Alanis Morissette called it rain on your wedding day, or a free ride when you’ve already paid. Irony is a strange label of circumstance which can bring humor, frustration, or even grief. However, it’s at best a borderline component of existence which merely describes circumstances without defining or empowering them…right? What if I told you that one of the most powerful ways to positively shape our culture was by leveraging irony? Confused? Interested? Either will do.
Circumstantial irony usually points out the strange joining of opposite assumptions, behaviors, or characteristics. For instance, no one would think a vegetarian would be excellent at grilling meat, or a master electrician to get electrocuted. However, one general question of circumstantial irony has dominated the human condition: why do bad things happen to good people? Especially the people who spend most of their time helping people in the midst of strife? How come the child molesters and murderers get off lightly when people who give the majority of their earnings to charity get struck by tragedy?
Our culture presents the ideal of success as the product of determination, work ethic, diligence, and “plain ol’ hard work.” The benefits of that success are seen in kicking back, and enjoying the accumulated wealth, fame, connections, and opportunities that your hard work has produced. Tragedy and difficult circumstances are not typically seen as successful times, but rather as bitter times that could have been avoided by “being more careful,” “thinking before acting,” or simply having a “stroke of bad luck.” Furthermore, the attitude and reaction of those affected by tragedy is always assumed to be low, depressing, and destitute.
What if those assumptions were shown not only to be mistaken, but also reversed by pointing to the one reaction no one expects…being hopeful?
One could spend a lifetime discussing and explaining why bad things happen to good people. This is because the answer seemingly lacks compassion, or a self-driven solution. The reality is that our entire realm of existence (and every living thing within) is fallen, broken, and incapable of not producing suffering at some point…in some form. The questions I posed earlier are unfortunate pieces of evidence that show this world to be unjustly cruel. However, the story does not need to conclude at these junctures.
I have been the victim of tragedy, both directly and indirectly (via walking with friends and family in tragedy). I have a few friends and family members who are in the midst of suffering and tragedy right now. Hope seems to be the last thing on anyone’s mind during these times, but how sweet it is when eyes are pointed to it…and beyond sweet when people discover the One responsible for why people in tragedy have hope.
I have seen those in the midst of, and those witnessing tragedy attain a contagious spirit of hope that is frankly shocking. I have heard stories of fathers talking about hope, and the Source of hope, while their sons lay dying on a hospital bed. I have seen people come to know a Savior when they lose employment, a loved one, and a social status all within a short timeframe. I have seen a community catalyzed to selfless affection by a terrible crime.
The world looks at senseless suffering and tragedies, and only sees a reason to mourn. How can people who follow Jesus comfort and encourage them, and show them that hope is still present? Not by telling people, “Don’t worry, God has a plan.” Not by placing money in their hands, and sending them away. Those things are too easy, and often come off has impersonal.
My friend Scott Savage once wrote a blog on the phrase, “Me too.” Empathy and mourning with someone (not because “you know how they feel,” but because you have also felt loss and suffering) is an intentional step within a relationship. Taking the time to understand and help someone through a tragedy, and not leaving them after they seem alright. Sharing stories from your own journey, and finding ways for them to vent, mend, and recover from horrible times.
Moreover, how do you comfort and show hope to others when you are the one going through tragedy? Following the same method as mentioned above will seem out of place, but also as a totally fresh perspective regarding what seems hopeless.
Back in biblical times, the Psalms were on proper scrolls and likely numbered in some fashion…but people usually did not know the Psalms by their number. They were publicly recognized and affirmed by their first line. C’mon, you have heard them before: “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want…” “O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth…” “Hear my prayer, O Lord…”
During the darkest time of Christ’s crucifixion, he calls out from the cross, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Theologians and biblical scholars have explained the reason for this statement in a few ways: Christ showing his absolute state of despair, Christ experiencing separation from the Father for the first time, etc. While I think those things are true, I also know that Jesus never said anything without intention. He used words to convey peace, thanks, harsh realities, and even stinging remarks. Jesus died as a payment for all of us, and had to endure suffering that few can imagine physically, and that no one can imagine spiritually.
Yet, in the epitome of irony…in the midst of all that is pure taking on the burden of all that is impure…Jesus quotes a Psalm. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” is the first line of Psalm 22. David wrote most of the Psalms, many of them while fleeing and hiding from Saul’s forces out to kill him. Psalm 22 starts off with a tone of sadness and distress, much of how Jesus was likely feeling. But, the Psalm then turns to how God will never leave us, and how He is with us during the most difficult of times. It ends with this:
“It will be told of the Lord to the coming generation.
They will come and will declare His righteousness
To a people who will be born, that He has performed it.”
From the darkest part of the Gospel story, Jesus is yelling Psalm 22. He proclaims hope from the darkest place. The coming generation is who we are called to pass things to, and invest in. Even in the midst of tragedy…in the midst of character-driven irony…we are called to be voices of hope. He indeed has performed it, with it being the death and resurrection for a people who deserve hopelessness. But now they have hope, and by leveraging irony, we can show them who Hope is.
“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake…For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.” Colossians 1