A God’s Eye View of Failure

I’ve been thinking about failure a lot lately, mainly because I’ve experienced a lot of it this year. So many of my plans haven’t worked out, despite what (I thought) were adequate, sensible, and well thought out plans.

You see, in my work at Amazon we had plans to launch several products by early 2020. But in late 2019, prior to the holidays, I started receiving word that our supply lines in China were being disrupted by some new, highly contagious disease spreading through the factories.

This was totally outside of our control. There were no other factories we could easily fall back to in the timelines we had (and even if there were, the virus would have hit those factories too).

Our budgets were toast. Our timelines completely blown up. In short, we failed. In these circumstances the leadership wants answers: what did we learn here? What could we have done differently? How could we have prevented this? What are the repercussions?

Luckily for me, in terms of the repercussions, Amazon can always delay the launch so long as it’s not too bad. (Which we did, and at least one of the products have since been announced, if not launched). But what if this had been a small business or a startup, with less margin for error? What if we were forced to lay off people due to this?

One learning that I can glean from my faith is that God uses our failures to His glory. In fact, some of our failures have more to do with His plan than they do with our obedience, or lack thereof.

I am thinking here of Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Samson’s mother, Hannah, and Elizabeth. All of them had a good, Godly desire for children. Yet they were infertile for long periods of time, trying time and time again to accomplish the goal that they rightly believed God wanted them to achieve.

And yet for long periods of time they “failed”. It’s easy to see it that way, at least. But did they really fail? In a way, yes. They didn’t achieve what they were trying to. But in another way, no. They obeyed God even in the midst of a series of failures, and in that way, that means they didn’t fail at all.

God uses our weaknesses to show His strength. I suspect many in our community have had their businesses “fail” this year, for reasons not entirely their own. I suspect many in our community have “failed” at their job for reasons they weren’t entirely in control of, and may even have been laid off. I suspect many in our community have had family and friends fail, or experience failure, in this same way.

I’d like us to turn our faces upward, to see beyond the immediate failure, the way that the women I mentioned previously did. They didn’t fail. They were faithful. And God showed His strength through their obedience in the face of worldly failure.

In that way, they succeeded, and God was faithful to them as He promised. They used their failure, their weakness, to show God’s strength. And great things were accomplished through doing so.

Be bold. Be confident of victory. Just be cognizant of whose victory you’re seeking, whether in business or anything else. God will show His strength, and we can all be witnesses to it through our work.

The Power in our Professions

One of the things that has always struck me is that, whatever our profession, we have so much power to make the world a little bit better. We do this by acting out our calling as God’s representatives on Earth, assigned to carry out His will in our own little spheres of influence. 

And how do we do this? We do this by treating people (all people: employers, employees, peers, merchants, providers, customers, etc) as image bearers of the living God. Not simply as means to attain a paycheck or a good or service (not that those are bad things, in themselves). As Paul writes to us in Ephesians 4, we are to be “Be kind and tenderhearted to one another”, and this should be central to all areas of our life, including our work. 

We often forget just how powerful that calling is, and how much of a difference it can make in people’s lives. How much difference, really, do my actions make outside the strict job description that I am performing? Does anyone really notice?

I believe they do, though we often do not get the feedback which would tell us so. That means that it’s important for us to be vocal about when someone else has made a difference for us. We are also called to encourage each other, and letting people in to how they make our lives better, no matter how big or small, is one of the ways we can make this world a little more heavenly. 

I recently saw a letter circulating on twitter from a grateful customer for a haircut that his wife received around Christmas last year. It was an encouragement to me, and I hope it will be to you as well, to be more like both the hairdresser and the grateful husband when we engage in our business. The letter I read is below.

June 27, 2020

Dear Sara, 

This is a little bit awkward. But I’ve waited a really long time to pass this on to you.

My wife and I came in for haircuts shortly before Christmas of last year.

My wife was suffering from dementia, and you treated her as if you’d been working with dementia patients all your life. You let us sit next to each other, and when it came time for her cut you turned her chair towards me so I could watch her expression as you cut her hair. 

It turned out even better than I thought it would.

Sadly, she died in March. And that haircut was one of the last, best moments of her life. She felt so pretty. She visited the mirror in her bathroom several times during the day and would come out beaming. 

To see her so happy was priceless. 

Looking back, it was likely one of dozens of haircuts you gave that day. But one which revitalized a woman’s sense of self and her singular beauty. I hope you always realize the power of your profession. 

It’s so easy to take things like that for granted.


A grateful customer

Why I am not REALLY a libertarian

Sometimes I am asked why I don’t solely call myself a libertarian or a conservative. Why do I usually flip between “classical liberal”, “right leaning libertarian”, or “libertarian leaning conservative?”

I do this because modern libertarians near-sole focus on the non-aggression principle and tyranny of the government variety is, in my estimation, an anemic view of the issue of liberty. If we’re to actually think of what makes for a healthy polity, government can’t be the sole consideration regarding liberty and tyranny. Yet, often, libertarians make it seem as if they believe that if something is done freely and doesn’t involve force, then it isn’t a problem for liberty.

I thoroughly disagree with this implicit (yet occasionally explicitly stated), position. While government, because it does have a monopoly on violence in modern societies, does need very tight reigns imposed on it, it is not the sole place that liberty can be functionally removed from society. This is hardly a novel idea, and in fact was explicitly stated by classical liberals in the 18th and 19th centuries. For instance, John Stuart Mill made this argument regarding the tyranny of the majority:

Like other tyrannies, the tyranny of the majority was at first, and is still vulgarly, held in dread, chiefly as operating through the acts of the public authorities. But reflecting persons perceived that when society is itself the tyrant—society collectively, over the separate individuals who compose it—its means of tyrannizing are not restricted to the acts which it may do by the hands of its political functionaries. Society can and does execute its own mandates: and if it issues wrong mandates instead of right, or any mandates at all in things with which it ought not to meddle, it practises a social tyranny more formidable than many kinds of political oppression, since, though not usually upheld by such extreme penalties, it leaves fewer means of escape, penetrating much more deeply into the details of life, and enslaving the soul itself.

Protection, therefore, against the tyranny of the magistrate is not enough: there needs protection also against the tyranny of the prevailing opinion and feeling; against the tendency of society to impose, by other means than civil penalties, its own ideas and practices as rules of conduct on those who dissent from them… There is a limit to the legitimate interference of collective opinion with individual independence: and to find that limit, and maintain it against encroachment, is as indispensable to a good condition of human affairs, as protection against political despotism.

John Stuart Mill, On Liberty

Alexis de Tocqueville made a similar argument when he wrote that freedom of opinion “does not exist in America” because the intense social pressure against unpopular opinions “actually removes the wish of publishing them.”

Often this idea does not seem to be taken seriously by libertarians, yet both liberals and conservatives do seem to see the problem. The left’s worry about the intense pressure that large corporations can wield against workers and the elimination of any real choice on behalf of those workers is a valid one. The right’s worry about the near monopoly the left has in the media/tech/universities and the power they can wield to shape the national conversation is similarly valid. Social pressure can just as easily expel speech from the public square as can a prison cell.

Of course, the question is what to *do* about this. And this is where even if libertarians downplay/ignore the issue they do have a valid concern regarding the solution: whence comes help to solve this? The government? Shall our solution be worse than the problem?

This is certainly a possibility, and to be honest I am often not sure where I land. There *does* seem to be a line where a corporation or a powerful individual could infringe on people’s liberty without the use of force, and it would be proper for the government to step in. Yet also there is a danger in using the government in this manner, because where that line is is not at all clear. Inviting a bear into your home to chase away a rabid dog solves one problem, yet may create a bigger one.

All this to say, this is an illustration of why I don’t usually refer to myself strictly as a libertarian. Both the liberals and the common good conservatives have valid concerns about private institutions and their power to impose a bloodless tyranny. And that is something that is often ignored by modern libertarian thought.

On Bible Verse Shopping

I am going to make a broad statement that I think is universally true for Christians: It is very tempting to do salad bar theology (take what you want, leave the rest) with the Bible. Too easy.

What do I mean by that? I mean that when you have a particular topic, often the guidance is “go to the Bible and see what it says.” Hard to argue with that if you have a high view of Scripture (which you should, cause Jesus did).

But here’s the problem: there are a lot of verses in the Bible. So doing the google search on things like “what does the Bible say about judgment?” will turn up a ton of verses that you can pick and choose from. Let’s stick with that example, and just pull the most famous verses ones to take a look at:

"Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye. - Matthew 7
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector." - Matthew 18
“'Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.' And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up and said to her, 'Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?' She said, “No one, Lord.' And Jesus said, 'Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.'" - John 8
"I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside.“Purge the evil person from among you.”” - 1 Corinthians 5
"He one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?" - James 4
"Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you" - Titus 2

As you can see, one could pick and choose whichever verse one wants as a proof text for either the “judging is totally Biblical” and the “you shouldn’t judge people” position. What are we to do with this?

This is where the principle of “interpret Scripture with Scripture” comes in to play. One shouldn’t simply look up verses, sans context, and run with it. Further, one shouldn’t even look up a particular contextualized section of Scripture and interpret it more broadly without a larger view of what Scripture says on a particular topic. Finally, one shouldn’t separate even a 360 degree view of all the Scripture on a particular topic from the wider narrative of Scripture and the gospel. Otherwise, you’re reading in to the text (eisegesis) instead of extracting the meaning from the text (exegesis). The former is using Scripture for your own purposes, the latter is submitting to it.

Let me be clear, we *all* do this. I do it *all the time*. There isn’t a foolproof way to keep from doing it, in fact, because there is always a potential wider theological point that we’re missing. (That said, if what you’re doing is simply googling “what does the Bible say about X” and skimming for the verses that agree with you, without actually delving in to the Scripture in its full context and attempting to harmonize all the verses, you’re *definitely* doing it wrong).

But even if you’re not doing that, it’s hard to tell when you’re still guilty of it. For instance, if you have memorized a lot of Scripture, verses will often come to mind when talking about a topic. But are all of them coming up, or just the ones that support your position? How do you know when you’re guilty of salad bar theology?

I don’t think there’s a foolproof way to make sure you’re never guilty of this, but one safety net is to be in constant dialogue with the church and mature, well read, thoughtful Christians you believe to be in submission to God (and are willing to tell you things that you do not want to hear). Run your interpretation and thoughts by them. A lot of them. Avoid putting it only in front of people who have a low view of Scripture, as they’re not likely to care all that much about salad bar theology or submission. They may even encourage you to engage in it.

The other safety nets that come to mind are prayer and humility. Those last two are particularly convicting for me, because that’s not how my heart is naturally bent. But it should be, and if you judged me for it, I wouldn’t blame you.

A Lost Letter to Wormwood

My dear Wormwood,

Based on your recent report, I gather that distracting the patient with small pleasures and vanities has not been successful. As you know, the key to temptation is not to lead the patient completely astray, but rather to distract him. It is far easier to adjust the focus of the patient’s good desire than it is to get him to move entirely against it. His natural desire is something he will slip in to, like wagon wheels into a rut. He can be convinced of it being an endeavor he was created to do (because it is). Your task is to alter the patient’s way of pursuing it, so that he is not really pursuing it at all, only in name. You then achieve the greatest of all things for your patient: you harness his natural desire given to him by the Enemy. The patient has a desire to be home and will expend his energy to get there, but if you give him a map to prison instead, you use that desire and energy toward your own end.

One method that I am proud to say I developed myself, and has proven quite effective at times, is a way of corrupting repentance. Especially in America, a focus on “brokenness” can be an especially fertile ground for this. Let the patient think himself broken. Encourage the usage of that term. Let the patient focus on it, believing himself to be confronting his own sin in doing so. Especially if the Enemy is seeking him, the wheel will seek that rut. Let that happen. Reinforce it. He is broken. He does seek things other than the Enemy’s design. Let him sit in that. Tell him that he’ll always be broken.

This is subtle, but powerful. For him, there is a seductive appeal to focusing on his brokenness, and a path that you can lead him down which will be painful for him and delicious for you. First, he may start to consider that he has no agency. Not explicitly, of course, but practically. He’ll begin to consider whether his brokenness is without hope of redemption. He will be tempted to give up hope. You see, in this way you redirect his attempt at repentance away from it, because he believes himself incapable of change. Shift focus to the sin itself and away from the Enemy. Our Father Below is not called “The Accuser” for nothing! The Enemy, above all, wants the focus of these hairless bi-pedal monkeys to be on Him. This is your task: to ensure that it’s on anything else. His sin will do nicely.

If you’re able to accomplish this, you may achieve another stage that is seductive to the patient. The patient knows that his current state isn’t permanent. That his sin and pain are not beyond relief. But he simultaneously believes that it is. You see, what he knows and what he believes are contradictory. Reinforce the belief that he’s the kind of person who is broken, and he won’t fight his own sin: he’ll give up. He does, after all, want to give himself permission to keep doing it. Alongside this, whisper to him also that his current state, the results of his sin, do not have to be permanent if only he changes his circumstances. A new partner, perhaps, who does not criticize him quite so much. A new occupation where they truly appreciate him. Friends who truly encourage him. Perhaps even a better church! Yes, this might work nicely for this patient. Use his repentance against him to make him hopeless. Use his hopelessness to get him to blame something else and desperately seek a solution.

There is danger here, of course. A patient desperately seeking a solution may be driven to seek comfort in the Enemy. If you are able to reach this stage your effort needs to be to focus the patient on something outside of Him. At this point the patient’s sin is of no use to you. He is desperately fighting against the belief that his pain is beyond relief and his sin beyond redemption. He believes he’s worthless but knows this isn’t true. Direct the patient’s attention therefore to other people and circumstances as the cause of this feeling. If the patient can be made to believe that his sin is outside his control, while simultaneously believing that he is a victim, he will be tempted to seek relief. But he’ll do so not by seeking the Enemy: he’ll do it by attempting to change his circumstances.

If this happens you have concocted a delicacy that you can enjoy for the rest of the patient’s miserable days: his endless, painful search for relief that only brings about more pain. A promotion would certainly be in order.

Your affectionate uncle


Remembering My Grandfather

Today would have been my grandfather’s 94th birthday, and I’ve been thinking a lot about him today. I’ve often said that he’s the best man I ever knew, and I really mean that. I wish everyone was able to meet him.

Below is the eulogy I wrote for him last November. Godspeed, granddad, I’ll see you soon.

William Thomas Martin of Winston-Salem, North Carolina passed away on Sunday November 24, 2019 after reaching the age of 93 years old. He died peacefully beside family and went home to be with his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

William (Bill) was born on April 16, 1926 in Spencer, NC to George and Julia Martin, the oldest of four children.

At five, at a camp meeting in God’s Country, GA he heard a Pastor read a verse from the Gospel of Matthew: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Bill became a Christian that day, and it would define him the rest of his life.

Later, not yet 18 years old, Bill volunteered for the Navy during World War II, requiring a signature from his parents to do so. He served on the USS Lacerta as a radio operator in the Pacific Theatre, and served on that ship from the time it was commissioned until it was decommissioned. He served as Chaplin, encouraging his crewmates in their faith while doing so.

When he returned he went to Mars Hill college and eventually went to work on transportation logistics for both Southern Railway and the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company. He became President of Delta Nu Alpha, a professional network for transportation professionals and retired from R.J. Reynolds at 55. He taught classes on this profession at both Wake Forest and Forsyth Tech.

In 1959 he married Ann Martin at Hebron Church in Winston-Salem, NC and remained married to her for 60 years until his passing. They lived in Winston-Salem and raised two daughters, Susanne and Nancy.

Bill’s legacy is one we might all aspire to. To be a devoted and loving husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and friend is admirable. To be a patriot and willingly put your own life at risk for the sake of your country is inspirational. To be a superb professional, and work diligently to make the world a little bit better, day by day, is praiseworthy.

But the thing that made the life of Bill Martin so extraordinary was his faith, and how it made all that possible, and created the legacy that continues on even though he is now departed. Because of Bill, two children, 3 grandchildren, and 5 great-grandchildren (so far!) will grow up in the teachings of Jesus. Because of Bill, scores of soldiers were taught the Good News in the darkest hours of World War II. Because of Bill, countless churchgoers were instructed on the relentless love of God, as he taught Sunday School for over 55 years.

Bill was struck when he was 5 years old by the idea that the pure in heart will see God. And that is why, we have no doubt, when he stood before God the first words he heard was “Well done, my good and faithful servant”.

Vocation In A Pandemic

Note: I am a board member in an organization named KIROS, a Christians in Business group in Seattle aimed at connecting, encouraging, and equipping Christians to integrate their faith with their business and career. This is a letter I sent to the community regarding my thoughts on the crisis.

One of the things I appreciate most about KIROS is the diversity of vocation present in the community. We are often siloed in our vocations while we’re at our places of business. Engineers work with engineers. Accountants work with accountants. In our churches we have a diversity of vocation, but a singular focus when we worship together. KIROS gives me a way to think of what it means to be a Christian at work alongside people of different vocations.

But recently, it seems to me, we have a different kind of diversity in our community: many of us have had our vocations radically changed, and in short order. Some of us are not able to work like we used to. Some of us were accountants, but are now homeschool teachers. Some of us still work in the same vocation, but what our work entails looks entirely different. Instead of trying to expand our businesses, some of us may be looking to keep it afloat. We are all having to make hard decisions about our career, our business, our customers, our employees, and how we help our community.

This reminds me of a sermon by CS Lewis in Weight of Glory named “Learning in Wartime”. The sermon was given to students at Oxford in the thick of World War II, attempting to answer some of the basic questions we often have when trying to persevere through a crisis: Do I continue on as if this isn’t a big deal? How do I keep focused on what is in front of me? I wish this had never happened, why am I going through this? What about all of my plans, when can I get back to them?

These are very real concerns, and Lewis doesn’t dismiss them. He writes that

A more Christian attitude… is that of leaving futurity in God’s hands. We may as well, for God will certainly retain it whether we leave it to Him or not. Never, in peace or war, commit your virtue or your happiness to the future. Happy work is best done by the man who takes his long-term plans somewhat lightly and works from moment to moment “as to the Lord”. It is only our daily bread that we are encouraged to ask for. The present is the only time in which any duty can be done or any grace received.

That is, he suggests that the Christian walk is about doing our vocation, whatever that may be, dutifully in the present. That is in fact exactly our duty in all circumstances, crisis or not. As to the questions “Why me? Why us? Why now?”, Lewis has an encouraging word:

The work of a Beethoven, and the work of a charwoman, become spiritual on precisely the same condition, that of being offered to God, of being done humbly “as to the Lord”. This does not, of course, mean that it is for anyone a mere toss-up whether he should sweep rooms or compose symphonies. A mole must dig to the glory of God and a cock must crow. We are members of one body, but differentiated members, each with his own vocation. A man’s upbringing, his talents, his circumstances, are usually a tolerable index of his vocation.

Our backgrounds, our talent, and our circumstances were ordained by God for all moments, certainly, but also this one. The decisions we make regarding our families, work, and community were given to us by God, and we should be encouraged that this was done with a purpose. We should remind ourselves that even though we, like those terrified students at Oxford in 1939, may wish this wasn’t our burden it was nonetheless given to us for a reason. God prepared us for our part to play in it.

Whatever your vocation looks like now, I think we should heed Lewis’ advice and remember that all of our work becomes “spiritual on precisely the same condition, that of being offered to God, of being done humbly “as to the Lord”. This is true even, and maybe especially, if it wasn’t the work that we planned to be doing.

Meaning And Pain, Final Thoughts

This is a continuing series about meaning and pain. To read from the beginning, start here.

So what am I to do with all of this? My wife and I have lost a child. This pain can’t be denied, ignored, or found trivial. It’s meaningful to me, but in a negative way. Shall we stop there? Is that all there is?

To ask whether the universe as we see it looks more like the
work of a wise and good Creator or the work of chance, indifference, or malevolence, is to omit from the outset all the relevant factors in the religious problem.

Christianity is not the conclusion of a philosophical debate on the origins of the universe: it is a catastrophic historical event following on the long spiritual preparation of humanity which I have described.

It is not a system into which we have to fit the awkward fact of pain: it is itself one of the awkward facts which have to be fitted into any system we make.

In a sense, it creates, rather than solves, the problem of pain, for pain would be no problem unless, side by side with our daily experience of this painful world, we had received what we think a
good assurance that ultimate reality is righteous and loving.

CS Lewis, The Problem of Pain

I’m attempting what Lewis is suggesting here. To square the facts that I know with the pain that I feel. If you’re reading this and experiencing something like what we have, know that my attempt may not be adequate. In fact, if you’re looking for something to make you feel better, I can guarantee it won’t be. This is a post about grief and pain, and the fact that it matters. I am not trying to fill all of the silence.

The day we received this news, I came across Stephen Colbert’s interview with Anderson Cooper, where he paraphrases a certain quote from Tolkien:

I thought this a good word in itself, but this quote does a little better with some extra context. Tolkien was answering questions about death in his writing. In Lord of the Rings, men were given the “gift” of death. Elves were immortal by design, but men had expiration dates. Men in Tokien’s tale, as they do here on earth, dreaded death. So why did the elves call this the Gift of Ilúvatar (God)? Tolkien answers this question in an unpublished letter with this statement, which Colbert is paraphrasing:

“A divine ‘punishment’ is also a divine ‘gift’, if accepted, since its object is ultimate blessing, and the supreme inventiveness of the Creator will make ‘punishments’ (that is changes of design) produce a good not otherwise to be attained”

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Letters of J.R.R Tolkien

There are two things that stick out to me about this:

  1. He refers to it as a punishment, but I don’t think that’s necessarily what he meant. It’s more like suffering that must be endured. Men didn’t cause mortality in Tolkien’s world, at least explicitly. They were given it from the beginning. They simply had to endure it.
  2. Ilúvatar never gives the answer to what happened ultimately in death for men. It remained a mystery, even to the reader.

So if we make a leap and grant Tolkien his point: that suffering is also a gift, and if we accept it it comes with something that could not otherwise have been attained, the natural response, in my mind, is “Okay, let’s assume that’s true. Why should I believe that the gift is worth it in the end? I might be willing to accept this bargain if the pain is small. But what about the loss of a child? I’m just supposed to move forward in the definite and visceral pain with the promise that there’s some gift that is worth enduring all that?”

And this is where Christian faith comes in. Faith is often, in the modern debate about religion, construed as “irrational belief”. That is, belief without (or in spite of) reason. Interestingly enough though, it’s not often how we use the term “faith” in everyday life outside of the religious context.

I believe my wife is faithful. In other words, I believe she’s worthy of trust. A parent might have faith that their children can find the right spouse, make the right decisions, and otherwise grow into functioning adults upon leaving the home. We trade paper for goods and services “in good faith” that the paper isn’t counterfeit and neither are the goods purchased. When we use it in this context, “faith” seems more like trust. Rational trust.

So, then, if we’re to take Tolkien’s position that this suffering comes hand in hand with a gift, why should I have faith (trust) that the gift is worth it? In any bargain, any trade of this manner, the real question has to be “Who is this gift giver? Why should I trust this exchange? Why ought I have faith in this system of immense suffering?”

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize…

Hebrews 4

This is where I find only the gospel has an answer to that question. The scandal of God becoming man, entering into this suffering, was done for us. God Himself being hungry, tired, seeing friends die… himself being beaten, tortured, and ultimately killed… It was all for us. If that is the God giving the gift that accompanies the suffering, that’s a God I can trust. That’s a God I can have faith isn’t exposing me to suffering that’s not worth it, despite how painful it might be, because He’s been through it. Despite the fact that in times of immense pain, I wonder if my faith is justified.

I will end my thoughts on this topic with a story that has always stuck with me: A lawyer named Horatio Spafford wrote the words to the 19th century hymn “It Is Well With My Soul” while on a boat traveling to Europe. He was supposed to meet his wife and four daughters, but the ship carrying his family sank and all four of his daughters were lost.

When he set out to meet his wife, he asked for the boat’s captain to tell him when they were crossing the approximate location where his daughters perished, and that’s where he penned his famous hymn:

When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to know
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

The pain I am feeling regarding my unborn child is real. I won’t diminish it. The meaning behind that pain is real. I won’t deny it. The fact that in a very real sense this Should Not Be is indisputable. I won’t trivialize it.

But the reason that Spafford could write those lyrics are as true for me as they were for him: My Savior loves me. He knows all this. I will have faith that this suffering comes with something truly good that could not have been attained without it. I won’t minimize the pain, but I’ll endure it as best I can. Because He has earned my trust.

Meaning And Pain, Part 2

This is Part 2 of a post about Meaning and Pain. Part 1 can be found here.

So I didn’t leave that last post wrapped tightly in a bow, and to be honest I don’t really know if this one will be either even as I write it. It is my firm conviction that we don’t leave enough space for things like silence, pain or unanswered questions.

No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not
afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same
fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the
yawning. I keep on swallowing.

At other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or
concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in. It is so uninteresting. Yet I want the others to be
about me. I dread the moments when the house is empty. If only they would talk to one another and not to me.

There are moments, most unexpectedly, when something inside me
tries to assure me that I don’t really mind so much, not so very much, after all. Love is not the whole of a man’s life…

CS Lewis, A Grief Observed

It’s my observation that we, perhaps both intentionally and unintentionally, tend to speed right past suffering. We often say things like “This reminds me of the time when I also went through…” or “Everything happens for a reason.” This may all be well and true, but it seems to me to serve often as a way to say “Don’t let this get to you. This is bad, but it happens to everyone, and either way it’ll all work out in the end. You’ll see. Now can we stop talking about this?

And this brings me back to the meaning question. It seems to me that there’s an inseparable link between meaning and suffering.

In my view, one of the areas of silence we should more often allow ourselves, and others, to sit in a little more is the experience of pain and suffering, and the fact that those things are real, and omnipresent, and meaningful. I mean by “silence” the solemn contemplation of this reality: we are all in pain. We all experience that fear-like-grief that accompanies this life. The meaning and suffering dimensions are, as Peterson suggested, completely intertwined. We cannot deny that the suffering is meaningful, and if it’s meaningful it needs to be meaningfully engaged.

So what to do, if we can’t race past it toward a distraction? If we can’t ignore it? We all have questions in times like these. We want to know the “why”. We want to demand an answer, or find who (perhaps even God Himself) is to be blamed for this catastrophe. What do you do when you experience that kind of pain?

I’ll apply these questions next to myself. I am in pain. I miss the child I never knew. This being I love and would gladly give my life for, even though he or she was scant the size of a blueberry. It is impossible for me to think this pain isn’t meaningful. And I don’t want to ignore it. If the world should be Shalom, if children should live to grow up before their parents eyes, and it’s not, we SHOULD be suffering. Because that isn’t the world we live in. And it means something.

Continued in Part 3, final thoughts.