“‘Who then can be saved?’
‘With man it is impossible. But with God all things are possible.'”-The Gospel
“I miss the comfort in being sad”-Kurt Cobain
Hope is the unseen and therefore to use what is seen in order to induce very present and visible hope is not to induce real hope at all, but to conjure a temporary feeling of hopefulness in the absence, that is, as a substitution, an off-brand, if you will, of real hope. On top of showcasing a temporary hope, such platituding makes for a false hope. For hope which is seen is no hope at all.
Hope springs from the depths of a despair very few of us have ever seen and ends in an eternal ocean of gladness that none of us can imagine, or put to words. We should be blessed to be named with“those who mourn”.
But although “blessed are those who mourn” is true, it would be perverse for one to pursue this blessedness intentionally, as if it can be received in time, in this world. Perverse it is to think that by praying for a scorpion one may apprehend the mourners blessedness as if it is something he should wish for normally.
It’s like a kid asking his parent to get grounded out of the blue, having done nothing good or bad, yet. Is it as noble as it is stupid? Does it not have an aura of pretension? Of what annoying people call “virtue signaling”?
Pray with moderation. Don’t be absurd and ask God for tribulation. Don’t be obnoxious and ask him for wealth.
No mourner is sitting on the street in a puddle of wretchedness, begging each of his superiors for fifty of their cents to buy food, beer, chocolate milk, cigarettes, and heroin, wishing that more people could experience the blessedness that is his life.
But Jesus says that addict is blessed.
Which, let’s just say it, is offensive. To everyone. For different reasons. To the addict because it attributes his curse to blessedness. And to the middle class person because it makes very little of his worldly success.
“The prayer of the righteous man availeth much”
What about the prayer of the destitute and afflicted?
Either way, it’s the Lord’s.
“Father, in heaven. Your name is too holy for my unclean lips, and yet here I am. May your kingdom and will come to this place of woe, affliction, and destitution, which we call earth. I don’t know what to ask you for except I am hungry and you are the provider, so get me through another day. Help me forgive like you forgive. Forgive my many shortcomings. It’s so hard to survive this harsh world without breaking your law. Guide me through the gauntlet with minimal bruises. Without your guidance I am hopeless.”
If that’s the prayer of the destitute and afflicted, Mrs. Job has a suggestion
“Curse God and die.”
Mrs. Job was enlightened.
Call me callous, cynical, and nihilistic, but I don’t need to hear songs of praise for some Christian who is going through some trying situation for not abandoning the faith. Of course he find worldly hopefulness! That’s the beauty of it!
Hope is all we have! I have no problem with made up hopes in and of themselves. We lie to ourselves to survive! This is the great white lie of human history and I think it is beautiful!
But to try to pass off the platitudes that get us through as if these were identical to the heart of this grand faith, this mustard seed planted by the mournful, which is of course Christianity–that is really to put a veil over Christianity!
If Christianity is false, offensive, depressing, and horrid, let it be so in clear sight!
The hope of the Christian is not the message of some best selling preacher, I said, charlatan, nor is it the vision of the sincere but short sighted humanist.
It is the whimpering of one whose faith in God, should we come right up to it, would not appear praiseworthy, beautiful, imitable, or commendable, but mysterious and frightening. That’s if it were even visible.
The way people talk about death when they actually face it is proof that they don’t believe in the eternal, that they don’t have real hope. Hopefulness they have. Methods of survival in the midst of earth shattering sadness is theirs, but not real hope. Real hope can’t hide a deep sadness. Condolences sound distinctly like people talking themselves into something. Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. Have you ever had these words laid on you? “She is in a better place”. Did you believe they really believed it? I don’t know about you. But I never believe they believe it. And now I am sitting here trying to imagine what it would be like to be in the presence of a person believing their own (sincere, vulnerable, and heartbreakingly human) condolences. Yeah. It would frighten me if they did. We don’t cry at funerals because we are going to miss our loved ones for a few decades until we get our shot to hang on clouds. Otherwise, the tears shed in funeral parlors would be of the same essence as tears in an airport. No. We cry because we are being forced to face what’s too powerful for us, death. And it is nearly impossible to conjure the raw Christianity to shake off the belief that they are truly gone, or the horror of knowing that one day we will be too.
Nonetheless, there is a place for hope in this world. But it looks strangely unlike hope.
That place is the forgotten Bethlehem, the dark Gethsemane, and the excruciating cross, where God refuses to solve humanity’s woe without joining it.
And in Gethsemane in particular, Jesus, on our behalf, hands us all over to the will of a God who has just refused his hope filled and rational request for earthly reprieve from suffering execution by asphyxiation, and instead directs his only Son’s despairing eyes toward the unseen, unproved, and unbelievable hope of resurrection.
God practically incentivizes doubt and confusion. (Perhaps to make prayer intelligible)
It is a false god whose pure will gives us only warm fuzzies.
But some will protest with sarcasm, “So masochism it is.”
No. You can’t manipulate redemption or suffering. You can’t carve your own cross without admitting another kind of worldly hope, a hope in your own ability to atone. You can’t offer yourself as a lamb to God For you are the one who needs saving from death.
Suffering will come. But woe to the man through whom it comes. To pick up a scorpion is unnatural. To make a direct request for one is perverse. But to pray for a genuine blessing is to be shown a picture of your savior crying out to God with the voice of David, giving you the hope you really didn’t ask for-that of incarnation and resurrection. Meanwhile you sleep. Sword in sheath, your great white hope.
What I have said is this. The joy you seek is supernatural. It is infinitely higher, lower, further, and deeper, than you can imagine, than you can imagine you would want. The Spirit of joy groans deeper than you can imagine. And you are nearer to God the deeper your groans.
Who can say to God what David, and thus Jesus, says, sweating blood in the garden? “Look away from me that I may smile again?”
Heaven is a real hope. I do not deny. But for eternity, not time. The hope of resurrection doesn’t touch feelings in a way that validates it in real time. Heaven and resurrection are unapproachable in this hopeless temporal world. The highest hope within temporality is not an end to our pain, but is communion with God in suffering, the pure assurance that suffering is meaningful because it is shared in and with God.
What does this mean for “social justice?” Should we leave the mourners to their blessedness? Why take that away from them?
“Woe to him through whom the stumbling block comes!”
Whether they know it or not, God is present with mourners because he is present in suffering. He has seized captainship of suffering by the cross. Hope is unseen for now. But suffering has meaning with God at the helm. So not only does he suffer in the manner of sufferers. He suffers with them in the present. Whatever you do to the little ones, the mourners, you do to God.
To look at a man in his puddle of wretchedness and think that the call of God is merely to assist in his exit from the puddle is noble, but mistaken. Mistaken not because he doesn’t need help, doesn’t need your help. God forbid! He certainly could use your help! Mistaken not because you are not obligated to help. For you are as obligated by nature to help another as you are to feed yourself. Lack of mercy for your neighbor is a form of suicide. Not because you have to answer to God for how you treated your neighbor, in some empty space where incarnation is absent, but because how you treat your neighbor is itself your answer. But you shall not forget that the decisive element, for your Christianity, if you claim to be a Christian, is incarnation, which is not for the sake of temporal justice. Because God is present between your mourning neighbor and you, your response to God’s incarnational love for you waits reciprocation, not because God’s love is conditional and depends on your response- it’s not as if God is testing us by putting the poor always among us-it is just the nature of love to of itself demand reciprocation without attaching any strings at all-to the chagrin of familiar sense. The tears of the oppressed seem to all with ears to hear as the love of God, demanding without demanding a response, the mirror response of incarnation.
I say all that to tell you this. That the mourners are blessed because their inheritance is eternal, and in this eternal kingdom, of which no words can utter the meaning, they will not mourn.
But that is no seeable hope. So we don’t say to the mournful. “Don’t worry poor wretch. Jesus comes to save”. Though it’s the most glorious truth! That is not what they need right now, in the temporal. I mean, it isn’t about what they need. That’s apparent. They need water. Give it to them without pride. But if real hope is what you desire to give them, here is the not so glamorous truth. You can’t! Hope is not a commodity. You can either join them in mourning, or ignore it. You can either seek God or have the pleasure of not seeing people cry. You can believe what they might not believe, what they might even pray to Jesus without knowing, in a place too deep for words, the place of prayers only the Spirit can hear. You can believe, you can hope against hope, that in eternity the mournful are blessed. And in time, mere time, the highest is no hope, but is in fact love-we join the mourners and are together joined with God, a friend to whom you have come so close you may be terrified and astonished on some woeful day to hear these heartfelt but stupid words come uncontrollably out of your mouth, “look away from me”! And God will chuckle with a hint of sadness at the irony as at a child who scraped their knee, thinking her life might be over. For he answered that prayer for only one, that you might never know its full horror.
But let us also not see such a distance between us and those that mourn. Woe to us who think we are rich, who think we see, who avoid or plunge into the pain of others assuming we are outside, beyond, or above, who think we are in the position of giving but not receiving, for if we are not sick, then we cannot be moved to cry out, to seek a physician, to get to know the Son of David. Blessed are the sick. For they seek and find.
Let the world argue about the duties of the haves toward the have-nots. Let Christians seek to understand what it truly means to have and have not. The blessing of those who mourn is not in this world. But love is. It’s love, not hope, connects woe to God.