Shattered Dreams: Feeling Grief - Seeing Grace


(This is Part 2 of a 4 part sermon series. Before reading farther, take a moment and read Ruth Chapter from the Old Testament)

Some things in life cannot be fixed. They can only be carried.  -Megan Devine (http://www.refugeingrief.com/)

Everyone has an opinion on suffering.  Usually we are wrong. I say we're wrong primarily because we human creatures work so hard at avoiding pain. The end of chapter one of Ruth highlights this. We quickly skip over Naomi’s name change but it is the vital and raw reality - faith being confronted with real life.  Call me MARA - “I am bitter!” Come to think on it, I don’t think I’ve ever heard a Christian song about Ruth 1.  Human beings are uncomfortable with this topic in our age and Christians in particular have cringed and sulked in the shadow of suffering and pain.

Some come up with excuses to lay blame on those who suffer such as the pastor who declared on TV as I awaited surgery for my cancer in 2000, “The reason bad things happen is because you’ve taken Jesus off the throne of your heart.” Some such as Rabbi Kushner come to see God as limited by the laws of nature and by human nature and moral freedom (134).  Still for others, it is to journey the Buddhist way, to deaden pain by denying our desires, to deny joy and passion.

Naomi’s response? “This stinks! God, I know you are somewhere in all this and I’m bitter because you’ve done NOTHING!” I get that! I still had my cancerous testical removed. I still collapsed under clinical depression. I faithfully worked to start a church - I worked on something so big that it could only succeed if God showed up and God didn’t.  I lost almost 50% of vision in one eye and a year later it happened to the other one.  My wife has stage 4 cancer now - I’m ready to go for a name change too and bitter sounds like as good as any other.  God hasn’t fixed any of these yet.  I’m carrying.

In Aushwitz, psychotherapist named Viktor Frankl suffered and saw others suffer and die at the hands of Nazis. He observed that those who most often survived were those who found meaning, or better still, MADE meaning.  Frankl wrote in his book, “Man’s Search for Meaning,” that though “...one cannot change a situation that causes his suffering, he can still choose his attitude. (172)”   Like Hercules’ battle with the Hydra, we can cut off many arguments and causes for suffering and a new “head” of pain and suffering will arise.  

But “Hope has its own rhythm.  We can’t rush it,” writes Larry Crabb.  For whatever reason though, we try to place limits.  Crabb warns of two temptations we find in the church.  1) Mourning has a time limit and 2) there is a proper way to mourn (pg 65). I think there is at least a third that there is a spiritual formula to provide us an out. We want to believe there is a secret principle to get us out of suffering. I’ve seen/heard these in the stories told by other caregivers and in some of my own friendships. The principle that Naomi's story teaches? The way out, the way of hope is through.

Such ideas are completely foreign to the story of Ruth and Naomi.  In the movement from chapter 1 to 2, Ruth is shown as Naomi’s companion.  When she speaks in 2:2  does she tell Naomi, it is time to get over it?  Nope.  She asks, ‘Let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain, behind someone in whose sight I may find favour.’ Naomi said to her, ‘Go, my daughter.’ (2:2)  We don’t know what stage of grief Naomi is in and we see Ruth doesn’t dwell on “fixing” Naomi’s faith - she goes about taking care of other needs.  Ruth leaves room for God to work in Naomi’s life.

C.S. Lewis, one of the most significant authors and Christian thinkers of the 20th Century, wrote about his own struggle with pain.  Most are aware of his book “The Problem of Pain,” but it is in his later book, “A Grief Observed,” that he writes about the death of his wife, Joy, who died of cancer.  He cautions us on our words to those who suffer:

“Talk to me about the truth of religion and I'll listen gladly.
Talk to me about the duty of religion and I'll listen submissively.
But don't come talking to me about the consolations of religion or I shall suspect that you don't understand.” (pg 19, Location 358 of 849)

Even as she was feeling grief, Naomi remained attentive to grace.  Though she was bitter, Naomi could see better than most when she heard from Ruth about her time in the field.   When she heard the name of Boaz, she was given hope; hope that God was not ignoring her cry but at work for she was in need.  That need was for a redeemer.  

It is hard not to miss we have the same need.  In our own grief we may well find God being silent, uncaring.  It may make us bitter.  But Ruth, in her bitterness, had been surrounded by home - God’s people.  And in that place - she allowed room for hope and found grace.    It is a grace which is available to us still in Jesus Christ...

Hebrews 4:15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Jesus offers a living faith; an empathetic faith; a faith for the present time.  Borrowed faith cannot sustain us.  In the aftermath of shattered dreams, surrounded by the followers of God, we learn the lesson of Ruth to allow ourselves to hope for new dreams, dreams which come from a living God; a redeeming God who even redeems our suffering and pain.



Works Cited and Referenced:

Bakers Evangelical Bible DIcitonary ( http://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionaries/bakers-evangelical-dictionary/kinsman-redeemer.html )

For other books cited here, see my previous post: Sojourn of Suffering


2 comments:

Michelle Tafoya said...

Great post! Good message for me today, thank you Jedi Pastor Ken :)

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