Saturday, August 09, 2014

Is there a balm?



I went to sleep with tears on my pillow last night.

My children were tucked away in their beds – safe, secure, healthy, happy. But on the other side of the world, 

A voice is heard in Ramah,
    lamentation and bitter weeping.
Rachel is weeping for her children;
    she refuses to be comforted for her children,
    because they are no more.”
(Jeremiah 31:15)

My mom heart, probably fueled by some pregnancy-hormone imagination, weeps with them. I see the headlines, “ISIS is decapitating children” and can’t click on the article. That’s all I need to know (although I also know that families who flee to the mountains are watching their children wither and die from hunger and thirst); I wouldn’t sleep at all with those images fueling my imagination.

Is there a balm for these kinds of tears? The trauma may fade (it may not – much of Rwanda is still raw), but I cannot imagine such a balm this side of heaven.

Speaking of heaven, I saw a quote on Pinterest a few weeks ago that didn’t interest me enough at the time to save it, but it has stuck in my mind since then (fortunately, it doesn’t seem to be popular enough for me to be able to find it again through searches). It was an old-style picture of the Paris skyline, and had written over it, “What if when you die … they ask you, ‘how was heaven?’” Obviously, the impulse was to encourage the reader to seize the day, make the most of life right now, count your blessings, etc, etc. It was probably created by a white girl who was a college freshman feeling angsty about finals or only having an iPhone 4, so she sat on her fluffy dorm bed and used her Macbook to make a cute reminder that life really isn’t all that bad (sorry, I snark). 

I’m so glad the sentiment isn’t popular, though, because I ultimately find it not just an object for snark, but deeply offensive. Should we speak of blessings and be grateful for God’s gifts? Yes, but to suggest that this world is remotely heavenly belittles human suffering and belittles the glories of heaven. I’m offended on behalf of these weeping moms in Iraq. I’m offended on behalf of entire communities in West Africa that are stricken with an incurable hemorrhaging disease. I’m offended on behalf of trafficked little girls. I’m offended on behalf of American soldiers with PTSD. I’m offended on behalf of moms whose wee ones are battling cancer. I’m offended on behalf of those who have suffered the pain of divorce. I’m offended on behalf of hard-working people around the world who are trapped in poverty. Hell, I’m offended on behalf of myself, not only because I have an achy back and a sin-filled heart and I long for heaven even amidst the genuine joys of this earth, but because I have identified myself with a Savior who experienced hell in order to bring heaven back to us after mankind arrogantly opened pandora’s box and let loose hell on earth.

Every Sunday morning when I eat that little piece of bread and drink that little cup of wine, I am proclaiming that very suffering and death until He comes again. Tomorrow morning, I will eat and drink not only to have my fill of grace for the coming week, but also to proclaim that the Body and the Blood were also broken and shed for tiny broken bodies and gallons of shed blood in Iraq. For moms and dads whose tears may as well as be blood. Oh, that they may somehow taste that grace right now, although it may taste more now like the gall that was offered to Christ on the cross, than the sweet, life-giving wine that will cross my lips.

Miroslav Volf, arguably one of the most theological, articulate and winsome voices on reconciliation of our time, has written that there can be no peace (temporal or eternal) without justice; and in cases like these, it requires a sober and appropriate view of divine justice. Hell is real, God’s wrath is real, and it will come when Christ returns like no disaster that has ever been known to mankind in history.

Excuse the long quote:

A nonindignant God would be an accomplice in injustice, deception, and violence … Without an eschatological dimension, the talk of God’s wrath degenerates into a na├»ve and woefully inadequate ideology about the self-cancellation of evil. Outside the world of wishful thinking, evildoers all too often thrive, and when they are overthrown, the victors are not much better than the defeated. God’s eschatological anger is the obverse of the impotence of God’s love in the face of the self-immunization of evildoers caught in the self-generating mechanism of evil. A ‘nice’ God is a figment of liberal imagination, a projection onto the sky of the inability to give up cherished illusions about goodness, freedom, and the rationality of social actors.
…There is no trace of this nonindignant God in the biblical texts, be it Old Testament  or New Testament, be it Jesus of Nazareth or John of Patmos. The evildoers who ‘eat up my people as they eat bread,’ says the Psalmist in God’s name, will be put ‘in great terror’ (Psalm 14:5). Why terror? Why not simply reproach? Even better, why not reasoning together? Why not just display suffering love? Because evildoers ‘are corrupt’ and ‘they do abominable deeds’ (v. 1); they have ‘gone astray,’ they are ‘perverse’ (v. 3). God will judge, not because God gives people what they deserve, but because some people refuse to receive what no one deserves; if evildoers experience God’s terror, it will not be because they have done evil, but because they have resisted to the end the powerful lure of the open arms of the crucified Messiah.
…Should not a loving God be patient and keep luring the perpetrator into goodness? This is exactly what God does: God suffers the evildoers through history as God has suffered them on the cross. But how patient should God be? The day of reckoning must come, not because God is too eager to pull the trigger, but because every day of patience in a world of violence means more violence and every postponement of vindication means letting insult accompany injury. ‘How long will it be before you judge and avenge our blood,’ cry out the souls under the altar to the Sovereign Lord (Revelation 6:10). We are uncomfortable with the response which calls the souls to ‘rest a little longer, until the number would be complete both of their fellow servants and of their brothers and sisters, who were soon to be killed as they themselves had been killed’ (v. 11). But the response underlines that God’s patience is costly, not simply for God, but for the innocent. Waiting for the evildoers to reform means letting suffering continue.      (Exclusion and Embrace, pp 297-300)

There are two sides to every coin. When I sing “Jesus Loves Me” to my children every night, I sing a comforting promise of forgiveness for sins, no matter how great (even for mass murderers). Peace be upon those moms who can understand so much better than I; but the promise of God’s love also includes a promise of his wrath.

Jesus loves me, this I know,

For the Bible tells me so (bank on his promises, dear Iraqi moms; they may not feel true right now, but they are. This is your only comfort and hope.).

Little ones to Him belong (in heaven now, even as they did on earth),

They were weak (beneath guns and swords),

But HE is strong (“Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done. – Rev 22:12)

Yes, Jesus loves me (“O daughter of Babylon, doomed to be destroyed,
         blessed shall he be who repays you
         with what you have done to us!
      Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones
         and dashes them against the rock!” – Psalm 137:8-9)

Yes, Jesus loves me (“He who sits in the heavens laughs;
         the Lord holds them in derision.
      Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
         and terrify them in his fury.” Psalm 2:4-5)

Yes, Jesus loves me (“When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been. – Rev 6:9-11)

The Bible tells me so (He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! – Rev 22:20)

Is this hope of balm?  It comes not from Gilead but from heaven, and it is red as blood. Come quickly, Lord Jesus!

1 comment:

Addie said...

I read the article and looked in horror at pictures I couldn't comprehend. And I can't stop sobbing. They could be my own children. Oh, God. My soul is crying out.