Ashes to Ashes

God is big enough to handle both my despair and my gratitude.

Death is pervasive in the Christian story.  

Our central symbol? The cross. 

More than 1/3 of the Psalms? Psalms of lament. 

One of the central metaphors of the Christian life is dying to the old self and putting on the new self. 

And yet, it’s really tempting to tie things up with a bow, to move on rather speedily from the suffering to talk about the restoration of all things. I certainly experience this as a writer, as a speaker, even as a wife and a friend: it’s hard to “stare down the abyss,” as writer Kate Bowler would say. 

This past Sunday at my church, the preacher named the temptation towards despair. It did my heart good. That’s why I love Lent: there’s a little more social permission to name the things that do (and should!) make us sad or worried.

The Christian life is big enough – God is big enough – to handle both my despair and my gratitude.  

Many people smarter than me have already written about this, like Dr. Soong-Chan Rah: 

“The evangelical culture moves too quickly to praise from lament. We do not hear from all of the voices in the North American evangelical context. Instead, we opt for quick and easy answers to complex issues. We want to move on to the happier message of success and triumph and cover up the message of those who suffer.” 

It’s not all getting better. My life will be (and already is) less prosperous than that of my parents. 

If my husband and I have kids, they will live in a seriously environmentally degraded world which will be all the more prone to conflict. 

If you don’t believe me, check out the International Panel on Climate Change’s 2018 report. The myth of progress and an ever-expanding economy is just that, a myth. And a destructive one, at that. 

MYTH OF HUMAN PROGRESS
I thought that realizing this wouldn’t affect my faith, wouldn’t shake me. After all, I’ve been reading stories of injustice day-in and day-out for a while now. But it has – wrestling with the realities of climate change and racial injustice has profoundly altered the questions I bring to God. Before this wrestling, had I embraced a kind of Enlightenment triumphalism? Had my faith come to underwrite the myth of progress? 

Where does my faith go after the death of the myth of human progress? 

And yet: God was still with the disciples in those terrifying days between Good Friday and the good news brought to them by the women. 

Easter is coming soon. 

But I challenge you: carry a bit of Ash Wednesday with you. Dare to “stare down the abyss.” Listen a little longer to the friend struggling with depression, for whom there are no easy answers.

Dare to read that climate change report.

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.  

  • Danielle Steenwyk-Rowaan is a Host Connector with Open Homes Hamilton, a Christian ministry that supports refugee claimants by offering home-based hospitality in Hamilton, Ontario.

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