The question is a human question. It’s what we ask when we face suffering. When we watch our loved ones get sick. When a marriage falls apart. Why?
Perhaps we ask the question because we sense that if we could only know more—the logic, the explanation, the ultimate payoff for this current suffering—then we might be able to endure our circumstances better, with grace, maybe even joy.
When I climb a mountain with my husband, I know how high the mountain is that we climb. The burning in our lungs and legs, the mental tax of the long ascent is mediated with hope and assurance of our path, with the confidence that the top will be beautiful, that we know the way, and that our bodies will take us there safely. I know the why for the suffering on the way to the top, and it carries me through.
This week, I found comfort in remembering that Jesus asked why, too. On the cross, his final words were, my God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Matt 27:46). Jesus asked why. He knew the bigger answer to his question, just like we do. He knew that through his death and resurrection he would bring many sons to glory (Heb 12:2). He knew that he suffered for the joy set before him in setting all humanity free from the power and penalty of sin and death (Col 2:15). He knew that His Father would not forsake Him forever. And yet, he still asked.
As Christians, we know the biblical answer to our question. We know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance produces character, and character produces hope (Rom 5:3-4), that suffering will make us steadfast and firm in our faith (1 Pet 5:10), that our sufferings today are but a light and momentary affliction compared with the glory that will come (1 Cor 4:17), that we can rejoice in suffering because we are participating in Christ (Col 1:24), that we are being perfected through our suffering (Heb 2:10).
We know the bigger answer to why God allows us to suffer, that we live in a broken world in which suffering still exists. We know these things and yet we still ask because we know deep down that this is not the way it is supposed to be.
Today, ask why? Bring your suffering to the Suffering Savior who asked the question long before you did. Bring it before him knowing that he didn’t receive an answer right away either. But bring it before him with the joy and confidence that his question was answered three days later when he rose from the dead.
We can ask why today, knowing that God ultimately works all things for good for those who love him (Rom 8:28). We can ask knowing that Jesus suffers with his beloved and that the ashes of today will grow into the beauty of tomorrow. Ask why today knowing that when we weep we have a God who weeps beside us. Ask why, knowing that Jesus’ question was answered when he rose from the dead and, one day, when he sets all things right again, we won’t ever have to ask why again.
This excerpt, written by Anne Kerhoulas, is reprinted from The Gospel Coalition.
Kindness seems to be everywhere these days. It’s posted on yard signs and granola bars, T-shirts, and posters for your home. Though kindness is not new, “Be kind!” has become an unofficial slogan, the currency on which a culture steeped in tolerance, affirmation, and acceptance runs.
But for all the talk about kindness, our world is growing increasingly unkind, divided, and contemptuous. If kindness is so popular, why is our culture so harsh? Perhaps this brand of kindness is lacking, pretending to do and be good while unable to produce any real changes. In a world that’s hungry for kindness but often finds only emptiness, we must look to Scripture and the author of kindness to teach us what kindness truly is.
In Jeremiah, the Israelites are taken into exile by Babylon. As the people grapple with what has just happened—being torn from their homes, the land given to them by God, their traditions and way of life—false prophets rise up to speak the words that they all long to hear: the exile will be short, the Lord will return them quickly to Jerusalem, their nightmare will surely come to an end quickly.
But Jeremiah hears a different word from the Lord, that Israel should plant gardens in Babylon, they should marry, build homes, and seek the good of their new city (29:4-14). The Lord tells Israel they will not return to Jerusalem any time soon; it’s time to get comfortable and find a way to make a new life in a new land.
Eugene Peterson is hands down my favorite author. I’ve been rereading Run With the Horses recently, a book on the life of Jeremiah, and Peterson says this,
“Exile (being where we don’t want to be with people we don’t want to be with) forces a decision: Will I focus my attention on what is wrong with the world and feel sorry for myself? Or will I focus my energies on how I can live at my best in this place I find myself?
All of us are given moments, days, months, years of exile. What will we do with them? Wish we were someplace else? Complain? Escape into fantasies? Drug ourselves into oblivion? Or build and plant and marry and seek the shalom of the place we inhabit and the people we are with? Exile reveals what really matters and frees us to pursue what really matters, which is to seek the Lord with all our hearts” (150, 154).
Where do you find yourself in exile today? Perhaps it’s at home raising little children, wishing you were starting the career you have put on hold. Maybe it’s in a job that feels oppressive, exhausting, and unfulfilling. Is it your marriage? Filled with tension, unspoken words, or disappointment? Exile is part of human life. And as Peterson challenges us, we are the ones who decide how we will live in our exile.
Several years ago when I was suffering from the weight of trauma in a particular season, I was driving in my car down a familiar road, weary, exhausted from a rather sleepless night, and wondering, when is this going to end, change, feel different? The Lord met me in that moment of exile and reminded me that His joy supersedes our experience. I had to decide how I was going to move through what would be a very long season. I could curl up in exile just hoping it would pass, or I could learn how to plant a garden in Babylon.
As Peterson said, this is the choice we make in exile. Nothing happens outside of our Good Father’s hand and the exiles he allows us to endure can be the place of life springing forth from death, of new relationships forged in fire, of a home built from scratch. The Lord allows us to experience exile so that he can meet us in it. Today, lift your head to the one who allows us to be refined by fire so that we may burn with passion for our Savior.
A few years ago a friend of mine who is not a Christian criticized Christians for not embodying their faith. Their faith was mostly about knowing a set of rules, but they didn’t seem very joyful or alive. While this critique was harsh, it also felt true. It is all to easy for Christians to know things about God without ever digesting that knowledge, getting the teaching of Christ into our bellies where it might course through our bodies and make us different. When we settle for training our minds and neglect bringing our whole bodies into alignment with the knowledge we profess, we find ourselves living an undernourished faith. But this is not the way it is supposed to be.
In Revelation 10, John listens to an angel in heaven read about the mysteries of God from a scroll. His voice is like a lion’s roar, thundering across the land. Intuitively, John moves to write down what he hears, but the angel forbids him from writing down the words and rather invites him to eat the scroll. Though Revelation may seem to be full of bizarre snippets such as this, Revelation is all about worship. Here, John is being instructed about what true worship is—it is not simply knowledge, writing down information so our minds might absorb it, worship is about our bodies.
In response to this passage, Eugene Peterson says, Why, that [writing the words down] would be like taking the wind or breath out of the words and flattening them soundless on paper…It’s as if the heavenly voice said, “No, I want those words out there, creating sound waves, entering ears, entering lives. I want those words preached, sung, taught, prayed—lived. Get this book into your gut; get the words of this book moving through your bloodstream; chew on these words and swallow them so they can be turned into muscle and gristle and bone.” And John did it; he ate the book.
Most of us are in danger of living a life flattened on soundless paper. Christians can fall into a way of life that exists primarily in the mind, the place of knowing and thinking, but fail to fully digest our knowledge. This has always been a religious person’s problem; Jesus criticized the relgious people of his day for this very thing because knowing and believing something that does not produce congruent actions is called hypocrisy. Those pharisees knew the law and the traditions, but their religion was like a fine table set at a party at which no one feasted; they were missing the point of all that knowledge. Their concepts never nourished their heart; they hadn’t eaten the book. And unfortunately, this is the modern churches’ problem too. We are an undernourished people, hungry for intimacy with Christ and settling for knowledge of him. We need to be people who eat the book.
An undernourished people
And he said to me, “Son of man, eat what is before you, eat this scroll; then go and speak to the people of Israel.” So I opened my mouth, and he gave me the scroll to eat. Then he said to me, “Son of man, eat this scroll I am giving you and fill your stomach with it.” So I ate it, and it tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth. He then said to me: “Son of man, go now to the people of Israel and speak my words to them. -Ezekiel 3:1-5
The prophet Ezekiel receives his call from God to be a prophet to Israel, but rather than filling Ezekiel’s mind with perfect theology or knowledge of God’s law, God goes for his gut. He wants to fill Ezekiel, get his word inside his body, coursing through his bloodstream and sustaining his muscles for the task ahead of him.
His task to is prophesy to Israel, God’s own people. These people knew God. They had the law to instruct them and their story of God freeing them from Egypt so that they might dwell in his presence and worship him. And yet, Israel had not gotten the law into their hearts, they had not come to hunger for the ways of God. Later God and Ezekiel would have a conversation about Israel in which God calls them dry bones, dead and wasted away. The question of the conversation is can they come alive again? Is God able to raise them back to life, to put muscle on their bones, give them breath and empower them to walk in the ways of God?
The same question goes for us. When our faith is predominately an intellectual faith or a faith situated in our minds, we are on the path to becoming dry bones, bodies that are unnourished and wasting away. It is not because our minds are unimportant—- on the contrary, they are critical to our faith and we are commanded to used them (Mt 22:37)— but a faith that is only about knowledge will always trend towards hypocrisy. We must put what we know into action, we must be people who don’t just read the book but eat it. We need to hunger for more than knowledge about Jesus, we must hunger for him—his presence, love, and peace in our lives. And fortunately, this is exactly what God wants for us.
The nourishment we need
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. – John 6:53, 55
Though Ezekiel and John were invited to eat the written word of God, we are invited to something much stranger—to eat the flesh and drink the blood of Christ. It is no coincidence that Jesus chooses food to be the way his people remember him and participate in his covenant. He knows that humans trend towards anemic lives that lack the fullness we were made for. So he chooses food.
My sister is a naturopathic doctor who says that food is the fastest way to teach people to connect with their bodies. When we eat wholesome, nourishing foods, our bodies are fueled and empowered to do what they are made to do. Food changes us from the inside out, repairing our cells, giving us energy, and teaching us to hunger after the right things. Just as the word of God nourished Ezekiel to fulfill his calling as a prophet to Israel, to speak against their ways and call them to repentance, Jesus, the incarnated word of God, offers himself as our spiritual nourishment so that we might live sacrificial lives and fulfill our calling as Christians to follow him. God is not interested in only teaching our minds, he is first and foremost interested in getting into our hearts and guts. As we feast on Jesus, the true word of God, he softens our hearts, strengthens our limbs for his work, and empowers our bodies to move through the world like he did.
How to eat the book
Prioritize intimacy with Christ over knowledge about him. It is much easier to learn things about God than to get to know him. We need to know him, and knowing God comes from spending time in his presence, listening to him, and loving him for who he is rather than what he can do for us. He is more than worthy of our time, let’s give it to him.
Don’t be a hypocrite. Be hearers and doers of the word (Jas 1:22-25). Ask yourself where and why you aren’t taking God’s word seriously. Repent and ask the Spirit to make you hungry. Jesus says, Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness (Mt 6). Make this your prayer: that you would hunger after the ways of God, not your ways, not the ways that are comfortable, but the ways of God.
Remember that our God wants to nourish us. In Christ, the incarnated word, God has revealed himself to us and given us the same spirit that gave breath and put sinew and muscle back on those dry bones. He is able and he wants to nourish us. Let’s ask him to do so.