What I Do Not Want for Cities Church
I recently started reading Suffering and the Sovereignty of God for about the fifth time since Henryk died. It really helps when I am feeling particularly adrift in my pain. Something caught my attention this time that hasn’t stood out before. There was a quote from David Wells that spoke about how the Evangelical Christian movement simply is “not very serious anymore.” John Piper followed it up by saying that “our vision of God in relation to evil and suffering was shown to be frivolous.”
I had two thoughts when I read this. The first is that, at large, I agree with it. Having shared with dozens of people that I have a son who passed away has put me in a position to hear dozens of responses, and so many of them have been lacking. They aren’t true. They wouldn’t hold up if put under the simplest scrutiny. The thing that can be so hurtful about this is that the weakness of poor answers can make me feel very alone. If grieving people only hear tenuous response, how are they to be seriously helped?
My second thought was that I do not want this for Cities Church.
Now, I don’t mean that in a worrisome kind of way. I believe our leadership, and our church ethos, take life seriously. I know we’ll go deep with the God of the Bible, and therefore, we will be relevant to the suffering and evil in the world. I pray above many other things, though, that we will not be frivolous. Who would we be helping? Who would we be serving if we didn’t acknowledge the pain in this world? God doesn’t ask to be “let off the hook” for terrible things, and trying to distance his involvement in calamity will cripple his church and our mission.
May We Hear Him
I’ve been studying Ezekiel the past few weeks. It is a weird and wonderful book. It is set after Jerusalem has been overtaken, at the same time as Daniel. When Jerusalem was conquered, Daniel was taken to live in the palace of the king of Babylon to be assimilated to their culture. At this time, Ezekiel, who was a bit older than Daniel, was part of a group of refugees who lived in a camp outside of the city of Babylon. There, Ezekiel is visited by God.
First, God showed Ezekiel his glory. It included shimmering creatures with wings and multiple animal heads and wheels and motion and a human-imaged person sitting on a thrown surrounded by fire. Ezekiel also described a sound as of a great earthquake. Second, God gave Ezekiel a physical book of a scroll covered with writings of lamentation and mourning and woe. He told Ezekiel to eat it so that his words would literally fill Ezekiel.
God’s whole purpose in appearing to Ezekiel was to make him a prophet. God wanted Ezekiel to speak his words to his covenant people. The fact that the Israelites were adrift wasn’t that God wasn’t talking to them — it was that they weren’t listening. Were they not listening because of the pain of being exiles? Why didn’t they hear him?
So I have been praying for my own life, and all our lives at Cities Church, that God would make us hear the earthquakes of his glory, that he would make us know the depths to which he understands our pain.
Hope Behind the Honey
January was very hard on me. The two year anniversary of Henryk’s funeral left me unable to be distracted from the heartache. I miss him so much. Life still feels, every day, as though something is not right. It is not as it is supposed to be. Someone is missing. Always. Our first service on January 18 was so exciting and wonderful, but I was so sad. I was left after the service thinking, “How do I help people while I am suffering and sad?”
After Ezekiel ate the scroll of lamentation and mourning and woe he said it tasted like honey. I read this and it made my throat stick. There is nothing sweet about my lamentation and mourning and woe. It has been terrible. I hate it. I still hate that this happened. I think I will be asking God why about Henryk’s death until the day I die myself, and we know from the book of Job and the Psalms and Jesus himself that there is room for this to be done in faith. But, danger to me if I ignore this “honey” part of the Bible (which I did the first two or three times I read this passage).
How can we hear the earthquakes of the glory of God? How can we listen to what he is saying to us in the Bible? How can we know that he understands the depths of our lamentation and mourning and woe? How can we help others while we are suffering? How can that scroll have tasted like honey? The apostle John writes,
And the Word because flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. (John 1:14)
And then in Revelation 21:1,
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw a holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, or crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
It is finished. It is done. Even if we can’t taste the honey right now, it is coming.