Church and God’s Comfort During Suffering

Almost everyone I know asks where God is when we suffer. Today, I was asked this very question. I don’t know the answer, but I think this woman has an outlook that I think comes closest to what I’ve come to believe over the years. She writes of the guilt she doesn’t feel over her son’s chronic illness and how she is supposed to reconcile that with Psalm 91:

I am left with this: This experience belongs to everyone it touches: The illness itself is my son’s path to walk, his burden to bear. Our family’s path lies in learning new ways of living with each other through sorrow and concern and changed expectations. Our path lies in developing bonds that strengthen our relationships, finding ways to accommodate the emotions and reactions that come when a beloved members lives with chronic illness. I don’t know where God is in all that, but I am confident that there is a God, and that God is really, really big. Bigger than the bible, bigger than the church, bigger than Christianity. Big enough and good enough to provide meaning for our existence, even if it’s not in Psalm 91.

This has been on my mind lately and especially so this morning as I trotted off to church with my bible.Yep, I bit the bullet and went to church. Taking the stance that church is just ONE aspect of my faith and not the be-all and end-all of faith has helped me deal with the disappointment that I have had in other Christians (as I’m sure they have with me as well). I realized that new believers are set up to rely way too much on other Christians in the church. The real never lives up to the ideal in my opinion. But I’ve noticed that the farther away I get from the institution, the more my spiritual vision clears and I can accept them for what they are and for what I am; completely imperfect, but completely accepted by God anyway. Taking it a step further (something other Christians should do, but don’t), I realize that I am just as untrustworthy as any other Christian in the church. I have failed to keep my commitments, but I also refuse to beat myself up over it any more.

Friday afternoon, I had lunch with the pastor I’ve mentioned in my blog previously. It was a very nice lunch and I think we put our relationship back on friends status. I’m glad. I’m sure she’s glad. I saw her today and honestly I feel no more animosity. I wonder where the bitterness came from before, but maybe it’s always necessary to step away from the situation to see it properly. A trial separation in relationships is always good. Obviously, some churches are very abusive and we should flee from those. But, this situation was as much my doing as theirs. So can you say “heaps of burning coals?” I came to Sunday school this morning and the love and warmth I received from the people there was overwhelming. Remember I had resigned my membership and am no longer on the rolls. It didn’t matter. I hugged and was hugged. I worshiped. I studied. We laughed and exchanged prayer requests. It felt mighty darn good. Am I setting myself up for a fall? Perhaps. Do I think all my problems will be over? Nope. I’m sure there will be disagreements and other run-ins, but I feel so at home there. It was such a relief to be back. I’m strong enough now to hold to my beliefs and convictions. This church honestly does not try to change your opinion, they just have strong ones of their own and aren’t ashamed to speak them out loud. But that’s the risk we take in forming and maintaining relationships. I think now, wiser and mentally healthier, I’m ready to take on that responsibility. Like the post quoted above says:

I don’t know where God is in all that, but I am confident that there is a God, and that God is really, really big. Bigger than the bible, bigger than the church, bigger than Christianity. Big enough and good enough to provide meaning for our existence…

Blessings to You,

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Everyone Needs an Ark, But Not All Are in the Same Boat

I’ve mentioned before that I work in a large church. When I tell people this they usually look skeptical and wonder what it is I DO all day! After all, the church must sit empty 6 days a week right? Well, that’s what I thought when I signed on 7 years ago, but I’m here to tell you, I earn my not too insubstantial pay. We are open 8-5 every day, Mon-Fri. The phones ring all day long and outside groups meet here every day of the week. We have weddings, funerals, and other life marking events. We have homeless people coming in for money and we have workmen going about the daily business of repairing the roof, the air conditioning, the water damage from the leaks. You name it, someone’s repairing it. I kind of like the thought that we are here for people to stop by and chat after a meeting or ladies group. I know some of these people better than those at my own church where I live. It’s sad when they die and it’s joyful when they marry.

Just today, one of the pastors was discussing this Sunday’s reading about Noah and the ark with me. He said that he learned an old joke in seminary. With all of the animals and all the people on the ark, there must have been quite a smell going on. He said, the joke was, “If it weren’t for the storm without, they couldn’t have withstood the stench within.” Funny as that is, he said, the church is like that as well. I had to laugh because it is sooooo true. Most people who find no shelter from the storms in their lives find a good port in the church, regardless of the “stink.” I think I’m beginning to realize this is true. Despite what we have to put up with in church; the hypocrisy, the gossip, the petty arguments about buildings and meetings, etc., it’s still better than being in the world outside, which practices the same things only on a more vicious scale. I’m not saying we sanction abuse or that we ignore abuse. I’m not saying that we put up with mega-maniacal pastors and pastors that suck the congregation dry of resources. Clearly this is not what Jesus meant by community. But there are pockets of sanity out there. I happen to work in one and if it weren’t for these people, I would have given up on it long ago.

God knows I’ve tried to. I’ve been angry. I’ve yelled. I’ve thrown tantrums and berated others. I’ve not been a good friend. I’ve used people and I’ve not followed through on my promises. I’ve come to realize that being a Christian and going to church is VERY MUCH like being married. My marriage analogy on another web site seemed to be a particularly good fit and was effortless to write at the time because it rang so true. But also like a marriage, someone always gives up first. True, it always has to be us that does it in Christian circles. Rarely, do both parties work on the marriage at the same time and save all concerned from a divorce. In fact, the “church” is notorious for its love it or leave it attitude. The problem is always the individual never the system. That’s how you smell true bureaucracy. But, where I work, I see reconciliation going on all the time. Where I work, I see love and a whole lot of wisdom being dispensed by pastors who genuinely care. We have such a great time here, that I wonder why all churches can’t function this way. And it’s also the number one reason why I can’t give up on the church I attended in my home town. If it happens here, there’s hope for it.

We’ll see how it turns out. I’m not rushing back into church or anything, but I’ve gotten little signs that perhaps I should take a look. I’m wiser now. I’m not so naive. And, I’m hopeful. It’s a port in my storm. Sure, it stinks sometimes, but I’m not strong enough to ally with those in the world who claim they have your best interests at heart but are really only in it for the ideology or the identity politics involved. In some ways that’s how the church and the “world” are alike. But in a lot of other ways, they couldn’t be more different. I think I really do need my ark.