Long Read: This Easter It’s Messy
He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces. He was despised, and we held him in low esteem. Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.
– Isaiah 53:3-4 NIV
Oh, how we misjudge. A man familiar with pain. The kind of person who is uncomfortable to be around. The kind of human who is too messy and difficult to be involved. It is much easier to be around someone whose struggles are hidden and glossed over by a shiny exterior and organized life pace. This man’s pain transformed him and others though. He was different.
Last night, I had the pleasure of breaking bread with my Aunt Gwendolyn. We were discussing the Lord’s loving and sovereign hand and the post I had written last week on the matter. How He sometimes takes certain choices away from us. I was thinking of a medical situation my daughter was in I was powerless to influence.
There are many examples: a neighbor’s husband goes to jail, leaving her destitute. A friend’s wife leaves. He has to stand and watch. A friend battles cancer.
Yet in all of these cases, it all seemed to work out. It was long hard roads, full of pain. Yet, the pain was transformative ending in restoration and redemption. The seemingly toughest examples are when one dismantles their own life through sin and hang ups. “I messed up, therefore this bad thing happened.”
Brennan Manning writes in his Ragamuffin Gospel of an alcoholic who left his child in a freezing car for hours while he was drinking and reminiscing with his Army buddies. It was below zero and his nine year old daughter, locked in the truck lost her thumb and forefinger to frostbite and nearly froze to death. She was deaf for the rest of her life.
Where is the redemptive story? Where is the healing? Where is the Lord in situations such as these? Our conversation turned to free will. Something I had not previously thought about. Free Will vs Sovereignty. It was a logical observation and one I appreciate my Aunt’s wisdom for. This morning I woke thinking these two ideas seem to be in opposition to one another.
And if life was simple, neat and clean, they would be. Yet our lives our complex, messy and unable to be squeezed into neat logical theology. It seems like my theology more closely mimics our Tupperware drawer in the kitchen. The drawer is meant to make our lives more organized and manageable yet in reality it is full of mismatched containers, lids, sippy cups, varying brands, all with their own form of compatibility. I hate that drawer.
Free will and the Lord’s sovereignty are not mutually exclusive. The problem with free will is the dear friends, family and enemies who surround us. They too have a free will. If it is true that I can, all by myself, improve and organize my life to success then what of those around me who thwart my plans?
Take for instance the Co-Pilot in the Germanwings Crash who hid his mental illness from the airline and rammed his Airbus 320 into the French Alps this week. He had a free will, yet his passengers, all 159 who died, did not. They were at his mercy. Or the alcoholic in the Ragamuffin Gospel? This man, warm in the bar, exerted his free will while his 9 year old daughter, outside in the cold, fought for her very life.
I haven’t figured this out yet and I believe that is the point. Life is not one of those “connect the dots” coloring sheets where one simply follows instructions to complete a beautiful picture. It is full of incongruence. Sovereignty is required. Rest in His perfect plan is the only way. Yes, we have a free will and it gets us and others in trouble more often than not. Yet, He is orchestrating it all, in a steady rhythm on our behalf for our good.
This Easter, we have a Lord who is bringing about His Kingdom on this earth. He is a man like from whom people hide their faces. He is familiar with pain. But surely He took up our unimaginable pain. Even the pain we inflict on ourselves and others.