After El Paso and Dayton, I had a conversation with a good friend. He asked me in about a dozen ways how on earth I could still believe in a good God in spite of all the evil in the world. Well, that’s not quite right. Really, I think he wanted to know how I could believe in a good God in spite of all the evil the church has done and all the good we have left undone.
I knew what he meant. You do, too.
I didn’t have a quick or satisfying answer for him. You don’t, either.
All I really know is this.
When Jesus came, he came as a helpless newborn baby. He was a refugee and he was from a place no one believed anything good could ever come from. When Nazareth sent its people, one might say, it wasn’t sending its best.
No crown, no sword, no throne. He was just a baby, like you and I were babies. He cried and needed milk and diapering and protection from danger and harm, like us.
I struggle to understand a lot of the Bible. Still. And even though I have come to learn that much of it is often weaponized and misinterpreted and violently ripped out of context by even the very best of us, I still know deep down that what it says about me is true. No matter how much I want to always do good, I can’t. No matter how much I want to stop doing bad, I can’t. I can’t do right or be right, no matter what system I implement or how often I see my therapist. Even when I can manage to modify my behavior, my motives are never blameless. Even if I can somehow rid myself of all the outward signs of being rotten, I bet I’d still hate at least one of God’s children in my heart. Not saying who, but just know I struggle not to roll around in filthy hate inside my own heart sometimes, ok? Something in me is bent, deep down, and I know that I need somebody to come and make what is crooked in me straight again.
When Jesus was about my age, he rode into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey. His followers really expected him to stage a coup and bring final justice and an end to occupation and poverty and brutality. He didn’t, at least not the way they thought.
They hoped for the same justice I sometimes wish he would now. How many times have I asked him why? God, can’t you see your little children are suffering under those mylar blankets? Don’t you hear them weeping and begging for their mamas? Don’t you hear the crass politician, lying and telling us black is white and up is down and family separation has ended and he never wanted to implement it in the first place? God, don’t you hear us? God, another white nationalist terrorist has driven nine hours to murder people because someone told him they were invaders and then laughed when it was suggested the invaders be shot. How long, God? Will you leave us here like this to suffer under the weight of all this pain forever? How long will the rich get richer on the backs of the poor? How long will poverty and patriarchy and prison profit and sex slavery endure? How long?
And then I remember again that 2,000 years ago Jesus walked around with flesh and blood and bone and He still didn’t set the world right the way his followers wanted or expected.
He rode a donkey. He was beaten and humiliated. He was murdered and buried.
He was with us. He was God with us, in all our pain and all our shame, he came to be one of us. He came to make a way out of no way for us and it almost never looks like we hoped. And I don’t always understand.
The good news is that while the world was spinning and groaning God came near instead of burning it all down, like I probably would. I know I would.
The good news is that God isn’t far off, arms crossed, head shaking in disapproval. The good news is that God we see revealed in Jesus is patient, slow to anger, relentlessly inclusive, always moving toward all people throughout all time. And one time he drove greedy people from the Temple with whip, and what does it say about me that THAT is my favorite story?
Sometimes it seems like the bad news is that people get to choose how to live and then we are stuck living with each other’s consequences. It turns out, we are actually all wrapped up in this together. Injustice and hatred breed injustice and hatred.
Sometimes it seems like bad news that we have a choice in much of anything in this world, but we do. And we don’t always choose well.
Occasionally, other Christians tell me that I’ve gotten too political and that I should be more careful not to criticize those in authority and be a little easier to get along with. There have been whole conferences people paid real dollars to attend to speak and hear about how the “social gospel” is dangerous to the church.
Maybe they are right, who knows?
But I can’t shake the feeling that when I ask God how long this suffering must persist that he may be asking me the very same thing. I can’t shake the feeling that when God became a Nazarene refugee baby and grew up and tore down all the dividing walls, He was inviting us to get busy being like Him. He was always making old things new and broken things whole and bringing the pushed-out into the camp and offering the seat of honor to those who are on the other side of the wall. Yes, I mean THAT wall. I could be wrong about all of it but if I am, I don’t think God will hold it against me.
So that’s my answer, friends. That’s why I’m still holding onto Jesus in the face of all that’s wrong and all the questions I can’t answer about the texts of terror in the Old Testament and the terror people are foisting upon each other every day.
God came near. He invites us in. He became one of us, in all our need. He makes broken things whole. He empowers us for the sake of all His children and we can choose to join Him in liberation or cross our arms and protect our own pile of gold. But I urge you, remember what he said about moth and rust and thieves. Uncross your arms, quiet your well stoked fear, and dip your toe in the liberation water. I promise, it’s fine.
That’s the good news and it’s all I’ve got.