Today’s post comes from Michelle Ruetschle who lives and works in Manila with her husband Steve.
I confess that I am somewhat at a loss for words as I come to the blank page. I am writing from the ease of an arm chair, in a dry and spacious room, in our home in Manila. Not so very far away are the horrifying scenes being broadcast daily and hourly across newspapers and televisions around the world. We give, we pray, we organize relief efforts, but mostly, we feel guilty and helpless, drifting in and out of an awareness of suffering.
Last year around this time, we flew down to Tacloban, visiting a school and ministry there which now no longer has a roof. From there we drove several hours to Samar, to a small resort along the ocean. I fear that almost nothing of that resort, with its traditionally styled huts, remains.
As I hold the beauty of the memory alongside current events, I think on a reality that always exists, but that in recent days has landed more viscerally near to me. It is that bittersweet flavor of “already, not yet” that seasons all of our days, but is especially pungent during tragedy. These words are often used to describe the kingdom of God, a kingdom that is here and yet is not fully arrived. The words are a paradox, holding a mystery. “Already,” is the statement of faith, whose eyes can see the coming glory. We look at the present with those eyes, full of hope and trust, eagerly gathering up the abounding evidence, the shining scraps of beauty and magnificence strewn across the planet and scrawled across our human experience, traces so delicious they herald a living, loving God. We taste with our mouths the sweetness and believe that there is more. But then, there is the “not yet.” Replete with longing, the words acknowledge what we unwillingly swallow alongside the sweet, the bitter taste of senseless suffering, of selfish action, of outright evil in our world. Tasting it, we are forced to acknowledge that in our material realm all is not well.
Romans 8:22 says that all creation groans as if in the pangs of childbirth. It is not a static image but rather one of process. There is a fully developed and glorious child, but until the birthing is complete, we cannot hold it in our arms and smell the sweetness of its head or touch the softness of its skin or feel the warmth of its breath. There is movement on the inside that reassures us of its presence. We touch our bellies, and watch them expand with the certainty of the child’s arrival. And yet that beautiful outcome is brought forth with pain, a pain that is borne more easily because of the hope that what is at its end, its very purpose, is beautiful.
Just as the broader picture of the world is one of beauty and suffering mixed together – “already, not yet” – so our own lives reflect that reality as well. For Steve and I, we glory in the healing that he has, a taste of something beautiful, something more, while we also live with the daily reminders of what remains broken, of weakness and pain. You live it, too. We all do.
Faith is a hope in what we cannot see, that there is an “already” that lives alongside the “not yet”. We look at the evidence and believe that all will be made right, that one day something complete and miraculous and wonderful will come forth from our labors and the labors of the earth. When suffering challenges us, we are forced to dwell in the longing and trust that the process is not without meaning and purpose. Faith becomes especially strong here, where we cannot see, but still choose hope.
Today, we acknowledge the “not yet” for the southern Philippines, in the dead bodies and in the loss of homes and in the utter destruction. The “not yet” resounds in the images we see, but it will have deeper and darker echoes in the lives of those who truly suffered the loss. Groans are inarticulate. They acknowledge that we cannot in and of ourselves neatly explain what transpires. With gratitude, we can find and gather up the scraps of the “already” amidst the rubble, where beauty can be found, in love, in help, and in prayers answered. Where we can, we add our own sweetness to the mix. Mostly, however, as believers we can only submit ourselves to the process, trusting that as we groan alongside our brothers and sisters, we are borne together toward an ultimate outcome that is good.