September 8, 2011

Living with Mystery

Approaching the Unknown
I have a friend, Laura Lavigne, who loves life and art and food. Her primary message is living from essence. In March 2011, when the earthquake hit Japan, she shared a letter from her friend's cousin on her blog.

At the time of her letter, this young woman was living in Sendai, Japan, which was only 80 miles east of the epicenter of the earthquake, prime position for destruction from the tsunami that followed an hour later. Though her village was slightly elevated, protecting it from the worst, the situation was still dire for her village.

The full letter is posted here on Laura's blog. I happened to read that same day a passage in Psalm 18 that gave me pause. There are many things I read in the Bible that give me pause, and I cry out to Him to help me understand His nature, His ways, His mysteries.

Verses That Give Me Pause
(vs. 4-19, God's Word Translation)
"The ropes of death had become tangled around me. The torrents of destruction had overwhelmed me. The ropes of the grave had surrounded me. The clutches of death had confronted me. I called on the Lord in my distress. I cried to my God for help. He heard my voice from his temple, and my cry for help reached his ears.

"Then the earth shook and quaked. Even the foundations of the mountains trembled. They shook violently because he was angry. Smoke went up from his nostrils, and a raging fire came out of his mouth. Glowing coals flared up from it. He spread apart the heavens and came down with a dark cloud under his feet.

"He rode on one of the angels as he flew, and he soared on the wings of the wind. He made the darkness his hiding place, the dark rain clouds his covering. Out of the brightness in front of him, those rain clouds passed by with hailstones and lightning. The Lord thundered in the heavens. The Most High made his voice heard with hailstones and lightning. He shot his arrows and scattered them. He flashed streaks of lightning and threw them into confusion.

"Then the ocean floor could be seen. The foundations of the earth were laid bare at your stern warning, O Lord, at the blast of the breath from your nostrils. He reached down from high above and took hold of me. He pulled me out of the raging water. He rescued me from my strong enemy and from those who hated me, because they were too strong for me.

"On the day when I faced disaster, they confronted me, but the Lord came to my defense. He brought me to a wide-open place. He rescued me because he was pleased with me."

A Terrible God?
And who is this terrible God who seems to have been credited in this Psalm with causing an earthquake, or maybe a hurricane or a tsunami, with his anger? Doesn't it sound like He's the one we need to be saved from? I know some people believe exactly that.

And I agree with most of these folks when they talk about this god who brings natural disasters upon us without warning to destroy us in his anger. We definitely need rescuing from that god. I refuse to to follow a god who would destroy his people and call it saving them. We need a different god than this one. Do we have hope???

A Subtle & Crucial Difference
There is a subtle but crucial difference between saying I refuse to believe in a god who brings destruction on his people WITHOUT warning and saying that I do believe in the God of the New Testament, who is the same God of the Old Testament who allowed destruction to befall His people many times WITH warning.

The god I believe we need rescuing from is the one who is angry at people for their sin and is set against them because of it. The God of the New Testament is not angry with people for their sin, and He is not set against any person. He is grieved by our sin, but only because it separates us from Him.

People are not going to hell because God is angry with them. They are going to hell because they have not yet heard or believed the Good News of the Gospel, that they don't have to live in hell because Jesus paid the price for their sin.

Hell is separation from our Father God. It is being afraid of God, as though He is a mad and abusive parent waiting to strike us for our wrong thinking, wrong speaking, or wrong acting. Hell is being a slave to the Old Covenant and therefore to the power of sin and death. It's not believing what Jesus Christ did when He paid the penalty for our sin.

I was living in hell for a long time, even I gave my heart to Jesus in Sunday School when I was six. From hell, I was spreading the message of an angry god with my attitudes, with my behavior, and with my words. I no longer choose to partner with the word that brought death.

What is Fear?
Do I fear God? Absolutely. Am I afraid of Him? Absolutely NOT! The great mystery I search out is to understand the difference, write about my journey, and hope that others will begin to understand the difference along with me. We are not our enemy. Fear is our enemy.

David seemed unafraid of the storm. He seemed to think the storm actually caused confusion and problems for his enemies. What did he see that we can't seem to wrap our minds around?

To be truthful, I am beginning to wrap my mind around it, though I don't know if I can yet explain it. I know the God I serve did not send that earthquake and storm, and He did not allow countless people to suffer without a thought. I know that Love would not be so callous.

Laura's Friend Reflects on the Devastation
(Reprinted with permission) And what about Laura's friend in Sendai? Here are some of her thoughts about the devastation:

"But I am very blessed to have wonderful friends who are helping me a lot. Since my shack is even more worthy of that name, I am now staying at a friend’s home. We share supplies like water, food and a kerosene heater. We sleep lined up in one room, eat by candlelight, share stories. It is warm, friendly, and beautiful."

"During the day we help each other clean up the mess in our homes....If someone has water running in their home, they put out a sign so people can come to fill up their jugs and buckets....Quakes keep coming. Last night they struck about every 15 minutes. Sirens are constant and helicopters pass overhead often."

"We feel grubby, but there are so much more important concerns than that for us now. I love this peeling away of non-essentials. Living fully on the level of instinct, of intuition, of caring, of what is needed for survival, not just of me, but of the entire group."

"Other unexpected touches of beauty are, first, the silence at night. No cars. No one out on the streets. And the heavens at night are scattered with stars. I usually can see about two, but now the whole sky is filled.  The mountains around Sendai are solid and with the crisp air we can see them silhouetted against the sky magnificently."

"And the Japanese themselves are so wonderful. I come back to my shack to check on it each day, now to send this e-mail since the electricity is on, and I find food and water left in my entranceway. I have no idea from whom, but it is there. Old men in green hats go from door to door checking to see if everyone is OK. People talk to complete strangers asking if they need help. I see no signs of fear. Resignation, yes, but fear or panic, no."

"Somehow at this time I realize from direct experience that there is indeed an enormous Cosmic evolutionary step that is occurring all over the world right at this moment. And somehow as I experience the events happening now in Japan, I can feel my heart opening very wide. My brother asked me if I felt small because of all that is happening. I don’t. Rather, I feel as part of something happening that is much larger than myself. This wave of birthing (worldwide) is hard, and yet magnificent."

Serving the Same God
I can't fully explain how I know this wasn't God, but perhaps it's not mine to explain. It seems to me that our Sendai friend and I serve the same God. It seems as though watching the media's version of events from our cozy armchairs, we may have missed something important. I don't know, but maybe.

I do know this: I have heard countless stories of people in natural disasters being rescued by the very angels Psalm 18 says God rides on when He comes against His enemies. And I also know this: I am not an enemy of God. He is not against me.

I hope you can say the same thing for yourself.

My prayer for you, for me, and for Japan is this: May the God of hope fill us all with joy and peace as we learn to trust in Him. For as we trust in Him, as He truly is, we will overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (paraphrase of Romans 15:13)

Peace & Joy,