sojourner, hearer, & follower of Jesus

Category: Suffering

My Response to Bin Laden’s Death

I joined the many others who watched with surprise the news that Osama Bin Laden had been found and killed. It was almost unreal, the face of terror for almost a decade was now gone. What would our response be?

I can only speak about my response. I say this carefully and humbly knowing that we all respond to things very differently. My feeling last night (and as I continue to reflect on it today) has been sadness.

I am saddened that thousands have been the victims of the madness of one mastermind.

I am saddened that fear continues to influence so much in our world.

I am saddened that many lives have been lost in search of a madman.

I am saddened that in the end this inevitable act does not mean that justice has been done.

So I am struggling today, I cannot celebrate, although I can understand why some might feel jubilant. I am struggling today, I cannot celebrate, although I understand why some think justice has been done. I am struggling today, I cannot celebrate, but I can pray for the world, for the common good, for people of faith, for God’s kingdom to come.

May we respond to each other honestly, humbly, and lovingly. May God’s people, who continue to celebrate this season of Easter, may reflect on what our loving response should be, to each other, to the events happening around us, and to the way forward, as a people of resurrection!

A Suffering Savior: Lenten Blog Tour 2011

6 Like sheep we had all wandered away,
each going its own way,
but the Lord let fall on him
all our crimes.
7 He was oppressed and tormented,
but didn’t open his mouth.
Like a lamb being brought to slaughter,
like a ewe silent before her shearers,
he didn’t open his mouth.
8 Due to an unjust ruling he was taken away,
and his fate-who will think about it?
He was cut off from the land of the living,
struck dead because of my people’s rebellion,
9 His grave was among the wicked,
his tomb with evildoers,
though he had done no violence,
and had spoken nothing false.
10 But the Lord wanted to crush him and to make him suffer.
If his life is offered a as restitution,
he will see his offspring;
he will enjoy long life.
The Lord’s plans will come to fruition through him.
11 After his deep anguish he will see light,
and he will be satisfied.
Through his knowledge, the righteous one, my servant,
will make many righteous,
and will bear their guilt.

Isaiah 53:6-11 (Common English Bible)

"Crucifixion" by Giotto Assisi

We have all wondered away, says the prophet, done what we wanted to do, lived the way we have wanted to live, made decisions. Maybe we have not realized that we have wondered away, our lives might not be full of self-determination, or the ability to choose differently. We have lived separate lives, “each going its own way.” One way or the other humanity has not lived up to the wholeness of God’s intent, to the possibility of new creation.

Who shall rescue us from such a place?

According to the writer of Isaiah, it is not who we might suspect. This “savior” is not coming with power like we are familiar with: violence, manipulation, control, intimidation. Our return to God’s place is dependent on one who carries our brokenness, who suffers our fate, and who takes our sin.

Sin is not something we are comfortable talking about. Missing the mark is something we would rather mention about someone else. They need salvation, they need repentance, they need to be restored. We are not good about “bearing each other’s burdens” or suffering on behalf of others. At this point, Ash Wednesday, with our confessions, I’m sorry’s, and promises, seems so long ago.

Now we are reaching a point in the story we can no longer ignore. We have been focusing on our own practices, learning about the meaning of discipleship, and preparing for Easter. But before we can celebrate we have to once again face our mortality, face our brokenness, and acknowledge that God became one of us so that we could be restored, so that we would not have to die. We also need to remember that the call of discipleship at its core is a call to deny self, take up the cross, and follow Jesus.

Maybe this is what caught the attention of the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26-40). A savior who is a suffering servant does not make sense. “Tell me, about whom does the prophet say this?” asks the eunuch. Thankfully the Christian community had already answered the question for themselves. They had mined the wisdom of the prophets and had interpreted the utterances in light of their experience of Jesus. Philip, as a follower of the way, proclaims the good news and the eunuch immediately wants to receive baptism.

There are many today who might read this text and wonder who the prophet is talking about? What kind of savior is this? As we enter these last days, the most difficult days, of the Christian salvation narrative let us not miss an opportunity to tell the story, so that others will be able to be rescued from sin and death, so that others will be able to find their way home.


It has been a blessing to be part of CEB‘s Lenten Blog Tour. Do not miss yesterday’s post by Tracey Bianchi & tomorrow’s by Jennifer Grant.

Bible in 90 – Day 80: What should we pray?

In the same way, the Spirit comes to help our weakness. We don’t know what we should pray, but the Spirit itself pleads our case with unexpressed groans.

Romans 8:26

©2010 Todd Rossnagel

There are times when there are no words. Our need and the need of the world is so great that we don’t know where to begin.

We have been living those days. Pictures from across the globe are terrifying, wars, pestilence, and natural disasters create chaos, hunger, and human suffering. Prayer at these times might seem petty, a cop-out, in light of the enormous need.

It would be easy to just ignore everything and not even pray. Why bother? We might think, the need is so great, “my little prayer is not going to make a difference.” At times like this we recognize how weak we are, how needy, how helpless, how dependent on others and on God.

It is good to know that at times like these the Spirit takes over and intercedes on our behalf. Knowing our need, for healing, for wholeness, for hope, the Spirit empowers us so that we can be reminded that the world is God’s own.

It is also at times like these that the prayers of the church, especially the Lord’s Prayer, come out of our mouths more easily. No words founds means that we gather rehearsed words, worn words, deep words, words that have survived the test of time, words that connect us with times long gone and times long waited for. This is why we need these words in our hearts, for the times when there are no words, these become the Spirit’s unexpressed groans for those of us who have been given those words as part of our baptismal community.

And so we pray: “Our Father . . .”

Bible in 90 – Day 43: Retribution

God of retribution, Lord,
God of retribution, appear!
Rise up, judge of the earth,
give the arrogant their deserts!

Psalm 94:1-2

©2010 Todd Rossnagel

At first I was uncomfortable with the idea of a God of retribution. The thought of what kind of retribution and why made me nervous. I guess I’m afraid of what kind of retribution I need for my own doings and non-doings.

Then I began to think about all the injustice in the world, all the pain, all the suffering that we cause each other. I began to think about how many people of power ignore the plight of those who need the most.

If I am honest with myself I would have to admit that I have wanted to called out the God of retribution. I’ve wanted for God to make things right, to restore creation to its fullness, to rescue the hopeless.

I’ll also have to admit my own participation in structures and patterns that further oppression. I’ve been silent many times, wishing something different in private but unwilling to put myself out there to fight for what is right. I have also struggled to speak clearly about how my sense of justice is a direct response to my understanding of God’s call in my life.

So I call on the God of courage & humility to help me be about the work of God’s kingdom here on earth.

Bible in 90 – Day 38: The Lord Replies

Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundations?
Speak if you have understanding.
Do you know who fixed its dimensions”
Or who measured it with a line?
Onto what were its bases sunk?
Who set its cornerstone
When the morning stars sang together
And all the divine beings shouted for joy?

Job 38:4-7

©2010 Todd Rossnagel

Well, Job wanted a defense from God and he received one!

No one was spared. Job was wrong, God did not have it out for him (although it seemed like it), but at least Job confessed to that fact. His friends were wrong too, Job was indeed innocent. In the end who could understand the mysteries of God?

God has a potent response that in some ways is different than the playful, bragging, God of the first chapter. The God of the concluding chapters of Job is cosmic in scope. Creation, laws of he universe, the care of the earth, all owe their existence to God. Life’s difficult turns are part of the mystery of God’s creation.

In some ways the story leaves all of us hanging. We know that the friends were wrong but we can’t help but wonder why God still allows such horrible things to take place?

What brings me comfort is that God is with us through the things of life. It has been my experience that sometimes at the most difficult of times God seems nearer than ever, and even if God seems distant or non existent, the promise of God’s presence is still there.

I am thankful for this continuing narrative that touches all aspects of the human condition. I am thankful that our questions about the meaning of life are the questions that humanity has been struggling with from the very beginning.

Maybe we need to watch this story as a play. It surely would make excellent drama. It would speak to everyone because being human means that at some point we will suffer, life will take a turn, and we will wonder . . .

Bible in 90 – Day 37: Friends?

Be close to Him and wholehearted;
Good things will come to you thereby.
Accept instruction from His mouth;
Lay up His words in your heart.
If you return to Shaddai you will be restored,
If you banish iniquity from your tent;
If you regard treasure as dirt,
Ophir-gold as stones of the wadi,
And Shaddai be your treasure
And precious silver for you,
When you seek the favor of Shaddai,
And lift up your face to God,
You will pray to Him, and He will listen to you,
And you will pay your vows.
You will decree and it will be fulfilled,
And light will shine upon your affairs.
When others sink low, you will say it is pride;
For He saves the humble.
He will deliver the guilty;
He will be delivered through the cleanness of your hands.

Job 22:21-30

"Big Boys" ©2010 Todd Rossnagel

I’m sure that Eliphaz just got tired of the whining. For a while the friends were silent and provided comfort to Job. All was going well until Job claimed to be innocent, until Job dared to suggest that God was not being just. Job crossed the line, the friends had no other choice but to defend God . . . really?

This story reads like a wonderful play. Back and forth the friends respond to Job. He must have done something wrong! The faster that he repents, the less he will suffer. The more that he claims his innocence, the more suffering God will cause him. Job does not understand why his friends don’t believe him, he wants them to listen and to join him in his pleading to God. They still cannot believe him for this situation is one that they have never encountered before, bad things do not happen to good people.

I wish I could say that this no longer takes place. I wish that we have learned that the pie in the sky wisdom of Psalms and Proverbs is no longer used against those that go through difficulties. Unfortunately there are many faithful people who respond like those friends in the face of human suffering. Someone must have done something wrong!

That suffering could be natural disasters, earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, tsunamis. The suffering can also be accidents, acts of violence, or illness. In light of those what is our response as God’s people, do we claim that someone has sinned?

I hope not . . . I hope that we have read through Job enough to know that God does not need defense, that bad things happen to good people, that there is much about the world that cannot be explained.

There is also a call to faithful response. The response is primarily to stand by those who suffer, comforting with presence more than words, serving with compassion rather than advice, and responding with advocacy instead of blame. These become the ways of honoring the mystery that is life while making incarnate the promise of one who is with us in the midst of suffering.

Being present takes a community willing and able to struggle with the realities of life and willing to continue to ask the difficult questions of living in a fallen world while keeping the tension of not always having an answer.

I have been blessed to see this king of community in action and can tell you not just that its possible but that it truly is transformative. May we lean into this kind of community wherever we are!

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