When they are little, we read them stories from Bibles with cartoon illustrations. We sing them songs about lights under bushels and Father Abraham and his many sons. God is good and God is great and we’re all friends. We weave Jesus and Mary and God in heaven around them like a warm, soft quilt, and we create for them a childhood where they are snug.
And then, despite our best efforts against such a thing, life comes at them. Sometimes, it comes quietly, and the reality of this fallen world makes itself known a little at a time, awareness of sin and disappointment that it’s not a fairytale seeping in, dampening the edges of the warm, soft quilt.
Sometimes, it comes in a torrent. Life crashes. The growing child, most likely a teenager, learns that his parents aren’t perfect. Maybe he even learns that the people in his church are not perfect either. He is sitting, quite alone, shivering in a wet, cold blanket, Father Abraham nowhere to be found.
And his mother wrings her hands.
How can this be? How can he doubt? How can he be shaken in this faith we’ve so carefully tucked around him? How did this happen?
With his awareness of the world, cynicism comes to hide beneath that blanket. If there is a God, why doesn’t He do something about the suffering? If there is a God, I’m not sure I like Him, what with all those people dying in His name and His seemingly standing by and letting it happen. If there is a God …
There is a God, isn’t there? All those stories, all those songs, all those bedtime prayers (especially the ones for baby brothers and sisters)? Those weren’t just make-believe, were they?
If there is a God, then where is He and why does real life hurt so much?
Because of sin, my child. God didn’t crucify the Christian in Syria. Sin did.
Sin abounds. Doubt creeps in and huddles close to cynicism beneath that blanket, both of them cold and damp and making the man-child colder and damper. And then he wonders, what’s the point? Why? Why am I here? This — this question — is the ultimate rite of passage. He is a grownup now, sitting huddled there with so many others, questioning the fallenness of it all. How did he get from “Jesus loves me, this I know” to being so aware of the magnitude of pain that is this fallen world. And how, how in the world, does he get warm and dry again?
He hums the familiar, faded tune. Jesus loves me. This I know. But, he isn’t sure. He wrestles doubt. He wonders why hope has left him here with these ugly bedfellows under this blanket.
Sing it strong, son! Sing it like you mean it. Call out to God in your doubt and your confusion, and ask Him to breathe warmth and light on your blanket. Or whisper it quietly. Just barely audible, ask Him in to your coldness and your damp sorrow. Invite hope to sit with you and let faith warm in such a way that cynicism and doubt are mightily uncomfortable and vacate the premises.
Go ahead, ask those questions again of the real and present God. Why are you here? What’s the meaning in your life? You are here because you notice. You see the suffering. You understand pain from the perspective of someone who has felt it. You are wonderfully made for just this moment in time. You are here because your blanket, warmed in the sun of His grace, is big enough to throw over your neighbor.
You are a big boy now, and you see, because you know suffering, that God does exist and He didn’t abandon you and He’s not capricious. He’s not some mean tormenter who stands idly by while His people suffer.
Indeed, He created you for a time such as this. He led you here; He let you feel. Because He has plans for you, plans for a future and a hope. He calls you to be His hands and His feet, to heal and to bind the wounds.
The world is broken, son, I know you’ve noticed. Now, let me show you that it is also good and that we can spend a lifetime together being the good, bringing the warmth. You are not here, under my roof. I cannot tuck that blanket around you and trace the round cheeks of your childish face while you sleep. You are miles away, your face lean and angular, and so, instead, I tuck you into my prayers, and I call upon God in His heaven to keep you warm.