Abounding Grace – and the problem of pain

One of the most striking images in my mind about the life of Jesus is the once where he’s standing before his Roman accusers on all sorts of trumped up charges. I’m sure you know the story. And, like a lamb before the shearers is silent, so he stands.

I guess there’s two ways to view this. Firstly, you can say that Jesus is being pathetic – he has nothing to say for himself, he’s caught out, he’s at the end, he’s failed…and there’s nothing he could say anyway to stop this particular stone rolling along the path of time. His road is set and they’re going to have him anyway. This is the nature of being caught up in the dramas of other people’s agendas. Jesus is a stone in the shoe of the system and he needs to be maligned and ejected.

Secondly, there’s the idea of Jesus knowing full well that this is the way it will go, and realises that his composure, dignity and stance through the whole debacle will ultimately give way to his death, and this is the path he is deliberately choosing. This is his ultimate destiny, but God will vindicate him by the power of resurrection. Not only will the resurrection be a vindication, but so will his feat of endurance through the ridiculousness of the circumstances.

I feel closest to the sheer strength of Jesus when I abide with him in this place. My lot is nothing like his…I don’t think many are baying for my blood these days (although it has been known). But just sometimes, you come to that place where you know that there’s little likelihood that anything you say in response will be heard because the law of assumption is firmly in place and there’s little that can be done to change anyone’s mind. This is both a disempowering place and an empowering place in equal measure.

There’s some injustice and falsehood, but there is also the grace of God. Surrounded on every side, but I’m in the stronghold of loving embrace.

And so, I find myself being ridiculously joyful in this season, whilst humanly being at the bottom end of a proverbial rope related to all things navigating through the whole coronavirus landscape. I am overwhelmingly grateful that God knows this heart of mine. I’m also grateful for the beauty of the psalmists’ quill, who is able, in so many ways, to capture all the range of human emotion and experience and still raise a hallelujah, however broken.

I’ve always tried to keep this little blog honest. I mean, it is of no real significance in the grand scheme of things, but it is, however, a window into many stages and acts of pastoral ministry and missional leadership over 20 years – in season and out of season. It is time to go on the record (again) and say that no pastor has been 100% equipped for this last season of ministry, and absolutely none will be getting it right. Even fewer will be able to ‘please anybody’ (let along everybody). But there you go. But it is fine for the ‘buck’ to stop here.

There’s a lot of pain in this, to be sure, but we’re in the pathway of Jesus. My own experience is nothing compared to his. The amount of ‘buck’ that stopped by him at Calvary is overwhelming…and from THAT hill, flows grace to me. And it is that grace that is fuelling a joy in my heart that is totally beyond circumstances that we are all facing at this time. Even in a time of recent paralysing sickness that few will have any appreciation of in reality, there He was in the pit with me – not patronising, pulling me together, smoothing my brow or drawing his sword…but in strengthening silence. Just standing. That is more than enough for me.

So, I guess this is the sanitised ‘blog’ version of current experience. Always happy to have real, open, vulnerable conversation with those who want to get to the heart of things. Richard Rohr, one of my favourite heretics, says about human pain: “If we don’t transform it, we transmit it.” This is the world we live in – the world where people don’t know where to take their pain. All I can say is the best place to take it is to Jesus, and if you need help to get it there, I’m more willing and familiar with the landscape that you’d believe.