Peter said to Paul, “You know all those words we wrote? Just the rules of the Game but the rules are the first to go Now talking to God is Laurel beggin’ Hardy for a gun; I gotta girl in the war, man, I wonder what it is we’ve done.” Paul said to Peter, “You’ve got to rock yourself a little harder; Pretend that the dove from above is a dragon and your feet are one fire.” “I gotta girl in the war Paul, the only thing I know to do Is to turn up the music and pray that she makes it through. Because the keys to the kingdom got locked inside the kingdom And the angles fly around in there but we can’t see ‘em I gotta girl in the war Paul I know they can hear me yell If they can’t find way to help her they can go to hell
“I gotta girl in the war Paul I know they can hear me yell/If they can’t find a way to help her they can go to hell.” It’s strong language, but Ritter has his finger on the pulse of feelings that plague humanity: feelings of abandonment, forsakenness, and anger at what seems like God’s disinterest and apathy towards us. Ritter strums his guitar and sings about real feelings; feelings that pervade every area of our lives when we experience them, feelings that have a very hard time staying in the lines, not bleeding from the heart, to our head, and into our toes. Ritter “’…shakes his guitar at the heavens…” God doesn’t care! And he encourages his listeners to do the same.
There is part of me that wishes I could sit here and tell you that those of us who believe, who have heard God’s call, those of use who have faith, are exempt from sorrow and suffering, from pain and injury, from doubt, from the real temptation to disbelief. I wish I could tell you that I have never shook my fist at the sky in anger; I wish I could tell you that I’ve never laid my head on a tear soaked pillow wondering if God saw my pain and accused him of not caring. But I can’t tell you any of those things because those would be some of the boldest lies I’ve ever told. The reality is that even the faithful suffer, and in grave and painful ways (emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually). I know this personally; you know this personally.
Our lives are plastered with the accolades of death, injury, abandonment, anger, hurt, and moments of very real and very dark despair; the treacherous roads of our lives are marked with wooden crosses signaling the places where we’ve gone through such dark valleys that midnight proves well lit; places where we were convinced that, at that time, “the keys are locked inside the kingdom.” Moments where you’d rather throw your bible across the room, then read it. Moments where everything you knew to be true seemed so distant and unreal that you were left wondering: Maybe I’ve been living a lie, maybe, as Josh Ritter sings, “…talking to God is [like] Laurel beggin’ Hardy for a gun.” Moments where you were quite convinced that God had finally turned a blind eye toward you.
“During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel—and God knew.” (Exodus 2:23-25 )
And God knew…
At the end of the second chapter of Exodus, Moses writes, “God saw the people of Israel—and God knew.” He saw them; He saw their enslavement, He saw their misery, He heard their groaning and cries for help (for release). And He knew. While the words jump off the page to me, they are simultaneously somewhat odd. What did He know? The way that this word is used here in the original language, is as “observe” or “realize.” But the word has stronger connotations than merely as a restatement of “seeing” or the ambiguous “realize”.
Some other connotations are: experience, recognize, care about/be concerned about, to (get to) know/be (come) acquainted with, understand. It’s also the word used when describing the intimate knowing between Adam and Eve in Gen. 4, “Now Adam knew Eve his wife…” When Moses writes at the end of Exodus 2, “and God knew,” he is telling us that God knew intimately the sorrows and troubles of Israel. Their cries and groaning were not falling on deaf ears; he heard. Their enslavement and misery were not hidden; he saw. He not only had compassion on them, He had empathy—not apathy, not sympathy, but empathy. As it happened to His people, it happened to him. He knew their pain, their suffering.
Jesus himself makes this point manifest when He, after His ascension, appears to Saul on the road to Damascus to persecute Jews who had converted to Christianity
“Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” (Acts 9:3-5).
When God’s people are attacked, when His people are persecuted, when they suffer, He knows…intimately. When Saul persecuted the church, God’s people, He persecuted God Himself. God is united to His people through His son in such a way that they are, for all intents and purposes, one flesh; to harm her, His church, His bride, is to attack Him, her bridegroom (cf. Eph 5:31-32).
And when God knows, God acts. The third chapter of Exodus opens up with God calling Moses and sending him to Pharaoh to demand that he let God’s people go. When Saul was persecuting God’s people, Jesus appeared to Saul…and converted him. God’s righteousness is inherent in His character; and, it’s in His character to care for those who are afflicted in pain and even pain unto death. As He heard the cry of His people in Egypt, He does hear the cry of His people now. When God knows, He acts…And decisively so.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
God has revealed Himself, once and for all, as a God who knows, in the event of the Cross.
Because of what Christ has done for us—through his life, death, resurrection, and ascension—we stand pregnant with the fulfillment of the promise that even in our darkest moments, in our despair, in our loneliness, in our abandonment, and in our forsakenness, Jesus—who was no stranger to abandonment and forsakenness (Mt 27:46; Mk 15:34)—has endured all of those things (and more) so that we would have the assurance and reassurance that He knows…and that He has physically, actually, been there.
Your suffering, your sorrow, your grief, and your pain are not indicative that God has turned his face from you; He hasn’t, you have not been abandoned. It’s just the opposite: He loves you so very, very, very much; so much so he has laid down His life for you because he hears your cries, because He knows.
We are not exempt from a painful life—even suffering so great that it could lead us straight over the cliff in to an abyss of despair. But let me offer you these words as comfort and as hope: the keys are not locked inside the kingdom! The minor prophet, Malachi, writes, “The sun will rise with healing in its wings,” (Mal 4:2). In Christ, the risen Son, there will be healing from the sorrows and the pains of this life—that’s the promise of God to His people spoken through Malachi, spoken through the entire Old Testament. There will be healing through the atoning death of the Son, God’s Son, on the cross. In the book of Romans, St. Paul writes,
“For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now” (8:20-22).
The baby has been born, the pains of childbirth are finished; and, because of what Christ has done at Easter, death, sorrow, pain, suffering, and despair have received their verdict: no. There is a “no” in the event of the cross but it is not directed at you; it is directed at the very real events that torment us in our mind, body, spirit, and soul.
Suffering has a unique way of drawing us to this God who is love, who is not far off when we are at our saddest, our angriest, but who has come close (God with us!). Suffering has a unique way of drawing us to the Suffering God who suffered for us on the cross, who was raised from the dead, and who has declared that the suffering of this life will not last forever, that the suffering of this life does not have the final word, because He has conquered it. There is no hope amidst suffering apart from the word, apart from the Gospel, apart from Jesus Christ.
There is no dark night of the soul that is too dark to cloak you from God’s eye; there is no pain so great that would cause Christ to just shrug his shoulders, and mumble some disinterested “I dunno”; there is no sorrow so deep that would cause your pain to be outside of God’s knowledge. Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus; Jesus weeps with you and whispers to you, I know and I’ve taken care of even this. You, yes you!, you are the very apple of my eye; I see you and I hear you… God does know.
Read More from Lauren Larkin here.