I don't really even know where to begin writing after being away from it so long and having experienced so many things. In the last three weeks we have lived through a record-setting hurricane, unprecedented rainfall amounts and rates, the flooding of our home and neighborhood, evacuating through flood waters by wading on foot / boat / deuce and a half, the demolition of the first floor of our home, sorting through boxes and boxes of wet and ruined belongings, moving everything into storage, and a hopeful start to rebuilding. Those things are mostly negative, but we have experienced tons of positive things too: neighbors helping neighbors like never before, my NASA colleagues coming together to help us demo our home, people providing meals, friends opening homes for others to stay, churches mobilizing to help people, gifts of time and money (large and small), and more. The last three weeks have been a frenzied blur of emotions, labor, fatigue, and...yes, joy.
Through all the mess, it has been as plain as day that God is at work, in the large things and the small...just not in the way that we, (especially) as American Christians, tend to think. In America, the theology of our civic religion and American exceptionalism has influenced our Christian belief and corrupted it to make us think that God will protect us from all physical and emotional harm. Billions of Christians around the world know better, yet it is only occasionally that American Christians are reminded of the reality that this fallen world is a place of suffering, even for faithful believers. There is no place for this 'theology of glory' as Luther branded such thinking.
Only through the lens of the 'theology of the cross' do we truly see God at work here in the suffering, laboring, crying, exhaustion, long hugs, and stunned silence. Looking at reality this way, our experience is strangely familiar to that of the Old Testament prophet Elijah, who--in the midst of his own chaos of running for his life before enduring windstorm (hurricane?), earthquake, and fire--met God in the gentle whisper that followed the excitement and mayhem (cf. 1 Kings 19). Here is where God tends to meet us most clearly, not in the 'exciting' or 'relevant' worship service but in the quiet times spent praying the Psalms of lament after disaster. Christ meets us not in the highs of personal victories or triumphant seasons at home or work but in the brutal honesty of a wordless embrace from a suffering friend.
The promise of God for us is not a carefree, easy-going existence. The promise of God is that of his presence with us as Immanuel ("God with us"):
But now, O Jacob, listen to the Lord who created you. O Israel, the one who formed you says, “Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine. When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
— Isaiah 43.1-3, NLT
Many Christian traditions understand this more solemn, more truthful, and more scriptural understanding of life and faith. They are much better equipped for hardship and suffering than are those who expect Christians to live 'victorious' lives as perfect as Joel Osteen's bleached teeth. The former faith is that which Jesus describes as build on a steady rock. It is certainly not glamorous, won't fill the seats in a mega-church sanctuary, and won't land a best-selling book, but it is much closer to the faith of the apostles, church fathers, and countless generations of Christians around the world than what you see on American television. The latter faith is a beautiful but easily-shattered stained glass window. No, it is really a worthless facade that looks pretty until life gets messy and real, at which point its true worthlessness and frailty become obvious.
If nothing else, Harvey has taught me that it's OK to suffer. God is there. It's OK to be brought low. Christ is present. It may not be enjoyable--in fact it's definitely not--but we don't go it alone. Thanks be to God.