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Fear Not! – Biblical Command or Invitation?

I am intimately familiar with fear, but I am no longer consumed by it. These days when fear rears its ugly head it is quickly overtaken by resignation (the acknowledgment that I am not able to change some things) and acceptance (the knowledge that God’s plans trump my desires every time – and rightly so) and the hope of eternity (the assurance that what befalls me in this world is not the end of the story). I know the Bible repeatedly tells us not to be afraid, but I think that has less to do with fear being sinful than it does with God’s acknowledgement that fear is the natural response to a perceived threat. 

God knows we will repeatedly confront fear in this life!

Fear is often the impetus that leads us to reach out to God. And maybe God tells us not to be afraid because when we call out to Him we have summoned the most powerful entity in all existence, therefore there is no need to be afraid. He is the giant that steps between us and that which we fear. Instead of interpreting, “Fear not!”, as a command we are all too prone to fail to implement, maybe we should instead interpret it as a gentle reminder or reassurance. Maybe,”Don’t be afraid. I’m here. I can take care of this. Nothing is too difficult for Me.”, is a better translation than “Fear not!” Of course I lean toward wordiness (which is why I think the Amplified Version of the Bible is the all-time best Bible translation) and “Fear not!” is unarguably concise. But I also think Biblical saints were frequently told not to be afraid because a great big, glowing angel appeared before them and having never seen one they were reasonably terrified. The greeting, “Fear not!”, may have effectively snapped a terrified individual out of their adrenaline induced fight, flight or freeze response. 

This world is filled with very real dangers. In some ways fear is a gift to us from God who loves us. Fear inspires us to be aware of our surroundings and often prevents us from blindly walking into trouble. The admonition to fear not may have a more robust meaning than those two simple words imply. I think what goes unsaid is the reason why God encourages not to be afraid and the truth that He is not disappointed in believers when they are frightened. God does not want us to be consumed or crippled by fear. He certainly doesn’t want us to be paralyzed by fear. He absolutely doesn’t want us to be controlled by fear. In 1 Peter 5:8 we are told,

“Be sober [well balanced and self-disciplined], be alert and cautious at all times. That enemy of yours, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion [fiercely hungry], seeking someone to devour. ~ AMP

When we interpret the occurrences of “fear not” in the Bible as commands we set ourselves up for failure. Conquering fear is not accomplished by positive self-talk. Maya Banks in her book, Hidden Away, distilled this overlooked and dismissed truth in one short sentence,

 “We can’t turn it [fear] off just by realizing we shouldn’t be afraid.” 

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told that God commands us not to be afraid. But that just didn’t sit right with me (primarily because I felt it was not something I could do by sheer force of will). So I set out to google the Greek and Hebrew definitions of the word “fear” to determine the original intent of the word and I inadvertently stumbled upon the definition according to the Holman Bible Dictionary. Below you will find the portion of that definition that applies to the phrase “fear not”:

“Fear not” The expression “fear not” (also translated “do not fear” or “do not be afraid”) is an invitation to confidence and trust. When used without religious connotation (15 times), “fear not” is an expression of comfort. These words come from an individual to another providing reassurance and encouragement (Genesis 50:21 ; Ruth 3:11 ; Psalm 49:16 ). When “fear not” is used in a religious context (60 times), the words are an invitation to trust in God. These words appear in the context of the fear and terror that follows divine revelation. God invites His people not to be afraid of Him (Genesis 15:1 ; Genesis 26:24 ); the angel of the Lord seeks to calm an individual before a divine message is communicated (Daniel 10:12 ,Daniel 10:12,10:19 ; Luke 1:13 ,Luke 1:13,1:30 ); a person acting as a mediator of God invites the people to trust in God (Moses, Deuteronomy 31:6 ; Joshua, Joshua 10:25 ). ~ Holman Bible Dictionary, Claude F. Mariottini

Now that makes more sense to me. An invitation to trust, not a command. An expression of reassurance, encouragement and comfort. 

Conquering fear requires a conscious decision on our part, and I personally believe, the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit. I have become increasingly aware of my utter dependence, my desperate need, of the intervention of the Holy Spirit in order to live the Christian life as God intends. . . The Christian life was designed to be one of cooperation between the believer and the Holy Spirit. Psalms 56:3 tells us what our part of that cooperative effort to overcome fear entails. Since different Bible translations often provide a more comprehensive understanding of scripture, below are several versions that present nuanced interpretations of the same verse.

 When I am afraid, I will put my trust in You. ~ New American Standard Bible

Even when I am afraid, I still trust you. ~ GOD’S WORD® Translation

From the height of the day I shall fear: but I will trust in thee. ~ Douay-Rheims Bible

In the day that I am afraid, I will confide in thee. ~ Darby Bible Translation

The day I am afraid I am confident toward Thee. ~ Young’s Literal Translation

One thing Psalm 56:3 makes abundantly clear is that we all experience fear regardless of the depth of our faith. Fear and trust, faith and fear, are not mutually exclusive. 

The NASB represents the most common translation of Psalm 56:3, but I love how the God’s World translation acknowledges that fear and trust coexist. I love that the Douala-Rheims Bible makes it clear that fear will always plague us. I love that the Darby Bible Translation reduces trust to the act of confiding our fears to the One who is able to do something about them. And I love that Young’s Literal Translation expresses both fear and confidence simultaneously. 

Take a look at what the Pulpit Commentary says about this verse:

“What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee; literally, the day when I am afraid. When the day comes that I feel fear stealing over me, by an act of will I (even I, weak as I am) will put my trust in thee (comp. Psalm 7:1; Psalm 11:1; Psalm 18:2, etc.).”

Of course any discussion of fear and faith is incomplete without addressing 1 John 4:18, 

“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.” – KJV

I don’t know about you but when this verse is tossed out, I often feel condemned. It’s presented as if fear can be eradicated from our lives – as if we are capable of attaining the goal of perfect love. I’ve pretty much concluded that anytime the word perfect is placed before an adverb in the Bible and contextually applies to humans instead of God, it is a quality that I will not be capable of achieving this side of heaven. The Pulpit Commentary seems to agree in a much more theologically comprehensive manner.

“Love here means the principle of love in general; it must not be limited to God’s love to us, or our love to God, or our love of the brethren. Love and fear coexist only where love is not yet perfect. Perfect love will absolutely exclude fear as surely as perfect union excludes all separation. It is self-interested love that fears; pure and unselfish love has no fear. . . To cease to fear without attaining to perfect love is to be irreverent and presumptuous [taking unwarrantable liberties with Almighty God]. Hence the apostle is . . . pointing out an ideal to which Christians must aspire, but to which no one attains in this life.”

Casting Crowns, Oh My Soul, reminds us that when fear encounters almighty God, God will be victorious over it if we confide in Him* and place our trust in Him with confident assurance that He will hear us and perform that which is for our eternal good. And that last bit about God performing what is best for our eternal good, that’s the kicker right there. Fear keeps us in its clutches when our humanity demands that which is for our earthly good over surrendering to that which is for our eternal good.

Overcoming fear is not a battle – it’s an all out war made up of numerous individual squirmishes. Understanding that truth prevents us from the self-condemnation that leaves us feeling defeated and more inclined to quit trying. But knowing we will live to fight another day and recognizing that we are in fact gaining ground on the enemy, builds confidence and encourages us to persevere. 

“I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have [perfect] peace. In the world you have tribulation and distress and suffering, but be courageous [be confident, be undaunted, be filled with joy]; I have overcome the world.” [My conquest is accomplished, My victory abiding.]” ~ John 16:33 AMP

Here is the story behind Oh My Soul:


The Story Behind Oh My Soul

And here’s the official lyric video:


Oh My Soul Official Lyric Video

I hope both will bless and encourage you. 

Soldier on Saint!

*It should be noted that confiding in God may necessitate repeated conversations on the topic. I can’t tell you specifically why that may be the case although a number of theological explanations have been discerned by numerous Biblical scholars. That’s a topic for another day. However, there are times I think revisiting the conversation in prayer peels away unknown beliefs and misconceptions about God’s love and enables us to uncover the true root of our fears. I know from my own experience that praying and making a conscious decision to trust God has not frequently resulted in the much longed for peace that passes all understanding. Maybe that’s because I haven’t yet succeeded in consistently keeping my thoughts fixed on God (Isaiah 26:3).

 
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Posted by on September 30, 2017 in Faith

 

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Great Lines in Fiction & Non-fiction Words of Note

Great Lines in Fiction & Non-fiction Words of Note

Often I find that authors speak the things my heart knows but can’t quite put into words. Words about fear, grief and prayer…Words that offer the sweet relief of knowing that my struggles, spiritual and worldly, are common across mankind. Here are several that have spoken to me. I hope you can appreciate them even if you haven’t encountered a situation where you understand them experientially.

Let’s start with non-fiction.


Non-Fiction Words of Note:

One bold message in the book of Job is that you can say anything to God. Throw at him your grief, your anger, your doubt, your bitterness, your betrayal, your disappointment — he can absorb them all. As often as not, spiritual giants of the Bible are shown contending with God. They prefer to go away limping, like Jacob, rather than to shut God out.” ― Disappointment with God, Philip Yancey

***

When weakness meets weariness, and discouragement meets disillusionment, we must be on our guard. These are spiritually precarious moments. . . I’m finding that what I really need at this phase of life is the refreshing gospel reminder that it is precisely my weaknesses that showcase most clearly and beautifully the strength of God’s grace (2 Corinthians 12:9–10), and that I have need of endurance, so that when I have done the will of God I may receive what he promised (Hebrews  10:36). My weaknesses have a purpose in God’s design, and so does my weariness.”  ― Turning Fifty and Still Fighting for Faith, John Bloom

***

“Rejection steals the best of who I am by reinforcing the worst that’s been said to me.” ― Univited , Lysa TerKeurst

***

“Waking up every day and loving someone who may or may not love us back, whose safety we can’t ensure, who may stay in our lives or leave without a moment’s notice, who may be loyal to the day they die or may betray us tomorrow – that’s vulnerability.” ― Daring Greatly, Brene Brown


Great Lines in Fiction:

“I like to think that all those stars are my prayers,” whispers Charlotte. “God thinks they are so pretty he chooses to string them in the sky.” ― How Sweet It Is, Alice J. Wisler

***

“. . . the most difficult battles are not the ones fought outside the armor, but the ones within it.” ― The Prayer Box, Lisa Wingate

***

” It’s been my experience that fear doesn’t have a set of parameters. We can’t turn it off just by realizing we shouldn’t be afraid.” ― Hidden Away, Maya Banks

***

“Her mind would have accepted the facts about the deaths, done its best to shield her from the emotions of those facts. To survive it, she would have fought to keep that distance.”   ― Taken, Dee Henderson

***

“I walked over to the shoulder of the road, unsure of what I expected to see. Sirens in the distance placed a sense of urgency, but I was numb. I knew I should be feeling something, but I didn’t. Every single emotion I’d started to feel had been placed back in the vault of my soul.” ― Hidden Sins, Selena Montgomery 

***

“She needed one person besides God who knew it all, who knew her, and accepted her as she was.” . . . But she also needed friends who knew, whether in whole or in part who still unreservedly accepted her.” ― Taken, Dee Henderson

***

“Silent is always better than sorry.” ― Buried Secrets, Irene Hannon

***

If only worry could keep him safe.” ― Buried Secrets, Irene Hannon

***

“I think he’s scared to trust that someone could actually love him. That it’s not just a mistake. Simon knows all about how to love. He just doesn’t know how to be loved.” ― Daring in the Dark, Jennifer LaBrecque

***

“The urge to live was as intrinsic as it was intense. And the urge to save those she loved was stronger still. But, in the end, she’d been helpless. Infuriatingly, pathetically helpless. . .” ― Thrill Ride, Julie Ann Walker

***

“. . . finally saying the words out loud, telling the tale and admitting to the root of her fear was freeing in a way she never could have imagined. Letting someone else share in the horror of her experience, having someone hold a mirror up in front of her face so she could address the foolishness of her irrational fear, relieved her of a burden she hadn’t known she’d been carrying around like a two-ton bolder of shame.”  ― Thrill Ride, Julie Ann Walker

***

“. . . being without him made her heart heavy—it felt literally heavy, as though it had become a lifeless, leaden organ, barely worth carrying around. And everything remotely happy had an echo of pain that hurt like hell.” ― Against the Dark, Carolyn Crane

***

“. . . People always judged themselves by their intentions; they judged others by their actions.” ― Wild Thing, Robin Kaye

***

“Writing had always helped her, before. It always clarified her feelings and her thoughts, and she never felt like she could understand something fully until the very minute that she’d written about it, as if each story was one she told herself and her readers, at the same time.” ― Look Again, Lisa Scottoline

***

“Suddenly, someone who was at the center of your life is gone, excised as quickly as an apple is cored, a sharp spike driven down the center of your world, then a cruel flick of the wrist and the almost surgical extraction of your very heart.” Look Again, Lisa Scottoline

***

“Nobody was ever replaced in life, no hole completely filled or loss totally healed. You didn’t need a medical degree to know that the human body really wasn’t stronger in the broken places. Like any bone, the cracks would always show if you looked hard enough.” ― Come Home, Lisa Scottoline

***

“I’ve learned that you don’t stop loving someone just because they die. And you don’t stop loving someone who’s dead just because you start loving someone else. I know this violates the natural law that two things can’t occupy the same place at the same time, but that’s never been true of the human heart anyway.” ― Everywhere That Mary Went, Lisa Scottoline

***

TEN YEARS (A song)

“In one second, I see ten years

I picture a future of all my fears

One Blink, and I think

Losing you is like losing me.”
“Lights flash, the car spins

Every time I close my eyes I see

Broken skin and broken kin

The end of you feels like the end of me.”
There’s a scream in my soul

‘Cause I’ll never feel whole

I’m stuck in the moment. My mind’s on repeat

Trapped in an instant I can’t delete
“Time unravels, my life unspools

The future has made us all into fools 

You’re lying there, and I’m stuck in my chair

All I’m allowed to do is stare.”
We’re all slaves to the grave

Helpless to save

So we close our eyes to shut it out

Instead it becomes what we’re all about.”
“In one second, I see ten years

Can’t hold it back any more than the tears

I see black dresses, life’s stresses

Imagine the grief, loss of belief

My life unfolds as yours is untold
“Every time I close my eyes.

Every time I close my eyes.”

― Faking It, Cora Carmack

***

“I love it when you swear. It’s like a Care Bear giving someone the finger.” ― One Blazing Night, Jo Leigh

***

“So he simply said, “make sure it’s about justice and not revenge. ”

“What’s the diff?”

“Justice will keep your head straight. Revenge will skew your judgement.”  ― Wild Ways, Tina Wainscott

***

“You’re trying to think it through, trying to, make sense of it. The thing is, though, it doesn’t make sense. It never will. You can’t equal it out. What he did and how you feel for him may never . . . wash, I guess. You just have to make a decision and stick to it. Right now, you’re basically burying your head in the sand and hoping it goes away.” ― Alpha, Jasinder Wilder

***

“Fear is just fear. We must take action in the face of it, Cassie, because action increases courage.”  ― Secret, L. Marie Adeline

***

“Love has many guises . . . Sometimes it’s a stroke of lightening . . . other times a slow building storm . . . But the one thing that never changes is that it must be be nurtured. You can’t kick a heart and expect it not to flinch.”  ― Rock Courtship, Nalini Singh

***

“”I didn’t lose him. God took him.” The edge was back in his voice when he spoke of the Lord. “You know what I don’t get? he quickly continued, “Why did God even bother creating Tucker if it was only so he could die?”

Her heart physically ached, her chest tightening at the hurt and anguish in his soulful eyes. “God didn’t create Tucker to die. He created him for eternity.”

He looked at her with such longing, her breath caught. “Gage, Tucker’s time on earth was short, heartbreakingly so, but his life didn’t end in the NICU. He’s alive for eternity.” . . . “How can you sound so sure, be so sure?””Because of God’s Word. He’s never reneged on a promise, so I know He’ll keep His promise of eternal life for the innocent as well as those who choose to accept the redemptive death of His son.” ― Stranded, Dani Pettrey 

***

I hope you were able to find a bit of validation for yourself among those quotes, and if not . . . Did you know that studies show that people who read fiction are more empathetic than those who don’t? There’s great value in the written word! 

 
4 Comments

Posted by on December 13, 2016 in Adversity, Books, Faith, Grief

 

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Stages

IMG_1249Looking back over the last twenty-one months I realize I have passed through many stages (written August 2015).

Detachment:  This bizarre experience of living in the moment, fully aware of every single detail—the losses, the precariousness of Gracen’s future—the people around me, their words, my responses and this awareness that my emotions had been somehow blunted from all of it. It was good—it was horribly bad—it allowed me to function but left me fearful on an entirely new level. What kind of person—what kind of mother responds this way?

Exhaustion:  Mental, physical, emotional and spiritual exhaustion. Catching  myself thinking, “I’m just so very tired.” repeatedly throughout the day. Even following a good night’s sleep, “I’m so very tired” echoed through my mind. “So tired.” And there are still days like this; days where physical fatigue has little to do with this blanket of exhaustion that near suffocates me at times.

Brokenness:  Not just broken but utterly, completely shattered. So broken that healing is beyond comprehension. And yes, that thought, “I’m just so broken” flitting through my mind repeatedly, day after day.

Anger:  At a lack of justice—at missing out on Bethany & Katie’s lives, their futures—at Gracen’s failing health—at ruined credit—at the flashbacks that plague me—the pervasive apathy that steals my motivation and overcomes my will power—and on it goes.

Fear:  Okay, terror—for the future—of my Savior—of His plans.  Steeped in anxiety. Fighting off panic. Waiting for the next blow. Anticipating the next loss.

Resistance:  To moving forward. I can’t go back but don’t make me imagine a future void of all I planned for my life. I can’t go there. I just can’t go there. I don’t want to go there. I don’t want to live in bitterness and loss, yet can’t imagine a future different than I’d planned and dreamed of. Can’t even imagine an alternative that holds any appeal.

Resignation:  No way to change it—certainly no way to fix it—no way to make it better—hands tied—unpalatable choices—acceptance—bitterness—deep, desperate sorrow.

Lost:  So very, very lost.

Death Wish:  Oh, to fall asleep and never awaken! No more churning thoughts. No more disappointment. No more fear. No more sorrow. Just blessed silence and oblivion. Sweet, sweet nothingness.

Purposelessness:  A vast, yet overwhelming, sea of possibility. Life has always moved me from one thing to the next. High school moved me to college, college to the workforce, the workforce to marriage, marriage to parenthood, parenthood to what? There are no more next logical steps. Too much time—too many unexplored possibilities—no desire to explore—no motivation. “I just want . . . ” flutters through my mind and stops. I don’t know how to finish that sentence. Everything I really want I simply can’t have. And it’s a repetitious thought too. How many times will I stop short until something fills in that blank? Will anything ever fill that blank?

Unwanted Purpose:  Full-time caregiver? Please, Lord, No! Not for my baby! Not for my courageous, tenacious and oh, so sassy girl! No more surrendered dreams! No more isolation! No more crushing disappointments! No more untreatable pain! No more loss! Please, Lord, no more heartbreak!

 

Adrift

 

I’m tired.

 

Adrift

 

I just want my life back!

 

Adrift

 

So very broken . . .

 

Adrift

 

I just want my kids back!

I just want my kids back!

I just want . . .

 

Adrift

 

It’s only a matter of time until the next shoe drops . . .

 

Adrift

 

Restlessness.

Anxiety.

Panic!

 

Adrift

 

Lost, lost, lost. . . 

 

Adrift

 

Rudderless.

Empty.

Hollow.

Cut loose.

I just want . . . 

 

Adrift, adrift, adrift as the tide flows in and out – straining to hear the still small voice whispering any kind of hope for my remaining days in this world of sin.

 
8 Comments

Posted by on July 26, 2016 in Grief

 

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A Frank Conversation with the Father

 

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Why a glimpse behind the curtain to the deeply personal and hidden grief of a bereaved parent? Not to inspire your pity; of that I can assure you.  Instead to inspire others to look beyond the surface of a grieving friend or family member. To consider how families are affected by loss, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually, as well as the unique family dynamics that result; which might help you comfort, support and encourage them. The bereaved desperately want to be understood, to have their feelings validated, to break free of the isolation, to mourn unrushed, to have another share their sorrow (not attempt to fix it). This post was written months ago and is not reflective of my current state of mind.

IMG_4847

A Frank Conversation with the Father

Here’s the deal Lord, I have no idea how to navigate this existence I’ve been left with.  I don’t even want to navigate it — at all.  I know You are the answer and yet I’m terrified of You — of Your “good” plans for me (pardon the sarcasm).  I’m so broken and I wish more than anything that you had just let all of us die that terrible day.  I’m furious that you allowed that accident to happen, that every dream I’ve ever had has been either withheld from me or snatched from my feebly grasping hands.

nt-puzzle-perseverance-20091101-19-728I have no peace because my fear of You prevents me from drawing close. How can I trust You when You repeatedly allow me to be crushed?, and yet You sustain me.  I don’t get it.  I don’t know how to move forward, with or without You.  I need You but I’m afraid of You – afraid of how much what’s left of this life will hurt – afraid I can’t survive any more.  I’m teetering on the brink of insanity.  But for Gracen I’d just want to slip over the edge.

I desperately need Your help but am afraid to ask and so resistant to any future because I don’t want new dreams; I want my old dreams back.

I can’t let go of my fear and my resistance in my own power.  But I also can’t stomach any more of life as I currently know it.  This is the best I can offer in on my own.  Please do for me what I can’t do for myself.  Do what’s best for me because I’m just hurting myself.  Change me because I can’t change myself.  Help me to rest, or be still, or trust or whatever it is You want from me to move me past this purgatory in which I’m currently living.  I don’t think I can ask twice.

 



 

Helping the Bereaved Bear their Burdens

1.  Realize it is normal for those who mourn to question and struggle with scripture, long held beliefs, drawing close to, leaning on and trusting God.  Don’t get freaked out if you see this happening.

Genesis322.  Ask probing questions instead of correcting or rebuking especially with scripture.  The last thing the grieving need is to feel defensive or to carry the additional weight of fellow believer’s condemnation (which may translate in their minds to God’s condemnation). The believing bereaved need safe people who allow them the freedom to express fears, anger, and disillusionment with God and their faith — people who allow them to question and wrestle with scripture. Failing to provide that will lead them to withdraw or simply suppress their questions and fears.  The grief-stricken may completely turn their back on their faith (not lose their salvation, simply quit following Christ) or they might ignore their questions and carry on with their faith.  They may grow and mature in other areas but place a large “No Trespassing” sign on that area of the heart refusing to allow the Holy Spirit to heal those deep wounds. Unhealed wounds fester.  Allowing a believer to wrestle with their beliefs, to confront scripture, is not something to fear. It’s something to encourage.

3.  Ask God for wisdom and discernment for yourself and the bereaved.  Be cognizant of whether the grieving believer is asking you to help them understand or simply to hear them out.

131574.  If the grieving believer is struggling with a specific scripture and is seeking feedback, make sure they are viewing the passage in context. If you are concerned that they might be misinterpreting a scripture ask, “What else does the Bible say?”. Acknowledge when you yourself don’t understand.  If you aren’t fast on your feet, ask if you can think it over and get back to them — DO NOT fail to return a response! They need you to keep your word and are often desperate for an explanation. If it’s taking awhile to find an answer, email and let them know you are still mulling it over.  Always use the Bible, trusted commentaries, or trusted faith-based resources in a biblical discussion.  Don’t add to or take away from scripture.  For example, count it all joy doesn’t mean they should be happy their loved one died.  Christ wept with the bereaved, he didn’t tell them not to be sad or to find a new perspective, or to buck up and move forward.  Follow His example.

reveal light

 
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Posted by on February 25, 2016 in Faith, Grief

 

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Conversations with Melanie – Part 3

 

images (16)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 Melanie’s response assuming our conversation had ended. But Melanie and I have bonded over our desire to process our grief while simultaneously making sense of the faith that has come to sustain and define us. The foundations of our faith have not been shaken, but we still wrestle with elements of our faith. And so, our conversation continued. I’ve pretty much cut it down to the parts of theological significance. I hope our struggle to understand the God we love, the One True God, might help someone else who is struggling to make sense of their faith in light of circumstances that cast doubt on what they’ve always believed to be true about the God of Abraham, Jacob and Issac. So, here we go again . . .

Melanie:  I don’t remember if I replied again to you in that conversation, but I need to tell you that your words really touched a deep place in need of healing in my spirit. I think that I have continued to feel that I am somehow responsible for my son’s death. Isn’t that ridiculous? Maybe it’s easier to blame myself than to keep wrestling with the intersection of God’s will, human choice and the goodness and love of the Father.

Job had not sinned when Satan targeted him. And God’s purpose was not to teach Job a lesson but to show Satan that His servants would continue to serve Him in spite of suffering and loss.

Janet:  Melanie, thanks as always for your kind words as they encourage me as I wrestle with my own demons (so to speak) in this process of refinement. And while it’s patently untrue than you are responsible for Dominic’s death it’s not “ridiculous” that you might feel as if you are – it’s just one of those bizarre and entirely normal ways the human mind wrestles with the unacceptable in life.

Maybe this sounds a bit crazy, but I think it’s one of the ways believer’s cope with anger with God. We are afraid to be mad at Him and yet buried beneath our beliefs about His love and good plans lurks this anger we are either unaware of or we are too afraid to address. It’s easier – less frightening – to assume responsibility (or blame) ourselves than it is to open that locked box in our hearts that hides our deepest fears about God and confront those fears.

It’s transference, plain and simple (in my completely uneducated opinion). But listen to what C.S. Lewis said in “A Grief Observed”,

“Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not ‘So there’s no God after all,’ but ‘So this is what God’s really like. Deceive yourself no longer.”

So this is what God’s really like – yikes! But God not only is capable of dealing with those frightening fears about His character and the way He works, He is forcing the lid on that locked box open and demanding that we confront those fears so that He can dispel our faulty misconceptions. Those misconceptions hold us at arms length from Him and hinder the spread of the gospel to the lost because they besmirch His character and His innate holiness.

Melanie:  I often refer back to Lewis’ book because it is so honest and challenging.

Something we have discussed around our table is the fact that we humans are not equipped or even capable of comprehending God in His fullness and majesty. “My thoughts are higher than your thoughts”… So we create shortcuts, paradigms and analogies that serve pretty well when things are going OK but fail miserably when they aren’t.

And often our faith communities are uncomfortable with questions or simply don’t provide space and time to ask them. (When teaching a SS lesson-how many teachers invite real questions?) I get it–who wants to stand in front of a classroom and admit you just don’t know?

But we who have experienced great pain must confront and decide. Who is this God we claim to serve and follow? What does love really look like? Can we learn to live with unanswered questions?

Janet:  Exactly! It’s not disrespectful and it’s not heretical. “Come let us reason together!” It’s required if we wish to have a relationship with the Lord that has deep roots and bears fruit. I don’t want to be the cursed fig tree.

Jesus Curses the Fig Tree – Mark 11:12-14

12 On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. 13 And seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see if he could find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. 14 And he said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it.

What on earth does it mean when I say that I don’t want to be the cursed fig tree?

The fig tree is a symbolic reference to the nation of Israel.  The story of the cursed fig tree is told in both the gospel of Matthew and Mark and according to the Biblical accounts occurred the week before Christ’s death on the cross.  Christ is welcomed to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and hailed as Messiah in an event known as The Triumphal Entry. Jerusalem is overrun by worshipers coming to celebrate Passover. By comparing the accounts in Matthew and Mark we find Jesus returning to Jerusalem the next day when He encounters the fig tree. The fruit on fig trees appear before the leaves. So, it was a reasonable expectation that a fig tree with leaves would also have fruit; regardless of the season. Even so, why curse a fruitless tree? Matthew and Mark also tell us that after cursing the fig tree Jesus continued on to Jerusalem where he proceeded to cleanse the Temple of the money changers. The next day, as Jesus and the disciples again return to Jerusalem, they pass the cursed fig tree and find it withered.

Still confused?  Gotquestions.org explains the significance of both the cursed fig tree and the cleansing of the Temple as follows:

“Jesus had just arrived at Jerusalem amid great fanfare and great expectations, but then proceeds to cleanse the Temple and curse the barren fig tree. Both had significance as to the spiritual condition of Israel. With His cleansing of the Temple and His criticism of the worship that was going on there (Matthew 21:13; Mark 11:17), Jesus was effectively denouncing Israel’s worship of God. With the cursing of the fig tree, He was symbolically denouncing Israel as a nation and, in a sense, even denouncing unfruitful “Christians” (that is, people who profess to be Christian but have no evidence of a relationship with Christ).”

“The presence of a fruitful fig tree was considered to be a symbol of blessing and prosperity for the nation of Israel. Likewise, the absence or death of a fig tree would symbolize judgment and rejection. Symbolically, the fig tree represented the spiritual deadness of Israel, who while very religious outwardly with all the sacrifices and ceremonies, were spiritually barren because of their sins. By cleansing the Temple and cursing the fig tree, causing it to whither and die, Jesus was pronouncing His coming judgment of Israel and demonstrating His power to carry it out. It also teaches the principle that religious profession and observance are not enough to guarantee salvation, unless there is the fruit of genuine salvation evidenced in the life of the person. James would later echo this truth when he wrote that “faith without works is dead” (James 2:26). The lesson of the fig tree is that we should bear spiritual fruit (Galatians 5:22-23), not just give an appearance of religiosity. God judges fruitlessness, and expects that those who have a relationship with Him will “bear much fruit” (John 15:5-8).”

I don’t want to be an unfruitful Christian.  I will wrestle, I will struggle, I will confront, and I may pout and complain and whine and moan along the way, but I’ve come too far, been through too much to quit now!  I hope you feel the same way.

 
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Posted by on February 10, 2016 in Adversity, Faith, Grief, Links

 

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