December 27, 2007

Looking for someone else

John 20:14

At this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.

Jesus, I don’t want this to be you. I would guess that Mary saw only two options: Jesus was either dead, or he was alive. She had seen him die and knew he was dead. Then he came back to “life,” and maybe she assumed that if Jesus was “alive” again, he would go back to being how he was before.

For me, it’s easy to imagine these two options (and only these two options) for God: (1) God is dead, dead meaning DEAD, and therefore powerless and uncaring; or (2) God is alive, meaning active and powerful. This would be a never-fading, never-dying God who prevented suffering and death from happening in the first place.

But what have we got? In John 11:1–44, Jesus allows Lazarus to die, joins the sisters in their grief, cries with them, … and then raises Lazarus from the dead. Jesus is not dead (powerless and uncaring), and he’s not “alive” the way I would want him to be (preventing suffering before it occurs).

Like Mary, I’m having trouble recognizing you. What can I expect of you? I guess I can expect you to be present in my suffering and in the suffering of others, and I can expect an ultimate redemption—justice and relief. But I can’t expect you always to ward off suffering before it happens.

The implication is that to follow you, I need to be present to suffering, willing to suffer alongside those who suffer, not necessarily ever able to take away the suffering altogether. I’m scared that I can’t do this—I’m not sure I’m willing. Or able.

All the suffering on earth is like a forest, and you traverse the dark paths through the trees night and day, searching for and staying with those who are lost and in pain.

How can you stand it?

With your help, holding your hand, I’ve timidly touched the outermost trees. Give me the compassion and the courage to follow you wherever you want me to go, even if it’s right into the darkness with you.