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All That Is Fair: Love and Hard Times

Why in the world would God ever choose to tell the story this way?  Have you ever asked yourself that question?  Why did he make this world, and the universe that holds it, if keeping it all going “according to his good pleasure” were going to be so difficult? The simple act (for a divine being) of making the dirt and from it forming all that is, including man, has proven to be a very costly business for him… if God knew it was going to take the anxiety of the garden, the pain of betrayal and abandonment by his closest friends, the shame of the cross, the agony of a most brutal and awful death, then why do it at all?  I really have no idea.  And if we’re honest with ourselves, we must admit that no one really knows the answer.  It’s as if those particular answers are analogous to the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  And just like our ancient parents, maybe we just aren’t supposed to know.

For some people, the inherent uncertainty of this might fling them headlong into despair and depression.  But be encouraged! Living within a backdrop of mystery is a good thing.  It resonates with our humanity.  As westerners we tend to look for truth to reveal itself as a set of irrefutable propositions, like a math problem with its complementary solution.  But the existential questions we ask are much more complicated and much less clear.  We aren’t going to arrive at perfect answers.  But we can choose to wrestle with them and perhaps, through much perseverance, arrive at an authentic hope that dimly lights and warms our path.  So, the mystery of a God who gives us a story arc, instead of a set of facts to follow, comforts us in our humanity while also compelling us to search for deeper meaning.

As an artist, I love this about God.  He isn’t stressed about whether or not we figure out metaphysical things with precision. He is much more interested in seeing us grow in faith, hope, and love.  And like any good father, he understands that his children will not become wise or good simply by listening to a long list of “do’s” and “do nots.”  He knows that our hearts and minds require exercise just as our bodies do.  We have to wrestle with big questions, and in so doing, we flex the muscles of faith, hope, and love.  So he gives us a Big Story.  And from that story flows every other lesser story in which we live, and move, and have our being.  And as we explore the limits of the Big Story, as well as all of the smaller ones, we make connections between them, we practice being present in them, and we actually become wiser, more loving, and more faithful.

Here is a lyric to a song called “Love And Hard Times” by one of my very favorite songwriters, Paul Simon.  This song represents his existential wrestling.  He’s exploring the Big Story, and it isn’t a nice, tidy, perfectly summarized conclusion.  He reframes the mystery in his own words and makes connections to smaller stories in his life.  The thread of connection he finds is “love, love, love, love…”  My favorite thing about this song is the tension of it.  God comes to us, but he leaves us alone again.  And we weep for belonging underneath the difficulty of a hard world.  But in the midst of our anxiety that love has left us, we find each other and we can look together to the “light at the edge of the curtain.. the quiet dawn.”  It is very easy to get overwhelmed by uncertainty and follow one of two wide paths.  We can retreat into despair.  Or we can medicate ourselves away from the unanswered questions through continued busyness.  The narrower, middle path is sitting long hours with that uncertainty and letting it compel us toward hope.  In the words of another Paul, “...suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”

God and his only son
Paid a courtesy call on Earth one Sunday morning
Orange blossoms opened their fragrant lips
Songbirds sang from the tips of cottonwoods
Old folks wept
For his love in these hard times

‘Well, gotta get going,’
Said the the restless lord to the son
‘There are galaxies yet to be born
Creation is never done
Anyway these people are slobs here
If we stay it’s bound to be a mob scene but…
And it’s love and hard times

I loved her the first time I saw her
I know that’s an old songwriting cliché
I loved you the first time I saw you
Can’t describe it any other way
Any other way

The light of her beauty was warm as a summer day
Clouds of antelope roll by
No hint of rain to come
In the prairie sky
Just love, love, love, love, love

When the rains came
The tears burned
The windows rattled
The locks turned
It’s easy to be generous when you’re on a roll
It’s hard to be grateful
When you’re out of control
And love is gone

The light at the edge of the curtain is the quiet dawn
The bedroom breathes in clicks and clacks
uneasy heart beat; can’t relax
but then your hand takes mine
Thank god I found you in time
Thank god I found you
Thank god I found you