A glimpse through a glass, darkly
When I looked ahead in the liturgical calendar and found Monnica's feast day coming up, I also read the Bible passages for her feast day, May 4.
One of them game me goosebumps and a little chill up my spine. It was from the Gospel of John. It was one of those "aha" moments, when a passage just clicks, and I have a new understanding or perception. This one gave me a vision of the aching and yearning of a torn creation seeking its Creator, but the promise of something to come from that pain. This is what I wrote about it for the newspaper column, but you know the rest of the story:
The question of pain and suffering in this world comes up often when
people ask me about faith. The question is part of my own wrestling with God.
A faith so simplistic it never addresses doubts isn't deep enough to carry me through the really rough times.
Why, if there is a merciful God, do suffering, sickness, death and mourning exist in this world?
As I was looking at some of the readings coming up in the church calendar, I read John 16:20-24, and I believe it points toward an answer. It gives me a glimpse of things I cannot see clearly, but then Paul told us in his first letter to the Corinthians, "Now we look through a glass, darkly, but then, face to face."
In the passage from the Gospel of John, we are told "Jesus said, 'Very truly, I tell you, you will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice; you will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy. When a woman is in labor, she has pain, because her hour has come. But when her child is born, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy of having brought a human being into the world. So you have pain now; but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. On that day you will ask nothing of me. Very truly, I tell you, if you ask anything of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete.'"
We will weep and mourn. It has been so since Adam and Eve were evicted from the Garden of Eden. Bible stories tell us God used to walk in the garden with them in the cool of the evening, and they could walk and talk with him and look upon the face of God.
Then Adam and Eve had to leave the Garden of Eden.
For the first time, they experienced life that wasn't in the Kingdom of God. They experienced suffering, pain, grief, death, injustice.
No more could mortal look upon the face of God and live, until Jesus came into the world. He came and lived among us for 33 years, in the form of a human.
Just as water can flow into a parched desert for a very short time and nourish flowers into bloom, and bring fish and shrimp to life to provide plentiful food for the multitudes, so did Jesus. He came into a parched world and offered life and hope; the Kingdom of God swirled about him like a cloak and touched so many people, leaving hope behind him.
Without hope, we could not endure this world, which rejoices in our suffering.
Now, we wait for Christ to return, never to leave us again. Now, creation aches from being torn from the full presence of God. We wait; we are in the hour, awaiting the birth of our new beings.
We spend most of our lives begging God to spare us.
"Save us from the time of trial," we say in the Lord's Prayer. But we are being refined, and God patiently works on us, just as a purifier of silver holds the metal in the hottest part of the fire to purify it. (Malachi 3.3)
We wait in darkness, but know the light is coming.
We will look upon the face of God again; he will look back at us, and our suffering will end.
"Weeping may last for the night, but joy comes in the morning." (Psalm 30:5)
God gives us a glimpse into his kingdom.