The Old, Old Story (revisited)

Yesterday I posted something that I had been asked to write in one of my classes (the Old, Old Story). We were given two pieces of paper and ten minutes to write our retelling of the narrative of Scripture. While colored beads and the Roman Road crossed my mind, I ended up telling the story that I posted on Wednesday night – the story of the Bible as the story of love, as I’ve experienced it. I posted that first because it’s what I wrote first, what moved my heart first. But the significance of the assignment didn’t end there; the next week, to our surprise, the professor handed out two more pieces of paper and slowly, methodically, and gut-wrenchingly took us through the narrative of Scripture again. This time, it was through the lens of suffering. Story after story left a bitter and painful taste in my mouth. “Why does no one ever tell the story this way?” I wondered. And now that I had begun wrestling with it, in conviction and distress, I found myself crying out like the Israelites: “where the heck were you in all of this, God?” As he finished his presentation and left us in a room with our blank papers, I wrote the story again. I told it a little differently this time:

In the beginning God created

. . . everything.

He created beauty, nature, time, and space. It was so very good.

Then God created man and woman. He loved them; He loved them so very much. He loved them so much that He walked with them and talked with them, in perfect, unbroken communion. That was good too.

Then sin was introduced to the story and the Enemy of God, this fallen angel, convinced the man and woman to doubt their God. As this relationship with God is ripped apart, as God in His perfection can’t live among their sin. The world fell under a blanket of darkness. The story continues, however, it is full of much pain.

Man and woman worked the land with toil, while siblings began murdering one another. Languages are confused and the earth is flooded. There is death around every corner. The people of God wander in the desert, now dying because of famine, and the ones that live are sold into slavery. It is generation after generation of hardship and of suffering. It is the cries and tears of a people who wonder where their God is and why it seems as if He’s abandoned them.

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Yet, God allows it. He cries along, as the story continues to challenge, oppress, and hurt the ones He loves. The thing is, there is no easy answer for why He allows it. It’s not the kind of story you put in a children’s book because, for all the moments that God is faithful and pours out His love on people who continually reject Him, there are an equal number of moments where it’s just hard.

However, for all the suffering, God’s sovereignty is present in it all. He mourns, laments, and cares for His people, until, in His perfect timing, He physically enters into the scene. God – the triune, relational, omnipotent, omniscient God – takes on the form of a servant, takes on flesh, and walks as one of us.

He walks as one acquainted with all suffering. He feels for us, with us, and as one of us. He grieves the loss of loved ones, lives in poverty, flees his home, faces abandonment, rejection, and false accusations. Until ultimately, His love for us brings Him to the uttermost suffering. Physical torture, emotional strife, as the weight of every sin is placed upon Him. Bearing every punishment that we, the sinful, broken, unfaithful people deserved. He suffers not only with us, but for us. For the sake of repairing what we broke, what we deny, and what we could not atone for.

He doesn’t stay defeated, however, but rises from the dead. His power breaks death and hell. He ascends to the place of perfection – where there are no tears, pains, or suffering. He repairs the relationship so that we can enter into holistic communion with our all-loving, all-holy God. . .

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. . .and that’s where we are going to end the story for now.

It feels trivial and almost sacrilegious or inappropriate to move onto some glorious explanation of heaven, Jesus’s second coming, and the eternal hope of the world in God’s ultimate victory. Because, while that is a very important part of the story – a beautiful, integral, necessary part – it doesn’t feel fair to move on just yet. Because the whole beginning isn’t fair and there’s no way to overlook that now (although, I didn’t seem to have a problem often doing it up until this point). It’s not fair that David lived as a King while the Israelites were enslaved for 400 years. It’s not fair that everything, except Noah and the animals, were destroyed in a flood or that Abraham and Sarah couldn’t conceive a baby for 100 years. It’s not fair that Job lost everything or that Naomi’s husband and sons all died. It’s not fair that today there are 6.3 million people who have fled everything and often everyone they know. It’s not fair that Allie’s dad died of cancer or that Ezra had a brain tumor that took his little seven year old life. None of it is fair.

It’s also not fair that Jesus died on the cross for the sins that we deserved to pay an eternal price for. It’s not fair that Jesus repaired the relationship that we broke – that we continually break. It’s not fair that God Himself would be acquainted with suffering, suffering that He didn’t deserve. He didn’t owe us anything and yet He felt for us, with us, and because of us. It may not be fair, but it’s just, and His sovereignty overarches it all – whether it makes sense to us or not. It’s not fair, but it’s love. And love seldom makes sense.

This is a story of incomprehensible love and suffering. Both love and suffering contain some level of meaning and philosophical reasoning (the class I’m taking this semester on Suffering proves that). But it doesn’t mean that we need to move on from the affective just yet. Because when I look into the eyes of a refugee who has just lost their home, family, and freedom, I can’t just jump to the glory. The narrative of Scripture itself doesn’t just jump to the glory. The point is that glory has come at an incredible price – sometimes the price of our sin, the sins of others, or the price of a world that groans because this is not the way it was created to be. We need to be okay with sitting in that, lamenting in that, for a minute. That was the whole point of what I learned at the Home of Hope and wrote about in “because I’m with you.

It’s okay that we can’t move on to, “but glory!” just yet.  It’s actually necessary. Not only would that diminish painful experiences, but it also neglects a view of the Gospel that highlights the empathy and embodiment of Jesus. The incarnation was not simply about Christ becoming Love and redeeming our sins unto Himself; it was also about walking as one of us, suffering and being tempted as we are (Hebrews 2:18, Philippians 2:8).

It is a sad reality, one that I have clearly, albeit non-consciously, fallen into. The reality that we only see the Gospel via the lens of beauty. While it is a true and necessary lens, it is incomplete if it ignores the pain of millions of people (if I allow it to ignore my own pain), including our Lord, past, present, and future. There is a necessity in lament that we, as American evangelicals, or perhaps as humans, are often uncomfortable with. It is why we prefer movies that have resolution, move on quickly from news articles that end in depression, or get squirmy when people cry in front of us. This narrative, this old old story, has the most glorious, pervasive, incredible ending and victory that we would imagine. However, that does not mean we need to jump there just yet. To overlook or brush past suffering is to discredit and delegitimize so much of our human experience, including the experience of our Lord. Lament is heavy, but it’s beautiful and it’s an important lens that we need to look through. It allows us to see ourselves and the world with a heartbreaking reality, to cry out for God with the same kind of gut-wrenching cries He used, and it ultimately frames hope in its magnificent, brilliant, eternal light.

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