Special photo: Susan Bennett
For the last few weeks, I’ve been pretty much homebound, recovering from surgery, and I did something I don’t usually do. It was a little crazy … and I don’t really recommend it! I started watching daytime television.
Now, there are lots of fun shows on –– game shows, shows for foodies, all kinds of things –– but what I ended up doing was watching the news, staring for hours at CNN or Fox or whatever was on. My husband is a news junkie, but I rarely watch for long. Now, however, I got hooked … and discovered, in depth, things I’d been only half aware of:
• Iran is manufacturing nuclear weapons and making threats.
• Greece has more or less exploded.
• War, famine, and genocide go on in many different parts of the world, and sometimes, have been going on for generations.
• In Atlanta, even in Henry County, murders, kidnappings, and violent crimes are a daily occurrence.
• Foreclosures and unemployment and homelessness are still on the rise.
• Police officers are being murdered in the streets, drugs are rampant, abuse and cruelty to children and animals never stops, and do I even have to mention Afghanistan?
And, in between all that are those awful ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) commercials that always leave me in tears. Plus … ask me anything about the long list of ambulance-chasing lawyers who will get you LOTS of money, if you just call them!
A few days ago, very depressed, there wasn’t anything else I could do but pray. What must God think when he looks at the world? I thought of Genesis, and the peace and beauty of the garden God had made for the creatures he created and loved.
That was how our lives were meant to be –– safe, fruitful, and filled with God’s presence. We’re a far cry from that! And this is OUR doing, not God’s. In the midst of perfection and freedom, God gave us one simple command: “You can have ANYTHING you want –– but don’t eat of this one tree.” And the serpent said, “But you’ll be wise; you’ll know good from evil; you’ll be in charge of your own fate.” And we made a choice … the wrong choice.
This is tragic. How could God not be angry? Rainbow or not, how does he keep himself from flooding the earth again and destroying us all?
But when we look at Jesus, we see the truth of God’s nature. I believe with all my heart that when God looks at the world, he feels sadness, grief –– not rage. God’s compassion moved him to send the world a Savior in Jesus Christ … and not just to the world, but to each of us, as many as will receive him.
Toward sinners, Jesus showed only compassion. But to the Pharisees, the religious leaders, Jesus said a sad thing: “Your hearts are hardened.” If we’re being honest, our hearts are often hard, too. What used to shock us doesn’t anymore. We’re almost casual about the latest murder or apartment fire or robbery. The world is so filled with darkness, we’ve actually grown accustomed to living in the shadows.
But … this is Lent. And we need to pay attention.
In Psalm 51, David cries out to God, “Create in me a new heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me!” The world was dark in David’s time, too, but he wasn’t blaming the world or anyone else but himself. If our hearts are dark, it’s because we’ve closed the door against the Light.
Do we hate? Are there people we’ve been angry with for years and are STILL angry with? Are we jealous of others? Do we carry resentment against folks who’ve long ago forgotten they even offended us? That’s part of what it means to live in darkness.
Lent is the season of humility and honesty before God, of taking the time and having the courage to examine ourselves closely and thoroughly. David says of God, “You desire truth in the inward being …” And that’s where we must allow God access.
Picture a cold, dark room –– almost like a dungeon. There are no windows, no light, only debris and dust and chill and dampness … because this is a room that’s rarely entered. But there you are … because this room is the dark corner of your heart that you try to ignore or forget … and NO ONE is allowed in there.
But Jesus asks, “Do you want to be healed? Do you hear me knocking? I know all about this room, and only I can free you from this pain.” If we can just trust Jesus enough, we’ll open the door … probably just a little at a time. And as we do, in come the Light and warmth and healing –– and hope.
For this season of Lent, let’s listen more, and talk less; let’s find the courage to be open and honest with God; let’s allow him access to the truth of our hearts. And we’ll find, as David did, that the joy of our salvation is restored, and we are once again free and forgiven.
Rev. Susan Bennett is pastor of Stockbridge Presbyterian Church. She and her husband live in Stockbridge with two giant Rottweilers and a 15-pound rescue dog who is the boss of everybody.