Skip to content

Ruts and Ruins

I often hear some version or other of the well-worn argument that faith in God is for the weak, the intellectually deficient, the cowardly, the lonely, the marginalized and disenfranchised, or those staring down the prospect of death and grasping at something—anything!—to make their pain more bearable.  The healthy, the strong, the educated and influential, the sane—these are imagined to have no need for such supernatural aids.   Religion is a crutch for those who can’t (or won’t) face life as it really is, in all of its starkness.

Christian Wiman, a poet and a scholar who has lived in the shadow of cancer since his thirties, has this to say about what turning to God in the face of pain might mean:

That conversions often happen after or during intense life experiences, especially traumatic experiences, is sometimes used as evidence against them.  The sufferer isn’t in his right mind.  The mind, tottering at the abyss of despair or death, shudders back toward any simplicity, any coherency it can grasp, and the man calls out to God.  Never mind that the God that comes at such moments may not be simple at all, arises out of and includes the very abyss the man would flee.  Never mind that in traumatic experience many people lose their faith—or what looked like faith?—rather than find it.  It is the flinch from life—which, the healthy are always quick to remind us, includes death—and the flight to God that cannot be trusted.

But how could it be otherwise?  It takes a real jolt to get us to change our jobs, our relationships, our daily coffee consumption, for goodness’ sake—or, if we are wired that way, to change our addiction to change.  How much more urgency is needed, how much more primal fear, to startle the heart out of its ruts and ruins? It’s true that God comes to the prophet Elijah not in the whirlwind, and not in the earthquake, and not in the fire that follows, but in the “still, small voice” that these ravages make plain.  But the very wording of the passage makes it clear that the voice, though finally more powerful than the ravages that follow, is not altogether apart from them.  The voice is always there, and for everyone.  For some of us, unfortunately, it takes terror and pain to make us capable of hearing it.

I sat with a woman today who has buried three children and a husband, a woman who has clung—sometimes only by a thread—to faith in Jesus Christ in the midst of unspeakable loss.  We prayed for health, for strength, for forgiveness for our sins, for the many things we have not done and have not said to those we love.  We thanked God for the hope of eternity and the gift of mercy.  We smiled and hugged and blessed each other on our (very different) ways.

Is pain one of the ways in which we come to see the one true God more clearly?  Yes, I think it is.  How could it be otherwise?  How could we expect anything other than that the God who experienced the wounds of human existence comes near to those who stagger and stumble through the ruts and the ruins?

——

I took the picture above on the way to a small village called Macayepo in northern Colombia in 2012.  It was the only “road” that the villagers had available to get their avocados to market.  The government did not maintain the road and when the rains came it became virtually impassable.    the people of Macayepo were well acquainted with ruts and ruins, physical and otherwise.

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. mike #

    “Is pain one of the ways in which we come to see the one true God more clearly? Yes, I think it is.”

    Thanks for the great Post, Ryan. it provides ample fodder for deeper contemplation on several fronts. I can confirm from personal experience the fact that pain and suffering has driven many of us to seek God for relief/rescue/console. ..Is it a crutch? Well,Yes and No. Ultimately, I think it depends on your Definition of what exactly “God” is.

    “Freud probed the origins of human life and the various human creations that enabled human beings to cope with their existence. Religion was, he argued, a major one of those human creations”….”If trauma is sufficiently intense, and if it cannot be dealt with adequately in any other way, then the inevitable human response is hysteria. Religion,Freud contended, was the coping mechanism, the human response to the trauma of self-consciousness, and it was designed above all else to keep hysteria under control and to manage for these self-conscious creatures the shock of existence. “–Why Christianity Must Change or Die: Shelby Spong (pg51)…What can I say?,I can understand Freud’s premise and I do see some Truth in it given the spin gospel that most of protestant Christianity has adapted to win over the masses-(Are you hurting,miserable,broke,down on you luck? are you facing Divorce, bankruptcy, contemplating suicide? Just ask Jesus into your heart and things will get better!)

    Christian Wiman: “But how could it be otherwise? It takes a real jolt to get us to change our jobs, our relationships, our daily coffee consumption, for goodness’ sake—or, if we are wired that way, to change our addiction to change. How much more urgency is needed, how much more primal fear, to startle the heart out of its ruts and ruins?. It’s true that God comes to the prophet Elijah not in the whirlwind, and not in the earthquake, and not in the fire that follows, but in the “still, small voice” that these ravages make plain. But the very wording of the passage makes it clear that the voice, though finally more powerful than the ravages that follow, IS NOT ALTOGETHER APART FROM THEM. The voice is always there,..” “Never mind that the God that comes at such moments may not be simple at all, ARISES OUT OF AND *INCLUDES* THE VERY ABYSS THE MAN WOULD FLEE.”

    The way I see it, Freud thinks we attempt to escape pain by means of Religion, while Wiman seems to contend that “God” IS THE PAIN, in the metaphysical sense.

    John Spong argues that it’s now time to redefine our theistic view of a personal “God” in new language as “The Ground of Being”, which echo’s strangely similar sounds as Quantum Physics/Quantum Field science. “So the call of this internal God found in our depths becomes primarily a call into being. It is a call that has nothing to do with religion per se. It is a call that refocuses what has been known as the religious dimension. The task of the Church, for example, becomes less that of indoctrinating or relating people to an external divine power and more that of providing opportunities for people to touch the infinite center of all things and grow into all that they are destined to be. In this manner they might discover that in their personhood itself the Holy God, who is the Ground of their Being, is revealed as something different from the theistic God of the past.”–”Why Christianity Must Change or Die”- John Shelby Spong (pg 66).

    July 11, 2014
  2. The way I see it, Freud thinks we attempt to escape pain by means of Religion, while Wiman seems to contend that “God” IS THE PAIN, in the metaphysical sense.

    Good summary. I think I would enthusastically agree.

    Not so sure about Spong, though. In Jesus, we see that God is nothing if not personal. Spong seems to leave us with a god that is little more than extension of ourselves and our own preferences (“providing opportunities for people to touch the infinite center of all things and grow into all that they are destined to be. In this manner they might discover that in their personhood itself the Holy God”). I need more than that.

    July 12, 2014
    • mike #

      amen, so be it.

      July 13, 2014

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: