There are certain junctures in life when my pen stops moving, and my tangled thoughts seem to only find at their disposure fair-weathered words and deficient clichés. Trying to write a note of condolence, sending a thought of encouragement—sometimes even signing a birthday card—can stop me in my tracks. Looking for words in the midst of death and grief, or life and its best intensity, I often come up empty. Anything I might be able to scrape from my mind seems unbearably inadequate.
Nonetheless, I recognize that it is undoubtedly worse when during such times the words come easily. How do you, without difficulty, tell someone in the dregs of chemotherapy that you are sorry for them? How do you tell someone struggling with addiction to trust that things will work out, that goodness or grace, God or a higher power is with them? How do you offer anything to someone on the brink of death? How do you begin to put into words any sort of comfort that must be bigger than the sorrow—or even the abundance of life—your eyes can see? There are some words that just require our laboring over them, some truths that are too weighty to be tossed lightly into the laps of friend or enemy.
Yet, we do not always labor. Even Christians toss God’s wisdom as if it were something we could hold onto in the first place. I imagine, like Jesus among the Pharisees, God works to undo my well-worded mottos. I don’t understand the truth of incarnation just because I can quote John 3:16. And I can’t explain away the reality that life is hard or death is painful because I believe in the premise of resurrection. Whether our truth-tossing arises out of good intention or pride, Christ is always far more real than this. God will not allow ideas to remain as worthless idols—though shining or polished or well-meaning they are. Christ is more available than cliché, belief, or proverb. He is the living one our creeds will continue to speak of long after we live no more.
When the apostle Paul wrote that nothing can remove the love of Christ—neither “trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword”—he was referring to struggles that were dangerously real to him and the people to whom he was writing. He is insistent that God’s love is more enduring than famine or suffering, racism, cancer, or injustice. It is stronger than death, as unyielding as the grave. How do you put this in to words without trembling? How do we explain the crucifixion or the resurrection without falling to our knees in shock, in wonder, in speechless gratitude?
Stumbling over words to describe the hope we profess, we can be broken again by the mystery of it all and even our misplacing of it. We can be stopped by our loss of its realness, our overlooking of the immensity of Christ and the immovability of his love. Christ has died; Christ has risen; Christ will come again. In the silence of our tangled thoughts, the one behind the creeds calls to us over and above the words.
Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.