Intimacy, mystery and pain

I have been praying for friends whose Christian journeys are particularly tough right now. And I am reminded again of the mystery and intimacy of God, and the strangeness of the Christian journey.

In the early days of Christianity, its adherents were known as 'Followers of the Way', and that is (or ought to be) our experience - that we are on a journey. We're not entirely sure where we're going - indeed, I'm not sure that the destination is important - the journey is the important part.

Christianity has to be lived; the journey has to be undertaken to comprehend what it's about. Without setting your feet upon the way, you cannot truly begin to understand it. Seeing it from the outside is not to experience it; you can only do that by setting foot on the road.

As I journey along this road - sometimes steep, rocky and perilous; at other times flat, smooth and safe - I become more aware of God's constant presence alongside me.

I have also gradually become more aware of His 'otherness' - how utterly sublime and incomprehensible He is... But if I could understand Him, He would not be God - He would be a construct, an idol of my own making. He is mystery. He is too 'other' to comprehend.

At one and the same time, I also become aware of His closeness... His intimacy... Indeed He is closer to me than I am to myself. He is the God who is everywhere, so He must be.

And I have become aware that this life is my chance to give back. God has known me, and loved me, since before time began; He will continue to do so long after time ceases. This life - my time - short as it is, is my chance to say back to God 'I love you too.' It's very unclear whether, if I miss this chance, I shall get another. So I do my best to live this life saying 'I love you too.' to God, and to those He places on my road, whether I encounter them but once, or whether we journey together for a season.

These friends.

Their journeys.

They are entering a dark valley. Scripture has words about that:

Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
Psalm 23:4

And that is the point of being a Christian - whatever happens, God is with us. And, if we're fortunate enough to have Christian friends on our journey, they are with us too.

Christians can be awful sometimes though. And I include myself in that horribleness - I've done this too… Frequently, Christians say 'God has a perfect plan for your life.' And they often quote Jeremiah 29:11:

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

That's fine when all is hunky-dory, but when something truly awful happens - the sort of thing my friends who aren't Christians would call 'random shit' (such as our stillbirth, or the awful time my friends are having at the moment) - those trite words are like a stab to the heart...

Was our stillbirth part of 'God's perfect plan' for our lives? Does it mean that I should blame (or, heaven forbid, thank) God for that tragedy? If so, it almost makes God seem like some Nazi death camp torturer, experimenting on people to watch their reactions or simply to revel in their pain.

Of course, that verse from Jeremiah is taken out of its context; it belongs in a particular set of circumstances, and is God's word in those circumstances alone. It really shouldn't be applied to each and every bit of each of our lives.

I think we, as Christians, are subject to the same 'random shit' as the rest of mankind.

The difference, I believe, is that we have Immanuel - God with us - by His spirit. Wherever we go, whatever happens, that constant presence…

Footprints in the mud right alongside ours.

And His people, the church, are with us too. We wouldn't, couldn't, have 'got through' Charlie's stillbirth without the sacrificial love and care of some incredibly special people; people who became closer than a brother. And that is my prayer for my friends - that I, and others, would be given the grace to journey with them through their dark times, and support them.

God bless you.

Copyright Phil Hendry, 2020