I spent a few hours today with a loving, seasoned, and wise shepherd who has been in ministry longer than I've been alive. I experienced so much as he shared his heart with me: I witnessed the affection and love he has for his bride; he told me that he spends most of his time simply being with her. I listened as he shared epic stories of adventure, heartache, and purpose; his care and compassion for others encouraged and inspired me to see people as he sees them - deeply loved and valued. I saw the empathy and tenderness he has for those who have been afflicted by the fires, floods, and fatalities in California, Texas, Florida, Las Vegas, and other parts of our country and world. He revealed the Father's Heart to me. He gave me a beautiful picture of the One whose Heart is moved by the crisis, grief, pain, and suffering of His people. Through his life, I caught a glimpse of the life-giving character of the Father whose Heart aches, longs, and yearns to hold His children close, lift them up into His compassionate care, and repair and restore what has been ruined in our lives.
But if we're honest, we often do not see our Father in this light, do we? I know I don't.
As we contemplate the chaos in our country, world, and in our own lives, what goes on in our hearts and minds as we process and witness the unraveling? How do we respond to the brokenness that seems to destroy our homes, neighborhoods, and relationships? To what or to whom do we turn? Many of us experience helplessness, hopelessness, and even homelessness as we live in the here and now while dreaming of a better tomorrow. If there is a God, we might wonder, what is HIs role in all of this? Is He distant and removed from our sadness and struggle? Does He even care? Is He the One behind all of this madness? Or is He simply too passive and weak to enter into our pain and suffering with healing, renewal, and strength in His hands? How does our Father move into the mess of our lives?
Often, I would argue, we simply want to give God the middle finger and be done with Him.
"Once upon a time, an Episcopal priest from Columbus, Ohio, walked into his church office on a Monday morning and wrote a hasty letter of resignation. Then he went back to his house, sat down at the kitchen table, and wrote a letter to his wife and three children, all under the age of 10, that he was abandoning them. He went to a logging camp in New England and took a job in Vermont as a logger.
One day, on a freezing and frigid January afternoon, the priest was sitting in his aluminum trailer that he had rented. The only source of heat was a tiny, portable, aluminum heater. The heater suddenly quit and died. Within minutes, the temperature in the trailer plunged down to zero.
Shivering and in a fit of rage, the priest picked up the heater, flung it through the window, and shouted, "God, I hate you. Damn you, God. Get out of my life. I'm finished with this Christian crap. It's all over."
He sank to his knees, defeated and weeping. And in the bright darkness of faith, he heard a voice from within say, "It's okay, son. I understand. I'm here. I am with you, and I am for you."
Then he heard God weeping within him. God felt what he was feeling. It was an overwhelming feeling of intimacy. That same afternoon, this priest packed his bag and returned to Columbus, Ohio to be reconciled to his family and his church. Since that time he has gone on to pastor the most alive, dynamic, and Spirit-filled Episcopal church in America. Why? Because his Father embraced him, held him, and spoke love into his wayward heart. Our Dad is fine-tuned to our anger and disappointment. He really knows what hurts the human heart."
Throughout the Psalms, the poetic songbook of the Scriptures, we see this theme over and over again: Our Father meets us where we live and invites us to come to Him honestly, openly, and transparently, hiding nothing yet trusting that He is with us in the midst of our mess.
In Psalm 13, David, the famous poet, cries out to his Father from his pit of agony: "How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me? How long shall I take council in my soul, having sorrow in my heart daily? How long will my enemy be exalted over me?"
David, a warrior-king whose intimacy and relationship with his Father is well-renowned, waves an angry and hurt-filled fist in His face and rages from the depths of his depression and despair.
This is our cry in the wake of ruin, is it not? When our lives and the lives of those around us seem to be falling apart, we so often get in God's face and scream till we're black and blue - till our throat is sore and our voice becomes a faint yet troubled whisper. There are defining moments in our lives when the pain and suffering is so excruciating that we turn to rage at our Father, yet instead, callously wave our hand in dismay and turn to walk another way. In truth, this is humanity's story: Our Father opens wide HIs arms to us and we run into the arms of other lovers.
Our Father's response to our running away is to run to us.
Our Father's response to our anger and rage is to lift us up and hold us even closer.
Our Father's response to our doubts, fears, and questions is a promise: I am here.
Where is our Father in the midst of the madness and mess?
He is in the center of the carnage, in the depths of the destruction, and in the middle of the mess. He is here. There. Right where you are. He is feeling the weight of the heartache and heartbreak. He is moving, pursuing, and running toward you with compassion, empathy, and love in His Heart. He is inspiring, invoking, inviting, and influencing His image-bearers to enter the fray and help. He is working to repair, redeem, renew, revive, and restore what has been broken, lost, and ruined. He is making all things new. He is faithful and true. He will never leave your side.
David ends his disturbing song with a violent hope: "But I have trusted in Your mercy; My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, for He has been good to me."
Wherever you find yourself today, your Dad can handle the middle finger you may want to wave in HIs face. He longs and yearns for you to keep coming to Him, keep getting after Him, keep pouring our your heart, keep raging through agonizing tears, and keep falling into His arms of love that will never let you go. In the madness and mess of our lives, He is there. Present. With. He is renewing and restoring everything that has been ruined. He makes all things new through His Resurrected Son, the most beautiful and faithful representation of His Heart.
In the aftermath of loss, our Father is unleashing life. He is delivering, healing, rescuing, and saving - even when our eyes fail to see and our hearts deny His intervention. He is gracious, kind, merciful, and true even when our fists rage wildly in His face. He is good no matter what comes our way. And He is revealing His Heart to us through those heroes who have paved the way before us - those men and women like the 80-year-old shepherd whose heart breaks for the wounded, the Episcopal priest who experienced our Father's kindness in the wake of his rebellion, the shepherd boy-turned king who trusted in HIs light even though darkness surrounded him, and the countless others who have dared to wave the middle finger in the face of the Almighty only to be met by affectionate arms and a compassionate embrace inviting us to rest in the One whose promise is always: I am with you.