It’s never black and white

In you, O Lord, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame. Rescue me and deliver me in your righteousness; turn your ear to me and save me. Be my rock of refuge, to which I can always go; give the command to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress.

For you have been my hope, O Sovereign Lord, my confidence since my youth. From my birth I have relied on you; you brought me forth from my mother’s womb. I will ever praise you… My mouth is filled with your praise, declaring your splendour all day long.

Do not cast me away when I am old, do not forsake me when my strength is gone… Be not far from me, O God; come quickly, O my God, to help me. May my accusers perish in shame; may those who want to harm me be covered with scorn and disgrace.

But as for me, I shall always have hope; I will praise you more and more. My mouth will tell of your righteousness, of your salvation all day long, though I know not its measure… Your righteousness reaches to the skies, O God, you who have done great things. Who, O God, is like you? 

Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up. You will increase my honour and comfort me once again. I will praise you with the harp for your faithfulness, O my God; I will sing praise to you with the lyre, O Holy One of Israel.

My lips will shout for joy when I sing praise to you – I, whom you have redeemed. 

(Ps 71.1-3,5&6,8-10,12-15,19-23)

If we are honest with ourselves, life is always a bit of a mixed bag – never all good and never all bad. It’s as though being human requires a complexity of emotions all the time, and it is sometimes exhausting! As followers of Jesus – who said that in this world we would have trouble – we should never expect to find life easy. As intelligent readers of the bible – full of the consequences of human sin for people and planet alike – we should not be surprised that suffering dogs humanity, that our world doesn’t function as it could, that bad stuff happens and life can be horrible.

No, the question is not, whether we and those we love will face trouble, but rather, what we will do with it when it arises? What does faith look like when all around is distress, uncertainty and weariness?

I find the honesty of the bible stories inexepressibly comforting, as they record the struggles of God’s children down the generations, and I see my own situation mirrored in theirs. It is not black and white – so often the things that we suffer appear to come out of nothing – look at the story of Job, who never found out what lay behind his appalling loss and illnesses, but who is commended in scripture for his faith. While we may occasionally be able to trace a link between trouble now, and past wrongdoing – often relationships will be permanently damaged and continue to malfunction due to our mistakes; we do live with consequences – very often there is no sign of a ‘reason’ for our troubles.

So, faith doesn’t necessarily look like someone who has all the answers and is serenely enduring because they know ‘what it’s for’. Faith can look like someone who is afraid, weak and well aware of their own helplessness, yet who clings stubbornly to the God who died on the cross to express his love for them. Faith is one who continues to pray, ‘thy will, not mine, be done’, and who persists in offloading their doubts and tears into the lap of their heavenly Father – sometimes even entrusting his eternal tender patience with their tantrums of terror and loss.

As I sit with the burdens of many dear friends in these days, burdens of every kind of trouble, this is how I pray for them, for this dogged and determined faith – which God gives to his children as they lean, exhausted and weary, upon him. I pray this for myself in the coming year, with its unknowns, that for the sake of Christ our Lord, we might honour him in all things.

O thou, the reflection of whose transcendent glory did once appear unbroken in the face of Jesus Christ, give me today a heart like his – a brave heart, a true heart, a tender heart, a heart with great room in it , a heart fixed on Thyself; for his name’s sake. Amen.

(John Baillie: A diary of private prayer, 1932)

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