Jesus' realism about life’s many hurts

Posted Sep 9, 2019

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If you or someone you care about has suicidal feelings, please seek help. Reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800) 273-8255, the Crisis Text Line (text to 741741) or The Church of the Resurrection pastoral care—(913) 544-0712 or (913) 544-0799 after office hours.

Daily Scripture

Psalm 147:1-5

1 Praise the LORD!
    Because it is good to sing praise to our God!
    Because it is a pleasure to make beautiful praise!
2 The LORD rebuilds Jerusalem, gathering up Israel’s exiles.
3 God heals the brokenhearted
    and bandages their wounds.
4 God counts the stars by number,
    giving each one a name.
5 Our LORD is great and so strong!
    God’s knowledge can’t be grasped!

Matthew 5:1-4

1 Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up a mountain. He sat down and his disciples came to him. 2 He taught them, saying:

3 “Happy are people who are hopeless, because the kingdom of heaven is theirs.

4 “Happy are people who grieve, because they will be made glad.

Reflection Questions

Based on a single verse (like Psalm 147:1), some people say a “true” Christian can only feel “praise.” But if we, or someone we care about, is hurting deeply, that often just deepens the despair. Psalm 147 spoke after Israel’s exile in Babylon (see verse 2). And verse 3 said, not that God’s people were never sad, but that God tenderly cares for the brokenhearted and wounded. In the first two of his famous “Beatitudes” (from the Latin beatus, “blessed”) Jesus' named hopelessness and grief as part of human life. But he offered God’s good news to the hopeless and grieving.

  • Israel’s exile in Babylon left scattered people and a ruined Jerusalem. “Against all the evidence the psalm declares that Yahweh is the builder of Jerusalem and the gatherer of exiles, the healer of broken spirits and the nurse who bandages people’s wounds…. How can you believe such declarations? You can believe them on the basis of the fact that the God of whom the psalm speaks is the one who controls the stars and who cannot himself be put under control.”* How easy or hard do you find it to trust that the universe’s Creator cares about you when you hurt?
  • Jesus would have used the Aramaic phrase “O, the blessedness of….” in the Beatitudes. It meant much more than circumstance-based human happiness. Scholar William Barclay wrote, “‘No one,’ said Jesus, ‘will take your joy from you’ (John 16:22). The beatitudes speak of that joy which seeks us through our pain, that joy which sorrow and loss, and pain and grief, are powerless to touch, that joy which shines through tears, and which nothing in life or death can take away.”** When, if ever, has God given you that deep inner trust? How can you daily build a bond with God that makes that good news an unshakeable part of your life?

Prayer

Lord Jesus, I want the kind of rock-solid blessedness you offer me. Shape my heart to value what you value, to rejoice in the eternal life you give. Amen.


* John Goldingay, Psalms for Everyone, Part 2: Psalms 73–150. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014, p. 221.

** William Barclay, Daily Study Bible Series: The Gospel of Matthew—Volume 1 Chapters 1–10 (Revised Edition). Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1976, p. 89.

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Ashley Morgan Kirk

Ashley Morgan Kirk

Ashley is the High School Pastor at rezlife Leawood. After seven years of higher ed in religion, she finally understands that she can't figure out God (no matter how hard she tries). She’s leaning into the challenge to move from a thinking-based faith to loving God with both her head and heart.

A wise (and licensed) counselor once told me that we can’t numb pain without also numbing joy. Which in turn means that when we feel keen moments of joy, we are also able to feel deep pain. These two, joy and pain, are often posed as opposites on a spectrum of feelings, far away from one another. Because of this, we perceive that these feelings happen on their own, isolated from one or the other, and miles apart. But when I read Psalm 147, I see these feelings within mere sentences of each other: “Praise the Lord because it is good to sing praises to our God” is only two sentences away from “God heals the brokenhearted and bandages their wounds.” Then, in Matthew 5, Jesus places these feelings even closer with the words “happy” and “hopeless” in the same phrase. You and I wouldn’t say this is true of the human experience! 

Except…when we remember those complex adult emotions that are more “both/and” than “either/or,” those times of both grief and joy. As the high school pastor at Leawood, I experienced this “both/and” of grief and joy as students graduated high school and left for their next phase of life. Am I sad to see them go? Absolutely. Am I happy they are beginning new and exciting chapters of their lives? Absolutely. Or I think of my wedding day. When I looked over at my parents, they were crying. Why? Were they sad to know my relationship with them would change forever from that day forward? Absolutely. Were they happy and excited for the bond my husband and I would share? Absolutely. Turns out, amazing joy and deep pain are much closer together than we think. That means that hopelessness must be closer to hope as well.

In the suicide survival stories I’ve heard, dark and terrifying places existed. Perhaps a place beyond “rock bottom.” What helped turn those places into spaces of hope was shedding light on them. It was done by letting others in on the darkness with the powerful experience of naming something out loud that is happening to you. That action brought light in. And the light continued to edge away at the darkness through the love and help of trustworthy people (skilled and non-skilled).

I’m reminded of the Apostles' Creed that proclaims “Jesus descended to the dead,” perhaps a similar place of darkness beyond “rock bottom.” And after spending what could’ve been an excruciating time there, he rose. It was darkest for him before his brightest dawn. This gives me great hope for us. Perhaps it means that the darkest and most terrifying places, where we feel the deepest pain, are next door neighbors to our brightest dawns, our most keenly felt moments of joy.

For those who knew and loved someone who completed suicide, the Scripture today also proclaims the truth that the kingdom of heaven belongs to those who most identified as “hopeless.” Rest in the knowledge that the kingdom is theirs.

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