I think one of my favorite questions to ask is “why?” I’ve always been a naturally curious person and so the whys of life have plagued me for as long as I can remember. Why do I have to go to bed so early? Why is it so important to use manners? Why do nice things have to be so expensive? Why this? Why that? Over the years, I’ve gotten the answers to many of my whys, but there are some that remain unanswered.
Right now, my big Why Question has been “why do bad things keep happening?” During the second half of 2016, loss has been an adjective that I, and several people close to me, have become far too acquainted with. The tears I’ve shed hold the weight of lead. Mothers have lost babies, grandchildren have lost grandparents, and most recently, friends have lost parents. Amidst all this, the only word I can seem to mutter is “why?”
I want to know why because there’s often security in answers, is there not? Our human nature begs us to move toward understanding. We’re driven to satiate this thirst we have to get to the root of “things.” But what do we do when it feels like we, along with those around us, have been wandering in the desert for days? I think that’s what John Legend’s newest album, DARKNESS AND LIGHT, asks its listeners. In the midst of darkness, how do we find light? In the depths of woe, where can we find love?
As a believer and follower of Christ, my knee-jerk reaction is to say, “Jesus.” No more, no less. That answer is easy and simple and allows me to often remove myself from the heartache around me, for it is too great. But even Jesus, knowing full well that He was about to raise Lazarus from the dead, wept over the death of his dear friend in John 11. Even still, what happens when you don’t feel like Jesus is enough? Life can often be devastating and sometimes sadness exists so deep in circumstances that succumbing to grief is often easier than fighting for joy. I get that. I am learning more than ever that “everything happens for a reason,” and “let go and let God” among the other myriad of hallmark, well-meaning phrases just don’t cut it. We need more than a phrase, we need a Savior.
I mentioned earlier that a friend recently lost her parents. The situation is unbelievable and harrowing. In the aftermath of this news, among my question of why, I’ve added another question–God, where are you? I believe that you are good, but these recent events are anything but good, so where are you? As I ask this, watching the snow fall outside my living room window in the flurry of the Christmas season, I am struck with what I can only imagine Israel was feeling as they waited for the arrival of the Messiah. They were a people enslaved and slaughtered, yet promised deliverance. They were growing weary in the waiting. Why are we here, God? Aren’t we your people? Where are you? Are you coming? Are your promises true? I imagine that their string of questions was endless.
It is for this reason that my favorite Christmas hymn is “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” In this advent season, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” admits to the sorrow in anticipation, but acknowledges the joy in the coming of a Savior. Centuries later, the waiting is what makes Christmas so beautiful. The Israelites waited and Christ came. God with us, Emmanuel, came to redeem the brokenness we suffer from and live in. That is worth celebrating! But the story isn’t over.
He came once, he died, and rose again. Now we’re left waiting for him to return. So, like the Israelites, I keep asking myself these questions–God, where are you? Am I not your child?–but I ask with hope because Christ came once and he has promised to come again. I don’t know when, but I am excited for the day when everything sad will come untrue. I am excited for the day when “whys” won’t be the heartbeat of humanity. Waiting isn’t easy and I don’t have answers for this time in between. The hope I have, though often feeble, isn’t for now. The hope I have is for something to come, something so beautiful I can hardly think of it for long. There is a reason that all four gospels end with the Resurrection of Christ.
I don’t know why bad things keep happening and I don’t know why waiting is often unbearable, but Christmas is a promise that won’t return to us void. It’s a promise meant to seep into the very sadness we can’t understand. Jesus has come to dwell among us in our sadness and will return one day to take it all away. Until then, O come, thou Dayspring from on high and cheer us by thy drawing nigh; disperse the gloomy clouds of night and death’s dark shadows put to flight.
[Come thou long expected Jesus…]