This world is a difficult place. A constant complaint against God, the prosecutorial argument made, is “how can a benevolent God allow _____ to occur.” The list that fills the blank is long and gruesome and sad. We can’t dismiss the suffering. We can’t dismiss the winds of hate, violence, intolerance and cruelty (often done in the name of our various gods) that bends us inward set against the world in a grim lifelong slog.
But we also can’t dismiss the sun that peaks in and warms us, the random acts of kindness, the way the love of another fills our hearts with the power of possibility and hope.
I have no idea why suffering is part of our experience (a necessary part, according to most religious traditions) because God’s means exceed my human limitations. I only know I’ve seen the love of God in the most unlikely places to know that amid the suffering, God is there too.
That’s the point. God with us. Not a genie in the bottle who makes the world perfect, but a God with us, expressing love amid the hate and peace amid the storm.
If I have two complaints against the Evangelicalism of our day (and I do… more than two, without a doubt) they are these: Evangelicals turn the process of spiritual awakening into an event that can be quantified and counted that often results in an us-against-them ugliness; after that event, the focus often comes down to a set of beliefs that too often leads to self-absortion over selfless love. Like the song from the play If/Then, I hear so much “I, I, I, me, me, me” in Evangelical Christianity I wonder what happened to a suffering Christ who calls us come die to our self right along with him.
We come to God not for what we can get but because we have no choice but to respond to the love She shows us.
Christian writer Frederick Buechner in his book Wishful Thinking said two things about faith in God that would be well to remembered. He said when we act in love, we are seeing what God can do. He also said knowing God is “a process, not an event.”
You can make yourself moral. You can make yourself religious. But you can’t make yourself love.
“We love,” John says, “because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).
Who knows how the awareness of God’s love first hits people. We all have our own tales to tell, including those of us who wouldn’t believe in God if you paid us. Some moment happens in your life that you say yes to right up to the roots of your hair, that makes it worth having been born just to have happen. Laughing with somebody till the tears run down your cheeks. Waking up to the first snow. Being in bed with somebody you love.
Whether you thank God for such a moment or thank your lucky stars, it is a moment that is trying to open up your whole life. If you turn your back on such a moment and hurry along to business as usual, it may lose you the ball game. If you throw your arms around such a moment and bless it, it may save your soul.
How about the person you know who as far as you can possibly tell has never had such a moment—one of those soreheads and slobs of the world, the ones the world has hopelessly crippled? Maybe for that person the moment that has to happen is you.
It is a process, not an event.
We aren’t supposed to pass the test on the first day. We are supposed to grow in love. “We love because we are loved.” But what if we don’t love?
As people of faith we open ourselves up to our whole human condition and allow a space for God to enter there. Rather than narrow down to a set of beliefs, we are supposed to open up to a vast expression of love, so vast that our thinking changes, our priorities change, our compassion grows, and whole host of other things occur from within that flows out in… love.
When we see that love, wherever it can be found, rather than scrutinize it, can we just applaud it? When we see love expressed, as the Apostle John said, we see God.
A spiritual person is one who doesn’t just unlock the door, but rips the whole thing off the hinges with the biggest welcome mat that can be found set out. Come in out of the wind, we say.
The winds of this life are cruel and those that blame God get no guff from me. I can’t explain it. But, having been loved by God I can do my level best to love in return. Beyond that, I can only say, “I do not know,” confident that the process continues.