So Jesus asked the twelve: “Do you want to leave, too?”
Simon Peter replied, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
This is what it comes down to, in the end.
If not God, where? If not Christ, where? If not the Holy Spirit, where? If not the truth that is promised, what else remains?
I don’t know. I know what other people do, and they do a lot of different things. They meditate, a lot. They praise the virtue of detachment. They tell me that life is meaningless and they say they find comfort in that. They smoke pot. They try to live out their passions every day. They do affirmations and talk about becoming one of the stars and energy and the Universe. They believe in other gods, or no gods. They comfort themselves with thoughts of organ donation. They talk about their legacies.
Somewhere along the line, God ruined me, in a good way.
I mean that He ruined me for all those other answers. I can’t try them, not seriously. I practice deep breathing because it helps when I get anxious on planes and I like yoga poses because they stretch my leg and spines but they are paper parasols against the greater storms of the world. I can’t detach from people, from life enough to stop caring about death and dying. No amount of living or meaning in the “now” can save a world for me where there is nothing else. I take no comfort in myself, my enough-ness. I don’t trust me for anything. Drugs scare me. I don’t drink.
When I was young I used to say I had never seriously doubted my salvation or my faith. I said it out of a smugness that I am now ashamed of. Of course I believe, I told people then. Jesus is a fact for me. He was and is. But I often say now that I refuse to doubt my faith because, among other reasons, I cannot live without it. I mean that literally. Other people can and do. I don’t know how. I don’t want to know how. I can’t fathom the choice.
When I was in college we sang, “Brokenness, brokenness, is what I long for, it’s what I need…”
The hubris, of asking for something like that and believing we could handle it. But we also laughed nervously after and said we felt odd singing that line in sincerity, because what if God listened? At the time, I realized, we had the image of God hearing that prayer and stirring to life on His throne, thundering, “You want brokenness? I’ll grant you brokenness!” And then—compassionately of course—smiting us with some sort of misery.
Embarrassing now, to admit we thought of God that way.
Tish Harrison Warren said it well in Prayer in the Night when she acknowledged that the great comfort of believers is that God gives meaning to suffering. Suffering simply is. It is a part of being broken people in a broken world. Sometimes we court it and cause it with our choices; often, we don’t. But God isn’t sitting on His throne coldly portioning out our misery to break us down to nothingness so that we might be reformed in His name. God is deeply good. God is not cruel.
Instead, God suffers with us. God suffers for us. And it is God who makes the suffering matter, who transforms it from misery into gold when we must endure it. The why of suffering seems to subside, beside that. I trust that God’s presence will be enough to quiet all of my questions. But the relief comes in knowing He has also know hurt, and sorrow, and hates all the everything that is bad here.
The world God promises is the world I want. And it is because He promises that world and cared enough to make it possible that I love Him and understand His character. I don’t want to suffer for suffering’s sake and no better end. I don’t want the big cosmic farce that I live and suffer and sad and am somehow nobler for having lived, with nothing better to come after. I don’t want to merrily survey the disease and sorrow and death in the world and say, “Well, we tried, it was a good run.” I don’t want to pretend it is okay.
I want my happy ever after. I worship the God with the audacity to promise it.
I love the God who delivered it with His own blood.
At Easter this year, earlier, when I could not possibly have predicted any part of this year to now, I found myself stuck on a simple image of a crown of thorns that my church had put on display, with a single drop of blood in the center. I didn’t know why I was so hung up on it then; I think I do now.
I need that God or none of this is worth anything at all.
I have cried a lot this year and I’ve gotten mad at God some this year. But I haven’t really thought of going anywhere. In the middle of everything, God always offers the option: do you want to go? I am well aware the door is always open. I could leave and turn away and if I lied well enough, no one would ever know, but—
Where else would I go?
To go away would mean to leave all of it. The promise, the hope, the happy-ever-after. It would mean leaving the God who wants all those things with us and for us in spite of how we relinquished our claim to them. Where else would I go?
I want the Word and the breath and the life.
I’ll stay here.