“There’s so much beauty around us, and just two eyes to see…but everywhere I go, I’m looking.”
My eldest daughter once asked me why God placed her in these days rather than placing her in a more magical historical age like the medieval age of chivalry or the age of elves. I understand her love for enchantment and her longing for change. Like me, she feels so very regular and her pain seems so normal, so inconsequential, but she has forgotten that every great legend starts with a quite regular kid…or hobbit. She might be a ring-bearer. On the other hand, she might live her life in relative obscurity but give birth to the ring-bearer. What she has not realized or has failed to see is that God has placed her smack in the middle of a legend and even if her life amounts to nothing earth-shattering, her routine faithfulness is changing the world. That perspective changes the kind of mental calculations we perform, especially where suffering is involved.
Where pure reason or emotion cannot make the mental calculations, the imagination helps us enter the suffering. It helps us sit down in the pain within our soul and to listen to God. It helps us to participate in and enter—insofar as we are able—the mystery of God. Profound stories, strong songs, vivid pictures, thoughtful poems, and purposeful lives are conduits for the imagination to travel along as it moves toward God. The journey is long and the road wanders, but the soul’s pilgrimage back to God must pass through suffering and eventually death itself. The imagination is a shepherd’s staff that guides us through the valley of vision because “though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me” (Psalm 23).
A healthy imagination gives us the opportunity to see our suffering as God sees it: not as amusement, nor as an empty vessel that we fill with meaning. Our suffering is already filled with meaning and we need a strong imagination to see it rightly. It is one thing to know how God sees, it is another thing entirely to see along the same line of sight. Since God first imagined us and all of the events in detail that make up our days and lives, our suffering has been transformed. Our suffering is hallowed, sanctified, transfigured. This sanctification of suffering was so with Abraham when he was about to sacrifice his only son, and it is so for us.
God is the telos of this story. Every event and every character in the story is driving toward a resolution in God. Perhaps pain is not only the megaphone of God, but the means by which, through which, he draws us to himself. It is a door, like delight, like bread and wine, through which we might travel toward God—a God who did not stay in his holy heavens but became one of us and suffered our pain with us and for us. He entered his own story—the Storyteller became a character. Christ’s agony has made suffering not only a badge of honor for his followers, but it has also given greater meaning to our suffering. By suffering we enter into Christ’s and, thereby, know our Savior more intimately. Such knowledge does not remove the bewilderment, nor does it banish the darkness, but it trains the imagination to see with God’s eyes. Suffering does not save, but it is a sign of our identity in Christ. It is a seal of ownership upon our lives. It signifies “God: made this day by my hand.”
I sometimes tell my students, “Be careful what you tell people when you call them to Christ. Be sure they know what is in store for them. Martyrdom takes many forms, and Christianity is a cross-centered religion for a reason.”
Suffering takes many forms. Grief is non-linear. Pain is hard to measure. The process from pain to resolution is messy. God did not give us suffering so that we might only look beyond it to some happy vale of future delight. He gave us suffering as a gift, just as he has given us happiness as a gift. Pain is a megaphone. Pain is a gift, “for God made my heart weak, and the Almighty terrifies me; because I was not cut off from the presence of darkness, and he did not hide deep darkness from my face” (Job 23:16-17). That is why Augustine wrote such a passionate description of how suffering caused imaginative healing at the compassionate hand of The Great Physician: “…for you have compassion on our dust and ashes. It was pleasing in your sight to reform my deformity, and by inward stings you disturbed me so that I was impatient until you were made clear to my inward sight. By the secret hand of your healing my swelling was lessened, the disordered and darkened eyesight of my mind was from day to day made whole by the stinging salve of wholesome grief” (Augustine).
Make yourself clear to my inward sight, O God.
Consume my imagination in the fire, the glory, of your face.
A friend of mine was, by all American standards, successful. He was a rich and important businessman. Then he crashed a snow mobile with his son. His son has suffered, but the father could not walk nor could he talk for a very long time. He can talk now, with a significant slur in his words, and he can walk, but slowly. We spoke the other day—slowly, but together.
“I miss those days of convalescence,” he said. “I don’t miss the suffering, but I miss the very real sense of God’s presence in my life. I try to hold on to that memory. I try to remember what it was like, but it is hard now that I have my life back.” His tongue forms the words with difficulty.
“I think I understand,” I say to him. “I wish I could give that presence as a gift to my children and to those around me, but I’m afraid I can’t. They must pass through pain.”
He pauses. “Yes. You don’t wish the circumstances upon them, but you wish they could taste the presence of God that wonderfully.”
Suffering is a gift. Suffering is a thrust, a nudge, away from my swollen self-intoxication, and it sends me stumbling into the presence of God where Joy is found: the vibrant life is found only in the lap of God because only there do we realize “that joy is the sweetness of contact with the love of God, that affliction is the wound of this same contact when it is painful, and that only the contact matters, not the manner of it” (Simone Weil).
“If you wish me to be in darkness, I shall bless you. And if you wish me to be in light, again I shall bless you. If you stoop down to comfort me, I shall bless you, and if you wish me to be afflicted, I shall bless you forever” (Thomas A Kempis).
“No one is ever holy without suffering” (Evelyn Waugh).
My daughter cannot sleep. Her stomach is cramping. It has been doing this for a few months. She is the same one who, at the age of three, could not breathe, so we took her to the hospital, the same one who kept accidentally falling out of her dinner seat as a kid and we laughed because she did it every day.
She can breathe tonight, but still…
Perhaps I shall tell her about barking dogs at night. I shall tell her about hawks at dusk. She laughs louder, more readily, than the rest. And then I shall tell her about wings, warm and strong.
Sit in the suffering, my skittish dove.
Attend to the voice of God.
He is not silent.
Better yet, he is painting you—these are the dark paint strokes of a masterpiece.
“Beneath the shadow of Your wings I sing my joy and praise. Your right hand is my strong support through troubled nights and days” (Psalm 63, Psalter Hymnal).
We are bewildered pilgrims who carry the accumulated pain of life upon our backs. Some of us stoop lower than others. Sink the tap root into the soft loam of suffering and find God. He is life for the soul, strength for this pilgrim way.
“Since I still don’t know enough about pain,
this terrible darkness makes me small.
If it’s you, though–
press down hard on me, break in
that I may know the weight of your hand,
and you, the fullness of my cry.”
–Rainer Maria Rilke
I was still working through significant health problems at the age of thirty-four and did not know that it would be a year of death and a year of resurrection. I could not move my legs. I could not move my hands. My body trembled and nobody knew why. I was strong enough to attend a banquet one night, but felt the onset of tremors—wave upon wave. Afterward, I made it to the car, but I couldn’t pick up the keys. My fingers wouldn’t work. I fumbled to pick up the cell phone and push one number: speed-dial home. When my wife answered, I tried to speak, but my head was shaking too much and my words got scrambled on my tongue. They would not come out except in lurches and I felt like I was learning to drive a stick shift in my mouth.
“Trouble,” I said, but it took me some time to say it.
“I in,” I said, but it took even more time.
My wife called my parents for help. When my mom and dad drove up, they found me sitting helpless in the driver’s seat of our van and sitting in an empty parking lot. I They helped me into the driver’s side and dad drove me home while mom followed with their car. I was a child again. I thought like a child. I spoke like a child. I felt an overwhelming urge to lie down with my head in his lap like I used to do when I was a child. Dad helped me into bed. My dad and mom drove home to stay awake, stare into the night, and pray.
I was curled up in a fetal position on the bed. My wife holding me like a child and whispering into my ear. I was awake. And then I was in a dream, but I was awake and there was an immense desert spreading out from beneath my feet. I felt a boundless chasm-like immeasurability stretching out on every side of me. I knew it was not real: I could still hear and feel my wife next to me, but I could not climb out of the vision and into what we would call reality.
In my dream, I felt myself pulled by each hand in two opposing directions. I looked to my right and there was my wife holding onto my hand with both of hers (though she was still holding my body and whispering to me in reality). Behind her, my dear children pulled on her. Behind them and, likewise, pulling, were my parents and siblings and the line seemed to grow to include my peers and my students and church family and basketball team. Off in the distance was a great and towering city that I knew was filled with people whom I loved. All of those lovely people pulling me with all their meager strength.
My other hand was also pulled. I felt another hand holding mine with a dynamic force so magnetically overwhelming that I knew my surrender to that presence was only a matter of when, never a matter of if. I knew with unparalleled certainty that my wife and family’s grip would fail and that the city of loved ones in its entirety would fall away. The feeling of inevitability terrified me. I turned my head to see who, or what, pulled with such uncontestable vitality and I saw God, or I knew that I had seen Him. I saw neither face nor body, but it was as though I had seen both. It was a mystery that swallowed me.
All my terror and perplexity of soul were not eased by the glorious vision of divinity. They were amplified. I was devoured by the pervasive, comprehensive, and incomprehensible, and in that moment, I was the happiest I have ever been in my life. I felt terrified, brittle, like a china mug still falling to the ground and I felt happy, like I would burst. Both at the same time.
Behold, I felt George MacDonald’s cry echo in my soul: “My harvest withers. Health, my means to live—All things seem rushing straight into the dark. But the dark is still God.” In that moment I knew what it was to worship the wellspring of all my joys with fear and trembling. In that moment, I knew what it was to simultaneously fear God and call Him “Abba.” I knew with Orual in Till We Have Faces that “I was pierced through and through with the arrows of it. I was being unmade. I was no one…and he was coming. The most dreadful, the most beautiful, the only dread and beauty there is, was coming.”
I knew, also, that what I had all along called reality was not comprehensive enough. It lacked dimensionality and a clarity which that vision presented. That dream of God pulling me gave new color to my present life. I was an invalid, fetal-positioned and trembling, but my desires, my imagination, were scampering along highlands of lush greens. I was panting as a deer longing for water and I knew where that water was found. It is found in the desert, in the bewilderment, in the terror, in the suffering and in the presence of God for he did not leave me in the suffering alone. This is the Joy inexpressible! So I will not be dragged into the wilderness, but will go willingly because God spoke saying, “now listen, I will woo her (Israel), I will go with her into the wilderness” (The Book of Hosea chapter 2).
God was not testing my faith in order to find out its quality (C.S. Lewis). It is I who had not measured its buoyancy. It is I who knew not its durability nor the power of its wing.
Was the dream a spasm of the brain, a hemorrhage in the imagination? No. It was the imagination drawn to the lip of the horizon that separates us from the eternal enchantment of the Trinity and dangled there for a moment: great suffering and great joy. Things difficult to communicate. I knew in some small degree, but first-hand, the terror and exultation of Mary and of Moses before the presence of the Angel of the Lord. I knew, first-hand, what it was to believe with my heart, mind, soul, and strength what hitherto felt like a meager intellectual and emotional exercise. I realized more vividly than before that while our emotions, senses, and minds are vehicles for encountering God, our imaginations are a powerful vehicle God uses to draw us to himself.
We pant as a deer for water and the water is found in the desert, in the bewilderment, in the terror of suffering: in the presence of God. The path toward God is filled with suffering for “in the long journey out of the self, there are many detours, washed-out interrupted raw places. Where the shale slides dangerously and the back wheels hang almost over the edge at the sudden veering, the moment of turning” (Theodore Roethke).
The Christian life is a continuous stream of “moments of turning” because it is a vocation of worship, a pilgrimage toward holiness. True worship is an expression of both joy and terror in the presence of God’s holiness. Suffering, like singing and eating and laughing, is a form of worship: we worship well or we worship poorly. Suffering is simultaneously our unmaking and our remaking.
We will have them over soon, the couple who have been married only three years and had six miscarriages. They have one little boy. We will have them over, but what will I say? I understand? I don’t understand. I’m praying for you? Sometimes I pray, but not usually for them. Hang in there? Trite and meaningless. We will probably play some games and laugh and eat and drink and then they will say goodbye. Maybe we shall be quiet. The Spirit will lead. Maybe we will laugh until our sides hurt. She might wear black. She does that sometimes. Maybe we will pray for them before they go. Maybe it will be good to laugh and eat and drink and say goodbye like normal people do. But what is normal? Six miscarriages? No, indeed, but “on my heart hath fallen confusion, till I know not what I am, nor whence I am” (Alfred, Lord Tennyson, The Passing of Arthur).
We are the epiphany of God—six miscarriages.
We are imagined by God—six miscarriages.
We are the story of God, Evangel—six miscarriages.
God authors our lives. We are his characters and the story in which we find ourselves has divine meaning. Every event drives the plot forward toward its telos: resolution. Six miscarriages are not the resolution. They are the in-between. They are the mines of Moria and Gandalf gone, fallen from the bridge of Khazad-dum while the fellowship weeps and weeps. They are Christ’s disciples huddled together in a darkened room, for they are scared and bewildered with all their hopes swallowed up by a tomb. They are Isaiah crying out, “’Look away from me, I will weep bitterly; do not labor to comfort me because of the plundering of the daughter of my people.’ For it is a day of trouble and treading down and perplexity by the Lord God of hosts In the Valley of Vision—Breaking down the walls and of crying to the mountain” (The book of Isaiah, chapter 22).
The Christian world is colored by God’s story. In other words, it is colored by the murder of a brother, the rape of a sister, the betrayal of a friend, the pounding of nails into flesh and bone, and the darkening of the sky. It is a world of what-ifs, and could-have-beens, peopled by has-beens and might-have-beens. It is a world soaked in fear and drenched by the blood of a million martyrs without even beginning to recount the nearly two thousand years of church history since the destruction of Jerusalem. It is a dark history with pain oozing into all its hidden corners.
At the center of Christianity is a death. Christianity is perhaps the most morbid religion of the world: perpetually meditating upon death with little crosses around their necks, Christian disciples sing their way to martyrdom. Anticipating death and calling it gain, Christians are evangelists of the grotesque. Such meditations are a beautiful thing to those with a strong imagination, however, because they know that a resurrection can only happen if there is a death. As Walter Wangerin Jr. wrote, “I know no resurrection except that first there’s been a death. And as a writer, I cannot speak genuinely or deeply of resurrection except I speak the same of death and the sin that engendered death. That I can speak accurately of death without despairing is hardly melancholic. It is liberty—and victory.”
If there is only death, then there is no hope. If resurrection follows death, then hope springs eternal. The hope of the Gospel rests directly upon our ability to imagine and, therefore, believe the possibility of resurrection. The world was once like a wall, white and clean, until sin glued black wallpaper across its surface. The glue has set, to be sure, but it has not changed the reality of a white wall behind. Truth-telling stories, therefore, have moments in which the author scratches a portion of the black paper off and provides a “fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief” (J.R.R. Tolkien, emphasis mine).
A hawk at evening.
I was eight years old and playing in the sandbox under a growing African dusk. Dad called me to him. He crouched down and watched the trees. I burrowed beneath his chin and crouch too. In front of us was a hen. Her chicks were scattered and aimlessly pecked at the ground. One ruffled his feathers and shivered for the sheer delight of it. Mother kept pecking the ground for insects or seeds. They were chickens. That is what chickens do.
Dad pointed into the tall tree across the yard, behind the car garage. “Look,” he said.
It was dusk: “I can’t see anything,” I whispered.
“Wait and watch,” he said.
We crouched very still. I was beginning to think of the sandbox and the waning light.
He lifted my chin and I looked up into the tree. Nothing, then something, a movement like a cloak amongst the branches. With a wide spread of dark wings, a hawk materialized. It was a hawk. That is what hawks do.
I had not done the math yet, but I sensed something ominous.
Mother hen also sensed something ominous. She perked up and pandemonium broke loose. She screamed. Her babies, plump and soft-feathered, scrambled, tripped, ran one way and then turned around to run another direction.
Among the squawking and squeaking and flapping of wings, some of the chicks found their mother. Most of them did. But the hawk descended with power and intentionality and precision. He opened his talons right before my widening eyes. Talons squeezed around two little chicks that kicked and screamed. The mother hen screamed some things I am sure would make an eight year old blush, but I was too busy crying with her. I, too, wanted to rise up on wings and bring down the brute and restore the chicks to their mother, still plump and soft-feathered. Dad held me tight against his chest. The hawk was gone. Still, I could not bear to watch the grief and so I closed my eyes.
Dad made me look. He is a good father.
I saw the mother, bigger than before, her wings pulled tight to her body, but squirming, and I noticed little beaks popping out from underneath. They trembled. She tousles their feathers one at a time and in a minute they ventured out from beneath her shelter. It had been only a minute since the terror.
Dad leaned into my ears and whispered a portion of Psalm 61 to me: “You have been a shelter for me, a strong tower from the enemy. I will abide in your tabernacle forever; I will trust in the shelter of your wings.”
“O Lord our God, under the shadow of thy wings let us hope—defend us and support us. Thou wilt bear us up when we are little and even down to our gray hairs wilt carry us. For our stability, when it is in thee, is stability indeed; but when it is in ourselves, then it is all unstable” (Augustine, Confessions).
Pain has a context. It is framed by the Master Storyteller. We are imagined: before we materialized on this whirling globe in all our three dimensionality, before the nurse pricked our heals and we cried out, before we threw a snowball and squealed with delight, God imagined all of it. The death of grubs and the death of the chicks that ate them are also sprung from his imagination. Such trouble is part of his story but “the mystery of God eclipses the darkness and the struggle. We realize that suffering calls our lives into question, not God’s” (Eugene Peterson). We are a part of his story. We are, as Alexander Schmemann said, the epiphany of God.
We are, like Tumnus, like Lucy, like Puddleglum, like Edmund, characters whose life events have a purpose for us and for the story. This author loves his characters and the story in which they find themselves. Every character has a purpose, a reason for being. Every event drives the plot forward toward its telos, its resolution. Because every event has purpose in the author’s larger design, every event has meaning—even the bark of a dog, even the death of a baby chick.
He knows the falling of a sparrow.
He knows the number of hairs on your head.
Pain does not make the imagination shrivel. People shrivel, but the imagination is always perceiving and conceiving. Now, pain might very well reorient the imagination and paint a whole different story than was previously conceived, but the goal in our lives is to see the pain as the author sees the pain. As every decent author knows, each event of a story has purpose. If a character trips over a toy and mashes his nose into the front doorknob, there is a reason. If a character loses her child in a car accident, it is because the author has written it into the story for a purpose yet unknown to the character.
If pain has purpose because every detail of our lives was already imagined by God, then aligning our imagination to God’s imagination, our view to God’s view of circumstances and trials, is foundational to the soul’s spiritual pilgrimage home—a journey that takes many turns. “Grief is like a long valley,” C.S. Lewis once wrote in A Grief Observed, “a winding valley where any bend may reveal a totally new landscape.” Let us prepare ourselves for such bends in the road of our pilgrimage. While we are in grief, let us remain a moment. Let us call grief what it is and not hide from it. Yes, we are raw. Yes, we are in the dark belly of a whale. Who can be Jesus’ little sunbeam at such a time? And would Jesus want such a thing? One of the most godly men to grace the pages of Scripture spoke profoundly to our human state when he said, “For God has made my heart weak, and the Almighty terrifies me; because I was not cut off from the presence of darkness, and he did not hide deep darkness from my face” (Job 24:16-17).
This pain is a deep darkness before my eyes, but I don’t know how to talk about pain. I can’t even write about it without approaching it with sidelong glances or describing it as through a prism, from different and differing angles. I can see it and think about it, but a vocabulary of pain escapes me. How might we develop a grammar of grief, a vocabulary of pain?
Sink the tap root deep into the loam.
Sink it like Tolstoy.
Follow it like Augustine.
I was seven years old or so and falling asleep in the thick, tropical air was proving difficult. I stared at the ceiling and listened to my little brother’s breathing in the bunk beneath. His quiet breaths soothed my mind and I rode their rhythm over the edge of wakefulness into the land of dreams. While I dreamt, a dog crept beneath my outside window. When all was quiet, drowsed by the thick air, he gathered up his lungs and barked as loudly as he could. I am convinced to this day that the dog removed the panes of glass in the window in order to lean in and bark directly into my ear. I have never heard a Mastiff bark, but I am sure the dog outside my window was the largest dog that ever chased its tail.
The bark woke me with such a start that I remember only two sensations: hopelessness and terror. The sudden clap in my brain was so great, it paralyzed all reason. I remember nothing but the bark. I do not even remember being comforted, though I am sure my parents tried. I wanted to run. I wanted to hide. But the bark was in my brain, and I was disoriented. I cried out in terror and then I sobbed and sobbed and sobbed. For many days thereafter, my world was darkened by the bark of the dog outside my window.
I am older now. I am wiser and more rational. But my shoulders lock up as I recall this episode in my life because I am still afraid. The bark still reverberates in my mind and I know that it was a foreshadow of things to come—other barks—thicker air that chokes the lungs, darker paralyzations, other sudden thunder claps that leave me trying to gather myself like Humpty-Dumpty—a futile task with or without all the king’s men.
That bark was a hint of worse barks to come. I have faced some of those barks since: a little painted coffin on the kitchen floor made for family friends who lost their little girl; a demolished car sputtering and smoking on the side of the road after I turned prematurely in front of oncoming traffic and saw my sister’s face sprayed with glass as a 4×4 pickup smashed into her passenger door; Julie, one of my many mothers who have “adopted” me over the years, snatched by heaven long before the rest of us were ready. And as I walk the corridors of memory, I see my little girl—three years old— unable to breathe. I remember the powerlessness of watching my daughter gasp for oxygen. Though she opened wide and tried and tried, air would not come. I remember her on the hospital bed. She looked smallish and lost, hooked up to innumerable tubes.
There are too many barks in the darkness to list.
There are many more to come.
“Pain is the megaphone of God” (C.S. Lewis).
I can hear you now, O God.
“The pedagogy of God is pain” (John Piper).
God, teach me. Speak into this bewilderment. Unravel the barking in my brain.
At thirty-three my body stopped working. One month prior I was varsity boy’s basketball head coach, I was head deacon at church, I was a full time teacher, and I was father of four. Then I had a migraine attack that burned so hot, I burrowed my head into the snow on the back porch. My five year old son found me and called for help. I was disoriented, broken, for several days after. I tried to go back to work, but I was living with crossed wires, and each attempt to return left me more broken than I was before. Within a few short weeks, I could not stand for long, I could hardly feed myself, and I could not read. Well, I could read, but anything more than a Dr. Seuss book was too heavy to lift and too difficult to understand. My mind was bewildered and I tripped over simple words, simple concepts. I wept. I wept a lot. I would sit outside in a chair and let the snow fall around me. Sometimes I screamed at God in my head. Sometimes I only whispered repeatedly the three words I could understand at a time: “God help me. God help me. God help me.”
I was not always angry, but “…sorrow was within me like a convulsion” (Augustine, Confessions). Then I lost the migraines, but I developed a tremor in my limbs and in my head. Early on, I thought my neck might snap for loss of control because of the tremors’ viciousness. The tremors would haunt me through the night and I would awake with them. Slowly, they have eased, but even now, years later, my body does not work sometimes—like today—or rather, it works in a way I cannot predict. Specialists cannot explain this trembling of my head upon its shoulders. It was curiosity for a time, then a fear, now an annoyance to those who love me—like a tickle in the throat. Doctors cannot tell me how or why or when. They guess. They do not know. It is not chronic at least. That is some comfort, perhaps. Everything has changed and my life is now calibrated to this different, unnamed thing. My life plays to the beat of a new metronome.
Still, I am fatigued by the tremors that have no name and I feel embarrassed by the questions behind people’s eyes. Some people, friends and strangers, are brave and ask, and I am unable to provide satisfying answers. Most pretend nothing has changed and I pretend with them. I like control. I like to get things done. But sometimes I cannot move my hands, sometimes even my legs, but my head will nod or shake depending on the moment. If I focus all my energies upon it, I can hold the tremors back for a time like a boy with his finger in the dyke. I hold a brief conversation with someone to whom I would rather not show such strange behavior as head tremors, but the dyke will break, the tremors will storm the fortress of my ego, and I will be worse for wear.
Why all this trouble? The heralds cry “Peace, peace”. But there is no peace. I see pain in scores of lives all around me: our friends have been married for three years and suffered six miscarriages. Other friends have been married twenty-five years, but now one of them has a new lover. Still others were married fifty-three years until death came knocking.
Who shall navigate the Marianas Trench with a flashlight?
Let us try, always remembering that “…in a matter like this, subtlety appeals to subtlety, and without imagination no man can follow another into these halls” (Herman Melville, Moby Dick, chapter 42), for “though in many of its aspects this visible world seems formed in love, the invisible spheres were formed in fright” (Moby Dick, chapter 42).
The dilemma that keeps gnawing like a belligerent dog at the back door of our mind is this: “A generous God is fine when things are running smoothly. But what when they are not and darkness is invading? What when trusted patterns have broken down, or we feel too far gone to bother even trying? We dwell at outer limits, and some events in life—loss, failure, stress, sin—remind us of the threat of chaos” (Iain Matthew, The Impact of God).
John of the Cross knew about suffering, about being swallowed. He called it the dark night of the soul in which he shared in the sign of Jonah who, likewise, was swallowed. Iain Matthew, in his book The Impact of God, describes John’s suffering this way: “It was as if the anesthetic which normal life provides had worn off, his inner self had been scraped bare, and he now ached in a way he never had before for a God who was utterly beyond him.”
Such scrapings leave us blackened, compact, hard, like coal. Rembrandt knew how to play with blackness. He was a master painter just like God. Who shall say unto the painter, “What is all this darkness, all this trouble, all this pain?” “Calculated brush strokes,” says the painter. “Look! Behold the light cometh. There, at the other side of the canvas, a face lit,” says the painter.
His mercies are new every morning.
Great is Thy faithfulness.