Then almost instantly, I feel self-conscious and stupid. I can preserve a little bit of dignity by rolling over and pretending to pray on my knees. As I bow my head, I am suddenly aware of a bubbling in the pit of my stomach. Of all the crazy things: It is as if I have a womb inside me and an embryo of merriment has formed, encased by a shell fashioned from my confusion and offense. Somehow, I know I have the choice to crack the “egg” and release laughter, or ignore my foolish imagination and continue stewing with bitterness and regret.
The whole situation is so ridiculous that I snort. The snort becomes a gasp; the gasp a chuckle; then suddenly I am howling, bellowing with joy, holding my stomach. I shout and whoop and raise my hands in the air as tears run down my cheeks. My body shakes from the force of cleansing, renewing, healing laughter sent from the heart of my Father. He is laughing with me.
Yet, even as I am being redeemed from the pit, I’m still offended, and I have questions. Really–You give me laughter? What about children chained in wretched sweatshops? Or the thousands dying in poverty and disease? Or babies starving because their mothers are too weak to nurse them at the breast? What about sexual perversion and exploitation and rape? What of the millions of daily injustices, both small and great, throughout the world?As swiftly as my thoughts careen from one question to the next, I seem to hear a Voice powerful and majestic resonating within me, a sound pregnant with tenderness, a cascading roar of fiery liquid compassion; joyful ecstasy and brokenhearted mercy somehow mysteriously blend into a single, magical expression. My Father is answering me.
“Yes. Yes! I know all about those things. And I know what I intend to do about them!”
Beautiful words, simple, profound; wisdom of eternity releasing a sliver of understanding. Words that give me hope and soften my heart. I humble myself before the mighty hand of God. He is aware, and that is enough. I am chastened and comforted. I am restored to life.
Years have passed since that night, and I have endured other seasons of darkness and brokenness. Depression is a vicious, haunting beast. But I have never forgotten those words I heard, and have come to understand, that just as YHVH spoke to Job, in a similar fashion He addressed my complaints. There are circumstances in life that I cannot understand. I am not the Almighty; I have not existed from infinity past, nor can I see the panoramic sweep of ages to come, so there is no possibility that I might comprehend the entire scope and sweep of the cosmic drama.
What I can do is trust the goodness and faithfulness and justice of God, who brings the dead to life, who knows what He is doing, and will one day—because of love and mercy and holiness—bring all creation and all history into alignment with His justice. Then we will know Him face to face, and dine and rejoice with Him at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, and our laughter will echo into eternity.
And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.”