Lent: No Easy Easter

Post a Comment » Written on March 20th, 2009     
Filed under: News
CHICAGO, IL (March 20, 2009) – John Weborg is Professor Emeritus of Theology at North Park Theological Seminary and a longtime columnist for The Covenant Companion. Each week during Lent, we are sharing one of his columns that originally appeared in the magazine.

By Dr. John Weborg

Diane Komp is a pediatric oncologist at Yale Medical School. Integrating medicine and ministry, she brings both divine gifts to bear on disease and despair. In a recent article in Theology Today (October 1988), Komp cites the most frequently chosen Scripture texts by parents of young cancer patients, many of whom are terminally ill. They are not the conventional texts given by pastors that have to do, I gather, with promises of eternal life or victory over death.

The parent-chosen texts were three: 1) The story of Abraham’s call to sacrifice Isaac; 2) the book of Job; and 3) Jesus at prayer in Gethsemane. Such parents sensed their place in a larger community of sufferers, including major biblical figures. An instant rapport was experienced with those who knew the questions sufferers ask, who knew the silence of God, yet waited for God to come to their assistance.

“Loss does not have to be explained to God.”

Maybe, if they could be asked, they would agree with Alfred North Whitehead’s suggestion that coming to know God might take one through three phases: God the void, God the enemy, God the friend. Such faith can be more exacting at times than exhilarating, more taxing than triumphant. Sometimes God is more endured than enjoyed.

Jürgen Moltmann of Tübingen has argued that only the grieving ones know what death does and is. Death is loss. What does death do? It deprives people of those whom they deeply love. Even the dying do not know death because they do not have to deal with the results of their death. The living are left alone. Moltmann, using for example the latter part of Romans 8, thinks this can be applied to God. While we can only use human language at this point, our language does point to a profound reality in God. God knows what death is because God lost a son, which puts God in some fashion in the community of sufferers. Loss does not have to be explained to God. The stone silence of grief, the “winter of the heart” to use Martin Marty’s phrase, is intelligible to God. This is the God who freely gave up his son for us all, the one to whom Jesus lifted up loud cries. (Hebrews 5:7-8).

If, in some sense, God is “one with us,” then suffering is not a sign of divine rejection as some of Job’s friends tried to show. If suffering were the sign of divine rejection, then God would have to reject God’s self. This is not weakness on God’s part, but the strength to love, to use one of Martin Luther King’s expressions. Speaking this way, it is not trite to say, “God knows,” and it is not a cliché to say, “God understands.”

In and with the life of Jesus, God knows the complete cycle of life from birth to death. God’s communion with Jesus was a communion in suffering as well as in joy. If in the incarnation of God in Christ, God tasted everything human, then in the resurrection, we can taste that which endured and then overcome sin and death. On the cross sin found its end in Jesus Christ (Hebrews 9:26), then at Easter death found its end.

Woody Allen, in the March 1987 issue of Rolling Stone, said: “I do occasionally envy the person who is religious naturally, without being suckered into it. It would just never occur to such a person that the world isn’t about something.” What the world is about isn’t always clear. But the lingering suspicion is that it is about something and that one needs to wait for it, even in grief and when faith is under siege. Abraham did. Job did. Jesus did. Even Komp’s patients must have sensed that the world is about something more than disease and death. That’s why they looked for God even where pain seemed to defeat all faith and grief falsity all hope.

In the meantime, we who wait have Easter, and the One who made Easter possible is about something big.

Editor’s note: to read previously published columns as part of this special Lent series, visit the following links:
•    Lent: Standing By Your Word
•    Lent: Tears Can Do Double Duty
•    Lent: Encountering the Divine

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Report This Post

Leave a Reply

Report This Blog