We don't have to live very long to experience grief that comes shamefully wrapped as a gift of painful surprise. And no matter how many times its sorrow may overwhelm us, a single wave of immobilizing shock can leave the wounded heart disillusioned enough to proclaim it's done with the Church. Because there are no words to adequately describe the disappointment that penetrates the heart upon hearing about the egregious sin of a professing Christian whose public life has been marked by enough godly character and wisdom to draw assumption that their private world is similarly ordered. And if that Christian is someone we deeply love and respect, we're left with a spirit crushed and heart shattered with the reverberation of a million questions that come with no answers.
The jarring grief that pours over the soul with these surprising exposures of sin can stir a polarizing array of emotions that can be difficult to process. One day the hurt of betrayal can leave our chilled heart barely beating in the cold darkness, and the next day the pain of brokenness can set it ablaze with the warmth of compassion. One moment the suffering can leave our mind angrily contemplating retribution with cynicism, and the next moment the sorrow can leave it mercifully considering restoration with pietism.
There are multiple paths that I could take in writing this post, paths that are as diverse as our responses of grief. I could write about the urgency of shutting out the sin that crouches at our doorstep, and I could write about the urgency of shutting down the gossip that circles on our frontstep. I could address the importance of immersion in the Word, and I could address the importance of immersion in the local church.
I could even choose to share how the endless stream of beautiful photos on social media so easily keeps our head in the sand about raging spiritual warfare, not comprehending the reality that behind the smiling faces there is often deep suffering and sometimes deep sin. And with convicted heart, I could also choose to share how freely we are amused by sin on the screen until the destruction of that sin hits home and we are bound to our grief.
And though it would take more time than I have to write or you have to read, I could exposit the importance of biblical repentance and prudent biblical restoration. And in that exposition, discuss the need for wisdom far beyond our own that every counselor faces as we humbly walk through the resortation process of grace with those whose severe misalignment of their public and private life has caused such deep shame.
As a well-respected professor of pastoral care so poignantly writes in a blog post: "On the one hand, grace is audacious, extravagant, immediate, and all-embracing. On the other, grace is painful, reconstructive, surgical, and slow. Grace is the deliverance from Egypt and grace is the long, grueling journey through a blistering wilderness. I live with this paradox because of the work I do. . . And because grace refuses simplification, refuses to be reduced to a get-out-of-jail-free card, we must hold the paradox . . . " (Chuck DeGroat; An Invitation to Wholehearted Living)
But there's only one desire I have at this moment, and it's to choose the path that leads us to THE CROSS.
We aren't members of the Body of Christ because we lead sinless lives, dotting our i's and crossing our t's with the biblical flare of holy perfection. Far from it. There's only one reason and one reason alone that we're called Christians: we have put our faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ. And because of that finished work of extravagant love our singular boast is THE CROSS― that place of redemption where the violence of suffering was allowed to run as deep as our sin.
The blood of the Righteous Lamb flowed for all the sin of the Church, sin both great and small. Jesus didn't suffer on the cross any more severely for that beloved child, or that spouse, or that friend who disappoints us with the ugliness of sinful choices than he suffered there for us. Jesus didn't sorrow in agony any more deeply for that respected pastor, that teacher, or that leader who devastates us with some revelation of sin than he sorrowed for us. No. Our violation matched the depth of Christ's violent suffering at THE CROSS― that place of redemption where sight of our own sin buckles our knees in humiliation most.
When the night is long and we find ourselves shivering in confusion beneath a cold rain of exposed lies and broken laws, may our deep grief saturate our soul with the severity of our own sin and with the beauty of a Savior who rescued us. May it drive us to THE CROSS― that place where our weeping becomes an extraordinary mingling of joy and sorrow, and where our wondering becomes an extravagant merging of love and mercy.