Friday, December 05, 2008

What shall we give?

I frequently find myself a bit depressed this time of year. Despite my best efforts I find my expectations for the season of joy and delight are above and beyond what my life actually produces. I hear about the busyness of the season and I think, what busyness? I do not have this social calendar brimming with dinners and parties which I must choose from. I do not puzzle over my wardrobe wondering if I can get one more wearing from that festive skirt before people begin to comment.

I love the idea of all of that, but I lead a fairly quiet, boring day-to-day existence. And now, I am being asked what I am going to give up this season, or what I am going to change. I honestly don't know. I struggle to give what I do now, and I am fairly good at not over-spending.

I am struggling, however, with the nature of God. This is not the deep struggle I have had in the past, more like a struggle against the discomfort of knowing that I do not understand and that my expectations of God are being tried. I have a friend whose baby is not forming properly in the womb and because of that is unlikely to be able to live outside the womb for even a breath. I cannot bear their sorrow. I cannot stand knowing their pain. I am wounded for them more deeply than I can even express and I am asking God, why? Why does one person's struggle to find work threaten their adoption? Why does one young friend struggle with a brain tumor? Why have I been struggling with physical pain for 17 years? Why does there seem to be no relief? Why does one friend struggle with a drug-addicted husband? Why are there starving people? Why is there evil? Why do we get old and some of us have such intense physical struggles and intense pain? Why is this young couple facing such a painful time as they know what they are expecting and must wait to see their baby die?

A young man I know told me that he has been reading through the old testament as I suggested and wondered, Doesn't God seem awfully bloodthirsty? I heard the hesitation in his voice as he asked the question. It is a question I know well. I've wondered many times, and gone round and round with the mystery of who is God? Who is this God of love and of vengeance? Who is this friend of sinners?

So that is my question, God. Who are you? Can you be known? What about this suffering? What about your unchanging nature that pardons and exacts vengeance? And...if you don't cause all of our sufferings, but you are in a position to prevent them, why do you withhold your goodness from us at times?

I ask these questions even as I am thinking on the meaning of the incarnation. I am thinking on the wonder that God became flesh and dwelt among us, making himself the sacrifice that sin required.