Turn to me and have mercy,
for I am alone and in deep distress.
My problems go from bad to worse.
Oh, save me from them all!
Feel my pain and see my trouble.
Forgive all my sins.
– Psalm 25: 16-18 (NLT)
“Feel my pain,” the Psalmist cries. “Turn to me and have mercy” — it’s the kind of prayer that vibrates with desperation. When disaster and distress strike, when our problems go from bad to worse, when we realize the likely costs of our mistakes and the seemingly absent mercy of God; that’s when we pray. I’m not talking Sunday school prayer or comfortable and polished worship service prayer either. I’m talking the type of prayer where we fall violently before God in the dirt and darkness, digging our knees into the ground, sobbing, groaning prayer. The kind of prayer where the soul hurls upon God our deepest needs, confusion, regrets, fear and pain. Not unlike Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane I suppose: “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death” (Matt. 26:38).
Trials abound. For now anyways.
The New Testament refers to these periods of life as trials (e.g. 1 Peter); when we experience an unrelenting, strange, often confusing series of disaster-like events that won’t relent, it seems, until we’ve been driven into the proverbial dirt and left for dead. Sometimes we are left only with the strength to lift our dirt-covered faces and mutter to God: “Turn to me and have mercy, for I am alone and in deep distress.”
At first we think the world is over. We try to figure out where all these trials came from. “Is it my fault?” We think to ourselves that maybe “our sins have caught up to us,” whatever that means. Perhaps they have. Or that we’ve failed to pray enough, be “spiritual” enough, or be a “better” leader in our homes and ministries. When we finally realize that yes, we are partially responsible for our undoing, and are okay to admit this, we begin to realize our frailty and, oh, the ways in which we need to turn to God. Yes, repentance is still relevant, regardless of the unpopularity of the term and the baggage it carries.
Another thought that crosses our minds when trials are unrelenting and perplexing is that we are experiencing spiritual warfare of some kind. This could be true. But it’s not the only thing going on, and we really don’t have the wisdom and insight to fully understand our trials when they hit, and hit hard. The truth is that it’s probably a mishmash of everything and more: sin (whether personal or existential), deep miscommunication in relationships, the effects of childhood trauma, weakness, spiritual warfare, spiritual laziness, stressful periods in life, irresponsibility, or just plain senseless tragedy or sickness. Ah, yes. The paradoxical reality of human existence—where good and bad co-exist in contradiction.
The paradox of human existence
Or in the words of pop-star Zayn Malik in his song Pillow Talk: “It’s our paradise and it’s our war zone.”
But the thing with this paradoxical mishmash called life, this paradise and war zone that co-exist in contradiction, is that for us who trust in Jesus, we know that God does move and work through disaster and those “end of the world” seasons we suffer through. We may not like it, accept it or realize it fully. But when we trust in Jesus during these times, God can bring about an immense amount of trust-building good.
God’s decisive love
Does God will our suffering and pain? Not at all. “For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to anyone,” says the prophet Jeremiah in Lamentations 3. Rather, as a God who is defined by unfailing and uncontrolling love, He allows human reality to play out, good and bad; He consents to free will and its consequences, while voluntarily suffering with us (coming along side of us, loving us) in the crucified One of the Cross and giving us eternal hope in Jesus. In other words, God consents to the consequences of free will, but He does not sit back passively; instead He participates in our chaos and contradictions because His love can do nothing else.
Brad Jersak explains in his ground-breaking book, A More Christ-like God:
The Cross is the perfection of consent because because Christ rules through love rather than coercion—through persuasion rather than force—through revelation rather than domination. Thus, God’s consent is far greater than merely ‘allowing,’ as if he just sits back and watches the tragedies of life, uninvolved and passive. No! […]. He opens his warms wide in welcome. He acts decisively in love. God’s own kiss (p. 122).
In the crucified One of the Cross, God’s love is responsive and active—He is moved with compassion and participates in our trials and tragedies with us. He is the God of suffering solidarity.
Thus, God’s consent is one reality, but another is that he does not and has not stood by as a passive spectator. He consented to participate in the human condition. Fully. In love, he saw our predicament and, through the Incarnation, entered into our afflictions. He underwent the brunt of these forces with us, in the flesh. Said another way, God-in-Christ participated fully in our trauma and calamity as the Lamb slain. He gathered up and suffered every human disaster across time in his Passion; he consented to bear the ‘gravity’ of all sin—past and future—on the Cross (p. 132).
And so when we find ourselves in the midst of a brutal, “end-of-the-world” series of disaster-like events, God calls us to look to the Christ event, where we find shelter in the cruciform God of the Cross. The threats, fears and fires of life cannot (and will not) survive under the oceanic outpouring that is God’s merciful love in the crucified One.
We need not fear the shame of sin nor the fires of the fallen world. We need not escape the painful paradox of human reality, because God has entered into our reality—into my little life—with a grand Holy Force that conquers everything that has set itself up against me.
So we come to the Cross of our crucified God. Broken with regret and pain that we never saw coming. In need of shelter from the colluding forces of evil in the heavenly realms. In need of repair from our wounds and the sins which make them fester. Desperate for His mercy. And we find it. All of it. Yes —“God’s own kiss.”
O Lord, I give my life to you.
I trust in you, my God!
– Psalm 25: 1-2 (NLT)