Text: Romans 8:18-28
by Robert J. Young

[Suggested in part and developed from Brueggeman's work on the Psalms.]

My world is disorienting. This is no truth claim, only my experience. Your world is disorienting, no truth claim, mere observation. It has long been so. Rom. 8:18,22-23. In our day, multiplied voices, siren songs. Do this-do that (ethics). Wear this-wear that (modesty). Associate here-don't associate there (fellowship). Sing this song-don't sing that song, or sing at this time but not at that time (scripturalness). Life is difficult. Moreover, sometimes, life does not make sense. We feel the lostness, lack of direction. What shall we do when the world disorients us?
Not only the world, but contemporary postmodern culture--conflicting world views, a society wandering at sea without direction or directives--without purpose, ethics, or conscience. What shall we do when culture and society disorient us?
More difficult, even unbelievable, faith disorients at times. When faith seems irreconcilable with the facts, with experience, with reality. What shall we do when faith disorients, when belief in God is disorienting?

The Problem
It is a curious fact that the church has, by and large, continued to sing songs of orientation in a world increasingly experienced as disoriented and disorienting. Perhaps such is to be lauded. Perhaps such relentlessness is not head in the sand, pie in the sky theology. Perhaps such relentlessness is an act of bold defiance claiming order and reliability in the face of disorder. Perhaps this is the church insisting that nothing can separate us from the love of God. Perhaps the mismatch of our life experience of disorientation and our faith speech of orientation is the great Christian "nevertheless" of Hab. 3:18.
But at best this is only partly true. I fear we are less guided by defiant faith than by frightened denial and deception, afraid in our heart of hearts that what we sing and say is not really true. Fearing to acknowledge or experience the disorientation of life. Perhaps because we have been taught and have believed that faith does not acknowledge and embrace negativity. I see this relentless affirmation of orientation coming not from faith but from the wishful optimism of our culture.
Now this relentlessness is strange for passionate Bible students who are familiar with Scripture. Much of the Bible is lament, protest, complaint about the injustice and incoherence of life. A church that goes on singing "happy songs" in the face of raw reality, a church that goes on preaching (almost exclusively) God's grace (goodness and gifts) and God's love (nearly always understood to be pleasant and never unpleasant) is doing something very different from what the Bible itself does.

The Solution
To deal with the disorientation I describe, we must rethink our identity, who we are, what is church, for the faith community that expresses disorientation openly is not linked easily, if at all, with the civil religion of this nation which goes "from strength to strength."
Our faith is in a very different God who is present in, participating in, and attentive to the darkness, weakness, and displacements of life. Ours is a God who claims to bring good out of what appears evil, orientation out of disorientation, sense out of nonsense. Rom. 8:28. Ours is a God who is in this world by choice for he created and thus transcends, standing above all we experience here. Ours is a God who has willingly, knowingly, lovingly interjected himself to intersect the human dilemma, not because he had to but because he wanted to. Rom. 8:32. Ours is a God who comes seeking his creation, not capriciously, not manipulatively, not selfishly. Ours is no normal God!
Nor does this abnormal God of scripture claim for himself a normal people. He works his will to develop and sustain a transformed people, a unique community of believers possessed by him, indwelt by him. The pilgrimage of this life is through a disorienting darkness that properly belongs to our humanness, to this created world. God's redemptive intent is not to deliver us from our humanness, but to mold in us his character, to make us like him in our humanity. When we look carefully, we see in all of life's experiences, a newness that is not of our own making breaking upon us. Rom. 8:33-34.

So what shall we make of this dizziness--tilt-a-whirl, calypso, roller coaster, driving on West Virginia hills, mountains and curves sickness that sickens our souls and robs our energies and drives our doubts. Where is well-being, health, wholeness? How can we be whole when we feel so disintegrated, so helpless, so weak.
What shall we make of the disarray and suffering of this world? How shall we explain the hurt, alienation, coldness. The age old question will not go away--why is there suffering? Why did God set it up so that we have to die?
How shall we deal with the rage, resentment, self-pity, hatred. At times even more difficult, how shall we deal with the guilt, shame, and dislocation of life's experiences? Shall we complain, lament? It won't do any good to complain!
Here is chaos not kosmos. Here is life devoid of coherence, nonsensical, absurd. Here is disorientation. The sphere of disorientation may be personal/intimate, or public. Regardless, severe disorientation seems the virtual end of the world. What shall we make of death? We die, loved ones die, young people die, the rich die, the poor die. What shall we make of death? What shall we make of the crucifixion?
The ragged, painful disarray of this lamentable world brings disequilibrium, incoherence, asymmetry. Indeed, there is something terribly disorienting about our world. Empty nests, children off to college, children back home, new jobs, joblessness, losses, divorce, a new parent, new schools, separations, new friends, old friends gone, a mobile society, new church. Social disorientation, cultural disorientation, frequent change, disorientation, emotional disorientation, physical disorientation.

Spiritual disorientation. Faith that doesn't make sense, believing but not believing. What shall we say? The gospel of Mark provides some helpful insights. Mark 9:14-29, vs. 24. Belief and disbelief side by side, in the same soul, same person, same spirit. Fear and faith side by side.
The record of Mk. 4 tells of Jesus calming a storm, furious squall, fearful disciples, awakened teacher, complete calm, Why are your afraid, do you still have no faith? Who is this? Indeed, who is this Jesus, what is this church, what is this Bible, what is this religion thing?
The record of Mk. 5 tells of Jesus raising a dead child. Jairus, come to my house, delay, a woman healed, a daughter dead, "don't be afraid, only believe." Can I be both? Disorientation, disbelief, but I want to believe. People cry, wail, laugh. Disorientation, orientation.
The record of Mk. 6 tells of Jesus walking on the lake, "is that a ghost?" Terror, don't be afraid. Peter, (from Mt 14) faith, fear, Jesus, waves and wind, walking, sinking.
Mk. 9, transfiguration, Peter, I have an idea, three shelters, he did not know what to say because he was frightened. Fear, faith. Disorientation, orientation.
Mk. 9, legal arguments, Bible arguments, a helpless child, powerless disciples, if you can do anything, please help. "If I can?" Everything is possible to the believer. The plaintive cry, I do believe, help my unbelief. I have faith, but help my unfaithfulness. Help my faithlessness. Help me overcome. Indeed, Lord, help us overcome. Turn us around when we are straying, turn us upside down when we are wrong side up, turn us inside out when we are outside in, turn us toward us in faith, we believe, help our unbelief.

Jesus does just that. A son is healed, and joy breaks through the despair. Light replaces darkness.
Death turns to life. Newness comes, a fragrant freshness wafts--genuine gifts from God. Transforming us, developing us, sustaining us, reviving us, remaking us.

Rom. 8:31. Even in difficulties? Rom. 8:35-36. Even in difficulties. Indeed, Rom. 8:37, 38-39.

Everything's alright, in my father's house. Come to the father's house. Come home if you've been away, come in if you've stood outside. Life is disorienting, but everything's alright in my father's house. Let us make haste to go there.

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Last updated February 10, 2001.