SEEING GOD DIFFERENTLY… contemplations in the middle of the night as baby Nicholas sees how long he can keep his daddy, mommy, and traumatized chihuahua awake with his loud singing abilities…
My friend’s sister died today. And parts of so many family member’s and friends’ hearts have died, too. Right now there is a lot of shock and grief happening. A lot of struggling with the terrible reality of death. It isn’t OK with us. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. We weren’t made for death but for life. And with the curse of sin those thousands of years ago, even though we now have the promise of everlasting life, we now have to face the darkness of death first.
An acute asthma attack was what stole her away. And now she has left behind parents, siblings, an adoring husband, and so many friends. And life will never ever be the same for them. They’ll get through it. But they will never exactly get over it. When you lose someone like that, someone so young – just ripped from you like that… you will always see life differently. You will see reality differently. Earth differently. Heaven differently. God differently.
You’ll see reality differently because your life goes through the blender and tumbles out in a jumble that takes time to put together again. Earth differently in that possessions, time, and being alive all of a sudden seem so fleeting. Heaven because it is just more “for real” than ever before since, in a sense, you have one foot in the world and one foot in Heaven now because someone who was just walking beside you on earth is now really for real there. Really for real with Jesus.
And, you’ll see God differently in that you will come to know Him in a way you never knew Him before and never knew you could know Him. You’ll experience a profound depth of His grace as He carries you on His pillow of strength. A depth of His love and gentleness. A depth of His faithfulness that holds you as you weep.
Or you will come to see Him as an uncaring incapable God, one who has cheated you and failed you.
Almost a decade ago I sat at my church in DC at the funeral of a young woman – 22 or 23 years old – who had been preparing to be married that same month. Her kidneys had suddenly stopped working. But then she seemed to be getting better and we had all been praising God and breathing normally again. She ordered a hamburger at the hospital and was smiling. But then suddenly again she wasn’t OK and, before we could believe it, she was stepping on Heaven’s shores, breathing air celestial. And now in the front of the church spoke her father in the tuxedo he was going to wear to his daughter’s wedding. I cried throughout the funeral as most everyone did. What most struck me was the sister sitting there. I guess because I could relate to her. I knew what it was like to lose a sister suddenly. A sister I thought would always be there and one I thought I needed. I knew the anguish of my sister being killed, her body broken on a muddy sidewalk. So I wept for this sister and now I weep for my friend. Because, although her story is different, I know the anguish and loss.
I question sometimes what God’s up to. Why does He allow excruciating losses? And what is His reasoning? Why does He sometimes give and sometimes not. Sometimes heal and sometimes not. Why did He choose not to heal my friend’s sister. I mean He can do anything. So why didn’t He touch her brain and bring it back to life? He does that sometimes. Why not now? Or why did he choose to give me a child – the child I longed for and pled for and kept dying to my own hopes for – who now rests peacefully in my arms? He answered my tears and prayers and gave me this treasure. But He doesn’t to everyone. And sometimes He gives a pregnancy and then ends it. Why?
It is tempting to try to think of it in human terms, how one might naturally reason something out. But if I do that I come up with woefully inadequate – and sometimes angering or hopeless – answers. Such as, if God does everything for His glory and because He wants to make me more like Himself, was I a particularly bad or dumb girl and that’s why He had to go to extreme measures in order for me to grow to be more like Him? And then the next conclusion would be that He used my sister as a pawn in His plan to finally make me good and so if I hadn’t been a bad one she wouldn’t have had to die. Or maybe God just doesn’t like me or is too weak or doesn’t care. Stupid answers like that are what come to mind if I try to reason God’s ways as if He were a human working only in the natural realm. I can’t do that. What I must do is trust what God’s Word says and also be willing to embrace the mystery of God’s ways. What I mean by this is that, at the end of the day, although I can find a lot of answers in Scripture where I come to understand God’s character and set up my tent stakes deep into the foundation of that reality, I can’t always understand His actions. And that’s when I have to wrestle to rest in God’s character and wrestle to rest in the mystery of His greatness that reigns outside of human thinking and earthly time and earthly consequence. I’m a reasoner. Analytical. Think it througher. And that’s a great strength of studying the discipline of theology. But ultimately even the greatest systematic theology book cannot bring my heart to total rest until I embrace that I cannot understand God’s actions always, but I can – I must or I will die spiritually and emotionally the next time I face sorrow – embrace His character (His goodness, faithfulness, sovereignty, love, etc.) that I know does not change.
God clearly tells us in Scripture that He is all about His glory. And, as He brings glory to Himself it results in our joy as we look to Him. I’m totally on board with that when it comes to moments like when my son was laid on my chest for the first time three weeks ago. I struggle to be on board with that strand of thinking, though, when His glory doesn’t seem to bring about my joy – such as when someone dies.
In pondering this I have to ask what joy is. And I have to ask what God’s goodness is. Joy isn’t the same as happiness. Joy comes from the awesome peace and hope we gain in refocusing into the depths of God’s faithfulness. It is a security profound. An eternal insight in the God of all grandeur who has covenanted His lovingkindness toward His people. It really has nothing to do with our circumstances and actually can be strongest in the midst of sorrow or suffering because those experiences tend to bring us to the end of ourselves so that we run to God in a way that we don’t always do with normal everyday happenings.
And God’s goodness. The Lord of Hosts who rides upon the highest heavens has a good system way larger than my “goodness” equation of happy/ease/comfort = good. He has woven a beautiful tale of redemption for His people starting before the earth began, brought to its height at the cross, will be brought to completeness at the eternal wedding feast. And every second between these events our God is actively engaged in bringing about His grand plan. If we could see all of reality as God sees it we would understand and embrace God’s workings. We would understand how all of His actions result in good. But we can’t obviously. And that’s part of what it means to walk in faith as we place our hope in the Author of Hope, in the trustworthiness of His character that can’t turn against goodness because that’s an essence of who He is.
As He works His goodness in this world broken under the curse of sin, I know that, when He allows experiences of sorrow He is working on multiple levels. God is most concerned in each person’s life with proclaiming His glory and, one way He does that is through sanctifiying them – making them more like Him. This being so, He is working for His good eternal purpose in each person’s life affected by sorrow. No one is a pawn that something bad happens to just to teach another a lesson. Everyone involved has been placed in their exact situation because our loving God has a special plan for what He wants to do in each life.
Another aspect of God’s goodness I must mention… we need to come face to face with the rather non-politically correct statement that God doesn’t exactly owe us anything. He owes us the promise He made to His Son – that we would be joint heirs of Christ and be eternally with Him. But the Proverbs and the many Scriptures (about general life happiness) recorded in Scripture are only the general direction of God’s benevolence toward His children. And, if turning upside down a particular general good (like keeping a sister alive) would bring about greater glory to the Father, and greater eternal joy to His people, then God is going to do that. We may not understand this. That’s when we have to embrace the mystery of God’s greatness and sovereignty in weaving His eternal beautiful plan.
And so when I understand that it frees me a lot. It frees me from trying to put the idea of joy into my happiness stencil, and goodness into my ease/comfort stencil, which ultimately seems like I am not being true to logic, trying to paste on a fakey acceptance of God’s ways when I know deep down that doesn’t add up.
In closing I bring myself to the decision point of whether I accept these truths I have just written. Do I believe God is good? Do I believe He works all things for His glory and, through that, brings about my joy? If I do not, I am ultimately saying God is lying since this is what He has promised to us in Scripture. Choosing not to believe this – to not embrace it intellectually and then, with God’s help, yield my heart and emotions to this reality – would be to deny the whole foundation on which I have based my life while yet still trying to say I’m a Christian. And that would be illogical.
I once heard someone say “God has entrusted you with a very great sorrow.” I like that phrase now, although at first I wasn’t sure about it. It sounded like they were saying it is a gift to have been given that suffering. To see it that way isn’t something we can sum up at all in our own ability. But that’s where God comes in. Again that mystery. The way that, as we fall broken before Him, He upholds. He sustains. He even restores – maybe not with the person, but with Himself in glorious fullness. Indeed it is a profound mystery.
So, yes, suffering causes you to see God differently. And when you say, “God, OK, I’m not OK with this. I am hurting beyond belief right now. But I ask you to help me wrestle through this. Help me see Your ways in this even though I don’t understand Your actions”….that’s when you will come to know Him in a way you never knew Him before and never knew you could know Him. You’ll experience a profound depth of His grace as He carries you on His pillow of strength. A depth of His love and gentleness. A depth of His faithfulness that holds you as you weep.