The God of Saturday

It’s Good Friday as I write this.  The last few days have been filled with all sorts of special observances and activities, from neighborhood Easter Egg hunts to special Holy Week midday church services – days have seen both secular and sacred activities, observances that have in some cases had pagan origins, and others that form the foundational truth of Christianity.

Facebook is flooded these days with all sorts of memes, featuring pictures of a cross, an empty tomb, and more, and lots of Bible quotations.  People keep repeating lots of bumper sticker theology, but I wonder how many of us are actually thinking about the truth we say we are professing.

Now, please don’t misunderstand what I’m saying.  Yes, we NEED to talk about Jesus’ suffering.  We must teach and understand the atoning work of Christ on the cross.  And by all means, we should exult – and exalt – the resurrection.  The historical fact of Jesus’ bodily resurrection is the founding principle on which Christianity is based.

But what about those who are still waiting for God to come through for them?  They want to believe in God, but they’re not seeing the victories and the good times that others are talking about.  Maybe you can relate to:

  • A loved one who died, even in the face of many, many prayers.
  • A marriage that shattered, in spite of your best efforts.
  • A job that didn’t materialize.
  • A situation that you were sure was God’s will, that has now fallen apart.

The awful moment has passed.  You’ve left the hospital, the police station, the cemetery.  Now you’re left with shattered hopes, broken dreams, and wounded faith.  You want to believe that God will come through and make it all okay, but you are afraid to hope too much.  Well-meaning friends tell you that God will not put more on you than you can bear, and to just keep praying for the victory.  The Friday of your crisis is over, but you haven’t seen the Sunday morning of your renewed hopes yet.

You’re stuck in Saturday.

Saturday is a terrible place to be.  It was the attitude of Saturday that left the disciples hiding behind locked doors out of fear (John 20:19).  It was the same attitude of despair you can hear in the words of Cleopas, even as they encountered the Stranger on the road to Emmaus – “But we had hoped…” (Luke 24:21).

Surely you have experienced a Saturday.  God hasn’t done things in a way that makes sense.  Your expectations have been turned completely upside-down.  So now what?

Even on Saturday, we must hold on.  Keep on trusting.  Keep on hoping.  This is the truth King David understood when he wrote, “Weeping lasts through the night, but joy comes in the morning.” (Psalm 30:5)  Or the psalmist in Psalm 42 & 43 – “Why are you so downcast, O my soul?  Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him.”

This is the meaning behind the scripture that Jesus quoted from the cross – Psalm 22.  “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  Like any good Jewish boy, Jesus knew He didn’t have to quote an entire passage, in order to reference an entire passage.  And Psalm 22, the crucifixion psalm, also contains some of the most confident outpouring of hope in the entire Old Testament.

Psalm 22 may be the most – human – of any psalm ever written.  Who has not felt abandoned by God?  Who has not felt forsaken?  But I reject the theology that says that God “turned his back” on Jesus here.  I think Jesus was experiencing the very human emotion of feeling distant from God.  Haven’t you ever felt that way?  When you felt alone and abandoned, had God really turned His back on you?  Of course not.  And I don’t think He did here, either.

Jesus is quoting Psalm 22 to remind Himself of its glorious truth – that God is still God, even when I can’t figure out what’s going on.  God is still God, even when I can’t feel Him.  In Psalm 22, David pours out his heart to remind himself that even though it’s bad right now, God has always come through before, and He will again.  Psalm 22 begins in despair, but ends in triumph.

Faith is hard when you’re in a Saturday.  It’s easy to feel offended by what God has – or has not – done.  Unmet hopes gnaw at us, and unfulfilled dreams mock.  The enemy is constantly in your ear, telling you that God is not to be trusted, to cut your losses and move on.  Or maybe just lower your expectations, go through the motion of going to church, but don’t risk too much.

But the truth of the Bible, and the word of our testimony both say, HOLD ON.  God will come through.  Maybe not in the way you expect.  Maybe not with the timing you think best.  But He will not forsake you.  He will not abandon you.  He will bring ultimate victory, and He will make all things new again.

God is still God, even when I don’t understand.  He is still God of my life and God of my hopes.  And He is still God, even of my Saturdays.

Saturdays are long and painful, but there IS hope.  Don’t give up on God, and don’t give in to despair.  Keep on trusting.  Keep on hoping.  Keep on praying.

Sunday’s coming.

(Originally posted in 2013.)

Do You Trust Me?

All of us are faced every day with many questions.  “What should I wear?,” “Where do you want to eat?,” “When are we leaving?”  But there are questions, and then there are questions.  And in John 11, Jesus asks Martha a question that is definitely in that second category.

The chapter opens with Jesus learning that Lazarus, his friend, was sick – but mysteriously, Jesus does NOT immediately head for Bethany, the village where Lazarus lives.  Instead, Jesus delays for a couple of days before leaving.  The disciples are just as puzzled as we are by his behavior.

Jesus arrives to find Lazarus has been dead for four days.  Lazarus’ sister, Martha, goes out to meet Jesus on the road, and she immediately begins with the accusations.  “If only you had been here, my brother would not have died!”

We have to understand some of the cultural forces at work here.  With their brother dead, Martha and her sister Mary didn’t have a lot of economic options.  It wasn’t like they were getting a big life insurance check when Lazarus died.  And you certainly don’t get the impression that they were financially wealthy – after all, they lived in Bethany, which means, “House of the Poor.”  You wouldn’t expect to find a lot of money in a place called “Poor-town.”

So Martha, ever the practical one, was probably looking past her grief, already wondering how she and Mary were going to get by.  There weren’t very many jobs available for women.

“If only you’d been here, my brother would not have died.”  It’s a sentiment that many of us have wanted to shout at God at one time or another.

  • Where were you, God, when my child was killed?
  • I have dedicated my life to you, God.  How could you let my business go under?
  • How could you make my wife suffer with cancer like that?

There are many other versions of those questions, but you get the point.  Where is God when it hurts?

In his book “God Came Near,” Max Lucado says

You see, if God is God anywhere, he has to be God in the face of death. Pop psychology can deal with depression. Pep talks can deal with pessimism. Prosperity can handle hunger. But only God can deal with our ultimate dilemma — death. …He has to be God in the face of death. If not, he is not God anywhere.

So when Martha confronts Jesus for apparently being AWOL when he was needed most, Jesus doesn’t flinch.  He says, somewhat cryptically, “Your brother will rise again.”

Martha thinks Jesus is talking about something off in the future and says, “Yes, I know he will rise again in the resurrection in the last day.”  (As if to say, “That’s not going to be of much help now.”

But Jesus stuns her (and us) when he says, “I AM the resurrection and the life.  Whoever believes in me will live, even though he dies.  And whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”

And that’s when he asked THE QUESTION.

“Do you trust me?”

Now, your translation for that verse probably says something like, “Do you believe in me?,” but I don’t think that does justice to what Jesus is really saying.  You see, for many people, to BELIEVE is something that takes place in the mind.  It’s a matter of giving intellectual agreement.  Yes, I believe I should watch my diet and exercise more.  Yes, I believe that wearing seat belts is good.  Yes, I believe that Jesus is the Son of God.

We say we believe those things, but we may or may not actually DO anything about it.  That’s because in our language, BELIEVING something doesn’t necessarily mean ACTING on that.

But Jesus is not asking Martha if she understands his words intellectually.  He’s asking, “Do you trust me?”  And it’s the same question he asks us today.  He wants to know, even when we don’t understand what is happening, or why, do we trust him?

  • Do we trust him in the hospital waiting room?
  • Do we trust him in the police station and in the courthouse?
  • Do we trust him when our most cherished dreams come crashing down?
  • Do we trust him as we hold the hand of one who is slipping away?
  • Do we trust him at the cemetery?

The fact is, it’s easy to trust him when life is going well and everyone is healthy and there’s plenty of money in the bank.  But what about when “things fall apart, and the center does not hold?”  Can we still trust him then?

Now of course, we know the end of this story.  We know that Jesus went to the cemetery and called out Lazarus and there is a great happy ending.  But put yourself in Martha’s sandals here.  She didn’t know any of that.  All she knew was that the brother that she loved was dead, her world was upside down, she had no idea what was coming in the future, but here stands Jesus in front of her, asking her to trust him.

Martha gives the answer for eternity.  “Yes, Lord.  I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”

Good words, but more than that.  It’s the response of a broken but trusting heart.

It’s still the response he’s looking for today.

(Max Lucado quotation taken from The Question for the Canyon’s Edge.)