Neil Diamond sang a song many years ago. I can only remember one line – “Song sung blue everybody’s knows one”. That line is so true.
At some time in all our lives we can only sing a sad song and it seems that God has one, too. Reading the Old Testament from Isaiah, he places in the mouth of God a very sad song. A song of lament about God’s unrequited love for Israel. The song begins like a love song telling of God’s eager tender care, providing every possible provision and protection for His beloved people. But by the second verse of the song, the mood turns dark and the music somber. For all the love that God has lavished on His people, they turn away from Him. God asks them, “What more could I have done for you that I did not do?” God sings “song sung blue”.
I am sure that some of us can imagine how God felt. Many of you have felt the sting of this same disappointment yourself. Perhaps, your “song sung blue” is a child. The beloved recipient of all of your heart, soul and love, but who rewards you with a lifetime of rebellion, rejecting your values or leaving the church. You are left broken-hearted wondering how this could have happened after all the love and prayers you poured into your child’s life.
Maybe your “song sung blue” is a ballad about your years of loyalty to a company only to have that same company throw you away all in the name of down-sizing or profit engineering. A lot of people in this country today are singing “song sung blue”. What is your “song sung blue” – the loss of a loved one, the loss of a relationship, a divorce, feeling rejected, not wanted by your church or a serious illness? Everyone at some time in their lives sings a “song sung blue” and we all end up asking why. Here we touch the very core of Christianity – the mystery of suffering, history of endless tales of tears which no human escapes.
Many years ago, I drove upstate to pick up Dorothy Day. If you do not know who she is, look her up online. She is up for canonization. Her early life was not happy and very difficult. The church began to attract her because of the faith and piety of some of her friends. She became a Catholic because of her need to be connected, to be part of a community. The institutional church was for her and something she both criticized and loved. To be a part of this community of faith brought her immense comfort, strength and joy. She ran houses for the homeless, the poor victims of injustice and those with drug and mental problems. She welcomed anyone that had no place to go and who nobody wanted.
After a long session of speaking about her work and answering questions, a young social worker said, “Miss Day, I worked at one of your houses for just a few months. The needs of the people you serve were so great. They had so many problems. I did not know where to start. How do you do this day in, day out?” Dorothy Day did not directly answer her question. She just smiled and began a story. A woman all alone in the world lost her brother. He died of cancer still young. She kept asking God, “Why?” But hearing only silence, she set out in search of an answer.
She had not gone far when she came upon an old man sitting on a bench. He was weeping. He said, “I have suffered a great loss. I am a painter and I have lost my eyesight.” He, too, was seeking an answer to the question “Why?” The woman invited him to join her and taking him by the arm, they trudged down the road. Soon they overtook a young man walking down the road aimlessly. The source of all his joy, his wife, had left him for another man. So he joined in the search of an answer to the “Why?” question. Shortly they came upon a young mother weeping on her front doorstep. She had lost her child and she, too, joined them. But nowhere could they find an answer.
Suddenly, they came upon Jesus Christ and each confronted Him with their questions. But Jesus gave no answer. Instead He began to cry and said, “I am bearing the burden of a woman who lost her brother, a girl whose baby has died, a painter who has lost his eyesight and a young man who has lost his wife to another.” As He spoke the four moved closer and they embraced each other and they grasped Jesus’ hands. Jesus spoke again saying, “My dominion is the dominion of the heart. I cannot prevent pain. I can only heal it.” “How?” asked the woman. “By sharing it”, He said. Then He was gone. The four were left standing and holding each other.
What theology tells us and our faith confirms is that in bad times, as well as, in good, in sickness and in health, in death as in life, God is there. This God is a God of Love. A God who loves you individually. A God who loves you even if you cannot understand how a loving God can let this or that happen to you. For all our intellectual sweat we have not solved the problem of evil. “Why not”, because our minds, however brilliant, are too small to grasp God.
When I am puzzled by all the problems around me, I remember Job in the Old Testament. He was a good man, loved God and everyone else and kept God’s laws. So, he cannot understand why he is suffering so much. Job is desolate. He trusts God, but he cannot get through to Him. The God who had been so present to him is now only absent. But God speaks to Job, not explaining and not apologizing. He does not give Job a theology of suffering. The real experience for Job is simply to encounter God. In that encounter, Job finds rest from his questioning not because he understands, no explanation has been given. Very simply, he has experienced God.
This kind of encounter is only possible if you have touched God and have allowed Him to touch you. If He has touched you, the questions will not vanish and the “Why?” will not wear away. But, as with Job, within you there will be a profound peace. Thomas Aquinas who spent his whole life asking “Why?”, finally said, “All my questions are straw” “Lord, at your service here lies my heart lost, all lost in wonder at the God thou art”.