Looking Back While Moving Forward

Don’t get me wrong: I am looking forward to 2013. I fully expect it to bring unanticipated delights. But for many of us the arrival of the New Year is bitter-sweet. Even as we look forward in anticipation with all our resolutions and plans, we cannot escape looking back and remembering what we have lost.

End of year news reports give us a rundown of the “important” people we’ve lost in 2012—a litany of leaders, journalists, artists, scientists, and entrepreneurs the world will truly miss.

As I listen to these retrospectives I am always a little disappointed that they do not include mention of my father who died in July after 70+ years of faithful ministry. I believe in God’s eyes my father was as significant a loss in 2012 as Steve Jobs—if not more so. I’m sure many others have similar sentiments about lost loved ones too.

I lost my dad last year, but as Christians and as human beings we all shared some very profound and disturbing losses—and they should rock our world.

It is difficult even to remember, but here goes: Sixteen separate mass shootings in the U.S. ended with December’s appalling tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Hurricane Sandy left a swath of destruction and suffering in the East. Brutality attempted but failed to silence Pakistan’s Malala, the courageous teenage advocate for educating girls. It snuffed out the life but raised the voice of New Delhi’s anonymous gang-rape victim in national protests heard round the world over violence against women in India. So many lives were lost on both sides of the ongoing wars that raged around the world through and beyond 2012, we’ve simply lost count. Documentaries like Half the Sky and the relentless efforts of relief and justice organizations made us increasingly aware of the costly minute-by-minute loss of human potential to us all when women and girls are caught in a web of violence and oppression and human beings—sometimes multiple generations of whole families—are trafficked or are swallowed by poverty.

In all the hoopla of welcoming the New Year (and that is a good thing), let us not fall prey to the delusion that 2013 will be pain free, but rather let us eagerly move forward into the future with courage knowing the God who holds our lives in his hands is good and that we are his agents in putting things to rights.

In a previous post, I wrote of how the writings of Walter Brueggemann have fueled my faith. The blog below was written earlier for FullFill Magazine (online subscriptions are free). It is no attempt to answer those troubling “why?” questions. I don’t think anyone is capable of doing that. Instead, my hope is that it will cultivate in us a stubborn faith in God that refuses to yield ground to the Enemy in our hearts or in our broken world.

Happy New Year!

Stubborn Faith

SheLovesMagazine.com is a blog I follow—a sisterhood of mostly Canadian women engaging with raw honesty the intersection where life and beliefs collide. They’re producing some rather rich and gritty writing. One of the bloggers is Kelley Johnson-Nikondeha’s whose bio reads: “She loves handwritten letters, homemade pesto and anything written by Walter Brueggemann.”

 I don’t connect with handwritten letters or homemade pesto, but I share her crush on Brueggemann. As someone who spends a lot of time digging in the Old Testament, I have a natural affection for anyone who will take me deeper.

Some months ago I picked up Brueggemann’s Genesis commentary and was immediately hooked. I had intended to read only selected sections, but this commentary became a page-turner. I know it’s weird, but once again I found myself in the grips of a commentary I can’t seem to put down. Brueggemann’s work is a deep well, and I see why Kelley is hungry for anything he’s written.

I’ve just passed the half-way mark where God asks Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, his long-awaited child of promise. Like a skeleton best left undisturbed in the family closet, this is one of the darkest most disturbing scenes in all of scripture—certainly not one to bring up when talking with non-believers. It doesn’t exactly cast God in a marketable light. Christians tend to tiptoe around this scene, fearful of asking questions that will unsettle our cozy views of God or of getting in over our heads. Brueggemann dives in and resurfaces, not with trite platitudes or lame excuses for what is happening here, but with an armload of honest insights that reach deep into every reader’s story, including mine. The timing couldn’t have been better for my research on a new book about Lost Men of the Bible, but especially because of struggles I’m facing personally, the most glaring being my father’s terrible battle with cancer and the awful hole left in my life now that he’s gone.

Surprisingly, Brueggemann connects the Isaac story with words we say whenever we pray the Lord’s Prayer: “Lead us not into temptation.” For Brueggemann the plea doesn’t suggest that God might tempt us to sin, but that he does lead us into situations where our faith is tested—those Abraham, Job, and Naomi places where to our utter bewilderment God takes away what he has given (Job 1:21), where emptiness and loss displace the fullness we once enjoyed from God’s good gifts (Ruth 1:21).

We may sing and sway to the words, “He gives and takes away,” but I have yet to hear anyone claim Job’s agonized words as her life verse. Those fierce places where faith is on the line and the pain of loss engulfs us are places God’s children—from Job, Abraham, and Naomi to us—would do anything to avoid. The apostles warn us these are places we will travel too. Faith takes a beating when we suffer loss and from the agonies that bring those losses about. The Isaac story elevates our stories to a cosmic level where naked faith battles tenaciously to cling to God in the rubble of loss, without the happy props that make faith all too easy—where God’s own heart is blessed to see the stubborn refusal of his child to turn away no matter how dark things get, how broken we are, or what we’ve lost.

[Originally published by FullFill in the Fall 2012 {Think} column and reprinted with permission here.] 

About carolyncustisjames

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