No less than among the Athenians of New Testament times, the world is brimming with people who are extremely religious in every way (Acts 17:22). Then, as now, there is little cohesion among the religiously inclined, for there are so many objects of worship (Acts 17:23). Behind a pantheon of competing gods, however, there is at least a common ache, a search, a groping, a desire to find that one pearl of great price (Acts 17:27). Christians are bold to say, in fear and trembling, that the perfect pearl beneath all human longing is Christ Jesus, the Lord. On the calendar of providence, God has fixed a day when Christ will judge the living and the dead, and that new day, or at least the inauguration of that day, is the hour at hand. Christ planted the wound that he alone can heal.
Although reaching with healing and venerable hands, Jesus leaves open traces of wounds that draw toward his cleft heart. The soul restored is still a suffering soul; and deep-down needs soften the neck and open the heart to the touch of consolations. “For you, O God, have tested us; you have tried us as silver is tried. You brought us into the net; you laid burdens on our back; you let people ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water; yet you have brought us out to a spacious place” (Ps. 66:10-12). Within and without, the faithful disciples will feel the pain of testing, and feel it most intensely as the inscrutable working out of providence, which is why laments even against God are the vocabulary of the Bible and the living tradition of the Church: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Ps. 22:1; Matt. 27:46).
The cry of dereliction transforms a wound into a door, the grave into a gate. God sets foot upon a valley of dry bones in the incarnate Son of suffering, the bearer of a cross, the sign of death in the place of skulls. Yet death could not contain him. Rather, he swallowed up death forever on the eighth and final day.
This side of eternity, the testing will not end. Expect tribulation. And yet divine consolation is real and true and rooted in the being of God. “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever” (John 14:16). The Advocate is not a measured dose of divinity. The Advocate is God, the one who bears witness to God’s Son. The Advocate is the Spirit of the Son, and the Son is in the Father and the Father in the Son, and thus the whole Trinity of one divine being abides with us and is in us.
My God, why? It is an anguished and necessary question, intensified by the assertion that “the God who made the world and everything in it” is loving and kind, forgiving and merciful, righteous and just. Why, then, this cup? Tears formed a river in Gethsemane, and the rod of the cross turned that river to blood. Is there any real consolation, is there any real hope? How long? And where is love?
“I am coming you to,” a voice says. In the chamber of the heart, “you will see me.” You will see me radiant and alive, victorious and free. “Because I live, you also will live” (John 14:19). This Word is living and true and pure resurrection.
Look It Up
Read Acts 17:26, 31. A common beginning and a common end.
Think About It
“You know him, because he abides in you, and he will be in you” (John 14:17). The future tense, if a scribal correction, may also be the will of God.