The Wounded Christian July 22, 2010Posted by orualundone in Belief, Blessings, Compassion, Death, Pain, Struggles, Suffering, The Bible.
Tags: Julian of Norwich, wounded
Something I’ve been thinking about lately is the way that in certain Christian circles admitting sadness, mourning, doubt, or deep emotional pain is almost taboo. Sharing struggles is, of course, encouraged but if you don’t end your story with something on the order of “…but I know God is in control” or “…but I’m still just really praising God for all He’s done for me” you will get some deeply concerned looks and probably some aggressive encouragement which may or may not be welcome at the moment. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve said something, in real life or online that indicated I was going through a bit of a dark patch or having a bad day only to have a well-meaning Christian friend jump in instantly to tell me not to be sad, that God had a plan to work it for good, or that we should just keep thanking God.
And it’s true. God has done so much for us and we should always praise him. He will work it all together for the ultimate good. He is in control. And of course there’s always someone who has it worse than me and I should be thankful for what I have. The problem is, I may not be there yet. And I don’t think God needs me to be. I’m afraid I am a bit suspicious of relentlessly cheerful Christians – either they really are that unaffected by life’s woes and thus cannot understand what I”m dealing with, or they are in deep denial about their lives. God does not require us to be happy all the time, or instantly be okay when tragedy and pain strikes us. In fact, the Bible has a lot to say about sorrow and grief, and almost none of it is that we shouldn’t let ourselves experience it.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
This is not Jesus telling us to “get over it”. For we cannot experience God’s comfort unless we have a need of it. Over and over again, the Bible shows us that God honors our grief, our pain, our suffering. He promises to heal us of it, but we have to admit the pain first, before there can be healing. This is not say that we should seek out pain and hurt, or tell other people how awesome it is that they are suffering. There is enough pain in this world already and plenty of things will wound us without us having to go look for them. And we should do our best to be God’s hands and ease the wounds of others. But we can’t do that by pretending they don’t exist and that they don’t need to time to be felt before they can begin to mend. God never tells us is it wrong to feel a certain way. In fact, he has infinite compassion on those who suffer. He never discounts our experience of pain, whether our problems are objectively large or small, or whether it seems like there are others who are suffering more.
“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”
There are several books in the Bible that are devoted almost entirely to pain, suffering, loss, and grief and they do not shy away from the raw ugliness of human emotions, nor do they provide total answers to the questions we cry out in our difficult times, other than telling us that God IS. That’s all the answer Job really got, in the end. Yes he got back everything he lost and more but that doesn’t negate what he went through. Lamentations is nothing but grief and sorrow, and the author is just as desolate at the end of the book as at the beginning. Ecclesiastes has an author that is overwhelmed by the wickedness of the world and practically suicidal, and although he realizes we receive many good things from God he is still left with more questions than answers.
None of these books tell us we shouldn’t grieve, we shouldn’t hurt, we shouldn’t question. And yet, even in the darkest times the authors still managed to praise God. And I think today, a lot of people confuse praise with happiness. They think that you cannot praise God if you are sad or hurting or even angry at him. But some of the deepest times of praise spring from our deepest wounds, not just after they are healed but while they are still bleeding.
I can go in my darkest hour to God and say through my tears, “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away, blessed be the name of the Lord.” It doesn’t mean I’m over whatever has happened, or that I’m going to be instantly happy and fine from there on in. It just means I am making a choice to worship him in spite of everything else, in spite of the questions or doubts or fears. It’s the first step toward healing, not the last.
Even Jesus felt emotional pain, and felt it deeply. And he knew for a fact how it would work out in the end. He didn’t have some wavering belief or faint hope – He had certain knowledge. But still, he wept for Lazarus even though he knew he could and would raise him from the dead. He wept in the Garden of Gethsemane, grieving more deeply than probably anyone ever has, even though he knew in three days he would rise again and become the salvation of the whole world.
“Then he said to them,
‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow
to the point of death.’ ”
Just because we know things are ultimately going to be all right, just because we are saved and redeemed and know we have a place in heaven, and that one day the whole earth will be made new, doesn’t mean everything is all right now. It doesn’t mean we have to pretend not to feel the wounds that life brings our way. Julian of Norwich said:
“And all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well!”
It is a joyful statement, indeed. And a true one. But she is also implicitly recognizing that even though God shall make all things well, they all not well now. This world is fallen, and full of broken people – ourselves especially included. There is cause for grief. There are situations where someone is going to be hurt no matter what choice is made. There is great evil, atrocities, genocides. And there is no escaping the sin in our own lives and the pain it will cause us and others. If we are to love God and love others as he loves them, then we must be willing to accept this and feel it and be changed and purified by it before we can come out the other side.
“Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord and He will exalt you.”
For it is in our pain and mourning that God brings us comfort, it is how he draws us to him. And it is how he transforms us. Without it there is no need of him, and he can give us joy even in our greatest darkness. Joy is not the opposite of sadness, but something that shines through despite it and can exist simultaneously with it . And it is also in our suffering that we can minister to others. Someone who has never known real pain can not touch someone who is going through real pain. And in fact, it may take someone who has been deeply hurt to even recognize suffering in another. God uses our wounds to heal each other, to draw others to him. Someone who is truly suffering cannot abide to hear “Don’t worry, it will be okay, God loves you!” from someone who has not experienced (or acknowledged) pain in their own lives. They need to hear “It hurts. I hurt with you. And our Father hurts with both of us.”
These are the gifts that God gives us in our pain: The gift of himself, and the gift being able to reach out to others who are in the same place and help draw them to him. There is healing, there is joy, there is restoration. That comes differently to different people and we cannot expect everyone to experience it in the same way at the same time. There are times for rejoicing and times for grieving – one of the greatest gifts we can give each other is to allow others to experience the season of life they are in and not to try tell them they shouldn’t be where they are. Telling people they shouldn’t be sad, shouldn’t be hurting, shouldn’t doubt only isolates them further from the community and from God, adding extra guilt for not believing hard enough to whatever they are already going through.
“For he has not despised or disdained
the suffering of the afflicted one;
he has not hidden his face from him
but has listened to his cry for help.”
Until Christ returns, until the world is fully redeemed and fully healed there will always be new pains and fresh griefs. To deny that would be foolish. To accept it allows us to experience healing and to be agents of healing in others.