Sunday, November 8, 2009

Sunday Challenge - Say nothing

What a bizarre week this last one was.

This is essentially a fan's blog, based on the eye black of our team's QB, Tim Tebow, who is now known for being a Christian as much as he is a football player. And he and his eye black rose not only to national fame in the US, but also to international fame, when he wore John 3:16 on his eye black in the national championship game at the start of this year. On Jan 8, 2009, there were 94 million google searches for John 3:16, and as Christians and Gators we thought that was pretty cool.

In short, we started this blog because we wanted to enjoy what we hoped to be the Gators' best season to date, and thought it might be equally cool if we could get a few people to do something good for those around them while enjoying the ride. And perhaps that was a little naive, because we never imagined the kinds of emails that would come in from here, there, and everywhere.

When Tebow was injured in the Kentucky game, the emails started. We have already commented on what we saw and received in the Christian emails/messages in our "Dare to Believe in the Goodness of God" challenge. But the ones we didn't comment on basically said things like this:

"Where's God now?!"
"God's as fake as Tebow is!"
"God's mad at Tebow!"
"I wouldn't believe in a god that would let that happen!"
"Is that what your God does to his own?"

You get the picture.

Then Ft. Hood ... followed by the shooting in Orlando.

We were shocked, and confused, that a Gator Hater or Tebow hater would email a blog about the tragedy at Ft. Hood. But then it dawned on us, they weren't mad at Tebow or the Gators, but at God. And we can understand that.

So the emails we want to reply to essentially challenged us to try and answer this (and we've cleaned it up), "what can you possibly know...?"

We are of the belief that no one cares what you know, or what you think, until they know what you've been through. So we'd like to tell you first what we've been through, and then what we think of the God questions as a result.

We're from Gainesville and we know what it is like when tragedy strikes your small quiet town. Just google "Gainesville Student murders" and see what we lived through. And that was back in the fall of 1990. (Or just click the link)

Imagine not letting your kids, nieces or nephews watch a horror movie because you thought it might scar them in some way. Now imagine turning off your hometown news for the same reason. Imagine being that kid, watching that news, and then living through it.

Fast forward nearly 20 years, and imagine every now and then having a sudden flashback when the ads for the latest serial killer movie comes out. Finally, imagine what it's like flipping the channels on a sunny afternoon and coming across your community's personal nightmare on A&E's American Justice, and spending the next week with restless sleep. That's what we know.

What few people realize is that when the intrusive media leaves in a few days, or a couple weeks, the people of Ft. Hood will only then begin the marathon before them. We know. Because after the Gainesville murderer plead "guilty," it took sixteen long years of hearings, procedural this and that, and exhausting appeals before his execution. Year after year, another painful reminder. Not to mention the sensational tabloid news stories and voyeurs that interrupted the quiet between the milestone years. And don't kid yourself, execution day is a grim day for all, and it only served as faint relief in the end. But even then it still wasn't over, because eventually the evidence had to be destroyed. That didn't happen until the 18 year mark. Next fall will be the 20th anniversary of their deaths. And then five years after that will be the 25th anniversary. And you willingly carry their memory with you because they and their families deserve at least that. We think you get the picture.

When any tragedy strikes the first thing nearly everyone asks themselves is "why?" The next is "God how could you let this happen?" and then "God don't you care?" Soon doubt mixes in with grief, and the next two questions arise; "Is there a God?" and "If there is, am I willing to believe in Him if this is what it's like?" It is a choice that must be made in that moment and then again and again as you travel through that marathon.

Great theologians have wrestled with these questions and have written book after book, and treatise after treatise, on suffering and pain and God's role and purpose in them. But does a brokenhearted person really care what St. Thomas Aquinas, Spurgeon, or C.S. Lewis thought on the subject when they are overcome with grief? We don't think so (I Cor. 13:1-3).

The only person they really want to hear from is the person that is giving them the hug, that has come to the hospital to sit with them, the one that came to visit them after everyone else has gone ... weeks ago. The one that doesn't mind their sloppy tears, their anger at God, their shame and guilt, and their growing struggle with depression, all of which are the normal stages of grief.

But as a Christian you do need to have an answer, and we believe we know what that answer is, and it is a bitter pill to swallow. The thing we believe that makes that answer palpable is being able to look a grieving person in the eye and tell them that God does love them, and you're proof, because you know that God loves you and you've been where they are and you not only survived, but you also got your joy back. And you'll help them find their way there too.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. (2 Corinthians 1:3-5)

If you can't say that to them, then don't say anything. Don't be the Christian that says "I don't know what to say," and then proves it.

Don't be like Job's friends who told him he must have sinned, he must have done something wrong, that God was angry with him and his loss and suffering were his punishment. Because you will not only hurt your friend or loved one, but you'll also legitimately incur the anger of God like they did. (Luke 13:1-5)

And don't be that Christian that tells them silly platitudes like "all things work together for them that love God!" or "you'll get double for your trouble!" or "you just need to pray more!" Even if at some level it may be true (Prov. 25:20). There is a time and place for such things.

So here's the bitter pill. Why do we endure suffering? Why are babies born with defects? Why does God in his sovereignty allow it? Why was man created? Why did God set the sun, moon, and stars the way He did? Why do we have free will? Why the duck billed platypus? Why the Northern Lights? Why anything?

The answer: For His glory. It's all for His glory.

John 11:1-5 Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair. So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”

When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. Yet when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days.

John 9:1-3 As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life."

Luke 25:24-27 Then he said to them: O foolish, and slow of heart to believe in all things which the prophets have spoken. Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and so to enter into his glory? And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded to them in all the scriptures, the things that were concerning him.

As we have said before, just as the sun rises and sets on us all, we are all going to experience suffering. As a Christian, the purpose of your suffering is so that you may share in Christ's suffering and be a comfort to others so that they may know Christ through you. In order for you to do that, you will suffer and God will allow it.

Two of the most frightening verses in the Bible are these:

Luke 22:31-32 “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”

It is frightening because Jesus allowed Satan to sift him as wheat, and will also allow us to be sifted. It is frightening that his faith could have failed, and ours and yours too. And it is frightening to think that we are the ones that will have to return to our faith in order to strengthen our brothers and sisters, because if we don't, no one else may. And that is what God has entrusted us with.

It is no easy thing being a Christian. Whether you realized it or not, when you became a Christian you signed up for hazard duty to help save, serve, and comfort a sick and dying world. Being a Christian was never meant to be like joining a club that has a lot of perks, and your father picks up the tab. It was always meant to be like being a member of one of the many squads of firemen that stormed up the stairways of the Twin Towers on the morning of Sept. 11. Being a Christian requires sacrifice.

Many believe there is a god. Less know that there is a God. Fewer still are committed to that God, "even if " circumstances are not what we hoped for or expected.

Which one are you? Because, to answer the original question, we know which ones we are and we earned that knowledge the hard way.

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