Monday, November 7, 2011

questioning leadership

Recently, I've been encountering situations of various magnitudes that put before me a choice: hope or despair. These are situations that cause me to wonder about my own purpose in life and my relationship with God. I wonder about what I can do and what God can do and what it means to pray. I have questions about what being rescued or "saved" means for people who continue to lead difficult lives. It can really weigh me down at times, even when my own life is fine. I see children with very difficult home situations, adults with children who break their hearts, children born with conditions that make life more difficult, and the myriad ways people are affected by other people's sin.

These are things I really wrestled with in college. The difference is that back then, most of these situations were hypothetical. I knew they were probably happening somewhere. So I had it out with God over the "problem of evil," also sometimes put as "Why do bad things happen to good people?" or "Why do bad things have to happen to ANYONE?" I was really calling unto account God's ability to make good decisions. I promised myself two things during that time: 1.) I would never be afraid to question things down to that level again, and 2.) I would question thoroughly so I would never have to do it again.

So when I find myself asking similar questions now, some 10 years later, I do what I can to keep both promises. I decide to just go ahead a lay it all out there, knowing I likely will get no more answers this time than I did the last. And I didn't get ANY answers during that crazy time of questioning God. I just got to know Him. He didn't explain Himself to me or anything. What's different now is that I don't expect Him to.

Something else that is different this time around is that I am some manner or other of spiritual leader. While I am re-wrestling with God over the things I see going on in the lives of my girls or their friends, or others, I'm also trying to lead them through their wrestling, too. When I'm having my own questions about how to know I've heard God, I'm being asked questions about how to hear God. When someone asks why God hasn't answered their prayer for rescue, I'm asking the same question. Don't hear me wrong. I don't think it's a human's job to know all the answers. Somehow I was just expecting to know a few more....

This Sunday, the girls were over. We've been learning stories that go straight through the life of Christ, which I'm trying to conclude before our Christmas party. This means that I had to teach the entire week of the Passion in one hour. In order to simplify, I made a sort of virtual felt-board to help keep track of the characters and who was where when. Starting out, we have Jesus and his 12 disciples. (I don't really think Jesus was a head taller than everyone else....)

He's washing their feet and sharing what he knows will be his last meal with them. He also knows that one of the guys whose feet he just washed, named Judas, is going to betray him. He tells him to go ahead and do it. (I don't think I'd do that.) So then it's Jesus and the 11.

He tells them about how he's preparing to die and how he will go to prepare a place for them so they can be together again. He takes the bread and says, "This is my body," and rips it in two. He takes the wine and says, "This is my blood," and pours it out. He has to be kind of freaking out inside. They sing together and he asks his close friends to come and pray with him up on the Mount of Olives. I can imagine he wants some company on what he knows is going to be a very difficult night. So there we have Jesus with Peter, James, and John going to pray.

But the guys keep falling asleep instead of praying. And Jesus has gone to talk to His Father, to ask if there's not some way for life to go well without this awful stuff happening to him. He asks three times. That makes me think that maybe He's not hearing anything back. Either that, or He's getting an answer He doesn't like. But he decides to believe God knows better and says, basically, "Do it your way, not mine." That's pretty intense. And cause for all kinds of theological unrest within the trinity, but I'm glad to understand Jesus as fully human here, because that makes sense to me...praying the same thing over and over, not sure if you're hearing (or not hearing) right, hoping you've heard wrong, hoping more prayer will change God's mind anyway. And then you're interrupted by more bad news.

So there is Jesus with his three sleepy friends and then here comes Judas back with the Roman soldiers to arrest Him.

Peter chops off the ear of one of the soldiers. Jesus says, "No, that's not how this is going to go down," puts the ear back on the soldier, and lets them take him away to be tried and killed. And he knows that's what He's doing, because where does he end up? At the house of the high priest, Caiaphas, who had already been talking with his friends about how it's be better for Jesus to die than not. I don't think anyone's expecting a fair trial, here. Peter and John follow along to the house and wait outside to see what's going to happen. It's there that Peter, in a weird rush of self-interest, calls down curses on himself and swears he's never had anything to do with Jesus in his whole life. Peter was one of Jesus's closest friends.
He's then taken alone before Pilate, who tries to release him. But then all those people who had been praising Jesus the week before, who thought He was going to come and be their king by overthrowing the Romans, show their disappointment in Him and His methods by asking for the release of a violent revolutionary instead. So then, when Jesus gets to the cross, He's up there all by himself, with the rest of the world either against Him or powerless to be for Him.

And while He's up there, He yells, "My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?" I know there is a big discussion to have about that. How is God not really with Jesus? Is it because of the sin of the world? Maybe Jesus is just saying that and God the Father didn't really leave Him, after all. I don't think it least not for me right now. What matters is that, in the hardest time of His life, Jesus at least feels all alone. No one is helping Him. No one is saving Him. And, because He decided not to do it His own way, He's not even saving Himself. And He's going through that so He can later be with us forever. But He wasn't in the euphoric forever yet. No. He did all this in the, "Why, God?" where the rest of us live.

And then, with His last words, He trusted His soul to the one He didn't understand. "Into Your hands I commit My spirit."

Now, none of my questions are bigger than the one Jesus was asking. And none of my deciding to trust God anyway has such high stakes for me. But I was so grateful to be reading through this story with the girls and learning myself how there's nowhere I go in life where Jesus hasn't gone before me to show me how to do it. Even when being an example for us, He still asked, "Why?" He still tried to come up with a better way for the world to work than what He saw coming down the line. And it's because I can follow Him there that I can follow Him to hoping against all hope that somehow all things really will work for good. Somehow.

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