It was communist leader Karl Marx that said “religion is the opiate of the masses.” That quote used to stir such animosity in my American-Midwestern-Evangelical belief-structure. But honestly, I believe he was right. Before you unsubscribe, let me at least try to explain.
In the interest of that transparency and vulnerability that my buddy Nathan and I so often wax eloquence about, we’re coming off an unbelievably crappy week (yeah mom, I said crappy…thought about using stronger words, but I’ve already opened by agreeing with a Karl Marx quote. I thought that was enough potential controversy for one post). Let me see if I can quickly recount the circumstances for you and then at least attempt to make a coherent point:
TUESDAY: I have a brain MRI in attempt to explain the “abnormal” findings of an EEG. I recently started having strange, foggy, forgetful episodes (my wife says I’m just using the diagnosis as an excuse for manly irresponsibility, but I do have a real doctor’s note) and have been diagnosed with a “risk for complex, partial and secondarily generalized seizures” (hey, why go half way?). The good news: the MRI showed no tumor (and a functioning brain…ba dum dum). The bad news: anti-seizure medication for the foreseeable future.
WEDNESDAY: My beautiful wife of 14 years has a biopsy on her thyroid gland. Not atypical for the Midwest, she has developed multiple nodules that had to be tested for malignancy. Twenty-five needle sticks to the neck later, we find the growths are benign (thank you God) but the test takes it’s toll (she wants to have a word with all you doctors who told her the procedure is a “piece of cake.” You should be nervous. Yes, I’m serious).
THURSDAY: My four-year-old son Austin heads to the eye specialist for a follow up on his infant-diagnosis of optic nerve hypoplasia, an incurable underdevelopment of the optic nerves that in extreme cases can result in blindness and brain defects. He’s fortunate in that his symptoms are mild, but this day begins long-term patch therapy and a trip to Target Optical for his first pair of glasses (he just wants to be cool like his dad).
FRIDAY: Our two year old Boston Terrier, Disney, runs across the street in front of my in-law’s house like she’s done a million times before. Unfortunately, her timing for this innocent adventure intersects with a traveling mini-van. Two hours later, her little body succumbs to post-surgical internal bleeding.
We’ve definitely had easier weeks, and I’m well aware that many of you have had much harder. But I noticed something interesting in the hours and days that followed our emotional roller-coaster of experiences. I wanted an explanation, to understand, to make sense of the events that had transpired. I had lost control, and I wanted it back.
On my left shoulder sat the skeptic wondering “where has God gone?” Didn’t He see what we were going through? Didn’t He know what sacrifices we were making for Him? How could He allow us to face such difficult circumstances? Doesn’t He care? How can a loving God…? You know what I’m saying. You’ve asked it yourself (yeah, I know).
But on my right shoulder was the whispering religious zealot. “You’re doing such a great work for God that the Devil must be on the attack.” Or just the opposite, “what unknown evil have you stumbled into that is causing God to punish you in this way?” Here, have a trite quote or an easy answer to dull your pain. God is good all the time. Where God guides, God provides. And I bet you can think of dozens of other “knicknack sayings” aimed at eliminating the tension, deadening the pain, and avoiding the heartache that just far too often comes from living in a broken, fallen, messy, sinful world.
The reality? We want to explain God. If I do A, He does B. If I say this, He’ll do that. If I…then He. We want control, to be in charge. Go ahead, admit it. It’s cathartic. But we really don’t want to serve a God like that. A God we have figured out. A God we can throw in our briefcase, in the diaper bag, with the golf clubs in the trunk of the car and just pull Him out when it’s raining, when we don’t understand, when we need to rub the lamp and get our three wishes.
Sometimes God is a mystery. And we live in the constant tension of despising our lack of control and celebrating that there is a God who is willing to take it. He never said we’d always understand, but He promised to never make us walk through the heartache alone.
I don’t want a belief system – a philosophy – that gives me easy answers I can frame and hang on the mantle, an opiate created to dull my pain. I need a Savior willing to embody my suffering, to redeem it, to shape me deeply through this far-too-often unexplainable journey, and to both weep and celebrate with me all along the way.
So far, this week’s been pretty uneventful. I’m OK with that, too.