Luke 23:26-35 (CEV)
26 As Jesus was being led away, some soldiers grabbed hold of a man from Cyrene named Simon. He was coming in from the fields, but they put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus.
27 A large crowd was following Jesus, and in the crowd a lot of women were crying and weeping for him. 28 Jesus turned to the women and said:
Women of Jerusalem, don’t cry for me! Cry for yourselves and for your children. 29 Someday people will say, “Women who never had children are really fortunate!” 30 At that time everyone will say to the mountains, “Fall on us!” They will say to the hills, “Hide us!” 31 If this can happen when the wood is green, what do you think will happen when it is dry?
32 Two criminals were led out to be put to death with Jesus. 33 When the soldiers came to the place called “The Skull,” they nailed Jesus to a cross. They also nailed the two criminals to crosses, one on each side of Jesus.
34-35 Jesus said, “Father, forgive these people! They don’t know what they’re doing.”
“Why did God let this happen?”
It’s a frequent cry that I have heard throughout my life – in church settings and hospitals and counselling rooms and over coffees with friends.
‘Why did God let me get sick?’
‘Why did God let me lose my job?’
‘Why did God let my partner cheat on me?’
‘Why did God let my parent/partner/child die?’
‘Why did God let me or my parent/partner/child end up with a disability?’
We have somehow assumed that God’s love and compassion for us means that nothing bad will ever happen to us – that all of our life will be filled with fairy twinkle lights and soft focus edges and twee Facebook memes about how easy it should be to do it all effortlessly without ever feeling flustered.
But in what will be some of Jesus’ final recorded words, he suggests that we need a different way to look at things.
Now, don’t misunderstand me. These questions come from a very legitimate place of pain and hurt and sadness and grief. As someone who has lived with a disability my entire life, weathered job losses, emigrated, buried a child, and raised two children with disabilities, I feel like I have a pretty good idea of the curve balls that life can throw at us and the pain that we need to process when that happens. And to be clear, I am also well aware of the fact that sometimes God does intervene in very real yet mysterious ways that mean that cancer tumours shrink and money arrives in unmarked envelopes and marriages are healed and people walk again.
But the problem is that when we assume that God’s love for us is demonstrated by our health or our wealth or our ease of life, we distort our understanding of God and in so doing we limit our capacity to experience God’s love for us in the hardest – and best – times of life.
So to the women keening their death wails for him, Jesus tells them that bad things are happening and are going to happen. They’re happening right at that moment – while Jesus is still alive and well (or as he says, ‘while the wood is green’). And the women should expect that they are going to happen even more when he is gone (or ‘when the wood is dry’).
So what do we make of this? If Jesus is promising that bad things are and will continue to happen, then does that mean that God’s stopped caring for us when they happen?
Did God stop caring for these women when Jesus was crucified?
I’m sure they thought he had, but the resounding answer of the rest of the Bible is NO!
The resounding answer of the Old Testament is that the brokenness of our world stretches back into the dawn of time, and has invaded our reality individually, in our communities, in our structures and systems and environment.
The resounding answer of the Old Testament is that nothing that we came up with to fix our brokenness worked – no amount of rules or wars or wealth or wisdom had the power to fix the way that brokenness had seeped into our reality here on earth.
But the resounding answer of the New Testament is that when Jesus became human and walked amongst us and experienced what we experienced even to the point of death a path was opened up – not a path that removed the brokenness, but a path of love and compassion through the middle of that brokenness – that would allow us to find freedom from fear, and a way to live freely and lightly in the midst of whatever life was going to throw at us.
Jesus warns the women – and Luke in turn warns us – that bad things are going to keep happening. That Jesus’ coming has only begun the process of seeing God’s Kingdom come in greater and greater measure. So we shouldn’t be surprised at the things that happen to us. And we certainly don’t benefit any from blaming God for them – because all that accomplishes is leaving us feeling distant and disconnected from the very relationship that can bring us wholeness and shalom whatever life throws at us.
Because what the book of Luke has taught us is that Jesus genuinely cares about us when we hurt.
That Jesus wants to see our tears, sit with our misery, embrace our terror and our damage and our loss and our impurity.
That where everybody else would write us off as ‘too far gone’ or ‘too much work’ or ‘hopeless’ or ‘shameful’ or ‘sinners’, Jesus shows up and says, “I am here – in the middle of your struggles and your pain – and I will walk with you.”
- What happens to your relationship with a person when you blame them for something bad that happens in your life?
- Have you ever blamed God for something bad that has happened in your life?
- How has that affected your relationship with God?
- Is it possible that you’re missing out on the good gifts God wants to give you because of the way you are blaming God for the bad stuff that was going to happen anyways?
- What would happen if you were to shift your perspective? To recognize that the bad stuff – and the good stuff – is simply the background on top of which God wants to write a story of healing relationship on?