making sense of nonsense

As humans, we are rational beings. We want to understand as much as we can, and try to make some sense of things. Necessarily, we factor in reason, as well as our experience, and at best, together. And if we’re wise, we surely will consider how generations past have grappled with life: their thoughts and practices, in a word, their tradition.

In some sense this is a never ending process, open to refinement, or just to the application necessary to the times in which we live. In another sense, for people of faith, there are certain matters that are fixed. The basis for that is both scripture and tradition. The church of the Great Tradition: Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and the like, will put both on an equal par, actually on the basis of scripture. Other churches such as those within Protestantism, will see scripture as the authority, but if they’re wise, I think, will understand that scripture does give some serious weight to tradition, particularly how the church has interpreted the point of scripture, the gospel, over the centuries. So that even within differences of understanding that, essentially the heart of the gospel is the same, found in Jesus, and in his death and resurrection, and all that’s related to that.

What can become a crisis of faith is experience along with thoughts which seem to give the lie to God. And specifically the great, good God of the Bible. But if we read all of the Bible, we’ll find that it mirrors life: the good, the bad, the beautiful, and the ugly. We are often left with no answer to our question, “Why?” both in terms of life, and sometimes within the pages of scripture itself. Although there are explanations, some of them tied to the idea that the secret things belong to God, left to God’s understanding, while the things revealed belong to God’s people, to hold on to for life, what is called truth (Deuteronomy). So that in the end we have to trust God.

The answer for us in the here and now is simply to learn to live in the never ending tension of life, both what makes sense, and what from our perspective is sheer nonsense, and maybe the case from God’s perspective, as well. Though God is at work to bring good out of it all, even what forever will be evil.

In the main point of scripture, the gospel, God used the greatest evil to bring about the greatest good at the cross, in the death of Christ. We hold on to that, both in terms of understanding God and life. There is something which ultimately will override all the nonsense of this world. And sense will take care of it all in the end in God’s good judgment and justice to come, and the salvation which follows.

In the meantime, I continue to hold to this, the idea that what makes sense will prevail, only through faith. Certainly the resurrection of Jesus as given to us in the gospel accounts, being a major factor for acceptance of the faith. But also a faith which amounts to a trust in God, even when it seems that the bottom has fallen out in our experience, or maybe even thought, so that there’s nothing left to stand on.

God is underneath, and around all of that. And the truth of the gospel, the good news in Jesus is the hope and even assurance we have that all will be well in the end.

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for the downcast from the psalms

BOOK II

Psalms 42–72

Psalm 42

For the director of music. A maskil of the Sons of Korah.

As the deer pants for streams of water,
    so my soul pants for you, my God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
    When can I go and meet with God?
My tears have been my food
    day and night,
while people say to me all day long,
    “Where is your God?”
These things I remember
    as I pour out my soul:
how I used to go to the house of God
    under the protection of the Mighty One
with shouts of joy and praise
    among the festive throng.

Why, my soul, are you downcast?
    Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
    for I will yet praise him,
    my Savior and my God.

My soul is downcast within me;
    therefore I will remember you
from the land of the Jordan,
    the heights of Hermon—from Mount Mizar.
Deep calls to deep
    in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your waves and breakers
    have swept over me.

By day the Lord directs his love,
    at night his song is with me—
    a prayer to the God of my life.

I say to God my Rock,
    “Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I go about mourning,
    oppressed by the enemy?”
My bones suffer mortal agony
    as my foes taunt me,
saying to me all day long,
    “Where is your God?”

Why, my soul, are you downcast?
    Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
    for I will yet praise him,
    my Savior and my God.

Psalm 43

Vindicate me, my God,
    and plead my cause
    against an unfaithful nation.
Rescue me from those who are
    deceitful and wicked.
You are God my stronghold.
    Why have you rejected me?
Why must I go about mourning,
    oppressed by the enemy?
Send me your light and your faithful care,
    let them lead me;
let them bring me to your holy mountain,
    to the place where you dwell.
Then I will go to the altar of God,
    to God, my joy and my delight.
I will praise you with the lyre,
    O God, my God.

Why, my soul, are you downcast?
    Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
    for I will yet praise him,
    my Savior and my God.

 

Psalm 42-43

“In many Hebrew manuscripts Psalms 42 and 43 constitute one psalm” (NIV footnote). I am working on memorizing and meditating on this passage right now. It speaks powerfully to me in ways I sorely need.

Anyone who would get to know me would learn I can be downcast. Though I’m surprised and relieved, really over people near me not picking up on that. But my wife knows. The psalmist here engages both in some self-talk, and in reflection before God within the community of faith. We sorely and desperately need that for various reasons.

The psalmist struggled with what we might call depression today. And with some good reason. Things weren’t the same as in days past, and people were questioning both his faith, and his God as a result.

But the psalmist turns to God in a questioning yet sincere faith, and finds hope. In fact to just turn to God was what we might say, the cure for his depression. Hope sprung to life in his heart. Even in the midst of the ruin and despair.

A good passage for me, for us all to reflect on, and pray over. In and through Jesus.

grieving the loss of one of Jesus’s loved servants

Precious in the sight of the Lord
    is the death of his faithful servants.

Psalm 116:15; NIV

The church we’ve been attending, and are in the process of joining lost a faithful servant who I never had the pleasure of meeting myself. But a young woman, married with a daughter, who was in love with her family, in love with life, and most of all in love with the Lord. In a tragic car accident. She was a faithful servant with a heart for children’s ministry. I want to say that this church, mega though it is, with a number of campuses, does everything so thoughtfully and well. Most of all bathed in love and prayers, prayers and love. The church has a big place and heart for children, and for children’s ministry, as it should be. And this young (to me) lady had what she considered her dream job in being in children’s ministry, coordinating that ministry on the main campus.

We are deeply grieving, but how much more those who knew her, especially her loved ones? And those who were her friends, and served with her in the work of the Lord? So our prayers along with our hearts go out to her loved ones, and to the church at this time.

I couldn’t understand how this could be. I have been so grateful for the ministry of this church in so many ways, for so many reasons. We can never be the same after this, I’m sure. We need God’s grace to carry on. How much more those who knew and loved her, and served with her. You get so close to the Lord and then to others through the Lord through a ministry like this. Little does one realize what they have sometimes, until it’s taken away. Or sometimes, sadly, we may not appreciate someone enough until they’re gone.

In the context of Psalm 116, God had rescued the psalmist from death in answer to prayer, and the psalmist was praising God for that. I’m sure that psalm alone can be one for meditation and prayer in the coming days, although there are so many passages in scripture in which we can find some help, comfort and solace.

Note the differences in how Psalm 116:15 is translated:

The Lord cares deeply
    when his loved ones die.

NLT

The death of the Lord’s faithful
    is a costly loss in his eyes.

CEB

The Lord values
the lives of his faithful followers.

NET Bible

I think the footnote of the NET Bible is helpful:

Heb “precious in the eyes of the Lord [is] the death of his godly ones.” The point is not that God delights in or finds satisfaction in the death of his followers! The psalmist, who has been delivered from death, affirms that the life-threatening experiences of God’s followers get God’s attention, just as a precious or rare object would attract someone’s eye. See Ps 72:14 for a similar expression of this belief.

We have to let this sit, while we sit before the Lord in silence. And while we reach out in love to those whose lives intersected closely with hers.

She is with the Lord she loved now, and I’m sure is full of complete joy and peace. I am not sure about whether or just how she might be interceding for those left behind, if departed ones do that. That could well be; it’s a tradition of the church, though I don’t think there’s any proof for it from scripture. But I’m sure she would want those left behind to continue on in the work of the Lord. And do well in it. In God’s love.

But some things can leave the heart numb for a time, especially in this case for those left behind. We want to ask the question, “Why Lord?” And we can. But we have to trust, as well. Even when it makes no sense at all. And when we say, we don’t care what good might come out of it. We don’t care at all. We don’t understand. But in the end, we have to entrust and leave it in God’s hands. And let it go at that. In silence. And in faith.

At the very end, when it’s all said and done, our lives are only a blink of time here. These awful happenings will be remembered no more. And we’ll all be together again. Let’s continue on with the same love, passion and ardent devotion this young lady showed to all by her life and service to Jesus. In and through him.

answer the questions we know, not the many things we don’t know

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.

James 1:22-25

Over the course of one’s life, much seems to be shrouded in mystery. And I’m thinking not so much in looking back, though that’s true, but in living through it. And then there’s the nebulous in between stuff, which we had enough understanding to work through, and either did well, or well enough, or not.

It is critical in one’s life to take a radical stance in acting on what we do know, which includes a whole host of things. I can’t emphasize this enough to help others avoid my errors, but also for me in the present. The only way I can avoid self-deception along with satanic deception is to stay on the straight and narrow course of obedience to God’s word. And what that involves is both very gospel and church oriented. And again, it’s rooted in the word, but the goal of that being an interactive relationship with God in communion with the church. And of course our lives in all of this are to be a witness to the world.

In answering the questions we know, I am getting at plain old fashioned obedience to scripture, nonetheless. To take a lot more of it literally, than not. And that involves good reading, meditation, and study. Of course we read scripture as both a human and divine book. So that we don’t do fanciful things with it in working at getting at the plain sense of its meaning. And we consider it in its entirety, and learn from biblical scholars who do the same. We stay the course not only of scripture, but within the latitude and accepted parameters of the church’s interpretation and understanding.

Let me say again that this is crucial. Life is going to throw us some serious issues along the way, at least in our minds, but also in reality. Some of it in my own life has definitely been a matter of the mind. But others definitely real, as well as difficult. We need scripture and the church, and to be honest to God, and honest to others, particularly those in leadership, as well as a trusted, wise friend.

So let’s concentrate on doing well in what we know, and trust God to help us be faithful in that, as well as through the more difficult matters, along with what we don’t understand at all. And to learn to keep doing this, and growing in it, in and through Jesus.

becoming aware and remaining silent

When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.

Job 2:11-13

Good start, but bad ending for Job’s three friends. Actually a good ending, considering that God had Job pray for them in the end. The fact that they sat with him in silence for seven whole days is exemplary. But what we can see from the rest of the book is that likely during those seven days their hearts and minds were stirred with thoughts for their words, essentially diatribes against Job, which followed.

Of course we wouldn’t have what turns out to be a long wisdom book without their sayings, and Job’s reply to them. It’s almost as if that dialog becomes what’s important, and especially God’s answer in the end. Not really giving Job an explanation, but instead, what Job really needed. But at the same time exonerating Job, while rebuking Job’s three friends. Interestingly, the young man who said something before Job spoke, is not corrected by God, unless one might say that he kind of anticipates God’s answer, yet even if he thinks he’s above Job’s friends, does seem to faintly echo them.

Job is actually a great book, even if puzzling and troubling on a certain level. My favorite group Bible study was one we had going through Job. It is more like an exercise in humility, rather than finding answers to help us through life. But that’s the point. We need to be silent and still before God, not just in regard to ourselves, but also concerning others. Rather than think we have all the answers based on our theology and understanding.

Does that mean we don’t try to understand the plight of others? I don’t think so. It might mean that in doing so, we try not to lean to our own understanding of even what we believe from scripture, but instead, actively lean on God. Much in our understanding might be true, as was the case with Job’s three friends, but like them, misapplied. We need to be in prayer, ask questions, and investigate. And never think we arrived to the final answer.

Of course the final answer in scripture is the gospel: God in Christ reconciling the world to himself and his good will and purpose. And that applying to every situation in some way, believe it or not. But still holding everyone accountable to accept in faith God’s word to us in Jesus, and specifically in Jesus’s incarnation, life, teachings, death and resurrection, along with his ascension, the pouring out of the Spirit, with the promise of his return. That is God’s answer to everything, which in itself is not simplistic, but points toward the completeness of the gospel itself.

So although Job’s friends did have a lot of knowledge in the way of theology, they lacked wisdom in applying it. Just the same, it is the inspired word of God, and is a case in point of how the parts as in the responses of Job’s friends need to be seen within the whole, and help us at least begin to appreciate what otherwise we never would. Job answers his friends who don’t let go, but answer back for awhile. And then God answers. All of it is instructive and important in its place.

This is a wisdom book, and unfolds in such a way as to simply make us aware of our need of God rather than some textbook answer which we can write down, and then carry out. Not that there isn’t instruction throughout, and especially in what God tells Job in the end, which really amounts to helping Job see that when it’s all said and done, Job can’t understand what only God can. And his friends failed to speak the truth about God, unlike Job, who at least was seriously wrestling with God over his disaster and the dilemma that followed. And in faith received God’s word. All of this now for us, in and through Jesus.

 

unanswered questions and where our confidence lies

The Bible is full of places where God’s people, even his servants question him, wondering about this or that, especially in terms of God’s justice and even goodness. Habakkuk is a good case in point, as we heard in the message (week one: “Honest to God”) yesterday. Another great example is Job, who in the end didn’t have all his questions answered, but it didn’t seem to matter. Actually in the case of Job, we might say he was intellectually satisfied, and probably more importantly, satisfied in his heart, because the essential answer which God gave him is that the God who created everything in all that wonder is beyond the scope of Job’s ability to comprehend and fully appreciate. God does give us what we need to carry on and do well in the faith which is in him in and through Jesus.

I too often, probably just occasionally have questions which while not necessarily large scale often have no quick and easy answers. Proverbs tells us that it is the glory of kings to search out a matter, so it doesn’t hurt at all for us to pray and investigate and find out what we can in trying to arrive to some satisfactory answer. But do all of our questions have to be answered? The really essential one for the Christian faith is the reality or not of Jesus’s resurrection from the dead. Our faith depends on the veracity of that as a historical and not just religious truth. It either happened, and therefore our faith is true, or it didn’t happen. And since our faith purports to be dependent on that, and not just some tradition or religion we do, we have nothing according to Paul if it’s not historical fact (1 Corinthians 15). The evidence from the gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) is quite compelling, and coupled with Luke’s account in Acts followed by the rest of the New/Final Testament and what follows in history afterward, we can say we have good reason intellectually to accept that as true. And we have found that confession of faith to be life changing, setting us on a completely new course in life (Romans 10:9-10). It’s other nagging questions along the way which subtly can eat away at our faith, at the practice of it.

And that leads me to the main question for this post: Where does our confidence ultimately lie, in God himself, or in having all of our questions answered? And the easy answer is that our confidence is in God alone, apart from whatever questions which might remain unanswered. But the more complex, true to life answer is that we can continue to wrestle with God (the meaning of the word Israel, by the way is one who wrestles with God) and ask whatever hard questions we have, big or small. We can struggle and wonder and simply not know. But ultimately we can be at rest even with that tension, because our confidence is in God. So that by and large that tension is relieved without having all of our questions answered. Even as we continue to ask and search for answers to our questions. In and through Jesus.

asking questions

If there’s one thing I might say characterizes my thinking, it is asking questions. Or let’s put it this way: one thing I’d like to be true in my case, that would be a good beginning.

Faith isn’t at all diminished, when we ask questions. The Bible has many examples of that, both in terms of serious probing, and simple anguish. In fact we do well to bring our questions to God. And when we look at scripture, we find that God himself is not afraid to ask questions to challenge or encourage people concerning their faith. Jesus asked questions. So it can work both ways.

We are blessed to live during a time when many answers, or something toward an answer is right at our fingertips with the internet. That can be good. But in the end, we need to ask the harder, and larger questions: Why am I here; what’s the meaning of life? What is the conclusion, when all is said and done (Ecclesiastes)? Who is Jesus, and what difference does that make? Why is the resurrection the heart of the Christian faith, so that if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, then our faith is null and void?

Of course we ask the lesser questions too, which all have their place of importance: Have humans impacted the climate, and if so, what can be done about it? And a whole host of questions on issues which in some cases are debated. Asking questions helps us find and better understand issues and problems, and can help us work toward possible solutions.

In the end for me I have to get in the word, and then the questions I have are in relation to what I’m reading and meditating on there. I find that gives a perspective like surely nothing else can. After all, I’m getting into God’s word written. And that helps me to major on what is major, and minor on what is minor, not that I achieve that well, all the time, or perhaps anytime at all, for that matter. We all need God’s grace in Jesus always. It’s not the case of asking the right questions. But faith takes God’s word seriously, and the nature of faith is interactivity with God. Questions can be one aspect of that.

And so we can continue to ask questions. But we do so, looking to the Lord to either answer them, or more likely to give us the grace to carry on in spite of not having any answer, although scripture gives us what we need for a life lived well before God. More and more we find that the answer to all of life somehow ultimately lies in God himself in and through Christ and by the Spirit. Of course many details addressed along the way as well, since God’s gifts figure in that equation, also.

And so keep asking questions. That is indicative of a faith that is alive and growing. Or could help one toward the beginning of faith. And look to God for the answers, through his word, and prayer. The way, the truth, and the life found in Jesus, so all of this actually in and through him.