As I’ve been thinking about September 11th this past week (I’ll admit, drawing my thoughts to it have been rather forced than natural), I can’t shake the feeling that it all just sounds like a bad joke, that starts with “a(any random) disgruntled employee goes to work one morning,” and ends with “BAM! A 747 flies right into the building and kills everyone!”
10 years ago, hordes of New Yorkers woke up and followed their usual routine…and then the story “ends” (or is it begins) like an easily read mystery novel setting up the “punchline” of the novel: “little did [they] know that this simple, seemingly innocuous act would result in [their] imminent death”.
3 years prior, in the spring of 1999, hundreds of high school students reluctantly dragged their feet to go to school; take a test that day, eat lunch, study in the library, and… “little did [they] know that this simple, seemingly innocuous act would result in [their] imminent death”.
On an undisclosed base in Germany (Bad Aibling)—which was already at threat con B (there’s four threat cons—A, B, C, D; D being terrible), the middle and high school students were informed that two bullied boys walked in to their school and took out their anger, and their desire—need, for control on fellow students and themselves, shooting and killing many, including themselves.
I gotta admit, while the tragedy of September 11th has left a place in my mind, the Columbine massacre would have to have left one 10 fold by comparison. See the year prior to the Columbine shootings I was victimized and assaulted (both physically and sexually) by a group of teammates I should have been able to trust; not only once, but twice. The result of which left me both physically and emotionally scarred. By the following year—1999, the entire small American school I was attending had not only found out about it, but thought it was hysterical—making ME then, the seeming punchline…of a (of EVERY, really) dirty joke just told.
Well the following year a number of things transpired. I retreated into a world crafted by my imagination and fascination with films. A school on a base at threat con B provided a perfect environment for the super hero in me just waiting to become manifest. I began to carry around a “just in case” backpack everywhere I went which contained the following:
– A change of dry clothes—long sleeve shirt, jeans, socks, underwear; all in plastic bags
– MRE’s (Meals, ready to eat)
– Water proof matches and candles
– An airtight water bottle containing various fireworks (so they couldn’t be ‘sniffed’)
– A notebook
NEVER AGAIN. I would say. I was never going to have Hell happen to me again.
I would not only save myself, I would save the day.
If anything happened in my world around me, I would stop the trouble, I would stop the tribulation.
I would be prepared and ready for anything—JUST IN CASE.
But then things like September 11th happen. And I cannot do a thing.
I’m trapped. Helpless, hopeless.
And unable to save the day.
And yet we utter things in remembrance like “NEVER AGAIN.”
The same thing that scared little boy trying his hardest to be a tough man would utter to himself.
Why do bad things happen that I can’t control?
Well if you have any sort of theological “faith” whatsoever, or—if you were raised like I was, you were taught that God created in the beginning, and God redeems in the end.
“In the beginning…” God created.
That’s how the old book starts.
We have the first chapter (and part of the second) talking of how God created in 7 days and rested; for it was all good. Then we get into what modern Christianity has dubbed our “f*ck up of God’s plan.” (well, modern Christianity wouldn’t use that language…but I’m paraphrasing.)
We were given the choice and we made what was “good,” NOT GOOD.
This—amongst other verses was what I was told to explain the very simple, yet very profound question, “If God loves us, why do bad things happen?”
There have been many variations of these questions ranging from
“Why would God order women and children to be slaughtered?”
“Why would God make Hitler?”
“Why does God send people to Hell who don’t love Him back?”
All of these variations I was told were simply explained by our nature. Because we “fell” from Grace, bad things happen.
We f*cked it up ya’ll, and God’s been doing his damnedist to fix it.
Bad things happen because of us. If we never messed up, we wouldn’t have anything bad be in this world.
But there’s good news. God wants to redeem. And he’s gonna redeem. And all this suffering and pain is going to have been worth it once we get to heaven (provided you make the right decision and do the right things according to the right people, of course).
Further, there’s a time coming with immeasurable suffering and pain, trouble galore, a “tribulation,” if you will, where if you believe correctly, you won’t have to deal with. You’ll be “raptured” away from all that suffering.
No joke. That’s what I grew up with. Many of you can relate.
We have a story that starts with a Creator and our mess up of the Creator’s plan (His “intended will,” if you want the proper jargon), and that ends with things being great for us, paradise; and somewhere in the middle is Jesus.
But that middle part where He shows up is kinda lost in a sea of pain, trouble, hurt, suffering, death, sadness, tribulation.
It seems to me that whether I believe in God or not, I can’t live with Him, and I can’t live without Him.
I’m dead—I die with our without Him.
G.K. Chesterton said “I had always felt life first a story: and if there is a story there is a story-teller.”
Harold Crick was doomed to die in the film, “Stranger than Fiction.”
But through some sort of magic, he was cued in to the plot of the story. He was able to hear the story teller, and know what the point of his life was—what the plot of the story was.
In the film he meets with literature professor in hopes of discovering just what is going on. He’s told that in order to figure out who the author is, he needs to figure out what genre his story is—in this case, comedy, or tragedy.
It astounds me how much we—humanity is similar to the character of Harold Crick in this regard. We desire to figure out the story teller by judging our lives based on whether they’re comedies or tragedies. And it can swing either way.
We look at ourselves and judge the story teller based on the story we know thus far.
Funny thing is, it still doesn’t allow us to escape our fate: Death.
In the end, Harold Crick must die.
In the end, we all must die.
But in Harold’s case, he’s allowed to see the story in its entirety. He’s allowed to know the plot and what he decides is that in the end, the story is better with his death.
What began as inevitable fate becomes a willing sacrifice of self.
Which changes the ending of the story; but not the plot.
What if my story, our story is still being told? And at the same time though, it is finished?
And when has a good story ever been void of darkness and “bad things” happening to its characters? It doesn’t make for a good story.
And it doesn’t make for a good character arc.
What if the story is our death.
But what if in death, the death of self, each and every self– be it in this life, of the next, Jesus is made manifest?
The Gospel of John calls Jesus “the Word.”
In Him all things were made.
“The Word,” in the Greek, is logos. This is where we get our English word, “logic.” To the Greeks, logos signified logic, reason, meaning, and even plot.
So…God is telling a story, and the “plot” of it all, whom all things…ALL THINGS were made (lit. came into being), is Jesus.
You know, I can honestly say that there have been many, many times I’ve come to the end of myself. Some by choice, others by circumstance.
And I’m tired.
I’m tired of hurting. I’m tired of pain. I’m tired of trouble and tribulation.
In John 16: 33 Jesus say to us, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
Over the years I’ve sort of become fascinated with that word, “trouble.” The Greek translation is thlipsis. It literally means a pressing together, pressure. It comes from the root thlibo, which is “to press, as in grapes” in order to make wine.
I was always baffled before on how and why Jesus lets us suffer. Why he lets us have thlipsis; more specifically, why he lets me suffer and have thlipsis.
Well there seems to be two responses taken when one is in a position of asking these questions.
For one, we try to prepare. We try to control. We say things like “Never again.” This pain and suffering will never happen to us or anyone we care about ever again.
And we prepare for everything we can think of. We build for ourselves our own “Just In Case” backpacks in order that we might protect ourselves.
But in the end, we still suffer, and we still die.
The other option seems to be that we “turn to Jesus,” in hopes of saving us not only from suffering in this life, but the ultimate suffering of Hell.
But in the end, we STILL suffer, and we STILL die.
It’s interesting to look back on my life and see just how geocentric my views and questions on suffering have been.
I used to belt out the old hymn “I’ll Fly Away” as if it were my own personal anthem.
“Some glad morning when this life is finally over,
I’ll fly away.”
I’ll finally escape it all. I’ll cheat suffering and death, by flying away to heaven.
But what If I’m not to escape? What If I’m not to be raptured?
What if, in the end, the point of it all, is that I die?
Well then there’s no escaping it.
We can’t live. With or without Jesus.
The old hymn becomes more of a sad U2 song.
(Author’s note: for the remainder of this post, have this song playing in the background, click play above)
So what’s the point? We die either way.
Well then what if like Harold Crick, we accept. And what begins as inevitable fate becomes a willing sacrifice of self.
The ending of the story may change; but not the plot.
“In this world you will have thlipsis.” In this world you will have pressure; you will be stomped on like grapes.
“But take heart. I have overcome the world.” Don’t worry. It’s me that’s making the pressure; it’s me that’s doing the stomping.
But it’s because I’m making wine.
Wine for the eternal party that begins now, IN every now.
The story IS finished, but it’s still being told.
Which means, God is finished creating, but we aren’t finished being created.
So what if in death, the death of self, each and every self– be it in this life, of the next, Jesus is made manifest?
Well then, it means God can command a nation to slaughter another nation to survive, knowing that they WILL come to know Him, and be with Him in paradise.
It means that thousands can die, while millions more suffer around the world, but God knows each and every one of them more than any of us ever could.
It means God can beget a Hell to exist which can be experienced in this life or the next, which is a tool to have us die; a Hell which isn’t forever, but exists on the same time line as our earth, as us, and will perish like it says in Revelations, when God finally calls everyone home.
It means that the physical and sexual abuse I had as a middle-schooler and the Hell I endured for years will not only be brought into justice and life, but redeemed–as will those who inflicted it upon me.
It means that there’s a point to my wife’s kid sister dying of cancer while a 78 year old woman who got shot in the face three times is still alive.
God is telling a story.
The plot is Jesus.
And He is making all of us in His image–whether it takes this life or the life after.
And just like it was for the character of Harold Crick, God’s ultimate desire is merely for all of us to submit to the plot of the story to BELIEVE in the plot of the story, and ultimately, help Him tell it.