God’s Odd Way of Loving Us
One of the best parts of spending a bit of time in British Columbia each summer is the opportunity to reconnect with the many dear people whose lives we were once embedded in—at least in a more concrete way. It is so often a delight to discover the twists and turns people’s lives have taken, how their kids have grown, the new opportunities they are exploring, etc. It is a privilege to see how the goodness of God traces its way through the many stories we have been privileged to be a part of.
But, as always, there are other stories, too. Stories of relational breakdown, job difficulties, children who have gotten themselves into a bad place. And death. Always stories of death.
This past Sunday I found myself standing drop-jawed in a former church as a dear saint spoke of losing his daughter in an unspeakably horrible way. I listened as he groped around for words to convey the hurt, the confusion, the shattering, splintering, mind-numbing pain that had invaded his life. I gulped and nodded and fruitlessly searched for words as he raided around in the furniture and language of faith to find categories by which to understand or somehow locate his suffering. There were hugs for he and his wife, a few tears. But not many words. Sometimes words just well and truly fail.
I’ve been thinking about these two dear people a lot over the last few days. I’ve thought about them as I have been zipping around the city of Vancouver on my motorcycle these last few glorious summer evenings… As I gaze at the magnificent beauty of this corner of creation… As I watch all of the young lean, hard, pretty bodies feverishly jogging, cycling, climbing, paddling, scrambling away from age, fat, death… As I swim in the ocean with my kids… As our family enjoys the many blessings and tokens of generosity that we are inexplicably afforded… I’ve thought about these parents burying their dear child—a child who they took on holidays, probably went swimming with, laughed and played and imagined for the future with… I’ve looked over at my kids, futures largely ahead of them….
Christ, have mercy.
To be a person of faith is to live all of life in the hope of a promise. We know that following Jesus is no recipe for a pain-free life, but we hope and pray and plead and hope some more that the starkest of horrors will not find us. We assemble our walls against them with piety and planning and prudence, we build them higher and higher, fortifying them with prayer and fear and whatever else we can think of to protect us, but sometimes, oh dear God, sometimes the horrors… they still find us.
But words also, inexplicably, over time can bind wounds. I spent some time this morning rummaging around in my files for words to hang on to on behalf of these two dear people stumbling through the valley of the shadow. Back in grad school, I came across a little book about suffering and redemption by David Kelsey that I have returned to often. In Imagining Redemption, Kelsey describes Jesus as “The Fellow Sufferer who Sets Free”—the one whose suffering shines a light, leading us through and, ultimately, out of our own. Perhaps most importantly, our Fellow Sufferer holds out the hope of redemption, in the deepest, truest, and most profoundly necessary sense of the word:
It is important to stress that God’s fellow suffering in, through, and under Jesus’ passion is not just God’s way of understanding what we go through. It is God’s own odd way of going about loving us, God’s concrete act of loving us in the midst of the most terrible circumstances we can go through. It is just that love that can redeem personal identities… from their distorting bondage to past events, for it is God’s love for them that grounds the worth of their lives.
We would, undoubtedly, prefer to be loved by God in ways less odd. We would prefer a less terrifying theatre for this drama to be played out in. These things are not for us to choose, alas. So we cling to this God hoping, praying, pleading, and hoping some more that our Odd Lover’s fidelity to and for us is stronger than the pain, and that it will finally put us back together again.