Growing up in the farm country of south central Kansas, I quickly learned that agrarian life could be brutal. I saw the long days (and sometimes nights) of very hard labor; watched farmers cope with tornadoes, blizzards, livestock diseases, and volatile market conditions; and we all knew the sickening thud of sudden accidents. By the time many farmers lie down in satin caskets, the passing mourners well understand the scars, missing fingers, and empty sleeves.
The Portal of Suffering
Not coincidentally, I also grew up in a large sense of God.
The prairie Calvinism in farming communities molded people into a vertical posture. All day long their eyes searched that enormous sky; they knew it could bring life or death. And they bowed their knees to whatever it brought. As a result, the “grain” of their lives revealed the deep burnished luster of rich woods, an unfathomable beauty and excellence of spirit.
Suffering had not reduced them; it had enriched them.
A dear friend’s wife has struggled with multiple sclerosis for more than forty years. Recent emergency surgery revealed that she now has extensive cancer, and during that surgery she suffered a heart attack. They both know the end is near.
In a recent email, he gave me an astounding view of their journey. To read his description of what they have both seen through this grueling trial is to stand at the edge of a spiritual Grand Canyon – it is deep, majestic, humbling, and bottomless. And he summed it up with: “Life has to be lived in all the ways it might come to one.”
Those simple and profound words describe how humans have lived for most of history. Only recent decades have brought the possibility of a self-designed life. “I’ll take a little of that…maybe just a pinch more. And no, none of that.” Convenience, comfort, and control are the new values. But what have they stolen?
The moment of human conception brings life to us in a new way; that baby is a tiny slow-motion hurricane. She or he slowly careens around the womb, evicting any shreds of convenience, comfort, and control. Furthermore, the baby brings nausea, pain, morning sickness, baby furniture and other expenses, and a final and primal explosion of water, blood, muck… and a new human. Sometimes that new person is ill, deformed, or dead.
Historically, even when life brought an unplanned or perhaps mortally ill baby, people lived it as it came. In the depths of the crucible, people begin to see that God, only God, could bring shimmering beauty from the gnarled grain of a wind-warped cypress. After all, He is the One Who “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.” (Ephesians 3:20 NIV)
Self-designed gods tend to select only the babies that we can imagine.
Have you noticed that most people die when they are hit with a terminal disease or terrible injuries? That’s been happening throughout human history (of course, God sometimes heals people. But to live in expectation of that is to entertain distractions from living a purposeful life).
Clearly, the God Who is God often sends diseases and infirmities as His servants, to escort His children to a higher dimension of life. The wise and weathered heart knows that this too is just part of living life in all the ways it might come
But, in recent decades, many have migrated to a self-designed faith, a true American folk religion. Perhaps its primary feature is human control. Therefore, it has gutted the classic faith. Trust is no longer a factor.
This new faith accommodates the illusion that we do not have to pass on from earth life. New designer theologies insist that God has chosen to heal everyone. We all know many well-meaning Christian believers who have marshaled heroic and urgent prayer for the purpose of helping people stay …right here in River City.
Oh, the irony; meeting God must be avoided at all cost!
What if we all stepped away from our obsessions with ourselves and just embraced all the ways that life might come to us? Do you think we might find ourselves in a larger and more magnificent design? Might we live better if we stopped spending so much time trying to control our health and continuity? Could we rediscover trust?
The farmers of my youth were generally humble folks. From their example, I see that humility is the only way to “live life in all the ways it might come to one.” But it never begins till we give up our design and control.
When we do that, trust is the only road left.