The hard questions
On occasion something happens to shift the dialogue. When our son Brian was murdered in downtown Charleston, just a few blocks from the Emanual A.M.E. Church killings, almost every human emotion was activated in Harriet and me. The stages of grief were suddenly more than Pastoral Care 101. Heartbreak, loss, even intense anger, swept us off our feet. But, then, that one thing happened the day after his death that moved us in a totally different direction. It was a simple post on Twitter that stopped me cold. Pastor Ken Whitten, pastor of Idelwild Baptist Church, Lutz, Florida, posted something like this: in trouble we ask, how do I get out of this? But we should ask, what do I get out of this?
You'd think I would remember it verbatim. But, it was so staggering it slipped into netherworld of old Twitter posts and I just haven't tried to nail it down. But, the truth of it was a game-changer for us. In that instant, when I shared it with Harriet, we were aware that this would be our greatest teachable moment. How to get out of this was no longer an issue because we were in it right then in real time. What to get out of it became the focal point of our lives. And, the last four years have been the most strategic teaching time of our Christian experience and forty-two year marriage.
When confronted with crisis, our first response is how turn the heat down or calm the waters or ease the pain. It's a natural response, a protective reflex that requires our attention. How to accomplish any of those becomes the chief agenda item. It is a significant, and often, hard question. But, soon we learn that those first answers are time considerations. What makes the how happen in the heat may not be worth much when emotions are calmed, senses are regulated, or the danger is abated. The solutions to the how question may get us through the moment or the next wave of emotion or move us some distance from the heat. But, how doesn't always provide lasting relief. Soon there's the harder question: what do I get out of this?
So, we ask what is he teaching me in this ordeal? Of course, in the economy of heaven every second is a teaching moment. Several Bible promises undergird the what question---
(1) God is always working (John 5:17).
(2) God is always working for out good (Romans 8:28).
(3) God is always working his purpose in our lives (Philippians 2:13).
(4) God is going to complete what he began in us (Philippians 1:6).
(5) God is working so people will be in awe of him (Ecclesiastes 3:14).
The senseless murders of nine people in Charleston immediately sent us to the how questions. How can we calm the community? How can we ease the racial tensions that surfaced in the killers motivation? How can we comfort the bereaved? How can we give security and safety to our citizens? They're all good questions and were answered by leaders who stepped up, took definitive actions to capture the bigot who killed our brothers and sisters, and gave us words that affirmed and calmed us.
Then, however, the what questions must be addressed. And, they're tough. I'm sure the nation will be sorting them out for months to come, or even years. But, the what questions are landing on me today almost as powerfully as they did when we were grappling with the death of our son. They are profound. What is he teaching us is that great corporate question? But, what is he teaching me may be the most critical one. So, here they are a week later---
1. Racism is deep in our culture. 2. The extremes of racism push people apart. In this instance they're the
bigots on one polarity and baiters on the other. Most of us of in between them,
as has been attested by the people of the Holy City over the last week.
3. Pride in me stokes the fires of prejudice that distort my vision of things.
4. Self-denial isn't a secondary movement of the Spirit in my Christian growth
and development. Jesus said it was first (see Luke 9:23). If it doesn't lead my
response in these crises something is wrong.
5. Forgiveness is a most powerful witness of faith. When it is visible, it
powerfully communicates Christ to everyone who sees it.
What has happened in these days has revealed much about us. Even more, these horrible events will teach us much as well. The how of this first week has been powerful. The what of the weeks and months and years to come will be even more so.
Underneath them all is the most important question of all: what is he teaching me?
But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie---just as he taught you, abide in him.
1 John 2:27 (ESV)