In A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis notes, “No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.” The haunting fear of grief raises questions about God at the depths of our being. During my mother’s fierce and agonizing battle with Parkinson’s, God used two narratives in the book of Mark to help me understand the terror I so often wrestled with as I faced all that was wrong.
…although it may feel like Jesus is asleep on me, I must live by faith in the storm knowing that “he who watches over me neither slumbers nor sleeps.
1) Don’t you care?
In Mark 4, Jesus tells his disciples that they are going to the other side of the sea, but he says nothing about a smooth ride. A furious squall arises and yet Jesus does not. He is asleep. And the disciples ask the question that resides in our hearts when we feel the fury of a broken world and simultaneously sense God’s distance, “Don’t you care?”
This inquiry reveals our wrestling match with God’s goodness as we face all that is wrong. It is normal in those moments to ask, “How could you sit by and let this terrible thing happen to us? Aren’t you good? Don’t you care?” The Psalmist often echoed such a question, asking God to arise and awaken: “Awake, O Lord! Why do you sleep? Rouse yourself!” (Psalm 44:23) In the disciples’ storm, Jesus eventually rises and quiets the storm. But I, like you, have asked why he doesn’t do that in my life. Why does he not rise and act?
Although I don’t know the full answer to this question, and although it may feel like Jesus is asleep on me, I must live by faith in the storm knowing that “he who watches over me neither slumbers nor sleeps.” (Psalm 121:4) He is fully awake with power and goodness. I have had to learn to allow the questions that I sense from his apparent sleep (“Don’t you care?”) to drive me to faith in his vigilant care: “What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:31-32)
2) Don’t bother.
Just a chapter later in Mark, a young girl dies because Jesus delays. As Jesus is on his way to the sick girl’s house at the request of her father, he inexplicably stops to give merciful attention to an untouchable lady. While Jesus stops and stoops for the bleeding woman, word comes that the little girl is no longer sick but dead. The response to the father is, “Why bother the Teacher anymore?”
When God delays in our lives and things seem to go from bad to worse, the fear of grief leads us to the trauma of cynicism. Somehow we believe that he is only powerful enough to handle the bad conditions, but never the worst, and so we give up. Jesus’ timing differs from ours and we conclude that there is no use bothering him or even relating to him since it’s too late and too far-gone. But with Jesus, it doesn’t matter if the little girl is asleep or dead as he holds all the power and his plan is wise.
The Bible says: don’t stop.
I have had to learn to live by faith like the leper who knelt before Jesus, saying, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” While I am unsure of his plan and confused by his delays, I must trust in his power and continue to “give him no rest till he establishes Jerusalem and makes her the praise of the earth.” (Isaiah 62.7) Living by faith in the terror of grief will enable us to move honestly and faithfully from “don’t bother” to “don’t stop.”
This year at LMPC and on the mountain has been a year full of grief and loss. We have experienced more deaths this year than any other year in my time on the mountain. Some of these deaths have shocked our community, but all of them have saddened us as so many who have contributed to the beauty of our lives have finished their race. In the midst of our sadness perhaps the questions echo in our soul: don’t you care, and why bother? May we live by faith as we fuse those sincere questions with the stunning voice of Jesus in Mark 4-5: “Quiet! Be Still! Little Girl, Arise.”