A fellow bereaved parent and blogger, Melanie, recently asked me if I still struggle with feeling God’s love. The question came in response to a post I published several months ago entitled, “Uncovering Unknown Issues of the Heart”. Yesterday I posted an edited version on my initial response to her. Melanie replied back and here you will see how our subsequent conversation ended. I should say, I’ve also edited my response after mulling over my initial off the cuff comments. Here goes, and feel free to share your personal thoughts. As Melanie recently reminded me, iron sharpens iron. Weigh in with what God’s Word and personal experience has taught you.
Melanie: “I can see what you mean when you place it in context of our relationships with other humans. You’re right–we can’t MAKE others FEEL love even when we know we are loving them. And I had honestly never thought to ask God to help me recognize and feel His love. Submitting to Him has always been the focus of so many teachings and sermons and it has become my default answer to myself when I can’t “feel” God–it must be that I am resisting Him–so I back up and try harder (kind of an oxymoron, isn’t it) to submit. And this losing a child–on the one hand I think I have submitted. I do honestly believe that my children are given me to steward, not to own. I mean, his name was Dominic–belonging to God–and I chose it on purpose because I believe it. But then the days and weeks and months that come after losing a child. The loss really never ends. Living with the constant reminders and the ever-new daily losses (like when his friends graduate law school and pass the Bar) just add up and cloud my vision. . . I will ask the Father to teach me how to recognize and feel His love. To unwrap the gift.”
The gift Melanie refers to above is a response to this statement I made in yesterday’s post:
“I can ask God to help me not only accept His love, like a gift wrapped package and to receive it by opening the gift but also to open my heart so I value the gift as it was intended.”
Janet: Melanie, I too have my default “theologies”. I think, and I say that because I’ve found there are often layers to my thoughts – layers of beliefs. So I think I believe one thing but as I wrestle with it, I find it’s really the top layer to another more fundamental belief. I’m pretty sure other people do this too. A core belief gets layered over by insights (right or wrong) we gain as we assimilate Biblical teaching and life experience. In my post, “What is the Value of a Child’s Life?“, I included a brief prayer in which I asked God, “Am I so rebellious that the only way you can teach me is through suffering?”
Probably my biggest overall theological belief is that there are two over-reaching purposes for every experience (good and bad) we encounter in life. The first is to reach the lost with the gospel and the second is to conform the believer into the image of Christ. But really, is that true or just the theology that allows me to understand God whose thoughts and ways are higher than mine? We want so desperately to make sense of life’s tragedies but maybe the answers are far more simple. Maybe you aren’t failing to submit at all. Maybe I’m not too hard-headed to learn. Maybe someone’s free-will intersected with our lives; or when sin entered the world, mutated genes, deficient immune systems, or rogue cells were some of the consequences that affected all of creation resulting in genetic diseases, cancer, and other deadly illnesses, and God, in His wisdom, choose not to intervene in our individual lives, not because you or I needed to be corrected, but for some higher reason we can’t begin to fathom.
I’m not sure what your theological background is, i.e., different denominations teach different things. Baptist or Pentecostal. Nazarene or Catholic. Those affiliations influence what we believe about topics from salvation to grace and everything in between. I believe we are saved by grace not works. But you know what? On some levels a works-based theology is easier even though the opposite often appears to be true. I like to follow rules because then I don’t have to guess and possibly get my theology wrong. But those same rules, just like the Ten Commandments, scream conviction and condemnation when things go fall apart. I must have done something wrong and that’s why this terrible thing happened to me. I must be really bad because bad things, big tragedies in fact, not simple course corrections keep happening to me. Down deep inside I must be rebellious. And you and I keep trying to “fix” ourselves and another layer is added to a core belief that may have started out as simple and pure and is now buried beneath correct and incorrect assumptions and teachings.
But what of grace? Grace is harder for me. It’s like an endless open field and I don’t know what to do because there are no boundaries. Grace says, “You aren’t resisting me, Melanie.” , “You aren’t rebellious, Janet.” This open field is your green pasture beside still waters – rest so that I can restore your soul.” But this open field of love and acceptance, of unmerited favor, in spite of my failure to trust or be faithful, feels overwhelming to me and instead of appreciating it, I’m filled with anxiety as I try to figure it all out so that I don’t get hurt again.
Was Job failing to submit to God when Satan appeared before Him and asked, “Have you considered my servant Job?” No. Did Job learn a valuable truth about God by the end of the story? Yes; but did God set the events of the book of Job in motion in order to teach Job about His sovereignty? The book of Job never tells us that God allowed all those things to teach Job, or even his friends anything. Those lessons are an example of how all things work for good, but we seem to warp the meaning of that verse into saying God allowed certain events to happen for this greater purpose, thereby making God ultimately responsible for every tragedy that befalls us for the ultimate purpose of teaching us some lesson.
Maybe Satan still appears before God. Maybe God asked Satan, “Have you considered my servant Melanie?” Maybe you are the shining example God proudly draws Satan’s attention to for the purpose, not of correcting your failure to submit, but instead to once again show Satan, that you don’t love Him (that mankind in general doesn’t love Him) because He has richly blessed you; instead you love Him because He first loved you.
Maybe you will unwrap that gift and think, “What am I going to do with this? I was hoping for something else.” And maybe, just maybe, at the end of our stories we will look back on that gift that so baffled us and appreciate it for the precious and perfect gift it really was because we will find it wasn’t about God’s sovereignty or how to submit, but instead it was the gift of God’s grace and peace – maybe peace results when the Holy Spirit enables us to comprehend, assimilate and experience the wonder of grace. Maybe that’s when we will feel the fullness of God’s love for us. Maybe that’s when we will fully rest in God’s love.
Paul’s Prayer for the Ephesians: “…that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3:16-19