I was heartbroken today to read about the death of Jessica Whelan.
Jessica, if you're not familiar, was a four year old girl living in England who was suffering from neuroblastoma. Her father recently took a picture as Jessica was grimacing in pain from her condition and treatment that went viral around the internet. (The picture is part of the linked story above).
It's a story I didn't want to read. I have a four year old son and two young daughters and the idea of a father having to watch his child suffer a painful death makes me want to run away and hide.
It reminded me of young Ayland Kurdi, the 3 year old refugee who drown and was then recovered from a beach.
Sometimes I get tired of living in such a broken world where so much pain and heartbreak and death occur.
But if I run and hide from this stories, I would have to ask what good is my faith?
If my faith only applies to good times and blessings, what value does it have?
A genuine faith - one that has any value to me personally - must be able to face these truths head on.
I think this idea is true, not only in these big tragedies, but also to smaller events in my day to day life. When my job situation sucks, or church leaders treat me like garbage, or people on social media act like I'm not a real human being on the other end of their words and actions, is my faith just a lucky rabbit's foot that I rub really hard in an effort to get a better roll of the dice tomorrow or next week or next year?
I'm tired of a world where broken relationships lead to enemies and cold shoulders and wars.
I'm tired of a world where sin has somehow infected everything and causes death and disease and despair.
Here's why refusing to look away from these situations and stories is important for me:
1. It reminds me that my faith teaches first and foremost that God cares. He isn't ignoring any of the crap. He doesn't tell us it's an illusion. God unflinchingly says he sees all this pain and heartache.
2. It reminds me why Jesus lived, died and rose again. There wasn't a pitch meeting in the trinity about how to spice things up a bit. Jesus' sacrifice was directly connected to the brokenness of this world. God didn't roll out a cheap and easy fix. He paid in blood for a people and a world that he loves.
3. It reminds me that God sees things differently than I do. I want everything, from kids dying of cancer down to my job situation fixed NOW. God waited thousands of years to sent a Messiah. God has thus far waited thousands of years to bring the mission of that Messiah to its climax. God promised salvation and it came when God decided it was time. God has promised ultimate reconciliation and justice. They will come when God decides that it is time.
In the meantime, I'm encouraged to persevere. I'm encouraged to weep with those who weep. I'm supposed to live a life of faith in the midst of a world of brokenness. I wish it was easier, but what am I going to do, give up? Accept the brokenness? Add even more onto it all?
I kind of feel like Peter some days. After Jesus gave the whole "eat my flesh, drink my blood" message. Everyone but a handful bailed on Jesus, but Peter said, "Where else are we going to go? You have the words of eternal life."
I love that Peter wasn't trying to put a positive spin on it. "Yeah, I hate what I just heard. If I had a better option, I'd be gone, but I don't so I'm sticking here."
It reminds me of Winton Churchill's famous quote regarding democracy: It's the worst form of government, except for all the others.
Sometimes I feel like Jesus' path to an abundant life is the worst, except that there's no other way.
Because Jesus' path involves not giving up and running away from all the crap in our world, but instead leaning into it. Caring about tragedy. Loving people who are inconsiderate. Making more connections with other flawed broken people instead of isolating myself. Trusting that God is going to live up to his promise to make all things new.
It's a faith that challenges me and shows me clearly that I cannot do it alone.
It's a faith that points toward a genuine and real solution that's slow and difficult to achieve.
It's a faith that instructs me to love other people more than I love myself.
It's a faith that, when I take it seriously, transforms me and works through me to transform this world in small ways.
It's a faith that I fail at frequently and a faith that intimidates me, but it's most certainly not a faith that is useless.
As I said, some days I feel like giving up. Hiding under the bed covers and trying to stay sane in a world that feels like an NFL linebacker with my name foremost in his head. Or to fight back against people being unhealthy towards me by being unhealthy towards them. But that's not really a solution. I've got nowhere else that gives me a chance to actually do something about all this.
So here I am Jesus, and even though I don't get it half the time, I'm not bailing out.