Sometimes the Dark Comes Home
SEPTEMBER 2, 2020
I just stopped working on a seminar to write to you.
It’s now July and in August, I’ll be teaching at The Cove (The Billy Graham Training Center in the mountains of North Carolina). I honestly thought the seminar would be cancelled, but yesterday they assured me that it was still on…and that everyone attending the seminar probably wouldn’t die. The folks at The Cove sent me multiple pages outlining all the things they were doing to make sure that it was a safe place…completely sanitized, geared for social distancing, and with limited crowds. In fact, after reading all of that, sounds like I’ll be teaching in a hospital.
It really is a crazy time, isn’t it?
I know that covid-19 isn’t the bubonic plague, but it feels like it. The media doesn’t help much either. They constantly show a “scorecard” of those who had it, those who will get it, and those who will die from it (a kind of game where the winner dies). The mantra there has always been “If it bleeds, it leads.” But it’s more than that. Actually, if it bleeds, it leads because it’s good for ratings, and high ratings bring in advertising dollars, and advertising dollars fuel the media’s bleeding and leading. Mix in politics, self-righteousness, and the ego, and everything turns weird. I know, I know. That sounds cynical.
(Actually, I have a friend—a Key Life board member—who was a television reporter in an area with hurricane warnings. After it was clear that a hurricane was headed in a different direction, the news director insisted that the station continue to report the danger because it was good for ratings. My friend said that it would be hot in a cold place before he did so, and they fired him.)
But then sometimes the dark comes home. That happened two or three weeks ago when we found that our youngest granddaughter, Courtney, tested positive for the coronavirus. She’s fine now and, thankfully, her symptoms were relatively mild (more like a cold). Courtney was, however, quarantined in her room for two weeks. (They cooked a lot of flounder and pancakes because that was all they could slide under her door. (:)
At any rate, my Cove seminar is about laughter and lament. This morning I’m working on the first session (of four), “The Gift of Tears,” on biblical references to lament. To be honest with you, this morning hasn’t been a fun time. I’ve been walking through some very dark places—the psalms of lament, the book of Lamentations, and the ultimate dark place of lament, the Garden of Gethsemane and the cross.
In John 13, an interesting chapter, Jesus washes the disciples’ feet at the Last Supper and he gives them a new commandment to love one another so the world would know they belonged to him. These are among the last words Jesus spoke to his disciples (“deathbed words,” if you will), and they would be remembered long after cobwebs formed in an empty tomb and the blood dried on an empty cross. There is so much in that chapter, but there is also something quite astonishing. Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once” (John 13:31-32).
What’s astonishing about that? It’s not only what Jesus said, but when he said it. Jesus said it just before going to the cross!
We pray, “For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory” and we sing songs that reference glory, but rarely do we think about what it is. Glory is from a Latin word that references high praise, honor, and admiration, with a rough translation of “Wow!!!” Glory has to do with brilliant light and it’s what we mean when we say to someone, “Man, you really shined!”
Jesus shined when he went to the cross.
You shine when you go to yours too. (Jesus promised that in John 17.)
Now back to the “The Gift of Tears” seminar. Martin Luther said that biblical lament as expressed in Psalms was the “earnest seeking amid the storm winds of every kind…where [one finds] deep, more sorrowful, or pitiful words of sadness. There you look into the hearts of the Saints, as into death, yes, as into hell itself…When they speak of fear and hope, they use such words that no painter could so depict for your fear or hope…and they speak these words to God and with God.”
It’s also the place where we shine. And not only that, our shining has nothing to do with our goodness, our commitment, our faithfulness, or our righteousness. Very little does. If it did, we wouldn’t have a prayer. It’s all about Jesus and it always was. Besides, a baby naturally cries and giggles. For the Christian, lament and joy come from a childlike heart and they’re gifts we don’t deserve. For a Christian it’s natural when we stop playing games and we are free. We honestly don’t have to wipe the tears from our eyes and we can dance as if no one is watching.
We would all agree that Mother Teresa shined. Her witness and work among the poor and helpless in Calcutta was amazing. Why do you think God honored that witness? Lots of people work in hard places, but nobody ever hears about them. In order to understand, you have to read her posthumous work, Come Be My Light, a book of her letters (the publication of which was against her wishes). They reflect the dark places where Mother Teresa walked and the lament she expressed about her depression in not sensing the presence and comfort of God. Pagans said in response, “Your hero wasn’t a hero at all! She had feet of clay too.” Christians, however, said, “Duh!” We know the truth. Mother Teresa shined and she was, as it were, glorified in the pathos of her dark places—not despite of those dark places, but because of them.
We’re living in what feels like a perfect storm. And I don’t like it at all. With the pandemic, the riots, the burning cities, the deaths, the destruction of businesses (to say nothing about the destruction of Christian statues and places of worship), and the cultural shift away from traditional values, it feels dark. Then when we add to that the personal dark places of pain, it is almost too much. James 1:2-4 says, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” Lament is appropriate and glorification is the result.
While all that sounds fine on paper and in theory, frankly, the reality isn’t for sissies. Nevertheless, Jesus said, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you” (John 14:18). In the dark, we’ll find the light. He promised.
(I know, I know, this isn’t a very “up” letter. But then, I’ve been writing that seminar on lament and misery loves company. If I have to go there, you should be willing to go there too. And if you were a real Christian, you would be glad to walk there with me!)
But there is more and the rest is good news. Don’t forget about the resurrection. When Jesus made that statement about being glorified, he made it one day before going to the cross and four days before the resurrection. Just as Jesus was glorified in the cross and we in ours, he was also glorified in his resurrection and we are glorified there too.
“You just can’t keep a good man—or woman—down!”
He told me to remind you.