Wax & Clay: The Choice of Suffering

Weeping AngelThere is a distinct quality in a broken person, though mileage varies. Some are hardened and cold, some are tender and gentle. Either way, you can see it in their eyes, their body posture, their gait. You hear it in their voice. They’ve been slammed. Slammed by life, circumstance, relationships, disease, tragedy.

Mind you, I’m not talking about the routine bumps and scrapes we all experience. Those sting, but don’t leave us wishing we were dead. No, I’m describing a Life Altering Crisis (LAC). I’m talking about when your world collapses, when you find yourself on life support in emotional or spiritual ICU, barely holding on. In such times, the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel becomes little more than a cruel joke. From where you stand, there is no light. Lest you think God doesn’t allow or participate in “slammings”, just visit a guy named Job.

I’m talking about when your world collapses, when you find yourself on life support in emotional or spiritual ICU, barely holding on.

The reasons for a Life Altering Crisis are many. If I’m talking about you, perhaps it is because you tried your best at something, you risked everything financially, only to find that your brilliant idea wasn’t so brilliant after all. Now you’re bankrupt, shamed. The experience of personal and professional disappointment, coupled with the rejection of others, on a sufficiently monumental scale, can be devastating. You have come face to face with a hard truth: you don’t have what it takes. The word ‘loser’ comes to mind. Join the crowd.

Or perhaps a major character flaw haunts you—sin, addiction, abuse, loneliness—leaving you stranded in crisis, feeling impotent to extract yourself. Imagine the great hope of the lowborn William Thatcher in A Knight’s Tale, “to change his stars,” except reverse it. You don’t know how to change. You’re stuck as you, and it’s not pretty.

You may be broken by guilt because you’ve hurt people you love. You know it, they know it. In spite of many tears, the friendship is over. Perhaps, like me, you have watched loved ones die, jobs buckle, dreams implode and friends turn away. In these grueling, extended seasons of despair, life often becomes nothing more than a dull, grinding of gears. Empty. Pointless. Lacking meaning and joy.

And yet, here’s the miracle, that a broken man or woman can still believe. Faith, hope and love, barely smoldering, survive deep in the souls of even the most wounded. How can this be?

I believe in divine promises. I maintain we must grapple and contend until our inner structures of unbelief are conformed to unblemished confidence in God’s nature and ways. Ultimately, by this trajectory, we are destined to become mountain-moving overcomers. The questions is, how do we get there? Fashioning an overcomer is not easy, yet it seems to be the primary ambition of Jesus for each of the seven churches in Revelation. Thus, a significant degree of God intent in history is apparently to produce overcomers.

“This is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith” (1 John 5:4).

Since you exist in history, a broken world will inflict further brokenness. Welcome to the human experience! We can respond with bitterness and harden our hearts, or let the experience soften us. As the old saying goes, the same sun that melts the wax will harden clay. Said another way, you are formed not so much by the wound as by your response to it. In other words, you can’t blame the sun. Let go the victim mentality. Choose you this day: Wax or clay?

The fact that divine promises of blessing and hope stubbornly underlay our struggles creates a theological dividing line, with two camps responding in one extreme or the other. One either denies or rebukes pain, the other fatalistically resigns themselves to it as “God’s will.” Both are easier territory to defend than the honest, balanced witness of Scripture.

Life is hard, but good. God is for you and helps in huge ways, because…(repeat).”

For my part, I challenge the victory-minded Christian culture that shies away from pain and awkwardly relates to those who are suffering. We are broken people—have been or will be. Now or later. The rock falls or we fall on the rock.

And yet…I believe. Lord help my unbelief! I do not wish to grow weary or dull or hard of heart. Rather, like a child, I come, daily, to a good and loving God, who is ever making all things new, redeeming and restoring that which the ravages of sin has broken. If that’s you, then here is a safe place—until the light shines again.

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