SURFACING IN SUFFERING

SURFACING

TWELVE EVIDENCES FOR THE GOODNESS OF GOD IN A BROKEN WORLD

by Ian Robinson

He woke up, hot and gasping, and sat up. That drowning dream again. He is walking or driving or playing golf and just when he is having fun suddenly a wave of water rises from nowhere and he is swept down, deep and dark, swirling, drowning, lungs bursting twisting busting and wanting to give up. So easy to just give up. He wishes he could. His troubles are just too much, and will they ever end. That’s what the dream wants. It wants him to just give up. Let the trouble fester and waste him. Why not? Is there any point anyway? There is too much trouble and sorrow everywhere.

I know that pain. It comes with many kinds of sorrow. I want to scream out to them all ‘Yes’. The universe screams out ‘yes’ to us all – there is a point. Goodness is everywhere, if you can see it. Not Pollyanna sweet gollygosh pink and light, but tough goodness. The kind that holds enough strength to speak up to the cavalcade of sin and sorrow that passes through our days. The kind that can get you through. The kind that brings you to the surface for air. Life is a gift full of gifts. I wish I could show you.

I can think of a dozen kinds of evidence, any one of which is amazing. There is a lot of evidence that the world is a very generous place, awesome actually, though badly broken, and that God is very good to us all the time. Have a think on these, if you will. I have no idea why they are in this sequence.

1. Courage

A legion of gold text at the war memorial, all names of ordinary citizens, say they were mostly young. Ordinary citizens found extraordinary courage to face together the hot metal of a deadly foe. So many, and their memory is sacred. Have you seen the same courage in the face of a mother as she faces into the abyss of their child’s deep trouble? Have you seen the resilience in a child cancer victim, in a woman who recovers from drug abuse and all its degradations, in a young person facing up to their tenth job interview? Courage is an awesome, sacred, inspiring, common-as-dirt and wondrous thing. We need that to tackle the things that are wrong with the world, to love our enemies, to carry out the ministry of reconciliation.

2. Play

The wind across the ridge was blasting bitterly cold so I sheltered below the rim. Behind me six birds were wheeling and, one by one, they flew low then lifted up into the icy blast, which sent them tumbling like rag dolls backwards, squarking and shaking their feathers, only to do it again and again, playing. You see it again with humans in the surf and in a sandpit, in an orchestra pit, a park, a footy oval. Even in prison camps, the jokes are still coming. Across the whole planet, have you noticed how we are all playing and playing, again and again? It is a wonder. Everyone is playing. God has a huge sense of humour.

3. Beauty

From inspiring works of art in countless museums to dad’s best effort at a nice set of book shelves, we do our best with beauty. Take a walk in the bush and the natural beauty has a healing force. We humans are not just survivors, we need beauty. Take a look through any over-dressed shopping mall and you lose count of the beautiful children, the character grannies, the beautiful girls and the strong young men. Beauty is so everywhere. Do we have to be woken up to see how much we are surrounded by beauty of every kind in almost very place? Take another look, God is beautiful and so are you.

4. Sacrifice

Like you, I suppose, I first saw an act of sacrifice in my parents. Thousands of things they did for us kids. And what did they ever get for it? Not very much, a bit of cheek, a large measure of independence so that we moved away from them. It is so common, such loving sacrifice, that we are able to take it for granted. Immigrants give up the love of their home to create a new opportunity here for their children. Citizens give up their own time and sweat to serve the community. Teachers invest their best years in ungrateful students. Soldiers and police walk up to face the foe on behalf of us all. Have you noticed how much athletes give up and what pain they suffer for their team? We simply cannot exist without this terribly common and awesome spirit of sacrifice. It is all meant to tell us that Jesus’ sacrifice is perfectly in sync with our reality.

5. Communities

Some boring politicians will hate me for saying this – Mateship is not particularly an Australian characteristic. It is much better than that. Every place I have been, people look out for each other. Travellers often tell of the kindness of strangers. In floods and fires we all help out. Communities always band together to define their customs and language, to care for the land and the children, to make a common future. Neighbours look over the fence to make sure the old lady is all right. There are selfish people in every street, but if you get stuck, we know we can always ask for help. Isn’t it true that you, like most people, actually like to help? It is all meant to tell us that we are placed here to shelter each other. It is amazing.

6. Coincidence

That year, state and local governments had turned their backs on our struggling community. We were angry, deflated and defeated. And old John said: ’Don’t worry; we’ve been here before many times. Something always turns up. You’ll see.’ And John was right. It all turned around within the year. Have you noticed that coincidences happen regularly, mini-miracles, synchronicity? They guide us, gift us, reward us with more than we deserve. Think of a book you just happened to pick up that proved to be a life-changing revelation. Did it call to you as you passed? Think of how amazing it was how you first met your partner. Remember how chancy it was that you heard about that particular job. Can you think of something that just happened to you? Abraham Lincoln said: ‘if I prepare, my chance will come’. People often say that when they pray, coincidences happen. It is all meant to tell us that God is intent to guide us to live out our destiny. So, something will turn up. You’ll see.

7. Intelligence

My first go at university was biochemistry. I was in awe of the intricate mechanisms of the human body, and even more, in awe that we humans had forged the science to figure it out. (Faith and science are best friends in my journey.) And we have so many other technologies and systems. Even ordinary writing has a long history of development. My laptop has more computing power than the Apollo moon missions. And here I am typing as though it was perfectly natural. We have come to know that, beyond science, there are multiple intelligences like the colours in a crayon box – auditory, kinaesthetic, emotional, spiritual, social intelligences. Each community needs all types. Education is a known antidote to many conflicts and key to many pleasures. So, if you are stuck in a nightmare, start to learn about it and lights will go on. The Bible says that we can be transformed by the renewing of our mind.

8. Healing

Your body has a habit of healing. Wounds close and organs restart. My emotions do the same. Memories can be reframed. Yes I have scars, but they remind me of the lesson I was meant to learn from the experience. And there are more habits of healing than those. Forgiveness opens the doors to freedom from the pain of our memories. Reconciliation, apology, restores relationships on a road with many wonders and much Grace. Peace-makers can bring dangerous tension through to a new possibility. Counsellors know how to offer us ways to go forward differently. Doctors and pharmacists know so much that relieves our aches and helps to fix us. We humans are wired in so many ways for the healing of our hurts. In the Bible, healing and salvation are often the very same word.

9. Love

At the start of the movie ‘Love Actually’, the airport arrivals area is full of friends, children, grandparents, families who meet and embrace with smiles and joy. All these persons hold an unsurpassed love for a unique person. All of them. Have you noticed that there is an amazing amount of love going around? Friends meet and shake hands. Boy meets girl and smiles break out. Every wedding in a way writes its own love song. Sex is a fantastic way to speak love deeply into another. Every funeral finds it impossible to gather in the threads of just one life-time of love, trials and tenderness. I know all this love can get trashed, sex gets devalued, lovers hurt each other, and people can be deeply lonely. It is a large shadow because the love is huge and wonderful and waiting for us all. Love is the most powerful force in the universe. God is love.

10. Conscience

Little children don’t need to be taught to lie, but have you seen how their cute little faces betray them? Their eyes, their faces, their tone of voice – they have a conscience. It needs to be shaped but there it always is. With rare psychiatric exceptions, most people want to do the right thing. It seems to work. Societies find ways of acting decently or else they crumble. I know there are bad apples who can spoil it for everyone else, but there is also a desire in every one to set things right, to be moral, to do justice, to give others a fair go. Religions all call us towards holiness. Money does make the selfish world go around, but you only have to look around the normal world to see that it is our innate desire for goodness that makes people tick. Invest in that. Scripture speaks of the beauty of holiness.

11. Meaning

I get quickly tired, for instance, of dinners where the travel talk takes over – which exotic places and unusual destinations – a little competition. I am suspicious of the meaninglessness of it, collecting ‘wow’s the way that some collect spoons. But it thrills me to know that the small life I lead has value in the greater scheme of things. I don’t have to talk myself up or put myself down. My life has meaning, that’s enough. I have a great life. Travellers who understand the story behind the people and places they visit will enjoy a deeper experience and come home the better for it. Those who work at their calling in life will work harder and enjoy it more than those who just put in the hours. It is about the value of things, not just their price or size. It is not just the philosopher who says ‘the unexamined life is not worth living’. How often have you cried – “What’s the point of doing that?” or “what a waste of time” ? These two cries tell us that we humans do have ways to live close to the purpose in our lives. Nothing is meaningless.

12. Seasons

I love the winter, when the waterways bulge with run-off and the damp earth is drunk with life. I love the spring when wildflowers cast caution to the winds and show off their colours for mile after brazen mile. I love the summer when the surf catches the light and throws me towards the beach. I love the autumn when the orchards are buzzing with impossible numbers of richly coloured fruit. The whole year, the whole earth is alive with life. Even the desert is crisscrossed with the tracks of resilient life-forms, and I have stood there gob-smacked when the rains came and the desert frenzied with colour and abundance. The slight tilt of the earth in its space creates the seasons, the winds, the tides and massive migrations. It is a speechless wonder. Have you seen how the whole planet is awash with life that is bursting forth so abundantly, ridiculously, extravagantly, wastefully, beautifully, all at once strong and fragile and exquisite? The Life Force is happening. The planet in season is generous, gorgeous.

Those are my twelve kinds of evidence. What would you add to the list? Do you picture a night bright with the stars of the Milky Way? The gift of sleep? Of sex? Or the voice of a friend? But, we’re up to sixteen now, that’s enough. Any one of these is enough to give you air in your particular nightmare.

There are voices that try to shout this down. To them we are all just machines and genes and animals on the prowl, so we may as well fight with tooth and claw. They look at the troubles around us and conclude that God is not good, or faith is not good, or maybe not quite good enough.

I just can’t go with that. The evidence is all around us. No need to be anxious. The good stuff is pouring out through every hole in the sky and every crack in your mind. Act in hope.

Come to the surface. Breathe it in. Don’t give up.

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