The rain transformed into steam that rose from the sidewalk as quickly as it fell from the sky. The grey moss clung to the low hanging branches of historic trees that seemed weary from fighting gravity. The distinct smell of marsh, salt air and body odor hung faintly in the air; a reminder that no amount of deodorant could save you in such oppressive heat. The low country is beautiful in the most enthralling and nostalgic of ways, but today the humid air was thick with bittersweet memories.
We gathered in the old Presbyterian church (I say “old” because it has been there for as long as I can remember) like sweaty sardines packed in a tin. I briefly wondered, as I always do on summer days in the South, why I bothered to wear makeup or straighten my hair. As I surveyed the sanctuary, I quickly realized I was not the only woman mentally asking herself those questions. The melody of “Amazing Grace” flowed from the pianist’s fingers as the familiar words rolled off my tongue. We gathered to remember, to celebrate, and to grieve my uncle, now a witness to the fulfillment of our hope in the Gospel.
There are things I think I will never understand this side of eternity. Diseases like ALS and cancer, which have stolen beloved family, or cases of horrific injustice and trauma that have intersected with my story serve as some examples. Words and stories I read in Scripture that make me question the love, justice, and grace of God exist for me as well. Some folks are comfortable with allowing unanswered questions to hang in the air, others feel the need to fill the space of uncertainty with some rationale or platitude. I fear I fall often into the latter category, becoming the very individual that irritates the snot out of me. When I read chapters such as Exodus 11-12, in which Moses details how God hardened Pharaoh’s heart and wiped out one nation’s entire generation of firstborn children and livestock, I struggle with liking God. I want to know why He hardened Pharaoh’s heart, so that even if he wanted to change his mind towards Israel and grant them freedom, he was rendered incapable. I want to know why Pharaoh’s son and every firstborn in Egypt had to suffer for Pharaoh’s stubborn refusal to set Israel free. These are unsettled questions that have hypothesized answers and yet they hang in the air of uncertainty. The older I grow, the more comfortable I am with unanswered questions and the bolder I become in expressing them, but I still think they are for the birds.
My kind husband humored my persistent questions on this passage this afternoon. He sacrificed his hope of a quiet lunch as I interviewed him, curious to know his thoughts. “God gave Israel an out that He did not give Himself,” he said midway through our conversation. “He passed over the homes with blood on the door posts, but He did not pass over His Son.” God experienced what every parent who lost their firstborn the night of the Passover experienced; and while I do not understand the fullness of His ways, I cannot allow the uncertainty to negate what I know to be true. That in moments of inexpressible grief, tremendous loss, and deep sorrow there exists a God who can identify with our emotions and experiences because He has not spared Himself from them. That we can gather to mourn the loss of a life well-lived and yet simultaneously rejoice in the reality that he is whole, complete, and more fully alive than ever before because God did not pass over Himself.
The beauty of the Gospel is rich and complex; extending into our deepest places of grief in the truest form of empathy. While we wait with expectation and hope for the day when our limited minds can comprehend the divine, we can rest in the uncertainty with a God who has experienced every weight and emotion we carry. We can grieve with the raw honesty that dwells deep in our bones and know that we are fully seen, wholly loved, and held by a God who gave His Son to restore for us all that is broken.