Archive for October, 2009

// translating angst into action

IntrospectionHave you ever found yourself looking on – or maybe in the middle of – one of those situations that appear so desperate as to demand some kind of divine intervention, and yet when you cry out to God there is none, and not even an answer? Where the more you pray the more your anger grows, or the more your questions grow, until you reach the moment when you realise that this is not just about your own circumstances but about something much, much bigger?

That’s arguably the moment when you start asking questions about who this God who you worship is, about His character and His nature and His power, and about what it is that this life He called you to really looks like. It’s the place of brokenness and of trust and, eventually, of answers, even if those answers don’t necessarily come in the form in which you imagined they would.

That’s the moment where a lot of people stop, too. It’s not hard to see why. Those questions are hard, and huge, and intimidating, and it’s easier most of the time to just shut down or walk away rather than face up to them. Take Psalm 74, for example, which opens with the cry “O God, why have you rejected us forever?” and then laments, “we are given no signs from God, no prophets are left, and none of us knows how long this will be”…

What do you do with something like that? Where do you go?

There is faith, sure; the remembrance that “God is my king from long ago; He brings salvation on the earth” stands stark in the middle of that text. But it is a song of suffering first and foremost, and it is in the midst of that suffering that the remembrance that God is a God of covenants comes; that He is a God who stands up for the oppressed, a God who will not be mocked. It’s like their oppression is valuable because it reminds them that things are not the way that they are supposed to be – but they only realise that as they’re lamenting.

The same goes for 2 Corinthians 1, which I’ve talked about before, and its talk of the “God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” It’s in that we get engaged, in that we start to build compassion – when we stand alongside those crying out for justice with a holy fire growing in our bellies. Of course, what we do with that fire is a different matter, but if you have any compassion at all then you will not be able to stand impassive in the face of those sufferings… Something inside you will cry out for change, whether you like it or not.

It might seem crazy, but there’s something in this; this God, He might just withdraw in order to stir us into action. For a glimpse of that, just check out the Song of Songs, the lover in which spends most of the poem pursuing a shadowy, elusive beloved, chasing the haunting and beautiful presence of God and longing for that time when “the day breaks and the shadows flee”. In fact, she even seems to go as far as crying out for Him to keep leading her on, keep letting her chase, not letting her stand still…

We too are people waiting for that time when “the day breaks and the shadows flee”, but that time is not yet; this is still the time of shadows. We are still chasing the presence of God, and He will keep leading us for as long as we are listening to Him – wherever that may take us. And so when stuff goes wrong or we are faced with situations that are, for want of a better word, just evil, we can either pray for a God to draw near and deliver us, or we can accept that, just maybe, He may already be in the middle of those situations, drawing us closer to Him even if that means stepping closer into the pain.

What passions are stirred up in you in the silences, in the moments when God seems to go inexplicably quiet when all that you know of Him screams that He should act otherwise? Is He calling you to the outcasts, to the people mocked or ignored? Is your heart breaking for children robbed of their innocence? What are the things that you have most desperately cried to God for – and, when you listen, what was His answer?

You may not think that you have those passions, but if not, then that is cause to be scared. Because that’s the beginning of numbness, of isolation, and of quiet despair. If your heart breaks or burns for nothing, then what then?

I have spent too long having the same conversations with a whole range of people recently; talking about the same things that are wrong and that desperately need fixing in this world, or about our lack of passion and drive as Christians.

Maybe the time for talk is over.

Maybe the time for listening is here.

As Pete Greig once put it,

silence may be presence

muted

silence may not be nothing but

something

to explore defy accuse

engage

and this is

prayer

and where there is prayer there may yet be

miracles

Do your actions, our actions, reveal that we worship a God who isn’t acting, who isn’t answering our prayers or even listening to them?

Or is it just the case that we’re not listening to the answers that He’s giving us?

There are a million reasons not to listen. Busyness, weariness, bitterness, fear. None of them are good enough reasons. It’s not stupid to have them, but they can’t control us.

We are not left in the silences alone; we stand in the place where all words fail alongside an awesome God. But at the end of the day, that leads to a question.

When all else falls away, and when there is only silence, what is it that you hear?