As always, the hospital lobby is staging a momentous drama. The cavernous room is an interstice of human affairs – belonging neither to home, work, recreation, day, or night. It holds the broken pieces of our lives – those often desperate, profoundly significant moments that we never forget. Every day these jagged shards of hope and sorrow intersect here before my eyes in a mosaic of human passion.
The cast in this real life production are patients and their families. On stage some of them cluster in warm circles of support. The hope of renewed health or a reunion of loved ones brightens these little gatherings. Elsewhere despair rules: a man buries his face in his hands; expressions are abject or just blank.
But mostly the tone of this ever-unfolding play is exhaustion. Many of the actors slump wearily in their seats. A few even sprawl unceremoniously across the chairs. There is something so vulnerable about someone sleeping in public, especially when snoring before the world!
The props in this production are wheelchairs, canes, casts, oxygen tanks, prosthetic limbs, and other testimonies of human frailty. More subtle intimations of mortality peek out here and there too: a mask to prevent the spread of tuberculosis from a shriveled man in the corner, a scarf to cover the hairless head of a pretty lady, a box of tissues with which a woman dabs at her eyes. Overhead a wayward helium balloon clings forlornly to the ceiling, its cheerful message wrinkling, as if in mockery of the anguish below.
The atmosphere is charged with significance. This is no ordinary gathering. For me this is just another day. But for this poor mass of my fellow creatures, it is the day – the day their hopes are pinned on, the day an unspeakable burden will lift, or maybe the day their world will come crashing down.
I may be dealing with the apprehension of a challenging case; they fear the loss of dignity. I may be tired from an overnight emergency; many of them have been up night after night with relentless misery. I may be rushed for time; some of them are running out of time altogether. I worry about failing; they worry about dying. I am simply walking to work; these men and women are trapped at the crossroads of their lives.
Is there meaning in this sea of pathos? Have you been at your own fateful crossroads with the sickening feeling that your life amounted to nothing? Have you questioned whether God really cared about you or whether He can relate to the trials that beleaguer humanity?
CRACKED FROM SIDE TO SIDE
Years ago a rock flew up and dinged my windshield, notching a scarcely noticeable chip. Soon, though, spider webs began to fan out from the central pock. Eventually ugly cracks streaked across the entire face of the glass. I tried to ignore them, until they finally worked their way into my field of vision and interfered with driving.
That is similar to what happened to mankind at the fall. Our rejection of God caused a central fracture of our being, breaking what we were created to be. Like a tiny imperfection, this sundering of our bond with God and the death that ensued may not have initially appeared catastrophic. After all, God had warned Adam and Eve that on the day they ate the forbidden fruit they would surely die. As they walked away from Eden seemingly unscathed, maybe they felt that they had dodged a bullet. But from the spiritual death blow of original disobedience, sure enough, like cracks creeping inexorably through glass, sin and decay worked their way through all people and into every area of our lives. As Romans 5:12 relates, “Through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned.”
The greatest need of people is the salvation of our souls, because the death of the soul is the gravest of ailments. Nevertheless the burden of our suffering is wide-ranging and profound. Cracks of depression cloud our emotions, alienation wracks our families, injustice plagues our societies, futility thwarts our work, selfishness degrades our sexuality, and illness devastates our bodies. What kind of salvation would leave these unaddressed? What sort of savior would ignore the cracks and repair only the tiny chip? What about our bodies? Must they writhe in agony and rot while God prefers to save our spirits instead? Isn’t this salvation rather one-dimensional?
Of course, God does see and care about all of this brokenness. But so what? What good is it just to watch – or even to speak or be present? Like the recently widowed Ken from the last chapter, we could always protest that there is no way God or anyone else could really understand our pain unless he or she had experienced it. Ironically, in God’s case that seems impossible – and not just in spite of His limitless nature, but because of it.
No matter how kind His messages for us or beneficent His gestures, how can an all-sufficient God ever truly know the wretchedness of those in that lobby? Wouldn’t His omnipotence render Him powerless to empathize with those who are weak? And how can an eternal spirit really know what it is to taste the bitterness of death – or even the delight of bread? Must any message a perfect God sends to broken humanity be tinged with hypocrisy?
THE INCARNATION OF CHRIST
God is no hypocrite, and He can do anything! Like those waiting in the lobby, Jesus Christ stood at His own crossroads – the central instant of time when everything in the universe (and beyond it) changed forever – the moment when God became a man and stepped out into His own creation. The incarnation, or enfleshment, of Jesus is the ultimate way in which God communicates to mankind and identifies with us.