Is God Out to Lunch?
Is God Out to Lunch?
Toward the end of Bryan Stevenson’s book, Just Mercy, he writes of a time at the close of a difficult case that he returns to his law office discouraged and wearied by the fight for justice for a wrongly condemned person facing execution:
“The lack of compassion I witnessed every day had finally exhausted me. I looked around my crowded office, at the stacks of the records and papers, each filled with tragic stories, and I suddenly didn’t want to be surrounded by all this anguish and misery. As I sat there, I thought myself a fool for having tried to fix situations that were so fatally broken. It’s time to stop. I can’t do this anymore. For the first time I realized that my life was just full of brokenness. I worked in a broken system of justice. My clients were broken by mental illness, poverty, and racism. They were torn apart by disease, drugs and alcohol, pride, fear and anger. In their broken state, they were judged and condemned by people whose commitment to fairness had been broken by cynicism, hopelessness, and prejudice.”
But he doesn’t quit. Instead, he discovers that, “My years of struggling against inequality, abusive power, poverty, oppression, and injustice had finally revealed something to me about myself. Being close to suffering, death, executions, and cruel punishments didn’t just illuminate the brokenness of others; in a moment of anguish and heartbreak, it also exposed my own brokenness. You can’t effectively fight abusive power, poverty, inequality, illness, oppression, or injustice and not be broken by it.”
There are times when we are all weary of the world. My friend Mary McCleary gave me the word for it. It is “mal du siecle.” We despair of the state of the world and long for the past. The Germans call it “weltschmerz.” I like the way Em Smith put it, “Weltschmerz, basically, is the depression we feel when bamboozlers, fanatics, manipulators, trolls, bigots, demagogues, fear-mongers, liars and prigs threaten to take over the world, and there’s nothing, we think, we can do about it.”
The Psalmist must have felt the same when he wrote:
What’s going on here? Is God out to lunch?
Nobody’s tending the store.
The wicked get by with everything;
they have it made, piling up riches.
I’ve been stupid to play by the rules;
what has it gotten me?
A long run of bad luck, that’s what—
a slap in the face every time I walk out the door.
If I’d have given in and talked like this,
I would have betrayed your dear children.
Still, when I tried to figure it out,
all I got was a splitting headache . . .
Until I entered the sanctuary of God.
Then I saw the whole picture…
There are times in all our lives when we feel the same. But the answer is always the same as well, isn’t it? None of it makes sense until we enter the sanctuary of God. There is a place reserved for us where we can discover rest, encouragement and the support of others living in similar circumstances. For some of us this week that sanctuary will be the annual meeting of The Gathering. For more than 30 years we have been coming together to not only learn but to teach and hold each other up as we all work toward not giving in to pride or, perhaps worse, cynicism and disillusionment. This is no time to look back with nostalgia but a time to renew our “long obedience in the same direction.” It’s no time to withdraw in despair or thinking we can do nothing about it. It’s a time to remember Mother Teresa’s words:
People are often unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered.
Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind,
people may accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.
Be kind anyway.
If you are successful,
you will win some false friends and some true enemies.
If you are honest and frank,
people may cheat you.
Be honest and frank anyway.
What you spend years building,
someone could destroy overnight.
If you find serenity and happiness,
they may be jealous.
Be happy anyway.
The good you do today,
people will often forget tomorrow.
Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have,
and it may never be enough.
Give the best you’ve got anyway.
in the final analysis it is between you and God;
it was never between you and them anyway.