The Virtues of Brokenness, Part 3
[Kevin J. Eames, Ph.D. is professor of psychology and chair of the Psychology department at Covenant College, in Lookout Mountain, Georgia. He is also an adjunct professor at Richmont Graduate University in Chattanooga, Tennessee. His research interests center primarily around the psychology of religion and the cognitive science of religion, both from with the framework of a Christian psychology. He is currently at work on a textbook on the cognitive psychology of religion to be published by Waveland Press. Kevin is our blogger for the month of July and this is his fourth post.]
Last week’s blog post continued an exploration of brokenness and noted that broken people are realistic. In this post, I will explore the characteristics of humility and hope.
When our hearts are broken, we realize how little control over our lives we actually have. During these times, we must remember this fundamental truth: we serve a good God, and in acknowledging this goodness, we also acknowledge our own humility, because our good is not always His good. In fact, God’s goodness is so utterly unlike ours that when Moses asked God to show him His glory, God responded with “I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the Lord before you.” You probably know the rest of the story – God told Moses no one can see my face and live, so He put Moses in the cleft of the rock and then covered it with his hand until He passed by. This is a very different goodness than the kind you and I expect. Our goodness is rooted in our own needs and desires. Though it may be well-intentioned, our personal good – full of desires for convenience, ease, and an untroubled life - is a feeble shadow of the goodness of God that has the power to overwhelm us.
In The Problem of Pain, C. S. Lewis compares our suffering as Christians to the masterpiece of a great artist. This Lewis calls the intolerable compliment. If the artist were working on a sketch to amuse a child, he would give it little attention. Here we pick up the text itself, “But over the great picture of his life—the work which he loves, though in a different fashion, as intensely as a man loves a woman or a mother a child—he will take endless trouble—and would doubtless, thereby give endless trouble to the picture if it were sentient. One can imagine a sentient picture, after being rubbed and scraped and re-commenced for the tenth time, wishing that it were only a thumb-nail sketch whose making was over in a minute. In the same way, it is natural for us to wish that God had designed for us a less glorious and less arduous destiny; but then we are wishing not for more love but for less.” Moreover, we should be reminded of the view of God embodied in Aslan again by Lewis in the Narnia Chronicles. In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Lucy asked the Beavers about Aslan, “Then he isn’t safe?” Safe?’ said Mr. Beaver; ‘don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King I tell you.’” Throughout the Chronicles, we are reminded that Aslan is good, but he is not a tame lion.
Do not mistake ease and pleasantness for goodness. I cannot explain why in God’s goodness He chose to take our son home to him. I do not – cannot ask why. God’s goodness can sometimes be inscrutable, much like the catastrophe that befell Job.
So, when I am tempted to question God’s actions and the manner in which He chose to demonstrate His loving, but difficult care for me, I am reminded of God’s questioning of Job:
Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy? (Job 38:4-7)
Not only do I not know the answers to any of those questions, the mind I have is so compromised by sin that I don’t think I could understand the answers were I given them. I am a creature, and in the face of what I might perceive as God’s injustice, Paul reminds us in Romans that we have neither the right nor ability to question God – though God does lovingly tolerate our questions, much like a parent who patiently endures a three-year old’s incessant “whys.” We instead must humbly acknowledge that He does what He does is to make known to us, His vessels of mercy, the riches of His glory. This is not always a satisfying answer, but our faith is not about our satisfaction, but our sanctification.
My final point has to do with hope. Our whole ability to admit to our brokenness is bound up in the hope of complete restoration. We all at some point experience an inexplicable longing for something unfulfilled. C. S. Lewis described this with the German word sehnsucht. A sunset or a piece of music can evoke in us at once a sense of our incompleteness, a longing for something just out of our reach, and the hope of becoming complete. We are promised the fulfillment of this longing. In Romans 8:18 Paul writes, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” We could not have buried our son without this hope. Closing the lid of his coffin and then watching him lowered into the ground was an act of faith. We committed him to the ground because we unwaveringly believe that, at the sound of the last trumpet, Daniel will be raised. From 1 Corinthians 15:53-54, “For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”
Our son Daniel could not speak with his mouth, but he often made himself known in many ways. Whenever he needed help with something on the computer, he would come to one of us and take our hand and tug. On the last day, it is my fervent prayer that when we are together in the new heaven and earth, my son will come to me, take my hand, and say as clear as a bell, “Daddy, look!” This is the hope we have in our redemption. There will come a day – soon I hope – where our faith becomes sight, and we will indeed be together in a place where there are no tears, no curse, no light other than the light of God to illuminate us, and we will stand before Him blameless with great joy.
If you’d like to hear the full address, you’ll find it at http://www.covenant.edu/calendar/all/2014/03/24