I enjoy a slightly hipster-esque–Indie–Folksy–Blue Grass band by the name of The Civil Wars. One of the first songs I fell in love with is called Poison and Wine. I love the words, I love the timbre of their voices, I love the way they haunt and redeem my heart with every chord.
Last week was a bit of a rough one emotionally. Not only for me, but also for others that I know and love. Sometimes, there is this illusion that seminary students, counseling students, future pastors and teachers have their “stuff” figured out. But the truth is, we’re actually very messy people.
A few brief examples:
My friend who is “engaged” but is on break.
One that I look up to who is struggling with depression.
There’s another who is struggling with burn out from ministry (already!) and depression.
A new friend who is coming out of depression but has mixed direction on life.
Another who is dealing with childhood abuse.
Everyone who can’t afford their lives.
The one who is so desperate for love they keep going back to the same broken relationship.
My friend who longs to know that God does love him.
The one, surrounded by friends, who still feels alone.
These are the people I do life with, each and every day. It’s exhausting, it’s beautiful, it’s truth. Over the weekend I went out with a couple friends after one of them had moved into a new apartment. I had heard some basic things about his off kilter relationship, but that night I asked a few more questions. I wanted to get to know this man better, and as a friend, part of that required knowing his story, his relationships, his hopes, the things his world revolves around. The story given was not long but it was full of sorrow amidst lingering hopes. When we returned to their house from the restaurant, I stood outside with the roommate I am very close to suddenly found myself overwhelmed by sadness. I burst into tears. My friend wrapped his arms around me while I cried and repeatedly mumbled the same questions.
Why does He let this go on?
When is He coming back?
When will He put things to rights? Bind up our sores, heal our broken bones?
My friend, of course, couldn’t say. These are questions that have plagued human history and Christianity is no exception. The failure of God to come when we expect has always been a mystery in human suffering.
I managed to pull myself together enough to get in my car and make it onto the highway. I pulled the pieces together and placed trembling hands on the steering wheel as I guided the little sedan through late night traffic and construction. It didn’t take long, however, before my lack of control resurfaced. Two exits after my entrance to the highway the same sadness overwhelmed me. I cried the entire way home, a twenty minute drive of blurred lights and stifled sobs.
In the midst of this, as I pounded my steering wheel and demanded to know when He will return, the sounds of The Civil Wars whispered through my stereo. Poison and Wine seems, at first listening, to be a song of dried up hopes and long forgotten love. It is a relationship kept alive only by the power of will, by sheer stubbornness. Or so it seems.
There is a part in the song that suddenly hit home that night on the highway. The music crescendoes and the man sings in a terrifyingly raw tone, “I don’t have a choice, but I still choose you.” They surge into the chorus where their voices mingle together, singing desperately, “Oh, I don’t love you, but I always will!”
It seems so open, so broken, so lost and hopeless.
But I suddenly understood why the Prophets, Israel, the New Testament writers–why even Jesus himself–calls us His wife. The Scriptures have long said we are the promiscuous wife who runs to others, who forgets her first love, who stands on the street corners outside a house of sexual indecency, who lies and scorns the things of her husband. We have always gone running to other things, and God has always stood waiting.
That is only one side of it though.
It’s true, I’m a child of indecency, and I often go after things that lead only to my destruction. It’s true that I pursue other lovers, that I forget the One who redeemed me, who cleaned me, gave me new clothes and took me into his home with nothing to offer him.
But there is another side, the one we face day in and day out. It is the side of sinful reality. The world is broken. Jesus hasn’t yet come back. We speak of progress and the improvement of man, but we have only improved ways of killing each other, ways of keeping the poor underfoot. I railed at God in my car on Sunday night, beating the steering wheel with a tightly closed fist. It isn’t the first time my car or my body has been abused for the frustration of His postponed return. Sunday night won’t be the last time I get angry and tell God He’s wrong for waiting, it won’t be the last time I ask Him to come back right now and save us from all this mess.
But, I realized the marriage metaphor is not only about a wife who has abandoned her master.
It’s about a wife who waits patiently for her husband, trusting that he’ll be true to his word as he always has been.
“I don’t have a choice, but I still choose you,” they sang as I raced down the highway through a construction zone where even the cops themselves drive over the limit. I stood in the city, burning its way to the ground in selfish debt and hopeless sin. I drove on the edge of town to a place where the sin and violence are the stories in the lives of my neighbours.
And I thought, I’ve tried to run from the faith so many times, Abba, but you always hold on to me. I don’t have a choice. I don’t have a way of getting out of what I know to be true. I couldn’t leave even if I wanted to.
But I don’t want to leave.
I don’t have “freedom” to leave. But even if I did, I wouldn’t want to. Even when I don’t love God, I always will. I will always choose Him, even when I think He is dawdling in His return. It’s like a marriage. A covenant. I agreed to stay, and so I will. Just as He has waited and stayed for me, so I will wait on Him.