Loon’s linkage (February ’11)

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The best sermon I’ve heard on suffering

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Growing up in an evangelical household, attending a Christian high school and a Christian college, I’ve heard a lot of sermons in my day. Good ones, lousy ones, eloquent ones, rambling ones, condescending ones and fantastic ones. I’ve even been known to preach a few mediocre ones myself but that’s another can of grubs.

Thankfully, the Gospel of unmerited grace holds the power to liberate ambitious preachers from the futility of trying to earn God’s acceptance through the adequacy of their sermons. Such is the redemptive beauty of faith in Christ’s perfection, not ours. Those who live and die by the quality of their preaching might want to be careful about what they wish for.

We evangelicals may be known for many things, passionate sermons included, but our effectiveness and thoughtfulness in addressing the age-old question of why God permits suffering often leaves much to be desired. Granted, this is no easy subject for even the most capable of philosophers to explain, be they theists, atheists or somewhere in between. The enormous challenge of dealing with deep human suffering, whether on a personal or global scale, is simply that—an enormous challenge, regardless of how you slice it.

In the face my own sorrows and afflictions, I have benefited far more from the encouragement and support of loved ones (many of them devout Christians) than the abstract explanations offered by well-meaning preachers attempting to make sense of tragic events in light of God’s eternal purposes. If there is any comfort to be found this side of heaven, I have caught glimpses of it while reading the Scriptures directly or listening quietly for the Spirit’s voice, not so much from pedantic homiletics or theological speculation.

And yet, every once in a while, a rare and beautiful sermon comes along, possessing the capacity to address a delicate subject while offering transformative insight and comfort. For me, this oasis has been Tim Keller’s profound 2006 sermon titled, “Suffering: If God is good, why is there so much evil in the world?” Whether you are a saint, sinner, believer, skeptic, or all of the above, I highly recommend these incredible 30 minutes of brilliance to anyone who has ever asked this question. Having probably listened to it several dozen times myself, I cannot overstate the impact of Keller’s words in helping me survive these past 9 months of sheer turmoil.

A glorious sermon on suffering–imagine that. 

You can listen to it for free here.

Grief journal (3 Months)

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“I almost prefer the moments of agony. These are at least clean and honest. But the bath of self-pity, the wallow, the loathsome sticky-sweet pleasure of indulging it—that disgusts me.”

–C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

To grieve is to be excessively picky. Say this, not that. A pinch of comfort, but hold the clichés. A dash of Scripture, but go easy on the cause-effect theology. Treat me like I’m both normal and special, devastated and resilient—all at the same time, but only until I change my mind. And don’t even think about keeping silent on the topic because that’s not allowed either. Cue folded arms with a grouchy “Humph!”

The paradox of grief is sandwiched between unwanted visibility and insufficient recognition. Frankly, there are days when almost everything feels unwanted or insufficient. Case in point: the words people say. Two real-life examples come to mind.

“At least you still have your other son.” (Gee, I never thought of it that way.)

“This might sound terrible, but he’s not yours anymore.” (You’re right, that does sound terrible.)

Yes, those were actual face-to-face quotes (though the clever retorts remained unspoken). Welcome to grief, a place where kind intentions are often lost in translation. If only intentions were all that mattered. In a world without gaffes or guessing games, words would only hurt if you wanted them to. Giving and receiving comfort would be a cakewalk. No more headaches over choosing the right words at the right time spoken in the right tone with the right nonverbals.

But alas, such a world would not leave much room for the solace of an uncommonly simple validation or acknowledgment:

“I’m so sorry.”

“I can’t begin to know how you feel.”

Vincent died three months ago today. We visited his grave twice last week. The soil is still soft, no marker yet. He was such a great kid. I wish we had more pictures. Theo misses his brother. Rebecca is suffering. I’ll never get over this one. The tears continue, always will. I cannot drink this cup—like I have a choice. The permanence is overwhelming. We weren’t ready to say goodbye.

It’s not easy being picky.

[Photo by Luminosity]

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