Light and Darkness

What of the horrific shootings today in CT and the stabbings in China? My heart breaks, along with the hearts of all decent people. These are a few sentences I wrote for this week’s sermon, yesterday. I am reading them today with new eyes and will not deliver them Sunday in the same way I had originally planned.

The story of the birth of Jesus is not that the light comes and extinguishes all the darkness and we all live happily ever after. For now, we live in a world filled with both realities. It is a world of incredible darkness and light. A world filled with death and life. Life is always there with death. Light is always shining in darkness. There is always hope. And the darkness can never extinguish the light. No amount of evil, or suffering, or violence, can extinguish the light. That is the message. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

Losing My Daughter

kyra-losing my daughter

And so it begins again — the feeling that I am losing my daughter. That somehow, despite the glass being half full, and something about girls always loving and needing their daddies, and something about how I will always be the first man who mattered in her life, I am, once again, losing my daughter.

I have already lost one, and I was right. Though I love her as much as I always have, and I’m sure she feels the same, things have never been the same. Though she still sleeps here sometimes, it feels like she visits — even when it’s for months on end.

And so it was that I was sitting here last night watching television while my current senior in high school was sitting and doing her homework, I looked over at the table where she was sitting and that thing happened, where all the breath feels like it is suddenly sucked out of my lungs, and my eyes well up, and I instinctively look the opposite direction, which after 25 years of marriage and raising girls together, is a dead giveaway to my wife that I’m doing it again — looking at one of my girls, and loving her, and marveling over her, and mourning deeply that I am losing my daughter.

Letting go of our children

waving goodbye

Letting go of anything/anyone we love is never easy, and letting go of our children is surely one of the hardest things we will ever have to do. I was dialoging with a close friend about that over email recently, and she so beautifully captured the agony and ecstasy of the letting go season of life. I thought it would resonate with those of you who are there, or who have been there.

Having kids close together is overwhelming when they are little and need so much attention. It’s also scary when you realize that in a very short time they will be leaving and we will be the ones hoping for their attention. Reminds me of that scene from Hook, when the Robin Williams character is so caught up in work and his wife is trying to get him to see what he is missing.

The first one leaving just leads to the next, and the next. I feel overwhelmed by it at the oddest moments. I find myself scrutinizing the time we have spent with them. Did we read enough, talk enough, play enough, listen enough…my stomach gets tied in knots at times and then I realize that I can’t change any of that. I can only try to make the most of the time we have left, without making it seem too desperate.

I almost don’t want them to realize what I am doing. They might feel weird. And I am so excited for them at the same time. New experiences, sorting out their beliefs, meeting new people, becoming more of themselves.

So strange…it does go by so fast…

[Image courtesy of rhino neal, licensed under Creative Commons]

God’s Love, prt. 3

 

God's Love w/ Pencils

Image courtesy of Stephen Cuyos, licensed under Creative Commons

Remember, Jesus himself invited the comparison of God’s love to the love of human parents for our children. If you extend your love to your children constantly, every second, for a specified number of years, are you then justified in killing or torturing them for having not responded? Could you even desire to? If you were capable of doing that , wouldn’t that mean — by obvious definition — that you never really loved them to begin with? Wasn’t Jesus example on the cross saying that love transcends death — that it pays the ultimate price, that it goes to hell and back again, that there is nothing that can come between us and God? Wasn’t Paul saying that in Romans 8? If so, doesn’t that sound to you very much like the love we human parents know for our own children, even though our love is so imperfect?

It’s hard enough that our humanity prevents us from loving fully. It does not help  matters that we don’t allow ourselves theologically to integrate what we already know about love as parents with what we believe about God’s love for us. If God’s love for me ultimately will allow him to do something horrible to me, then as far as I’m concerned God doesn’t love me at all. As a parent, I will love my girls forever and ever, no matter what they do, whether they ever respond or not. No matter how badly they would ever treat me, my dying breath would be a wish for their well-being. Don’t you love your kids that way? If you do, it is heroic or kindly of you? Of course not. Good parents just can’t help loving our kids that way. There’s nothing we can do about it. They are ours, and we are forever in their corner no matter what. Every decent parent on earth knows that. Are we supposed to deny this natural knowledge of love in order to lower the standard for God? Jesus seemed to be saying God’s love is superior to, greater than, ours. I believe it.

Let’s face it. As parents the only reason many of us can tolerate those terrible doctor trips to get vaccinations is because we keep reminding ourselves it’s for a greater good. We innately understand this to be the only possible justification for allowing or inflicting suffering, except where God’s love is concerned, in which case we seem okay holding God to that lower standard I referred to. In our teaching, the God who was enfleshed, lived, and died specifically to redeem us somehow transforms into a God whose redemption was limited to the briefest span of our lives — that being our lives on this planet in these bodies. (Sidebar: One of the best contributions of the idea of purgatory is that human suffering in the next life at least has redemptive purposes. In fact if one believes God consigns humans to hell, it is perhaps only the idea of purgatory that makes it rational in any sense.) If I have to believe God will dish out wanton and unredemptive suffering to me or anyone I love, then God would be my enemy. That is a realistic thing to consider. Perhaps God is an enemy of his creation. Perhaps there is no God at all. I do not believe either of these two ideas and, along with rejecting them, I also reject the notion that God’s love does or ever will inflict or allow the infliction of non-redemptive suffering. If I am wrong, then in the final analysis, God either does not desire my well-being, or does not ultimately have the power to secure it. If either is the case, I cannot trust him.

However, if I believe God is love, and all that must be true in order for that to be the case, I am quite secure. So are you. You wanna know the really awesome thing? If I’m right, you are secure whether this is the God you believe in or not.

 

 

God’s Love, prt. 2

love is eternal

Public Domain on Pixabay.com

[Start at the beginning of this series]

Jesus invited us to understand God’s love by thinking of our love for our own children. He did this mainly in two places. One is the parable of the prodigal son. The other is when he said, “If you, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him.” (Luke 11:9-13). In this passage, Jesus is saying that God’s love as a heavenly Father far exceeds our love as the parents of our children. This means God must love in a far different way than how the church often teaches it. The church tends to teach God’s love as a contingency.

God loves you if…
God loves you, but because of his justice he will still…
God loves you infinitely, but that doesn’t mean he won’t…
God loves you, but you better…

Vast parts of the church simply will not face the fact of contingency. It amounts to teaching love without actually teaching love at all. If we assume that Jesus modeled love on the cross, and if we assume that Paul wrote accurately about love in 1st Cor. 13, then God cannot love in any of the ways above and still have it be the love Jesus modeled and the love Paul wrote about. It is because the church teaches love as a contingency that so many basically good and loving Christians could have prioritized politics over love in last week’s Chick-Fil-A event, saying, “This isn’t about love, it’s about politics.” Only when we have learned about a world where some things are about love and others aren’t (e.g., God’s behavior toward us and love for us before our deaths versus after our deaths) could we even think this distinction makes sense.