“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”–A.W. Tozer
I didn’t want Gauntlet to be a treatise on the sovereignty of God. There are plenty of really good books, most of which I’ve read, attempting to explore the why and how of God’s control over the big and small in the universe and in our lives. I just wanted to write our story and let my own struggle with and eventual acceptance of this truth to shine through. Over the years I’ve blogged very candidly about the ways I’ve grown to not only believe but cherish the specific providence of God. People have questioned me, and I have tried as best I can to explain what my feeble mind understands about how His ways are higher than our ways and why I wouldn’t want it any other way. As I began posting other’s stories in Thursday’s Gauntlet Story Feast I’ve received emails and messages asking, “How can you have endured so much pain and loss for so long and still say it comes from the hand of a LOVING God who has planned it all from the beginning? How can you bless His name and give Him praise for even these bad things?”
One of the greatest struggles I’ve had since I was a child is reconciling theology taught to me from a young age, some very right but taught in a wrong spirit and some clearly wrong, with my own reason, the pull of humanism and all kinds of other religions that sell a different God than the Bible, and TRUTH. Yes, a dirty word, but I’ll say it. The above quote has been critical to me these past years as I have grappled with the question asked since the fall,
“What kind of God…?”
I could go straight to Job. It is perhaps the clearest picture in Scripture of the behind the scenes workings of God allowing great trial into the life of a man who was “blameless.” I cling to this narrative as if it was my own. It is hard to read, but it sums up the before and after so simply, “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21)
I find it more challenging to look at God’s sovereignty in places like Matthew’s gospel account of Christ’s birth. We seem to gravitate to and focus on parts of the stories that make our hearts swell with emotion. Every one loves a choir singing of peace on earth, goodwill towards men and a baby that doesn’t cry. The miracle of the birth of Christ has been read through time, embellished and romanticized, sung about in carols and celebrated by many who never really desire to understand the rest of the God who WAS the very human baby Jesus born in the manger so long ago. Mary is celebrated. Joseph was the best “baby daddy” ever. The wise men and the shepherds are heroes. Truly, there was so much more going on there that night than the nativity scene we set in our homes and altars.
I cringe when I get to the section Massacre of the Innocents in chapter 2, verses 16-18. I know it is there, but only because Herod is generally told as the bad guy in this epic, and He wanted Jesus dead in the off chance he really was going to become the literal King of the Jews. I don’t remember anyone ever preaching about these verses in an expository way or focusing on them at all. I think we always just kind’ve stop when Joseph whisks Mary and Jesus away for safe keeping in Egypt and then fast forward to Christ’s idyllic childhood in the carpenter shop once they return. Not much else is told to us until we get into the thick of His earthly ministry leading up to the greatest sacrifice, His death on the cross for our sins.
Here are the verses so you don’t have to run and look them up:
“Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying: ‘A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.'”
What kind of God needed to allow every other baby boy to be murdered to fulfill His saving plan? If Christ’s death on the cross was such a great sacrifice then what was this? Every single family with a baby boy two and under in the region had their sons snatched from their homes and brutally killed. We start in Matthew and separate the Old Testament law from the New Testament and Grace. There are so many beautiful truths about how the saving work of Christ changed how we access God and how we are forgiven. Praise God it is finished. There is no more need for continual shedding of blood and sacrifices on man made altars. So why this great sacrifice of all these lives as soon as the Savior finally enters the world? Is it just to fulfill a prophesy? If so, why? Do I really want my God to be a God who says, “Because I said so”??? If I didn’t have the light and the grace of the New Testament would I believe in the Old Testament God? Here’s the thing. He never changed. The person and work of Christ did not change the Alpha and Omega. He was and is and is to come. He gives and He takes away. He wrote this story from beginning to end before any of it was spoken into existence. Blessed be His name.
So what comes to mind when I think of God? What kind of God needed to allow the physical pain, emotional suffering and loss and financial ruin to our family these past years? If He loves us so much that He sent His only Son to die for every single one of our sins why would He let us be hurt this way for so long? The answer is simple. God is God. His ways are higher than our ways. His purposes are always about the soul. We see in a mirror dimly what will someday be shown clearly to us face to face. We will know what is already known by Him. If we traveled back to Eden we would have bought the same lie Adam and Eve did. They wanted to be wiser than God. You ask me, “Did God plan for them to sin? Did He set in motion this entire cosmic story so He could be the Savior of the world? Do we have free will or are we nothing more than puppets?” The answer is simple. God is God. His ways are higher than our ways. His purposes are always about the soul. We see in a mirror dimly what will someday be shown clearly to us face to face. We will know what is already known by Him. Every single bit of this is more than we can comprehend. It is also more than we deserve. It is all Grace and we walk by faith.
More than six years ago, in my very first post about Danica’s Chiari diagnosis, I ended with a quote from Oswald Chambers. I committed it to memory and have returned to it a hundred times in this walk. It is the answer to the question that still nags on days like today when my pain is still oh so present and the future seems unclear. What kind of God?
“Living a life of faith means never knowing where you are being led. But it does mean loving and knowing the One who is leading. It is literally a life of faith, not of understanding and reason — a life of knowing Him who calls us to go.”
I spent the entire weekend in bed. My headaches and neck pain are steadily increasing. My neck is falling apart below my last fusion. I will fly by myself to Washington DC on Wednesday for yet another flexion and extension MRI and visit with my neurosurgeon. Yesterday I felt so much despair I returned to a place I hadn’t been in months. I wanted out. I cried. I raged. I collapsed.
This morning I woke and God took my morning worship to these words from Frederick Buechner:
It is out of the whirlwind that Job first hears God say “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” (Job 42:3). It is out of the absence of God that God makes Himself present, and it is not just the whirlwind that stands for His absence, not just the storm and chaos of the world that knock into a cocked hat all man’s attempts to find God in the world, but God is absent also from all Job’s words about God, and from the words of his comforters, because they are words without knowledge that obscure the issue of God by trying to define Him as present in ways and places where He is not present, to define Him as moral order, as the best answer man can give to the problem of his life. God is not an answer man can give, God says. God Himself does not give answers. He gives Himself, and into the midst of the whirlwind of His absence gives Himself.
I am asking for God to turn my heart and mind from the uncertainty and fear of what could come next and from asking the questions about how in the world could I ever really be healed and restored to just wanting to KNOW HIM MORE, listen to His call and go where He leads. It really is that simple and beautiful. He gives Himself. It is Grace. It is enough. I believe this pain will turn into joy and greater good and His glory. I trust him because He promises.
Bitter today. Painful this week. Hard this month. Sweet for eternity. Yes, please.
Photography by my dad, Gregory Scott Roberts. Used with permission.
Linking up with Jennifer Dukes Lee’s beautiful #TellHisStory post.