I have sat with too many friends lately who are experiencing life-shattering events— marriage breakups, desperately sick children, grim medical diagnoses, relationships torn apart and almost certainly irretrievable. Perhaps it’s the age I have reached. Many of them are Christian believers who cry out to God and long for his redemptive action in their lives. They frequently report silence rather than God’s active presence.
It turns out a life of faith is rarely a triumphal affair but often one of waiting and seeking; watching and hoping. It is, as theologian Tomas Halik describes it, a life that requires “patience with God” grounded on the conviction that the experience of God’s “absence” is not the totality of the story. Many believers, worn-out as they are with life’s very real struggles, do often report a sense of God suffering with them in their pain. It’s a profound mystery.
There’s a T.S. Eliot poem about Simeon, an aged man from Luke’s Gospel who has faced the silence of God his whole life. Simeon, waiting, yearning, is presented with the child Jesus at the Temple in Jerusalem, “the still unspeaking and unspoken word”. Close to death as Simeon is, and even as he can foresee the calamity of Roman destruction of Jerusalem—“foreign faces and foreign swords”—in holding the Christ child he senses consolation, even salvation itself.
Eugene Peterson says the life of faith can involve “deep satisfying meanings; rich textured experiences,” but they can’t be imposed. Instead, “Faith invades the muddle; it does not eliminate it. Peace develops in the midst of chaos. Harmony is achieved slowly, quietly, unobtrusively—like the effects of salt and light.”
Peace amidst the chaos. That feels about right for a year when life’s storms have felt closer than ever.