Wandering in the desert of life far away from the fleshpots of Egyptian slavery, the people grumble against God. You brought us out for this? Their faith and perseverance had worn thin. Like them, when we are confronted with adversity, when things do not go our way, we grumble against God. With Alfie, we ask, “What’s it all about.” “Why?” “Why me?” “Why us?” “Heal me NOW!” “Heal us NOW!” Then from the dark pits of frustration, the seraph serpents coil, strike and bite us. From the depths of the abyss, we cry out, “Save me, Lord.” “Deliver me from this!” We want immediate relief from what is making our life less than good. Richard Rohr reminds us not to seek immediate relief. Only if we abide in the darkness of the abyss, will we come to new life. Like Lazarus, Jesus is calling us forth to new life but Lazarus had to die before he could come to new life. Lazarus had to hold the darkness of the sealed tomb for three days. Rohr writes:
Don’t get rid of the pain until you’ve learned its lessons. When you hold the pain consciously and trust fully, you are in a very special liminal space. This is a great teaching moment where you have the possibility of breaking through to a deeper level of faith and consciousness. Hold the pain of being human until God transforms you through it. And then you will be an instrument of transformation for others. (Email Reflection April 8) It takes abiding faith to hold the pain so that we might be instruments of transformation.
In the wisdom tradition, Ecclesiastes teaches the same lesson, “In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider; God has made the one as well as the other, so that mortals may not find out anything that will come after them.” (7:14) God has created the light and the dark God has created joy and pain. God has created wellness and suffering. Eckhart says, “God is in my suffering. God is my suffering.”
Jesus reiterates this teaching. Holding the pain leads us to trust in Him:
Again he said to them, “I am going away, and you will search for me, but you will die in your sin. Where I am going, you cannot come.” Then the Jews said, “Is he going to kill himself? Is that what he means by saying, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come’?” He said to them, “You are from below, I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins, for you will die in your sins unless you believe that I am he.” (Jn 8)
Like the disciples, even at the eleventh hour of Jesus’ life, we still do not get it. When Jesus seems to have gone away, we will die in our sins unless we trust in Him. The world would lead us to believe there is a soothing salve for all our pain. They world would send us to the medicine chest of technology to alleviate our suffering. But Jesus is asking us to make the great leap of faith. We do not grumble as the world grumbles. We do not despair in the dark abyss of our pain. We do not look for instant relief and quick fixes. We abide in Him who abides in us so we can hold the pain and make sense of our lives, however troubled they may be. We hold our pain because we are assured that the Christ who dwells deep within us is calling us forth from the tombs we have created for ourselves. Jesus is calling us forth and assuring us that he will loose the bonds which tie us to this world and this world’s faux promises of instant pain relief. Holding the pain allows us to die to ourselves and let the Risen Christ, who held his pain on the cross, shine forth in our lives. On the fourth day, rotten and stinking as we are, we will arise to new life in Christ Jesus through the power of the Spirit. Through the power of the Spirit, the Risen Christ is calling us to ever become more than what we are, to become what we are meant to be.