2016 has been hell. I have Crohn’s Disease; I have two blown discs in my lumbar spine that now are essentially vertebrae on top of vertebrae; 6 weeks ago I quit all my 2yr chronic pain medication cold turkey, and faced terrible withdrawals; I struggle with anxiety and depression; I battled an unknown fluke condition that caused my ammonia levels in my brain to skyrocket; I moved on from a company I helped build; I’ve struck out on a number of occasions on the new job front; and last week my brother-in-law died unexpectedly, under some traumatic circumstances.
This has been my reality in 2016. The details of all I’ve listed don’t really matter, what matters is that they are many, that they are brutal, and that they happened. This is my shitty reality. I don’t talk about this much, if at all, and that’s on purpose. I don’t want sympathy, what I want are to say a few things:
- To say that I’m a Christian, which forms the bedrock of how I deal with things like this…but, in spite of that I can also say that:
- Life can suck, really suck.
- That anger, and hatred, and bitterness, and questioning, and yelling, and fist-shaking, and crying out ‘WHY’towards God are okay*. In fact, they’re necessary.
- That being pissed off at God, and my situation, is okay.
- That at 2am when I’m writhing in pain, or at 12pm when I’m gripped with crippling anxiety, or when I can’t attend my son’s soccer game because I can’t physically move, and when I don’t give a damn about anything anymore, it’s okay.
Some of you don’t believe in God. Some of you don’t believe that Jesus is real, that he walked the earth, that he died, and that he rose again. And that’s okay*, because there are a lot of times when those very thoughts enter my own mind.
How can God be real and allow me to suffer like this? If Jesus is real, and all he did actually happened, why isn’t everything made right, right now?
Why? Why? Why?
For many, whether Christian or not, Christianity seems this “happy-go-lucky, lollipop” religion, where life is supposed to be filled with daisies and blue skies and Crest White-Strip smiles. It’s this religion where no questions are asked, no anger is felt, and no suffering exists.
That’s not my Christianity. That’s not real Christianity. My Christianity is filled with darkness and shadow, with whips and chains, with gale-force winds and drowning waves. My Christianity is filled with questions, and anger, and suffering. That’s real Christianity. That’s real life.
Some would then say, ‘why believe at all? If that’s your reality, what’s the point?’
What’s the point?
The point is, God has to be real or not. Truth has to be real or false. Promises either come to pass or they don’t. If all those things turn out in the negative, I have no hope. I’m stuck at the bottom of this dark pit with ne’er a toe-hold with which to climb out.
But…if they turn out in the positive, there is hope. Now, this hope doesn’t seem to answer all of the questions…in fact, it doesn’t seem to answer many at all. But in the book of Isaiah, it says that ‘those who hope in the Lord renew their strength.’ Hope transforms into strength. And strength produces endurance and perseverance.
Hope, for me, is rarely happy. Hope doesn’t make anything easier. Hope doesn’t even produce understanding. What hope does is forces me to look outside of myself; forces me to press on; tells me a story of what is to come.
What is this hope? Does it answer why a ‘good’ God continues to allow evil and suffering? No. Does it answer why my 30yr old brother was taken from me? No. Does it answer why I’d give just about anything to reverse 2016? No.
This hope doesn’t give us reasons, it gives us a person, it gives us a man. I don’t understand the why. But I can hope in the what. The what is that God hates evil and suffering so much (even if we still don’t see his reasoning) that He Himself came to experience the same evil and suffering as we face, to endure pain and sadness, to die an innocent death, and to descend into pure evil and hell itself.
Well, okay, I guess that’s mildly comforting, but so what? It seems like He’s in the same position I’m in right? What ‘hope’ does this ‘Hope’ really have?
The reality is it doesn’t end there. Once again, God is either real, or He’s not. Jesus, and his work, is either real, or it’s not. Jesus’ suffering was only half his work. His other work was to consume and bear upon himself not just His own suffering, but mine, and yours, and the world’s. To look into the eyes of the darkest shadows. To stare upon death, and evil, and hell itself. And rise victorious over all.
There is Evil in this world. And that Evil thought it won on that day long ago on a small hill in Jerusalem. That Evil thought it won this year in my life. But that Evil was not only defeated, it was crushed. And tho’ troubles and trials may endure for a moment, joy will come with the swift sunrise.
Jesus’ work was to establish His Kingdom on earth, not as an earthly conqueror, but as a heavenly sufferer. And because of this, I can hope, and find strength in the words of CS Lewis:
“We as humans say of some temporal suffering, ‘no future bliss can make up for it’ not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory.”
This year I’ve experienced abject darkness. I’ve walked the land of shadows. I’ve stared anxiety and depression in the face, and they beat me. But I wasn’t alone there. One of Jesus names is Emmanuel, which means ‘God With Us.’He’s been there before, and he knows the way out.
The only way I have hope is if Jesus is real, and that he rose from the dead. You may think I’m crazy for believing something like that. That’s fine, even my wife thinks I’m crazy sometimes (but I’ve needed her more than ever these past 5 years). But if you’ve never suffered, you can’t understand the infinite need for hope. If there is no hope, there is no point.
Over the past 5 years I’ve been pissed off at God 90% of the time (at least). And He knows it. I’ve lived Lamentations 3 — read it if you never have. The first 20 verses have been my life. Then we see verse 21 and beyond.
“But this I call to mind and therefore I have HOPE:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. The Lord is my portion, says my soul, therefore I will HOPE in him.
It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth. Let him sit alone in silence when it is laid on him; let him put his mouth in the dust — there may yet be HOPE; let him give his cheek to the one who strikes, and let him be filled with insults.
For the Lord will not cast off forever, but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love.”
I don’t have a religion. I have a reality. And my reality is that my life is hard; my reality is that I suffer pain, and distress, and sadness; my reality is that many times I want to just say ‘fuck this...’
But most importantly, my reality is that God is real. Jesus is real. Jesus lived, died, and rose again. His promises are absolutely true. They’re real. Therefore when I fall, by His grace I can rise. When I’m doubled over in pain, by His grace I can rise. When I’m crippled with fear and anxiety and depression, by His grace I can rise.
One day, all of my suffering, and pain, and agony, and distress, and anxiety, and depression, and sadness will unwind into pure joy, and peace, and yes, even understanding. Not by my will, but by His will, done and done.
That’s my reality. That’s real Christianity.
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