Love is the final theme of the advent season, and it is, perhaps, the hardest for me to write about. It is often the theme that points us towards our family and the love that we share. Our family, however, is incomplete this year, and it will be every year from this point forward. There is a lot of love that we have stored up for our sweet son, and we simply don’t know how to show it.
Another aspect of love in Christmas is the love that God shows us in becoming one of us. We humans struggle to know God. We try to figure God out, but it has always been hard for our finite minds to grasp God. Then Jesus came to show us who God is, and what we learned is that God is love. But my question is: how does one celebrate the season of the love of God when his heart feels so vacuous?
In C.S. Lewis’ A Grief Observed, we have an inside look at how he processed his grief when his wife died. At times it seems as if he struggled with this image of a loving God. He writes that the danger of tragedy and grief is not in ceasing to believe that God exists but, instead, is “of coming to believe such dreadful things about [God].”
“Meanwhile, where is God? This is one of the most disquieting symptoms…. Go to [God] when your need is desperate, when all other help is in vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting in the inside…. The longer you wait, the more emphatic the silence will become.”
Lewis does come to the recognition that Jesus felt this same God-forsakenness on the cross, but then he asks, “Does that make it easier to understand?”
I don’t know that it does.
One’s experience of grief oftentimes trumps our well-formulated theologies. We know that Jesus experienced our pain out of his love for us, but when all we experience is a desperate silence from God, that theological truth feels a little thin.
God is love, but didn’t my son just die? Why didn’t he save him? I know very well C.S. Lewis’ dilemma here. It seems very easy to slide into believing God to be disinterested in us at best and quite the monster at worst.
Recently, however, I began reading Karl Barth’s Evangelical Theology: An Introduction in preparation for courses I’ll be teaching in Arica. Something he said caught my eye. “The object of evangelical theology is God in the history of his deeds. In this history he makes himself known.” God is known through the way God manifests God’s self in history. God is not an abstract god but one that we know through what he has done. God is not subject to my ever-changing emotional state. Even though my feelings make me question God’s goodness, advent history reminds me that God is love. God came in Jesus to know us, to know our pain, and to give us hope, peace, joy, and love.
Does that erase the pain? Does it make it any easier to deal with my questions and sorrows? Does it mean that I will never again ask, “Why, God?”
It does, however, remind me that God is love. In my suffering God is with me and God loves me. It also forces me to refocus myself to realize that even in my tragedy God’s love can be found, oftentimes in Christ’s own body, the church that has continually shown us the love and acceptance of God. That is something that I hope to remember as we think on the love of God this Christmas.