Hurting people don’t need rules and systems and abstractions. (And by the way, we are all, every last one of us, hurting people.) And this is what we have done to Christianity: we have turned it into rules and systems and abstractions. I am fully aware of the danger of arrogance here, as I say: I am pretty sure that Jesus is on the same page with me here. This is the great perversion of our age.
We have our special prayers and our formulations for who is on the inside and who is on the outside. We have our pat answers and our explanations for suffering, our images that explain the way of the world. To be a little more specific: Say the “sinners prayer” and join the ranks of “real Christians” and praise God for the way he honors free will so much that he is willing to watch his children suffer eternal torment. We will draw you a little picture of this big gulf and how the cross covers that gap to explain it, and when suffering comes around, behind your back we can suspect that perhaps you’re doing something wrong while to your face we will offer up the idea that God’s plan is so much bigger than us. (Good thing we learned to be so much better than Job’s friends!)
We need an actual presence. We need love. We need a somebody, bigger than the abstractions.
Despite the ways that we have so profoundly perverted the story, despite the fact that the church is perhaps the greatest purveyor of rules, systems, and abstractions, this is not the way it is meant to be. In fact, the whole bible tells the same story.
In the Garden, Adam and Eve had God’s presence. Instead, they chose knowledge. Not wisdom, not intuition, not emotional understanding. Just knowledge. And this is where it all fell apart.
And then, there was the law: a crazy labrynth of rules.
And then Jesus came. In some way, this was a return. There had been a somebody with man once. We left. And so he came back.
And now we have this book, this incredible story, and so often instead, we try to use it to create a system. We try to distill out the rules. We try to dodge the personal connections that a narrative might form with us. Not much different than Adam and Eve ducking out on the personal connection with God, not much different than when a person is suffering, and I approach them. I am faced with a decision:
I can sit with them, and I can listen, and I can enter into their pain with them.
Or I can hold myself above their pain by trying to explain it away, by offering them trite, or even clever ways of dodging and ditching and denying the hurt… Even if these work, they are temporary fixes, they short circuit something important.
And even now, as I sit at my computer, I am still just theorizing, still above it in some terrible way. It is hard to imagine what it would be like to follow Jesus with out any kind of system in place. I am not sure how to find the line between offering wisdom to the hurting and offering them cheap pity…
What I do know is that I have to try.