I was lying awake unable to sleep last night, fretting about various uncontrollable circumstances in my life that I would love to control. Story of my life. Anyway, as I prayed to God I started theologizing about my fretting, as I often do. It’s my way of allowing my trials to give birth to insights I can (hopefully) later share with others. I was bouncing between Matthew 6’s “consider the lilies of the field…do not worry…” and David Bentley Hart’s stunning critique of those who say, “Everything that happens is because God wanted it that way.” As I have a Hart stack of books next to my bed, I opened to where he says:
There is, of course, some comfort to be derived from the thought that everything that occurs at the level of secondary causality – in nature or history – is governed not only by a transcendent providence but by a universal teleology that makes every instance of pain and loss an indispensable moment in a grand scheme whose ultimate synthesis will justify all things. But one should consider the price at which the comfort is purchased: it requires us to believe in and love a God whose good ends will be realized not only in spite of – but entirely by way of – every cruelty, every fortuitous misery, every catastrophe, every betrayal, every sin the world has ever known; it requires us to believe in the eternal spiritual necessity of a child dying an agonizing death from diphtheria, of a young mother ravaged by cancer, of tens of thousands of Asians swallowed in an instant by the sea, of millions murdered in death camps and gulags and forced famines (and so on). It is a strange thing indeed to seek peace in a universe rendered morally intelligible at the cost of a God rendered morally loathsome.
Then I began to think about an insight I had a few years ago, compressed in this line I wrote in my journal back in 2012:
In what sense is ”God in control”? I’ve thought much of this over the last years and have concluded that the inner logic of God’s providential care for our well-being is revealed unambiguously in the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus. Trusting in the divine governance of history includes oscillating between ”My God, my God why have you abandoned me?” and ”Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” When I face the problem of evil in this world as a Christian, I should expect no better resolution than the one God offered Christ. Per crucem ad lucem, “Through the cross to the light.”
After all this thinking I was still awake, but who can I blame but myself as I was enjoying these insights and writing down my thoughts. My mind wandered back to a homily Bishop John Ricard preached one Good Friday in Tallahassee, in which he said (according to my journal):
St. Paul says, “We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.” Trust in this promise that all “works for good” finds its truest expression not in those times of life when everything goes my way, but in the Garden of Agony when my will and God’s seem so distant. St. Matthew’s Gospel tells us, “And going a little farther Jesus fell on his face and prayed, ‘My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.'” And what was the Father’s response to Jesus’ prayer? Silence. Not an empty silence, but a listening silence as the Father inclined his ear to Jesus’ “Yes” — his mission to conquer death by death. The Father’s answer was not preventing Jesus from “loving us to the end” in the Passion (cf. John 13:1). His answer was raising Jesus from the dead. By doing this, and by not saving Jesus from our plight, God transformed the silence that envelops every human Passion into a space for trust and surrender. By raising Jesus God made it possible for our Passions to become sources of life, grace and mercy because the Crucified is risen and forever triumphant … The anchor of faith and hope must be dropped into the abyss of death in order to hook onto the Rock that is Christ; he who once was dead and is now risen forever and ever. To him be glory and power in the Church. Amen.
The next morning after my night of insomnia, I was reading an article by Protestant theologian Rodney Reeves. A line in the article knocked me to the ground. I’m sure you will see why. It was the perfect coda to wrap up my nighttime musings:
The divine comeback, God’s ultimate response to evil, injustice, sin, and death—what could be called the epitome of divine nonverbal communication—is the resurrected Christ. “God has not only raised the Lord,” Paul said, “but will also raise us up through his power” (1 Cor. 6:14). We may be tempted to believe that evil, suffering, and death prove God’s silence. But these are only ambient noises, and one day they will be silenced once and for all. God will have the last word when he raises us from the dead, when we ourselves are the embodiment of answered prayer.
All of this was most aptly summed up by an AME pastor in Tallahassee who chanted in his gravelly-voiced sermon once:
If you’s expectin’ any other way than Jesus’ way,
you always gonna make gripes and groans;
but if you join him on that ol’ rugged Cross
God’ll raise you up and roll back your heavy stones.