A face worn with anxiety, stares back into the eyes of its beholder like a murky ghost. The silent, glassy surface of the water frames the spectacle that is both sublime and haunting. The king stares into the basin of water, beholding a face that paints worry and fear — his face. The kingdom is in shambles. Starvation is slowly devouring both land and inhabitant. The king, the very symbol of power and glory, stands powerless.
The kingdom is days away from dissolution. A drought has stricken their land. Starvation and absolute desperation have set the climate for a cesspool of crime and human injustice, but the king must remain strong and unwavering. Though his thoughts run wild in the safety of his private chamber, he must display power and composure to the subjects of the kingdom. He will not do this haphazardly in pure ignorance, though, for the king knows his depravity. His kingdom is in ruins.
His mourning must be in secret, removed from the inquisitive eyes of the people. Each morning as he dresses his raiment illustrates the very juxtaposition of his situation. He reaches for the universal symbol during his time of mourning and despair — the sackcloth. The coarse goat hair rubs his skin in constant irritation — a physical portrait of his cognitive battle. However, the king cannot be seen in sackcloth, the very notion would bring mass panic to the kingdom, so he covers his grief with the kingly garments. Purple silks embroidered with gold weaving flow seamlessly onto the floor of the palace. His regal attire projects strength, power, and authority. So in a single man, on a single day, we find the hidden vexation of grief and mourning, elegantly wrapped with robes only a king can wear. The contrast is startling. Even more surprising is the fact that we see this very scene every day in the eyes of hurting people — and we fail to notice.
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The world is a hurting place. One needs to look no further than the headlines over the last few weeks to see tragedy on mass scales taking place somewhere in the world on an almost daily basis. Today a daughter, father, friend, child, spouse… will die. Countless others will be diagnosed with diseases. Still yet there are those who will be victims of hatred and terror. The world is a hurting place.
In this marble catapulting through space we find pain unimaginable — grief so deep it shatters one’s emotions and surfaces in their physical body. One need not talk to too many people to hear heartbreaking stories of lost loved ones, shattered hopes and dreams, injustice, and pain. Over the last few months, I have heard the age old philosophical question, Why? Echoed so many times both in my own mind and in the words of others.
Why. Three simple letter neatly strung together to form one of the deepest and pervasive of questions the human soul can render. Why pain? Why sickness? Why grief? Why heartache? Why tragedy? Why? Why? WHY? We cannot answer the why to question directly, because often there is no answer, and if there is it will only be replaced instantly by yet another why. Instead, we must look at pain, grief, heartache, sickness, and the overarching depravity of humankind on the mass scale
Though there is no direct balm to sooth the vexation of emotional and cognitive pain — there is an answer. The answer is found in the everlasting grace and mercy of Jesus Christ. Paul tells the Corinthians in II Corinthians 12:10, “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (English Standard Version). In other words, when you are at your weakest we find that God is at his strongest. After all, David expressed that, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit (Ps. 34:18, ESV); later even saying, “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Ps 147:3, ESV). So if you are in pain, today know that you are not alone. Jesus himself overcome with grief wept at the loss of Lazarus (John 11:35).
So there is an answer in the pain today — and the answer is the Jesus Christ. The Bible explains that at Calvary Jesus wore a seamless coat that was obviously of some value at the time because the soldiers gambled for it. “They said therefore among themselves, Let us not rend it, but cast lots for it, whose it shall be: that the scripture might be fulfilled, which saith, They parted my raiment among them, and for my vesture they did cast lots. These things, therefore, the soldiers did” (John 19:24, King James Version).
Jesus entered into the Passion with a coat that would cover his wounds and pain. It was a coat of value, but its worth was but dust in comparison to the treasure that lay underneath. The blood of Jesus that was sent for you and me flowed under the coat. Our culture faces the same issue that the soldiers had — they saw only the surface level. Sure, the coat was probably of some value at the time, but under the coat lay the wounds of perfect love. Our culture places so much value on shallow entertainment and surface level things that we run the danger of getting so caught up on the coat that we miss the blood. Look beyond the coat for your answer.
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The account at the beginning of our discussion has been illustrated to paint the mental and emotional battle taking place inside of Jehoram in II Kings 6. When two mothers come to the king to announce that they have eaten one son, but the second mother hid the other, Jehoram becomes overwhelmed with grief. He rends his royal garments, exposing the sackcloth that is hidden beneath. Ironically, Jehoram means, “Yahweh is exalted.” With the meaning of a name being of high emphasis during the time, I cannot help but feel as though part of Jehoram’s battle was struggling with who he is supposed to be and the situation he finds himself in. “Yahweh is exalted” life is good, everything is grand! It’s easy to praise and exalt God when life is good — but what about in the terrible circumstances that Jehoram found himself in. This man as every right to display his grief, but he neatly tucks it away, under the king’s robes. He allowed what he was supposed to be to determine how he approached his circumstance.
The same is truth in our lives, in our churches, and in our culture. The American culture is one that focuses on glamour. Photoshop does away with imperfections and there are near riots in the streets from women claiming that editing establishes a fabricated expectation on women — I do agree. However, I find the logic in such assertions so flawed because this comes from the same women caked in makeup, carrying bags they cannot afford, and living lives that are the outgrowth of cultural expectations. They scream at photoshop while doing the same to their own lives. Don’t get me wrong, I believe that culture places a crazy amount of pressure on perfectionism, but at the end of the day we cannot attempt to be perfect and then protest perfectionism. The point in all of this is simple: culture has told us to cover up our pains and imperfections.
The same is seen in the church. We preach about God being a healer, a restorer, a comforter, and a way maker, yet we come to church keeping our wounds tucked away. Too many people come to church depressed and photoshop a smile on their face for two hours. The bottom line is simple: the church is meant to be a safe place where we can seek the grace and mercy of God. The analogy of the church being a hospital comes to mind. Please tell me the last time an ambulance rushed to the ER with a heart attack patient all the while smiling and pretending there is no big deal. Jehoram kept his pain hidden underneath the facade of who he was expected to be. In Mark 3, Jesus heals a man with a withered hand. The account fits into my point because Jesus tells the man, “Stretch forth thine hand” (Mark 3:5). Remember, though; the man had two hands. Sure, everyone knew one was withered, but he could have just as easily stretched forth his good hand and not bring attention to his imperfection. This man’s miracle hung in the balance of that split second of covering or exposing his imperfection. So, once again, my point is simple: God already knows the pain you are hiding under the facade of your smile. He knows the hurts and scars that trouble you. Instead of attempting to live out other people’s expectations of who you're supposed to be, allow God access to the pain underneath.