Christ in Danger

From the eighth stanza of the Prayer of St. Patrick, 5th Century missionary to Ireland, come the words, “Christ in Danger.”  I have meditated on this stanza of Patrick’s prayer over the past month, along with Marilyn Chandler McEntyre’s book “Christ, My Companion,” a wonderful reflection on this portion of the ancient prayer.  Of all the prepositional phrases in the stanza, “Christ in Danger” reminds me of my all-time favorite description of Jesus found in 1 Peter 2: 25, where Peter calls Jesus the “keeper and guardian of your souls.”

When I think about this image, I imagine an armed sentinel standing guard over my soul, fending off anything that could do harm to the essence of my being…that part of me that communes with the Almighty.

Danger comes in many forms.  In 2 Corinthians 11 and Philippians 4 Paul wrote of the many difficulties he had experienced, from which God did not rescue him physically but certainly protected him spiritually and, I think, emotionally.  I would add lingering illness and chronic pain to this list of potential life challenges that threaten us (think of Paul’s description in 2 Corinthians 12 of his prayer dialog with God, three times requesting healing from some physical infirmary, to which God responded, “No, My grace is sufficient”).  While we tend to view physical struggles of various sorts as our worst possible plight in life, I suggest that it is the effect these struggles cast on our souls that is the real danger.  Resentment, bitterness, anger, fear, self-pity, distrust and disbelief (the list goes on), rooted in our souls, destroy the essence of who we are.  When our souls are intact and spiritually connected to our Maker, suffering yields perspective.  When our souls disintegrate under pressure by these crippling emotions, the whole world is our nemesis.

Biblical examples from Paul’s life, along with our own experiences, teach us that there is more to our existence than creature comforts.  Truly, Christ’s kingdom is one where suffering and injustice are conquered once and for all…but remember what Jesus taught His disciples to pray?  “Thy kingdom come.”  While we see inklings of it, God’s kingdom is not yet fully manifested in our present reality.  In the meantime, by God’s grace our faith is stretched and strengthened through the hardships we face.  We learn to say with Paul, “Whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord” (Romans 14:8).  Our lives are meant to be all about HIM, not the other way around.

In summing up a section of her chapter titled Christ in Danger, McEntyre states: “God, who acts in mysterious, sometimes baffling, sometimes frustrating ways, may summon us to faith precisely in situations of danger. … What came to [the saints of old] in times of danger appears to have been a gift of faith enlarged by crisis, tried in fire that turned it to gold.”

Indeed, God places a high value on faith…so high that the means by which it is attained – even suffering that exacts a heavy toll on our physical existence – seems to be justified in the heavenly economy.  Think about this as you face your own terribly difficult circumstances.  What depths of faith might God be drawing you into, through your troubles?  On your pilgrim road, may the “Keeper and Guardian of our souls” sustain you, always!

How Long to Sing This Song?

Do you recognize the phrase, “How Long to Sing This Song?”?  It’s from U2’s song “40,” loosely based on Psalm 40.  I can’t say I understand the full meaning of the lyrics, but seeing as it was written during the time of conflict in Northern Ireland, that’s a big clue.

But I’m thinking, of course, about the bombing at the Boston Marathon on Monday.  It doesn’t matter whether the attack originated from halfway around the world or from some Boston native who was simply tired of one more marathon through his city—when an event elicits extreme fear and inflicts harm, it is in fact a terrorist attack.  And such attacks are on the rise.

How long, how long to sing this song?  Habakkuk, my favorite Old Testament prophet, asked the same question; but instead of tossing his question to the wind – as we are prone to do – he directed his query to the One who holds the answer:  “How long will the wicked prosper?  How long will You tolerate wrongdoing?  Why are You silent while we suffer at the hands of terrorists near and far? (chapter 1, my paraphrase).”

Then, after asking his bold questions, Habakkuk stood back and said, “I will stand at my guard post and station myself on the lookout tower.  I will watch to see what He will say to me” (2:1).  When we ask the tough questions, we should be prepared to wait on God and listen for the answer.  Listening in the silence is an intimate act of faith.  It implies that we trust the one of whom we are asking our questions.  Listen long enough, intently enough, sincerely enough, and we will hear God’s reply (my paraphrase):

  • I am sovereign.  I have the final say.  Nothing escapes My awareness.
  • I see the whole picture, you do not.  I allow suffering only for a season.
  • In My time, I will deal with all of the injustice in the world.
  • Trust Me, inexplicably and fully.

Like Psalm 40, U2’s song continues:

He set my feet upon a rock
And made my footsteps firm
Many will see
Many will see and hear

Habakkuk arrived at the same conclusion when he said, “The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights” (3:19).

What can we make of this?  Is it possible to tread on high ground in the midst of turmoil and chaos?  Or is it disrespectful to those who are still suffering such terrible personal losses?  I don’t think Habakkuk meant let’s throw a party and celebrate while the world wallows in misery.  His resolution is one of hope, not of callous ignorance or indifference.

Another Old Testament writer, well acquainted with suffering and grief, came to his own “high place” after God finally answered his questions (after a long period of silence).  Job’s epiphany is still timely today.  As we turn on our TVs and listen to the latest casualty update from the Boston bombing, let’s allow Job’s words to sink into our hearts and minds:

“Oh, that my words were recorded,
that they were written on a scroll,
that they were inscribed with an iron tool on lead,
or engraved in rock forever!

“I know that my redeemer lives,
and that in the end he will stand on the earth.
And after my skin has been destroyed,
yet in my flesh I will see God;
I myself will see him
with my own eyes—I, and not another.
How my heart yearns within me!”