It had been a great day. Jerry had taken his entire family (wife and four kids and his mother) on a field trip to visit a reservation in Idaho to learn more about Native American culture. But on the way home tragedy struck as a drunk driver careened into their van killing Jerry’s wife, daughter and mother. And instantly Jerry Sittser learned a new language.
· Last Monday the family of Tyler Tucker learned that same language as 8 year old Tyler along with his parents were swept up and killed. in the tornado that ravaged Tupelo MS
· Two weeks ago Chung Hae-sook also learned the language of suffering and loss as she came to grips with the drowning of her 16 yr old in Korean Ferry accident.
· Right here close to home…Todd Erb and his family, Judy Grip and hers and Lindy Siefker are also conversant in the language as they have been processing instant tragedy and in Lindy Siefker’s case looming loss.
Many of you know it…and if you don’t you will some day…you will learn to speak the common language of the human soul – pain, loss, suffering.
All people suffer loss. Being alive means suffering loss. Jerry Sittser, A Grace Disguised (Note about Sittser’s book being quoted extensively…)
Some day we will speak that language and when that moment hits, and we wake up to find our lives suddenly altered, the natural reaction is to ask a couple of very big questions …. the first is why?
· Last week we talked about that question and saw how from it myths can emerge…
Ø I must be being punished for something.
Ø Clearly God did this.
Ø Satan did this.
Ø There is a bigger reason for this. There is some greater plan that I can’t see.
We base that on bible verse like this one: We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28
· We think that God caused this to happen for a big reason…but play that out:
o That would mean God tipped the ferry over
o God directed the tornado into the path of specific people
o God gives a person cancer
You know you don’t believe that. So what does Romans 8:28 mean then?
We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28
· the key is the word “works” = cooperates with…works in synergy with us and the tragedy to bring something good out of it.
There may not have been a reason for it but there can be a purpose that emerges from it.
I think we will always wrestle with that question “why?” but there is another huge question that perhaps is even more daunting…Where’s God in all this? Where’s God when there’s no happy ending?
Even C.S.Lewis – one of the smartest Christian thinkers and theologian ever struggled with that question:
...meanwhile, where is God? C.S. Lewis
When you are so happy that you have no sense of needing Him, …and turn to Him with gratitude and praise, you will be welcomed with open arms. But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence. You may as well turn away. The longer you wait, the more emphatic the silence will become. There are no lights in the windows. It might be an empty house. Was it ever inhabited? It seemed so once. What can this mean? Why is He so present a commander in our time of prosperity and so very absent a help in time of trouble? A Grief Observed – C.S. Lewis
· Where is God when I need him the very most in my life? For the next 3 weeks that’s what we are going to try to address.
Before we dive in… a couple caveats:
· I’m not going to try to defend God like a friend whose negligent…”I’m so sorry, He’s so ADD…” He is God. I’ll let you wrestle with him.
· This isn’t going to be an intellectual exercise. This is not about you learning something new…or being convinced in your mind about something…this is not an appeal to your head but an appeal to your heart. Don’t learn a thing…feel something deep within you that will sustain you through this storm.
With those caveats in mind may I suggest the first answer to the question of…Where is God when there’s no happy ending?
God is with you.
· God is present.
· God is near.
· God is engaged.
· God is involved.
That is the short and sweet big idea of Psalm 23.
A poem/song about the “withness” of God.
1 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, 3 he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. 4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6 Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. Psalm 23:1-6
Remember don’t learn …feel …
1 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
God has been called many things – most of which are appropriately large and imposing: King, Warrior, Sovereign, Creator – but here he takes the unimpressive littler name of Shepherd.
· It’s a big little name that speaks of care, concern and attention.
The reason the mass of men fear God, and at bottom dislike Him, is because they rather distrust his heart, and fancy Him all brain like a watch. HERMAN MELVILLE
· Psalm 23 challenges the notion of a cold calculating God.
· Jesus himself in Luke 15 adds color to this commentary on God…Shepherd that is so concerned he goes after one little lost sheep….which really is you, isn’t it?
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, 3 he restores my soul.
· Restores = to turn back. Pain, loss and tragedy take us to places of anxiety and turmoil. God the good shepherd wants to restore us/turn us back to places of rest and recuperation.
· IL – I remember a moment in the middle of my physical turmoil – Mt. in GA …where I experienced this and let down my anxiety and wept in the beauty of that place
He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. 4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
God the good shepherd says – Trust me and my reputation (name’s sake)…I’ll guide you on the right path…even…through the valley of the shadow
· lit. a valley with a death-like shadow – place of very deep or even total darkness
· ever notice how the dark makes all fears creepier and worse?
… the place of no return…the land of deep shadow and disorder, where even the light is like darkness." Job 10:21-22
Then Here is the key to the song…
· Vs. 4 – You are with me. The answer to the big question where is God?
God is with you.
There is an old fashioned word to describe this “withness” of God..this shepherding:
Providence – to foresee and attend to; the protective care of God.
· Ngram – the use of the word Providence – 1800…today only a fraction used
· Why? 1800 was near the beginning of the modern age – the age of enlightenment
o “the emancipation of the human consciousness from an immature state of ignorance”
o the beginning of scientific rigor and decline of religious orthodoxy
o when human reasoning began to trump faith
· from 1800s on…the Providence of God began to be replaced by the mind of man…we can figure this thing out….we will get ourselves through the valley of the shadow of death…there is an expert who will guide us with a pill, or a theory or our own intelligence out of our dark places.
· Why look to God when we have ourselves?
Yet you know…those of you who speak the language of loss, pain and suffering that it’s not working is it…you can’t walk your way through death’s valley.
Willing an end to depression is as difficult as healing a broken heart. Human strength alone is insufficient for the task. Sittser
– you need a shepherd – you need the Providence of God
And sometimes, when the cry is intense, there emerges a radiance which elsewhere seldom appears; a glow of courage, of love, of insight, of selflessness, of faith. In the valley of suffering, despair and bitterness are brewed. But there also character is made. The valley of suffering is the vale of soul-making. Sittser
Only God can restore a soul through the valley of the shadow of death.
In Vs. 5 …The song wraps up by taking us inside…scene shifts from valley and pasture to a mansion.
5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.6 Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
Through the valley…God brings us home. This image is so very important:
The self I once was cannot find its old place to land. It is homeless now. Jerry Sittser
Suffering and pain can make us feel homeless.
· without moorings
· without a place to just be myself
· even once familiar places feel alien
You need a new home. And God provides it.
imagine as you walk in the dark valley (noises, threats, pain) there ahead of you is a house…cottage, mansion, or even a shack. light, smoke, warmth
· as you enter – he is there…anoint you with perfumed oil:
o aroma therapy, blessing, connection,
· before you is a spread of the best food you can imagine…my Nana’s spread of pasta, plates of meat, bowls of sauce, little garlicky fried meat balls, crusty, pillowy Italian bread.
· and there is a glass filled with the best wine…not 6.99 Kroger Special but that expensive Pinot Noir you’d never spring for.
And there you are overwhelmed with a sense of belonging and love and care and the amazingly strong presence of the Father…the Shepherd of your souls.
· even as your enemies peer into the window from the shadows…
And you get the sense that this goodness and love will follow you everywhere and you will never leave this place….
That’s the Providence of God…that’s the presence of God…
God is with you.
Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you." Deuteronomy 31:6
I have set the LORD always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Psalm 16:8
To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy-- to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen. Jude 1:24-25
I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes--I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me! Job 19:25-27
Stop…close your eyes…feel…sense…God is with you.