"God's Presence 'With Us'"
March 11th, 2020
From: "A Sacred Sorrow: Reaching out to God in the Lost Language of Lament" p. 127-129
"And they will call Him Immanuel" - which means, "God with us" (Matthew 1:23, NIV).
We saw earlier that the ultimate answer to all laments is not to be found in the specifics of what is lamented for. The true answer for a lament of disease is not ultimately a cure. The real solution for a lament of financial distress is never simply money. The answer is always found in the Presence of God. It is rarely what we ask for, but it is always what we ultimately need.
In the end of the book, God's answer to Job's loss is not getting his dead children back. Indeed he never gets them back. The answer, God's answer, is that Job gets God back. And Job's response, brought into focus by his suffering is clear. That is all he ever really needed. The same can be said for both David and Jeremiah and you and me.
The coming of Immanuel, "God with us," must be understood as the Father's answer to ages of expectant laments. But God did not send the Messiah as the sort of solution everyone expected. They wanted someone who would kill the Romans. Jesus, instead died for the Romans. They wanted someone who would give them answers. Jesus gave them Himself. What else but His Presence could have perfectly answered all our deepest needs? For though we could have never imagined it, what we thought we needed, solutions for the problems that cause our pain, would have never fixed the problem.
I have a pastor friend who was almost killed in a horrible car accident a few years ago. As he tells it, he was fortunate to be alive but was sadly paralyzed from the neck down.
In the hospital, the doctors placed him in one of those sandwich type contraptions that would allow his whole body to be turned over to prevent bed sores and encourage his otherwise poor circulation. Often this meant he would be left, face down, staring at the floor for hours, unable to move or even turn his head.
On one such evening, as he waited patiently for a nurse to come and rotate the bed, he sensed a presence enter the room. It was so real and palpable that he wrongly assumed it was the nurse, come to help him out of his helpless upside-down situation.
"Is that you?" he called out.
Still positive that someone had entered the room, he asked again, "Is there anybody there?"
All at once, he said, he was given the awareness that the presence that had entered the hospital room was none other than Jesus Himself. But my friend saw nothing out of the ordinary, no bright light, no outline of an angelic figure. Only the certainty that in an extraordinary sense, Jesus had come to be with him. He had come in answer to my friend's angry prayers of lament.
"I can't tell you how long it lasted," he said. "It could have been a few minutes or a few hours." But in time he realized that this powerfully immediate experience was coming to an end.
And then it happened. My friend plunged into a desperate despair that he had never known before. "Please, please, don't leave me!" he shouted in tears. "I realized at that moment," he said, "that what I wanted most was not Jesus' provision of my healing. That desire had totally evaporated. All I wanted was His Presence."
"I will do anything," he cried, "Just don't leave!"
What we need most, though few of us will ever realize it with the depth and intensity of my friend, is never what we think we need. What we were created at the depths of our souls to need is only the Presence of God. It is the answer, as Jesus is the answer.
After the Resurrection, whenever Jesus spoke of His imminent departure to go and be with the Father, His disciples would inevitably lament, "Why can't you stay with us?"
Jesus' remarkable answer is found in John 14. There He resonates with their sorrow. "Don't let your hearts be troubled," He comforts. "I will not leave you comfortless. I will come to you."
The object of this wonderful promise is, of course, the Holy Spirit. By their very nature, it would be impossible for either God the Father or Jesus the Son to not be with us. So the Spirit, the Comforter, who comes today in response to all our laments, still provides the only answer that will ever be enough, whether we realize it or not.
Rarely does He move to solve the problem. Something else that we don't understand must be taking place. What lament would have us understand is that the answer is being graciously given: His Presence is always with us.
Lament is the path that takes us to the place where we discover that there is no complete answer to pain and suffering, only Presence. The language of lament gives a meaningful form to our grief by providing a vocabulary for our suffering and then offering it to God as worship. Our questions and complaints will never find individual answers (even as Job's questions were never fully answered). The only Answer is the dangerous, disturbing, comforting Presence, which is the true answer to all our questions and hopes.