The title of my post comes from an album released several years ago by John Mark McMillan. The last track on the album is the increasingly popular worship song He loves us. McMillan wrote this song the day after one of his best friends and a classmate/friend of mine in ministry school Stephen Coffey, was killed in a fiery crash on the highway coming back from watching a high school basketball game. Some of you may know the song already but if not I recommend listening to the version from his album. At the end he sings his last verse choking back tears.
I thought about you
the day Stephen died
and you met me between my breaking
I know that I still love you God despite the agony
because people they want to tell me you’re cruel
but if Stephen could sing
he’d say it’s not true
God is good
McMillan got the same answer that Mrs. O’Brian (the mother in the Tree of Life) got, that we all get- God’s presence. Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for you are with me. (Psalm 23 NASB) I know there is little comfort to find in the midst of tragedy or the loss of a deeply loved-one but slowly as we come out of the shadows and silence we understand, “…what Barth meant when he claimed that ‘God’s beauty embraces death as well as life, fear as well as joy, what we might call the ugly as well as what we might call the beautiful.” The beauty and splendor of God reflected in the natural world are one of the first friends to rush to our side as we suffer with pain, grief, and loss. Through the constancy of the sunrise, the familiar touch of the wind, birds nesting in the trees above, we get a sense that life will go on, that there is a benevolent force behind the symmetry and that death does not have the final word.
We move from the solace of nature to seeing the face of Christ, a face that after being beaten, slapped and tortured, “… is so disfigured, there appears the genuine extreme beauty: the beauty of love that goes to the very end.” He meets us in our breaking, not in the shallow, emotionally defunct sympathies of sentimentality (which cannot engage in another’s pain as pain) but in the shadow. This is where the “deep threat” of superficial spirituality is so dangerous. McMillan and Mrs. O’Brian gave themselves to their grief and in so doing poised their hearts to receive the love and comfort that only come to a heart honestly and courageously permitting itself to bare the full weight of tragedy. That is when the sky is more crisp, tears more salty and the deep sense of the fragile dance of life awakens us to true beauty, hope, and inspiration.
In the shadow of suffering Hick’s “impoverished theodicy” fails because, “Defending God’s goodness solely in moral terms can lead to a picture of God that is cold, harsh, and generally not worth defending.” C.S. Lewis argues that “… beauty and pain are formative parts of Gods creation …and that pain itself, in its ability to break through our self-centeredness, is thereby helping us to enjoy divine and created beauty.” By the last scene of The Tree of Life Mrs. O’Brian has made her peace with God and rediscovered beauty in the wake of her terrible loss. In response to her question who are we to you? I hear the beautiful chorus of McMillan’s song capturing “…us with the wound of Love” refocusing our troubled hearts on the One who carries our burdens, meets us in our suffering, and diffuses an illuminating hope into our despair. All because,
He loves us
whoa how he loves us,
how he loves us so…