March, 2013

Reflections on the Presence of God in Troubled Times

Easter Editorial

by Adam J. Wehrley

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.”        Philippians 4:6

“Be anxious for nothing” It is easier said than done.

When it comes to believing that God is in His heavens and all is right in the world, believing God is in Heaven is the easy part. Looking around, reading the paper, watching the news, seeing alarmist posts on social media, believing that things are right with the world becomes difficult. In our minds we let the shadows drive out the light.

We ask ourselves, “If God is everywhere, if God is here at all, where was He last week when my kid was in the hospital?” “Where was He when I lost my job?” “Where is He in tragedy, heartache, cruelty and hate?” “Where was God years ago when the bottle was all that stood between a desperate man and taking desperate action?” In my life he was in the power to put that bottle down.

The answer – the pat answer – but the answer that’s kept me sober and alive for the past 16 years is that God is on the Cross, God is in the Tomb and God is risen. He is risen indeed.

The answer is that even though many things are pure and good and beautiful, not everything is right in the world.

Our communities, our families, ourselves are broken, but God is working. He is redeeming the world through His own slow, eternal process of turning His enemies into His children, using both the small mercies and the life-changing blessings. His presence is in the peace and the rest He gives us, in the passion and the love and the joys of life, in the promise that beyond this world is another.

Easter is the reality that Christ has suffered more for me than I have – more for my sins, mistakes and failures, more for the hurt caused by others. Easter is the promise that beyond the darkness and the burdens and the stress of this life there is an eternity.

It is the eternity of it all that gets us.

It feels far off, beyond the reaches and the senses of the world and it is. But it isn’t. Eternal life starts here. Physical life is not our true life anymore than human flesh is what makes a human being. Our lives do not consist of material possessions or worldly pleasures. It is the deeper realities of life, the love, compassion, perseverance, sacrifice, the desire to leave a better world for our children, that drives us more than our basic biological needs.

Our lives are the spiritual, even for those who do not think of themselves as spiritual people. We know life consists of more than we can touch, yet we allow the physical to overwhelm us.

I do not mean that physical things are inconsequential. Jesus fed the poor, healed the sick, comforted the mourning and gave sight to the blind. But He also preached that the Kingdom of Heaven was near and took the name Immanuel, God with us.

He is with us still, at our very sides, though we let the urgency of earthly things blind us to eternal truths.

A Dead God Cannot See Our Sins

For a couple of years I worked in a developing country, where between Good Friday and Easter morning, a handful of the population (not the majority, but enough to make it dangerous) believed that while Christ was in the tomb He could not see sin. One weekend a year they believed they got a completely free pass.

Of course, no church had ever taught this misconception, but it lingered on.

I think a slightly more sophisticated version of this creeps into all of our minds, in the midst of our daily stresses and struggles in the big troubles and the small.

Doubt rises subtly in the backs of our minds, “If God’s not here, than I’m going to fix things my own way. I’m going to do what it takes to get through the day, to provide for my family, to take care of myself, whatever it takes, no matter the compromise, no matter the consequences.” We step away from God and towards justifying our actions.

For generations, intellectuals taught that God was distant, and then they told us that God was dead. This does not make it so, any more than declaring that the moon is the sun actually makes the moon into the sun. But they declare it, more and more loudly with each passing year. Why?

Simply put, although a dead god cannot help us, he can’t condemn us either. A dead god issues no commandments, declares no guilt, casts no judgment. A dead god leaves us alone to wallow in whatever we choose.

In my experience on both sides of the atheist/believer debate, that is the sole argument I’ve seen in favor of disbelief. If we deny God, we can do whatever we want. If the cat’s away we might as well be rats.

For those of us who have seen or heard or felt the slightest brush of God’s hand in our lives, and for those who have been changed, re-created and spiritually resurrected by His power, the reality of God – the presence of God with us – calls for our humility, reverence and awe.

Do we who have experienced His mighty works, consistently reflect what has been given to us? No.

No one walks sinlessly through this world. Only the Son of God ever did. We owe Him praise, gratitude and a devotion which imitates (no matter how poorly) the life Christ lived.

Daily we stumble over the things of this world, our pride, our plans, our ambitions, even our desire to be thought of as good people. We play the hypocrite, we fall into despair, apathy or bitterness. It’s a cliché, but we are forgiven, not perfect.

We grow impatient with the eternal God.

But on Easter we recognize that God is near, that Christ is with us, that He suffered, died and rose to bring us life. God is here, with us forever, every step of the way, giving strength to walk in His path.

“I am with you always, to the end of the age.” 

Matthew 28:20

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