“A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;
our helper he, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing ...
… Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth His Name, from age to age the same,
And He must win the battle... ”
Last Sunday, our final hymn was A Mighty Fortress is Our God, and I enthusiastically sang it as loud as I could. Objectively, this hymn’s militaristic references bother me, and I would not describe God as Martin Luther did. But I was raised in the Lutheran church, and the hymn is happily embedded in my childhood memories and my faith story. Also—there is no ambiguity in its words; God is in charge and always wins, evil has no chance. Perhaps there is a longing for that kind of certainty.
This does not feel like the world we live in, though. Rev’d. Geoffrey spoke to us Sunday about moral injury, citing David Wood’s outstanding forum presentation on his book, What Have We Done: The Moral Injury of Our Longest Wars. I need to chew on that some more. This injury, this damage occurs when we violate our deeply embedded ethical and moral values. In the context of war, it may be that one who was raised not to kill must destroy a life to save others. Similarly, my ICU-nurse daughter studies and writes about “moral distress”; critical care clinicians who vow to do no harm and value relieving distress above all else may have to inflict seemingly unbearable interventions on patients whose families request to “do everything”—even knowing the outcome will not be good.
Without minimizing those examples, the truth is that most of us live in that gray tension between what God wants for us and what seems necessary to survive, to serve others, or at least get through the day. We know that war is not what God plans for us, it is a sin, and yet sometimes it’s necessary. We know we must tell the truth, but sometimes the truth causes brutal pain and the pain is a necessary cost. We are taught that dissolving a blessed marriage covenant is a sin, but sometimes divorce is necessary. You can make your own list, but in greater or lesser degrees, being imperfect humans in an imperfect world places us in a muddy moral quagmire, bearing little resemblance to the black-and-white clarity of A Mighty Fortress.
What do we do, and where does this tension take us? To Lent.
Our altar cloths may be purple, but this season is for you and me living in the gray zone. We’re hopefully praying more, studying more, and being more disciplined in our individual faith practices. For me, living in grayness takes me again and again to the altar for Eucharist, where I can give it over to the God who seems to love me nonetheless. Before Holy Communion, we say the Lord’s Prayer together, and I pray for forgiveness “for our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” I have a ways to go in the forgiveness department, but I keep working on it. God welcomes me to the Table anyway, and the grayness is a little paler each week. Ultimately, in spite of my sins and through the passion of Jesus that we celebrate at that altar, I must trust that Martin Luther will prove to be right: “God’s truth abideth still; His kingdom is forever.”
This Lent, how are you dealing with living in the gray zone? Where do you find resolution and hope?