Time, Politics and Devotion

For a couple of decades I have felt we were stuck between Statism and Corporatism, both undermine community, family, social connections, and faith activities.

Recently I was listening to a talk given by one of my favorite authors, Peter Kreeft (C.S. Lewis expert among many other things). If you listen to the whole thing, it’s quite obvious it’s pre-9/11, and I would love to hear him talk about what’s changed. (BTW, the Veritas Forum is the best place on-line for free lectures by Christian thinkers.)

So, the talk focuses on two principles: 1) The foundation of society is morality, and 2) the foundation of morality is religion. He talks about the primacy of moral relativism in the three primary “mind-molding” institutions in America: education, entertainment and journalism. He says the abolition of God from society will necessarily lead to the abolition of man (the title of a Lewis book). If a man stands in front of a mirror and then leaves the room, his image goes with him. Man is made in the image of God, so if we abolish Him we commit social suicide, in effect.

Agreed. But what Kreeft does not focus on is that the family is the foundation of society, and is supposed to be the primary mind-molding institution in that society for value formation and transmission.

Deutronomy 6: 4-9: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.  Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.  These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts.  Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.  Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”

What I don’t hear from conservative Christians–who feel they have to side with the GOP to stop Statism, socialism, moral relativism, secular humanism, etc., is the stand against an economy that forces long hours, frequent relocations, two incomes, continual education, and constant communication (blackberries, e-mail, video conferencing, etc.)

Adults have little time for their own Bible reading and prayer, let alone family devotions, and even less for church and community building activities. A retired pastor at our church who services on Council for the Stewardship position has been doing a series this year on stewardship of time. “The Biblical model for time spending,” he writes, “is that the first hour belongs to God.” Jesus practiced this, and it is in keeping with the concept of “first fruits” when giving a tithe.

Yet, the typical work day for many now begins at 7:30 and ends at 5:30 or later, often with at least a 30 minute commute, one way. I have to get up before 6 to get my 1/2 hour, not hour in, and if I take an Ambian, this becomes impossible. I try to do family devotions, but they quickly become inconsistent with the various schedules, often things that have to be done for just a little exercise (tennis), career development (Explorers), or community service (for college applications) or health (orthodontist, doctors.).

I recently had an exchange with a youth advisor and parent of two of our senior high. I had to keep asking her over and over in emails she never replied to if they would be here to help for Roadside Cleanup (our youth sponsor our road with the Adopt-A-Highway program), so I could let the Lutheran Men, who fix us breakfast, know how many. Finally, she replied no. One son had to be up early Friday and the other was going to prom Sat. night, so “image the reaction I got when I told them we needed to be at church at 8 am Saturday morning.”

I replied that I understood; that we are busy, too, but that we have a contract, and I scheduled it 6 weeks in advance. What can we do to get youth here in the future? (My kids often make up 35-60% on any youth activity). Her reply:

These are hard times to be involved . Everyone is so busy, parents and kids a like…Hate to say it but I’d be hard pressed to find someone not stressed out. Hate that, really do cause nothing is much fun anymore. I admit, I’m tired as well as frustrated too. Doesn’t help when parents don’t commit to bringing the kids [huh?!] but the amount of young people in the church says that. That’s extremely sad. Mine don’t go to Sunday school cause it’s the only day of the week we don’t have to rush out the door . We are too scheduled of a society. It will be our down fall I believe. I think that’s why we have such low participation . Everyone is tired of being so busy. I know what you are thinking now….we don’t have our priority in the right place and I whole heartedly agree. Shame…but you know what Bo….Thank God for for you and your family. You guys are such a huge part…with out you guys I’m not sure if we would be as involved.

If they admit their priorities are in the wrong place, and their only reaction to that is a apathetic shrug and a “Shame,” what can you do as a youth leader? This is a member of our Council and a youth advisor.

But the larger issue is how do we as a Church stand both against a society that would tell us there is no higher value than self-fulfillment, no greater truth than our feelings and no authority higher than autonomous Man, and against a system that says one’s employer should get the best of your time, talent, commitment and loyalty and that depends upon cradle to grave formal education (half of Wayne Community is adults trying to get better jobs, secure their jobs or get promotions in their jobs) and non-stop consumption to function?

I actually wrote this months ago and never got around to posting it.  Interesting enough one of today’s featured talks at Veritas is: Can Capital Markets be Moral? The Global Financial System in the Dock

Something More

A quick thought: The cross has to be about more than forgiveness. I’m not sure ‘evangelical’ Christianity gets that. Confession, repentance and forgiveness are excellent things, but redemption is more than forgiveness. All stand under condemnation because of sin, and no sin is a small thing and Sin is not a trivial condition, but examining sin focuses us upon ourselves and/or others, the sinners.

Telling someone he’s unlovable but God loves him anyway is a contradiction at its very core (if God loves me I am able to be loved; that is, love-able), that she is so horrible she deserves eternal damnation but God can forgive her or that one is despicably, unspeakably ugly but God can make him lovely doesn’t seem, to me, to be much of a witness to the world or a source or edification for the Body.

A true understanding of what Sin and its affects are only comes imperfectly after spending time in the presence of God. Until then, and even as one’s understanding deepens, it’s hard not to think of what we consider judicious and just punishment. I think it’s nearly impossible for most people to think of sins of omission or commission as deserving a death sentence unless they are pardoned. Even a deeper understanding of Sin as a condition full of Pride, Avarice, Lust, etc. probably doesn’t elicit a sense of warrant for one’s death, let alone the death of someone else as substitution.

Imagine you’re in a tent on a base during war and one of your corporal rolls a live grenade into the tent in a fit of rage because he hates the sergeant. ?A friend dives on the grenade, substituting himself for everyone else, dying because of the evil of another.Not so hard to understand, and though it’s tragic and grieves you, you feel deep gratitude and love for your friend.

Now imagine you’re in that same tent with just your friend, but this time you’re goofing around like the immature right-out-of-high-school private you are, and you accidentally drop a live grenade which your friend dives on even though he was near the door and could have dove the other way and saved himself. ?You feel deep shame, unbearable horror, and unrelenting guilt, but you still know you’re friend died for you, and maybe someday, hopefully, you realize your friend would not want you to hate yourself and you owe it to him to live the life he spared to the fullest.

Many would agree that the person in the first case who threw the grenade should be executed, but no one would probably argue the second person should be executed, both because of lack of intention and because it would negate the sacrifice of the friend.

People are not Good, but they are mostly decent, at least by any norms ever defined by humanity. We all can see ourselves as the foolish, ignorant private, but we are unable to understand how it merits death. Sometimes we are aware that we are the evil ‘friendly’, but we think of it as a momentary act of emotion, not as a character-defining attribute, and we have trouble understanding how executing someone who had nothing to do with it would ‘fix’ anything, especially since most of the time we authentically are a ‘friendly’ and on the same side.

You lied? Accept God’s forgiveness. He butchered His Son so you could be forgiven. Oops…you did it again? Christ accepted torture, humiliation and crucifixion for a wretch like you because you were too ugly, disfigured and vile for Him to even look at until He did, but now you can be happy. You fudged your expense report? He’s got ya covered with the blood of His boy! Get this! He could have stopped it and He could have killed you for it and sent you to hell, but Alleluia! Instead He stood by and let his Son be slaughtered just so you could be forgiven. Now sing praises!

The sad hard truth is we’re neither the evil corporal nor the foolish private; we’re enemies with God. ?I’m not sure one obtains that understanding without forgiveness, an aspect of redemption and reconciliation, not prior to it. Imagine sin were a fruit and you were told what would happen if you took a bite of it and yet you did, but having taken the bite the poisonous juice traps you in a matrix of self-deception, you leave the garden and get lost, the poison makes you sick, lame, blind, distorts your hearing, disfigures you, put sores all over your body and yet convinces you you’re well.

Someone comes to you and says: You’re vile, repugnant and evil, but you did it to yourself, now say you’re sorry and turn around and go back because God killed His Son instead of you.

There’s got to be more. Isn’t it instead The Father sent His Son out looking for you, and the only way to heal your body, mind, heart and soul was to completely drain the poisonous blood and replace it with pure, and the only pure blood was in the Son, but in order for Him to have blood at all He had to first become like you, and putting His blood into you killed Him? And now the curse is lifted and you know you’re forgiven, all if well, and you back; in fact, with His blood came His Spirit to show you the way home.

10 Commandments and Hubris

I was in Ex 20 this morning.  Besides the fact that I have broken every one of the 10 in so many ways except the obvious ones people think of.

I often put myself as a god before God.  I have used His name in vain.  Even when I remember the sabbath (most weeks in worship) my whole day is not spent in sabbath rest.  I have murdered in my heart,  Stole, even if time from my employer daydreaming. I have coveted. I have not always honored my parents.

The point is humbling.  Sure, we say, I h’ain’t killed no body.  I ain’t never cheated on my wife.  I ain’t  never made a false image.  Yup.  I gots ’em all covered, ‘ecpt-in maybe that parents thing, but boys is wild.  Everbuddy knows this.

It was good to be reminded.  Not much later while driving I had a thought about someone and I immediately started exhausting myself, and was just on the verge of creating a fantasy about how I could do this or do that and show the other up.  It felt like God snatched the hair off my head getting in there to root it out.  The whole process from think to repent was less than a second, and then I told God: Go head, snatch it out.  I’m sick of it everytime I think about doing something good.  I was yelling and realized it.  I apologized to God for raising my voice to Him but explained it was me I was mad at.  So the 10 are good to read often. I think Luther tried everyday.  Yes, the rediscover of grace through faith studied the Law, hard.

The main thing that stuck me, though, was this:

“An altar of earth you shall make for me and sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and your peace offerings, your sheep and your oxen. In every place where I cause my name to be remembered I will come to you and bless you. 25 If you make me an altar of stone, you shall not build it of hewn stones, for if you wield your tool on it you profane it.”

Just before this I had read Psalm 24:

The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof [sometimes translated and all that fills it)
the world and those who dwell therein,

Here’s the key to Hubris, and we see it everyday.  God made the stones; they are part of the fullness of the earth which belongs to Him.  They would change His creation by hewing them.  He forbid this.  “They’re MY rocks.  Why would I want your pathetic hands trying to shape them?  They’re perfect the way I made them.”

But how often do we apply ourselves to a task thinking we are the creators, the builders, the movers and shakers, the ones the world need in order to “Get ‘er done!”?

Shear Hubris!  Even when we are doing good it is often according to our plan.

We are stone stackers of the alter of God.  The only thing He wants is our obedience.  Not our leadership.  Not our creative designs.  Not our tools.  Not our organizational charts and flowchart plans.  He wants us to pick up the rocks he created and place them where He wants them to go.

Vision and Orientation

Look at what is before your eyes. 2 Corinthians 10:7a

let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.” Hebrews 12: 1a-2b

So, so often these days we hear about the importance of vision. Vision is important, but it does not matter how sharp one’s vision is if he is looking in the wrong direction. We must be orientated on Jesus; our eyes but be fixed firmly on him.

The Lord is My Shepherd

The fourth Sunday in Easter is traditionally Good Shepherd Sunday, with readings from Psalm 23 and John 10 especially prominent. Today I found a brief essay that Kenneth E. Bailey wrote on Psalm 23. Dr. Bailey is a voice crying in the wilderness of Christian Middle East studies.

“Dr. Bailey spent 40 years (1955-1995) living and teaching in seminaries and institutes in Egypt, Lebanon, Jerusalem and Cyprus. For 20 of those years Dr. Bailey was Professor of New Testament and Head of the Biblical Department of the Near East School of Theology in Beirut where he also founded and directed the Institute for Middle Eastern New Testament Studies. From September 1985 to June 1995, Dr. Bailey was on the faculty of “The Ecumenical Institute for Theological Research” in Jerusalem, with the title of Research Professor of Middle Eastern New Testament Studies. ”

I first discovered him when I bought a copy of The Cross and the Prodigal: Luke 15 Through the Eyes of Middle Eastern Peasants, Honored in 2006 as a “Year’s Best Book for Preachers” by Preaching magazine. This is a fantastic book, which challenges the Islamic notion that this parable shows that the cross is not necessary to forgiveness.

Dr. Bailey brings that same direct experience to his explanation of Psalm 23, explaining that “In the Holy Land, pastures are green each year for a maximum of two and a half months in the middle of winter. The rest of the year the fields are brown. Sheep are afraid to drink from a moving stream lest it hide deep water into which they could fall and drown. Still waters and green pastures are, for a sheep, the best of all worlds.” (Which makes one wonder where people get the notion that Jesus could not have been born in December because the shepherds would not be in the fields with the sheep. Not that it matters when he was born.)

What I liked best about this article was this:

Scene one opens with the familiar words, “The Lord is my shepherd.” Had David written, “The Lord is my King,” the reader would have looked to a political institution for security. Had he affirmed, “The Lord is my commander,” the military would have been an image for God. Instead he writes, “The Lord is my shepherd.” Shepherds lead their sheep into uninhabited places in open wilderness. With no cell phones, helicopter surveillance, or desert patrols, the appearance of a lion or two, or thieves with heavy sticks, would threaten the flock with great danger. The language David chooses is worthy of serious reflection. It means, at the very least, “I do not rely on police protection for my security.”

If I may make a plug for myself, I said much the same thing last summer in a post about religious freedom. What Dr. Bailey didn’t say, not did I, is that David also did not say “The Lord is my investment manager.” Sometimes it’s hard to trust God when you feel economic uncertainty, but He is our shepherd and we shall not want.

Just Imagine

When I was a boy, I was most impressed with the power of God. “Wow,” I used to think, “My God can just speak and worlds are created.” I was often times like a little boy thinking “My father can whup your father.” And it’s true. Our God is an “awesome God.” He did create ex nihilo, out of nothing, but it was even more awesome than that.

One day, with boyhood years behind me, something hit me as I was taking a fall walk and praying. I was thanking God for the beauty of His creation, the changes of the seasons, the harvesting of crops… all the things I saw around me: the way the breeze came up, the smells of the ditch flowers, the sounds of birds and rustling leaves.

I was telling God not only how wonderful and beautiful it all was but how amazing it was the way all the diversity of nature was so intricately connected, the way it all worked in such incredible harmony. “And You brought this all into being by Your Word and will alone without even…”

Have you ever been surprised by your own thoughts? That is, when the words came out of your mouth or off your pen have you have just then realized the truth of what you said or wrote; the act of writing or speaking did more than express your thoughts, it actually seemed to create them as you spoke or wrote?

William Makepeace Thackeray once wrote that “There are a thousand thoughts lying within a man that he does not know till he takes up a pen to write.” I would include almost any form of art in that, and I would also include prayerful contemplation.

As I was praying that final line, when I got to ‘even’ my voice slowed down, and I listened in delighted surprise as I finished my sentence: “…without even a single frame of reference.” Then I said it again, excitedly: “And You brought this all into being by Your Word and will alone without even a single frame of reference.”

Now, maybe this is a commonplace idea, but it had never occurred to me before. Everything, and I mean every single thing, that human beings have ever created has been the product or amalgamation of what was already created. We know this as children when we give God credit for all we have. A child may say to her parents, “But God didn’t make this house, people did,” and the parents reply: “But God made the trees. He made the metal. He made all the things that people used to build the house.”

But, it applies to the Arts as well. Not one writer or filmmaker or artists or musician ever created something without a frame of reference, without combining what was already here. In fantasy, the griffin, the sphinx, and the dragon are all parts and pieces of other animals.

Forget for the moment that you could not actually create something from nothing because you don’t have the power, but try to imagine creating something even as simple as a daisy without ever having seen one. Try to imagine just imagining something if there was nothing, let alone imagining it and then creating it.

Imagination is hard work, maybe one of the hardest mental obligations we have, but it is an obligation. We can not practice Jesus’ commands without it. How can we do unto others as we would have them do unto us unless we can imagine ourselves in their place? But more than that: “Imagination is the faculty of the mind that God has given us to make the communication of his beauty beautiful.” (John Piper)

Imagination is like a muscle that must be exercised. Far too often we let others do our imagining for us. There’s nothing inherently wrong with technology, but sometimes it makes us mentally lazy. The imagination suffers when we passively and uncritically absorb words and images and sounds.

I think it’s especially hard for adults, so I’d like to share with you a mental exercise that I imagined one day listening to a favorite song of mine. Kenny Loggins wrote a song titled “Return to Pooh Corner” about how as we age we wander much farther away than we should and “can’t seem to make [our] way back to the [hundred acres] woods.”

The second verse goes:

Winnie the Pooh doesn’t know what to do
Got a honey jar stuck on his nose
He came to me asking help and advice
And from here no one knows where he goes
So I sent him to ask of the Owl if he’s there
How to loosen a jar from the nose of a bear

So try this, I do. The next time you’re stressed out, frustrated, caught in the grind, and can’t seem to find your way back to the woods, stop what you’re doing, take a deep breath and try to imagine “how to loosen a jar from the nose of a bear.” And there it is! You just smiled, didn’t you?

So, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get “back to the house at Pooh Corner by one. You’d be surprised there’s so much to be done. Count all the bees in the hive; chase all the clouds from the sky…”

And when I arrive I’ll give thanks and praise to the God who imagined imagination itself, and I’ll remember that Loggins couldn’t have sung about Pooh if Milne hadn’t first imagined and created him , but that Milne couldn’t have created an imaginary bear named Pooh if my awesome God hadn’t first imagined and created a real bear.

The Slow Smokeless Burning of Decay: What Will We Leave On-line?

As a boy I used to explore the miles and miles of woods behind my house. I grew up in rural North Carolina where I could have walked to the nearest town, which was five miles away, had I been allowed, and barely stepped foot on a road. Out the back door, into the woods, through the tobacco fields, over a fence or two, across a dirt road, back into the woods and out through fallow fields on the edge of town and into the Piggly Wiggly parking lot.

I had no Sony Playstation, no VCR, no computer with an Internet connection, and sometimes no TV. My parents would always take a TV from one of their own parents when their parents bought a new one, and when ours would break that would be it until the grandparents bought another. Sometimes we went years without one, it seemed. Books and nature were my truest friends.

I remember many times when I was out exploring the woods and I would come across a sign of man from ages long gone. One of my favorites was an old wagon trail, the ruts grown over with underbrush, but still discernible. I got a tremor in my stomach the first time I found it. A little research much later in life led me believe (probably fancifully) that it was the trail used to settle the area a little less than two hundred years before. The settlers had followed the Neuse River over from New Bern.

Just like that I was in love with history. I still get that tingle in my stomach when I go into a library and research something, or visit an historic sight. I found old wood stoves, wooden barrels, tools and even fence posts from old settlements that the forest had reclaimed.

Americans hardly ever walk anywhere anymore. We are so attached to our cars, mini-vans and SUVs that few of us know what it’s like to go a walking through the woods and stumble over the remains of those who passed before us. Robert Frost knew.

In 1912, just before he made what he would call a “great leap forward,” Frost wrote a poem that was very special to him: “The Wood-Pile.” Just before his death almost fifty years later he would single this poem out to be used in his annual Christmas card.

In it the narrator is “Out walking in the frozen swamp one gray day” when he stumbles across on old woodpile:

The wood was gray and the bark warping off it
And the pile somewhat sunken. Clematis
Had wound strings round and round it like a bundle.
What held it though on one side was a tree
Still growing, and on one a stake and prop,
These latter about to fall. I thought that only
Someone who lived in turning to fresh tasks
Could so forget his handiwork on which
He spent himself, the labor of his ax,
And leave it there far from a useful fireplace
To warm the frozen swamp as best it could
With the slow smokeless burning of decay.

When in our journeys in life we stumble across the decay of previous generations, it can catch us by surprise, as if we suddenly see ourselves “in a slanting mirror.” Yet, if we pause and reflect upon who they were, what their lives must have been like and upon our own impermanence we can absorb them and be the stronger for the encounter.

I have to wonder what remains my children will find in their Playstations and TVs and pop culture. It doesn’t look good, and yet I hope. With all the trash littering the information superhighway, there are still a few gems to be found. Who knows what information will be left forgotten for dead out here in cyberspace?

Maybe “Somewhere ages and ages hence” my children’s children’s children will come along two roads diverging in the frozen swamp of cyberspace, and just maybe they will take the one less traveled by and find it warmed “With the slow smokeless burning of decay” of some lost “wood-pile” that you and I put on it today.

I hope it might “[make] all the difference.”


Did you blink and miss summer? I did. Every year I promise myself I am going to recapture those magical golden days of summer when time used to slow down. Why, in a single day I used to fit in a dozen games of horseshoes, an hour or so of cloud watching, a romp in the woods with my faithful dog, a good nap after an hour reading in the hottest part of the day, a game of kick-the-can with my sisters (played at dusk to maximize stealth), a bit of tire-swinging, and, of course, plenty of watermelon eating. And somehow, I managed to fit in the chores, too!

If you’re like me, you’re wondering where the summer went. You’re already back in the swing of full-blown stress-and-panic mode. How am I going to get the kids where they need to be, do my job, cook the meals, help with homework, clean, cut, fix, mend, shop, build [insert 400 other action verbs of your choice]… do you feel your chest tighten just reading this? Do you have 911 on your speed dial because three numbers requires too much time, time you just don’t have, and when the breakdown comes you have to call the ambulance, arrange a sitter and order take-out before you hit the floor?

Imagine if there were a way to multiply time. Would you believe me if I told you it’s possible? Maybe I should put it on cable in the early morning and offer it to you in three installments of $19.95, but only if you call in the next ten minutes, because those operators standing by? They have to get home to fix breakfast, start a load of laundry, drive the kids to school…

The Bible is full of lessons on different types of sacrifices to make to God: a “broken and contrite heart” (Ps 51), “a sacrifice of thanksgiving” (Ps 116), “of praise” (Heb. 13), our “bodies as a living sacrifice” (Rom. 12), and money, among others. In speaking of the monetary sacrifices, Paul said, of the “churches of Macedonia,” that “They gave themselves first to the Lord,” and somehow, then, were able to give “beyond their means, of their own free will, begging earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints” (2 Cor. 8:3-4). Wow!

Jesus has a knack of multiplying that which we first freely give to him for His service. Take the fish and loaves, for example. When I read that story in John 6, I have to stop and think “Only a child would have given his small lunch to Jesus to feed 5000 people.” Someone, probably more like Martha than Mary, had responsibly sent her son out with a small lunch. Which of us would have given it up? I’d have thought “Why should I go hungry so that everyone else can also go hungry, because if I give up this lunch you can be sure of one thing: None of us will be satisfied.”

Not that boy. He gave “first to the Lord,” and the Lord multiplied it, not just until everyone was satisfied, but until everyone was satisfied and there were leftovers to boot! In our frantic, panicked, stressed-out, overwhelmed lives do we dare to believe He can do it with time?

I think the answer is a resounding and emphatic “yes!” I firmly believe that God gives us more than enough time to do the work He’s given us to do, including time to worship, pray, study and fellowship. Sadly, we beg for enough time when He longs to give us leftovers.

Often times in our lives, when it all gets to be too much, the first thing we neglect is our relationship with God. Our personal devotions, our church attendance, and our participation in Sunday school and Bible study (that is, our personal and corporate worship and our Christian education) suffer. Our service is often maintained, because so much of our image is dependent upon it, but it’s often done with feelings of stress and frustration rather than joy and gladness. We forget where our fuel comes from and serve on empty.

Lord knows (and I say that literally without an ounce of irreverence) we need to rest. He knew it when he designed us; He knew it when He instituted the Sabbath; He knew it when He called us and when He commissioned us. We’re the ones who don’t seem to understand.

Christian discipleship has at its heart four action verbs: “Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me.” (Matt. 11:29) “Abide in me.” (John 15:4) Come, friends, take, learn and abide “and you will find rest for your souls.”

If we plan on giving God our leftover time, we won’t have any, and we’ll be frazzled, hurried and stressed, but if we give “first to the Lord,” I bet we’ll suddenly find that we even have time leftover!

Do Good Always

“My Father is working until now, and I am working.” (John 5:17)

As far as church seasons go, I think it’s safe to say most of us prefer any other to Lent. With all the introspection, repentance, and self-denial, we don’t often look upon Lent as a joy filled and uplifting season, but then, often times, neither is life itself.

On the 25th of January, 2006 Barbara Mann lost her five children and two nieces in a tragic car accident, and later that night her father when he died of a heart attack upon hearing the news. When witnessing the worse imaginable tragedy that could befall a person, one can only be filled with doubt, confusion, anger and deep sorrow.

Ironically, our response to deep, inexplicable suffering is often to seek explanation. We philosophize: “Everything happens for a reason,” or “All things work together for good.” In our attempt to alleviate our own suffering from doubt and confusion we often do more harm to those whose suffering we should be sharing instead.

In John 5 Jesus shows us “a more excellent way.” When faced with a man who had been suffering continuously for thirty-eight years, Jesus wasn’t philosophical. He acted. He healed him. Not only that, he healed him by commanding the man to do something the religious authorities of the day considered unlawful.

Jesus’s message to us is that it is always lawful to do good, especially when faced with the suffering of another. Not only is it lawful, it is the only correct response to suffering, including our own. Are you doubting and confused? Do good always. Are you lonely and afraid? Do good always.

God is not some cosmic utilitarian moving pawns on his teleological chessboard to optimize his end game. He is a Wounded Healer who suffers for and with us. In healing the man beside the pool in the way he did, Jesus not only healed him, he took his future suffering at the hands of the religious leaders upon himself. Instead of persecuting the man for breaking the Sabbath, they persecuted Jesus.

In this somber season of Lent when we reflect upon the suffering of a broken world, and our part in it, let us remember the lesson of the Wounded Healer to do good always and “go and do likewise.” In doing so, we may find that Lent is as joyous a season as the others, for to run from the pain of suffering and sin would only be to flee from the joy that awaits us on the other side. Avoiding Lent would mean missing Easter.

Lord, enable us to do good always, no matter the season, that we may be wounded healers in a broken world.