Howl

BY JASON LEE

This piece is part of syndicated series in collaboration with Yale Logos for Lent 2021. You can read the original piece at https://www.yalelogos.com/home/howl.

Sometimes the good news does not feel like good news. My confession is that, sometimes, my faith redirects my daily resentments from an implacable universe to an impassive God. It is easier, sometimes, to believe our afflictions result from the wingbeats of several rather malicious butterflies than from the motion of a world watched by a loving deity. Many believers have told me that the former viewpoint is much lonelier than the latter. 

But the truth is the former viewpoint can be more peaceful. Our daily tragedies—denied cards, estranged family, dinners served with shouting, divorces, decidedly nonseasonal depression, notes planning desperate escapes, unceasing apologies from optionless people—are inevitable, and were unpreventable. The extent to which we agonize over the meaning of life or the right thing to do is limited by the extent to which we agonize generally, which can be “not at all” if we compartmentalize correctly. No promises are made. All answers are the same, and without doubt—“them’s just the breaks.” Our desolate condition has a strange serenity. 

Our faith rejects this desolation—to the delight of many believers. It brings with it a universal truth to knock the cosmos into order, to dictate that the first will be last and the last will be first and that the meek will inherit, and a universal love to deliver sinners from their self-destruction. It halts the silent, comforting roil of a random universe with the promise of divine order and the security of divine answers.

This means that faith is upsetting as much as it is an upsetting. With God, suddenly, there is someone responsible for creation, omnipotent and omniscient, who approves and denies each and every atomic shift in His creation. Promises of love and salvation are made but not followed through. There is a new all-encompassing answer: God. But unlike random chaos, God has His will, and it is the existence of His will that allows us to doubt. From the perspective of the despondent multitudes, the good news of faith is that there is a God, and He has authorized each and every cosmic hammer blow upon their shoulders. 

I commit no heresy. Scripture is clear on what is whose fault and why and includes the terms and conditions for each guarantee. I am merely acknowledging that scripture sometimes feels inadequate and faith insufficient. I and many have tried and now refuse to sort out which of our trials and temptations are the inevitabilities of a world separated from God by our sin, which are sent by God, and which, as James 1:2 says, we are meant to delight in. As much as these are explained to me, as much as I am reminded that each ordeal represents an opportunity to test and strengthen our faith, and that faith in the Lord does not secure a smooth life, I cannot help but wonder if He could not have withheld just this last blow, withdrew just this last gauntlet, preserved just this last peace. 

Our loved ones—why didn’t He expunge their insidious thoughts as He once scoured Paul’s? Why didn’t He dash their liquor against the rocks as He promised for the heads of Israel’s enemies? Why didn’t He reveal himself to them as they lost sight of the light? Even in their desperation, were they less deserving than Moses? We are helpless in this world. Our condition is beyond tragic. We cannot save ourselves, our families, or our friends. All we can do is pray and watch as they pray and “be there for them” and then continue to watch and watch and watch and watch. Of this helplessness I am convinced, convicted, whatever you need me to be, Lord. Why can’t it be just a little easier? Why do you also merely watch?

I know the Sunday school answers—that I am too concerned with worldly matters like my family and their happiness. That I am impudent to challenge you, Lord, or question your ways. That I was not there when you constellated the sky and ribbed the earth. At times, I am convinced of these answers by prayer, repetition, or epiphany. But most days, I am unsatisfied with the theologians. I am unsatisfied by what you have chosen to reveal to us, Lord, and by the classic metrics, ungrateful for what has been given to me. I am tiny, of unclean lips, a liar, resentful, deaf to the Gospel, and awfully, overwhelmingly lonely despite knowing you are God.

But somehow, I cannot relinquish my faith. This insanity is either a testament to the extent of my socialization in the Christian community or proof of your existence. I hope—pray—it is the latter. I pray for you to deliver my friends and family from their suffering. I pray to repent of my iniquities, though I can’t see their end. I pray to understand what you’re saying, why you do what you do, why you tell us to act the way you tell us to act. I know you probably won’t. I think I want to follow you as best I can.

Lent calls for repentance and meditation. Yet, sometimes we are too battered for well-mannered confessions and unbruised sentiments. We should not lower our doubts and unrepentance to whispers as a matter of Lenten expectation. If you are so moved by the Lord, that is another matter. But to hide our hesitations from Him is pointless.

The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. Rom 8:26

We must declare the extent of our burdens, our wounds, even if the only way we can do so is by howling them. Obfuscation will only allow them to fester. If, as I am told, the Lord meets us in our joy and our grief, He will—I hope—also meet us in our anger and frustration. 

Jason is a junior at Yale majoring in Global Affairs.

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