RSS

Tag Archives: Satan

Lessons on Suffering

Pauls-thorn-in-the-flesh

It was the Spring of 2013, and I was struggling with the myriad of difficult circumstances our family was facing and attempting to reconcile my spiritual beliefs in light of those circumstances.

Gracen and Katie had been diagnosed with ARSACS, a rare and progressive form of muscular dystrophy a year before. Their prognosis was not encouraging. We saw increasing deterioration in Gracen’s health, which seemed to be moving faster than we’d expected based on the limited amount of information available. Bethany had completed her freshman year of college at the University of Central Arkansas and was growing increasingly cynical toward the faith of her youth. And David’s job was in jeopardy. He is the sole breadwinner for our family and we were unsure if he would qualify for unemployment benefits. Needless to say, I was a tad stressed.

Funny how none of the things above was my personal problem. Each one was a battle for those I love most deeply and as a wife and mother, their suffering became my own. The curse of empathy is the ability to personalize another’s suffering as your own and that’s exactly what I did. Every physical setback Gracen and Katie experienced resulted in grieving the lost abilities for my daughters and for myself. Each time Bethany attacked a biblical truth, I ached and feared for her, for her future, for her eternal safety and for myself knowing her choices might lead me to endure painful consequences alongside her. And I was well aware how a man’s job impacts his self-esteem not to mention the burden of financial insecurity.

One morning I sat out on my back patio with my bible and smartphone and began searching the scriptures for what God’s Word said about suffering. This is what the Apostle Paul wrote about his own trials:

7 And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing, I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly, therefore, will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.”  —  2 Corinthians 12:7-10 (KJV)

When Paul asked God to remove the thorn in his flesh, this was God’s response:

(2 Corinthians 12:9)  “My grace is sufficient for thee . . . “

“My strength is made perfect in weakness . . . “ KJV

Or in another translation

“My power is perfected in weakness . . .” NASB

006-jesus-gethsemane

Christ praying and sweating blood in the Garden of Gethsemane

In 2 Corinthians 12:7 Paul tells the reader the purpose of the thorn in his flesh. I find it interesting that Paul knew and understood why he was suffering, just as Christ did in the Garden of Gethsemane, yet both Paul and Christ asked for their suffering to be taken from them. That tells me that understanding God’s purposes doesn’t make suffering any easier to endure. Knowing why doesn’t make the hurt or the fear go away. The truth is that, in our humanity, we are desperate to escape pain in spite of recognizing God’s greater plan.

In this particular case, the purpose of Paul’s thorn in the flesh was to keep him humble. Paul understood that the normal human response to being singled out by the resurrected Lord—and receiving the sheer abundance of revelation he received—would commonly result in pride; a very destructive character trait.

Paul described the thorn in his flesh two ways:

1)  As a gift; well he doesn’t actually call it a gift.  He simply says it was given to him which implies to me that it was a gift and its purpose implies it was a gift from God (to keep him humble).  Funny how a message from the enemy to buffet a believer could be seen as a gift from God when it serves His purpose. And it was a good thing because it saved Paul from the pain and destruction pride brings. Maybe some of our sufferings are considered good from God’s perspective because it saves us from a fate that is far more detrimental to our overall well-being or damaging to our character.

2)  As a message from Satan to torment him.  It’s as if God allowed Satan to afflict Paul, just like God allowed Satan to afflict Job.  The Bible is riddled with such instances.  Satan intended this thorn in Paul’s flesh to hurt Paul just as Satan, via the conduit of his brothers, intended harm, even death, for Joseph.  Satan was also allowed to bring Christ to the cross, although Jesus laid down his own life in obedience to God.  Satan’s intent was to destroy God’s plan of redemption but again, God thwarted Satan through Christ’s resurrection which defeated the power of sin and death in men’s lives. It appears that two plans are being implemented simultaneously with very different goals. Satan’s goals are destructive but God is well aware that Satan has set out to destroy His children and God uses Satan’s own devices not only to thwart Satan’s plans but to triumph over them. Isn’t that the most satisfying form of serving justice and meting out righteous vengeance—to turn your enemy’s own evil plans against him? It’s pretty much the ultimate slap-down.

Although the message Satan wanted to communicate to Paul isn’t directly outlined, we can extrapolate it ourselves based on what we’ve heard other broken believers express through trials. Here’s a reasonable sampling:

1)  God doesn’t love you or He wouldn’t have allowed this bad thing in the first place

2)  If God really loved you, He would have healed you from this affliction

3)  God isn’t as powerful as He claims because He obviously can’t heal you or He would have

4)  God can’t protect you from me (Satan) – I’m more powerful than God

Just like Job, when Paul didn’t respond to suffering the way Satan expected, Satan added to Paul’s affliction.  2 Corinthians 11:23-27 says that Paul suffered more than any man for the sake of the gospel.  Paul:

1)  Received 39 stripes on five separate occasions at the hand of the Jews

2)  Was beaten with rods three times

3)  Was stoned once

4)  Was shipwrecked three times

5)  Spent a full day and night in the ocean on at least once

Throughout his journeys to spread the gospel, Paul’s life was in danger from robbers, fellow Jews, Gentiles and false Christians wherever he went and however, he got there.  He suffered from cold, exposure, manual labor, sleepless nights, hunger & thirst all while shouldering the concerns of the churches he planted.

Satan uses affliction to:

1)  Discourage and torment believers

2)  Derail efforts to spread the gospel

3)  Cause believers to doubt God’s love, kindness, and power

I recently read a very interesting article about John 10:10, “The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” The article examines the Greek words in this verse to aid in gaining a better understanding of the scripture. Click on the following link for an eye-opening read from the Renner Ministries Blog:

The Devil Has a Plan For Your Life!

God uses affliction to:

1)  To prevent us from becoming prideful — 2 Corinthians 12:7 (See above); Or maybe to prevent us from developing some other trait that damages our character or is personally destructive.

2)  To save His chosen people:

“Now do not be grieved or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. . . God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant in the earth, and to keep you alive by a great deliverance.” — Genesis 45:5 & 7

“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” — Genesis 50:20

3)  To provide His children with the assurance of their own salvation:

The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” —  Romans 8:16

4)  Conform us into the image of Christ and share in the fellowship of His suffering, His consolation, and His glory:

“But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.”  — 2 Corinthians 3:18

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son . . . And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. — Romans 8:28-30

“And if we are children, then we are heirs: heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ—if indeed we suffer with Him, so that we may also be glorified with Him.” — Romans 8:17

“For just as the sufferings of Christ overflow to us, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. . . And our hope of you is stedfast, knowing, that as ye are partakers of the sufferings, so shall ye be also of the consolation.” — 2 Corinthians 1:5 & 7

“But rejoice that you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed at the revelation of His glory.” — 1 Peter 4:13

5) To produce endurance, develop your faith, and lead to increased spiritual maturity:

Be assured that the testing of your faith [through experience] produces endurance [leading to spiritual maturity, and inner peace]. And let endurance have its perfect result and do a thorough work, so that you may be perfect and completely developed [in your faith], lacking in nothing. — James 1:3-4 AMP

6) Enable us to comfort and encourage others who are suffering:

“Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.” — 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

7) To display the works of God:

“His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus replied: “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” — John 9:2-3

crown-and-thorns8)  To earn eternal rewards that will far outweigh the temporal suffering we experience in life:

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” — 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

 

Why is it important that we understand God’s purpose in allowing His children to suffer?

I think it’s critical that we realize that God uses affliction for a variety of purposes and each trial a believer encounters may serve a completely different purpose.

One thing I have discovered through child loss is that fellow Christians often try to encourage the grieving by reminding them that their current suffering will allow them to comfort another hurting soul somewhere down the road.  This may or may not be true. Depending upon the circumstances, the level of trauma involved, or the personality of the bereaved, God may never intend that believer’s suffering to be used to minister to another. The experience may be so negative that the individual may not be able to support and encourage another. The pressure to minister may re-victimize the believer or the individual may not be able to talk about their situation without inciting fear in another thereby doing more damage than good.

I have also discovered that those who are called to minister to others generally are not capable of taking on that role until a significant amount of healing has taken place in their own lives. Discernment is definitely required before encouraging anyone to minister to another as a result of their trial and also required for the tested, the survivor, to know if God is really calling them to this type of ministry or to minister to a specific individual. Ministry is about more than shared experience. Personality and approach matter.

Of all the purposes of suffering I uncovered in my research, all but one can generally be confirmed in hindsight. The one that can’t—when God allows suffering in order to prevent something He deems more damaging to His child. There are some things we will never be able to understand or explain.

Suffering almost always leads to the why question. But ultimately, having a definitive answer doesn’t make the suffering less painful or even lead a believer to embrace the pain for the joy that lies before them. Knowing why is less important than the fruit God produces as a result of affliction. Understanding why may come in hindsight, but even if it doesn’t, I believe there’s always a purpose, whether I approve of it or not, and God allows it for our individual, eternal good.

As Ruth, my grief counselor, pointed out to me recently, at creation, God proclaimed everything He created “good” not “perfect”. Why would Adam be made caretaker of all of creation if there were no problems to resolve? Had there been no problems, Adams job would have been superfluous.

Perfect is a life without problems, without suffering. Good is a life that includes problems, inconveniences, and even suffering. It’s a life that matures through time and experience. It’s a life that includes overcoming adversity, recognizing our dependence upon God, helping our fellow man, bringing glory to God and earning eternal rewards. We don’t earn anything unless we work for it. And God’s grace is sufficient to enable us to live a good life in spite of trials, afflictions, and suffering.

 
2 Comments

Posted by on August 27, 2016 in Adversity, Faith, Grief, Muscular Dystrophy

 

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Trust, Works & Supernatural Power

Trust with blue marker

I came across a bit of dialog in some fiction I was reading recently. Within that dialog was a nugget — a small, small thought that struck a chord within. The male character was imploring the female character not to worry, but to please trust him instead. The author revealed the female’s thoughts more than a reply. The female’s internal response was that she could do that — trust him — for the time being, but also acknowledged that the time was coming when they would have to have a serious discussion about this issue in their relationship. The issue was the effect the male character’s abusive father played in their interaction as a couple.

The woman was afraid to blindly trust that the man had overcome the far reaching impact of abuse at the hands of his father; one of the two people every individual should be able to trust for unconditional and sacrificial love.

ca777683f74be57ee1436a610eb174a9The author communicated that the woman needed more than the male character’s word that he was trustworthy — she needed more information to feel comfortable that the emotional wounds inflicted by the abusive father would not result in destructive, self-protective responses when their own relationship hit difficult challenges. In fact, the entire story was built around the fact that the male character had run and shut the female character out, at an earlier point in their relationship.

Personal, painful experience had taught the female character to be wary. She desperately wanted to trust, but experience had taught her a painful lesson and her own self-protective instincts were screaming that as hard as the male character was trying, trust damaged is not easily, and without evidence of change or misunderstanding, rebuilt. Fear and the instinct for self-preservation demanded more than unchallenged trust. She needed to know her trust was merited.

And this is that small nugget — the thought that struck a chord within as I read this work of fiction: This need for more evidence in the aftermath of deep wounds is not only normal but wise. Isn’t that what you, as a parent, would advise your child to do — Trust but verify? Is it then so hard to comprehend that the broken believer needs the same thing from God? Is it sinful? Personally, I don’t think so.

Eventually every Christian hears these words, “Don’t worry, trust God.” There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that advice, unless it is offered to someone who perceives themselves to be betrayed or abandoned by the God they are being encouraged to trust. 08e8f8fff3f9e983cb822826a9feef30If that’s the case, the wounded Christian may very well be thinking, “Stop asking me to trust God while I’m still coughing up water from the last time He let me drowned!” Is it any wonder then that such advice is met with cynicism, anger, extreme frustration, ridicule or even abject terror? This biblical admonition heaps guilt and shame upon the struggling and broken believer.

The well-known phrase, Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me!, comes to mind here doesn’t it? Self-preservation demands more than biblical platitudes. And lest that statement offends let me clarify before continuing. A platitude is defined as a trite phrase spoken as if it were profound or fresh. Synonyms for the word platitude include trite and cliché. The common theme in definition among all three of these words is the idea that a phrase has become commonplace and lost it’s effectiveness due to overuse. Can a Bible verse become cliché? Trite? A platitude? I think the answer is yes.

Oh, I can just imagine the hackles rising here, but please bear with me!  Maybe the definition of those three words above should be expanded to include misuse as well as overuse. From my personal perspective, advice becomes trite when it is offered in a flip manner, without adequate thought or as a quick and easy fix to a complicated problem. And honestly, I am smart enough to realize that just because a verse has been overused or misused doesn’t make it any less true.

The real problem — what makes Bible verses about trust (in this case) into platitudes — is the failure to acknowledge that from the believer’s perspective, trust has either not been adequately established or for the more mature believer, trust is perceived as having been breached.  Therefore, the admonition to trust God is both perceived as a criticism and an oversimplification.

Trust is developed over time. It’s the result of positive reinforcement — and damaged when it is betrayed or extended to someone prematurely or foolishly. I think, when a child is well cared for by its parents, trust is developed and the young mind assumes everyone is trustworthy. Life experience soon teaches the child that that assumption is invalid. Trust is eroded and less easily extended as we get hurt in big and small ways.

trust-God-01Yet the Christian faith appears to demand unconditional trust in the Savior we believe in but cannot see; cannot touch. It appears to demand that in the face of evidence to the contrary we hold fast to scriptures that seem to communicate the opposite of what life experience teaches us.

That word, appears, is really the key, don’t you think? Appearances are deceptive. Our culture is so driven by positive thinking that we gloss over the difficulties the Bible tells us will surely befall us and rush to the tail end of the verses that promise a positive outcome.

When we read Isaiah 40:31, ” . . . they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.”, we focus on the positive outcome of waiting upon the Lord. But I fear that we fail to recognize what this verse implies as we desperately cling to its promises. What this verse implies, but doesn’t explicitly say, is that the believer will find themselves weak and weary. Our strength need not be renewed if it is never weakened. Yet somehow, we interpret this verse to mean that we will never feel weak and weary, only that we will triumphantly mount up with wings as eagles! Then when we find ourselves weak and weary we wonder why or believe that we have somehow failed to live out our faith.

Likewise, Isaiah 43:2 says, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, Nor will the flame burn you.” When we read this verse we gloss over the fact that we will pass through the waters, through the rivers (fast moving current), through the fires. We overlook or maybe refuse to consider what it will feel like as we enter the waters and feel it quickly rising, threatening to overflow us and forcefully dragging us downstream. We fail to anticipate how it will feel when we feel the heat of the flames, smell singed hair and choke on the heavy smoke that surrounds us as we walk through the fire.

Instead we focus on the promise that God will be with us, that the waters will not drown us and the fires won’t burn us. It’s all stated without emotion as if fear, pain, discouragement and a multitude of other emotions won’t batter us in the midst of the flood waters and fiery flames of life circumstances. But the scriptures don’t promise that — they just promise God’s presence and protection from complete devastation as we go through those harrowing experiences. Ask the near drowning victim. Ask the individual who barely escaped without injury when a fire broke out in their home. Consider the Christian martyr; consider Paul who was whipped five times (39 lashes on each occasion), beaten with rods three times, stoned once, shipwrecked three times and spent 24 hours on the open seas (2 Corinthians 11:24-25) and imprisoned at least once. Were they unafraid in spite of the constant presence of the Holy Spirit? Doubtful, highly doubtful! More likely they were still terrified.

The Bible tells us to reason together with the Lord (Isaiah 1:18). To taste and see that He is good (Psalm 34:8). To try the Lord (Malachi 3:10), at least in regards to tithes and offerings. It doesn’t demand unconditional or unchallenged trust. God, by grace, gives us enough evidence to take that step of faith. *For further clarification on trying the Lord please read the notes at the end of this article.

trust-building-big-sizeWhen faced with a believer who is grappling with difficult circumstances, who is afraid or discouraged, I, like every other Christian I know, struggle with how to respond – how to support and encourage. We want to fix the problem and when we are helpless to effect change we point them to the only One capable of pulling them through. We encourage them to trust God. But I wonder if that is the very last thing the hurting believer needs to hear. They, like the female character in the novel I mentioned above, need something more; more than unchallenged trust. The trust they had has been shaken by circumstances. They need more information; more knowledge and evidence to boost their confidence that their faith is grounded on a firm foundation and not built upon shifting sand.

I wonder if what the broken believer really needs to hear from fellow Christians is:

  • A promise that prayers for either assurance or the restoration of their battered hope and trust in Christ will be lifted to the throne of grace.
  • I wonder if maybe that struggling believer needs an acknowledgment that trusting God in their circumstances is not simply a matter of the will.
  • That fledgling faith and perceived betrayal or abandonment results in shaky trust.
  • That supernatural help is required to trust God more fully.
  • That the believer’s need for more evidence that God is trustworthy is expected, entirely normal, and is no easy or simplistic feat.

And let’s be real here. The body of Christ is not strengthened when we refuse to acknowledge our doubts about God.

God is not afraid He will be found lacking. He’s completely confident that as we test our faith, as we reason together with Him, as we search to determine if He is good like He claims, we will discover He is all He proclaims Himself to be.

Life has taught me to expect disappointment, pain and suffering. It’s unrealistic to expect that I can simply ignore the lessons of days gone by and trust that God will not allow me to be hurt further. I need time to reexamine the evidence presented in the Word of God. I don’t think He is the least bit offended by that. And this is what I’ve discovered:

  • What I need from God is the supernatural ability to rise above the pain and fear; not to believe in vain that more pain and sorrow will not befall me.
  • That I don’t need encouraged to trust God more – I need to comprehend and make peace with what I can and cannot trust Him for.
  • And I need supernatural help to find the peace that passes all understanding so that I can endure what lies before me without discouragement and despair — undefeated by circumstances and Satan’s mechanizations.

I think grace believing Christians still get tripped up in works related theology. I know I do. We think we are responsible for our spiritual growth. That if we just do the right things (practice the spiritual disciplines – Bible reading and prayer), acquire the  right mindset (taking every thought captive, thinking on things that are pure and just, choosing joy) that we will overcome. And we are frustrated when we find that approach unsuccessful for ourselves and others. Intellectually we know we are dependent upon God to change us, but Satan’s deceptions woven into culturally ingrained messages have insidiously crept between the gaps in biblical knowledge within our hearts and minds. Truth has been perverted. Our beliefs have been infected with half-truths. And as a result . . .

We believe walking the walk equates to spiritual transformation.

We believe if we follow the prescribed formula, we will be successful at overcoming our problems. But that idea when boiled down . . .

Denies the very work and power of God in the lives of Christians!

That formulaic philosophy is grounded in works not faith. It disguises the truth that while we ascribe our spiritual well being to God we subconsciously restrict His participation as we try to solve our own problems; as we try to heal or improve ourselves.

Don’t get me wrong, there is great value in practicing the disciplines of the faith, however, those practices are the means by which we cooperate with the Holy Spirit in spiritual growth and maturity but they are not, in and of themselves, responsible for spiritual growth. Here is the truth . . .

  • We cannot grow spiritually without supernatural intervention.
  • Spiritual growth requires the work of the Spirit.
  • Only the Holy Spirit can bridge the gap between our humanity and holiness in a process known as sanctification.

I don’t need encouragement to find a way to make myself do the impossible (heal myself).

I need prayer that God will do the impossible within me.

IMG_1212I need fellow believers to recognize and acknowledge that healing will not come solely from activity on my part.

I need believers to tell me that they are praying for God to step in and do what I can’t do for myself, what no man, regardless of how strong willed they are, can do for themselves.

And frankly, I need Christians to verbalize (well, after I’m confident that they actually believe this) that unfinished healing isn’t representative of a failure on my part to cooperate with the Holy Spirit. Instead it means the Holy Spirit is still at work in my heart.

I wonder if those who read this blog think I might harp too much on the ill effects of the culturally popular positive thinking philosophy. But as my grief counselor pointed out to me Tuesday, the command to think upon things that are true and just, etc., is not at all a command to think positively or to dwell on only good things (which is exactly how I’d interpreted it). What’s true and just may not necessarily be good or positive. 

I find myself at war within — cognizant that I am waiting on the Lord to do His work within my heart as I cooperate in those efforts, but simultaneously self-condemning — believing the cultural messages I’ve been raised with — that are ingrained within. The messages that say I can pull myself up by my bootstraps, that if I just apply myself I will succeed, that choosing joy eliminates sorrow. And while there may be a kernel of truth hidden within each of those messages, the success they promise is all predicated upon my works, not the power of God!

bible-idolChristians reduce the Word of God to a mere idol when we attribute spiritual growth to following biblical precepts while excluding the God who empowers that Word from the process.

Is that what I do? Is that what the Christian community of our generation does? Do we serve God ritualistically without humbling ourselves to acknowledge our desperate need of His personal intervention in our lives? Do we subconsciously deny or rebel against the power of God in our lives? Are we modern day Pharisees?

“These people come near to me with their mouth
and honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
Their worship of me
is based on merely human rules they have been taught.”

 ~ Isaiah 29:13

I can’t effect true and real transformation in my life by the practice of spiritual disciplines in the absence of the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit. At best, I can create an elaborate facade that gives the appearance of transformation. There are things only the Holy Spirit can do. He, alone, is capable of transforming my life, thereby, increasing my trust in Him.

I wonder how I would have felt — what difference it might have made — if just one person had said to me, “Janet, you are going to have to trust God for Gracen’s health and future. But know this: spiritually mature trust is impossible without the work of the Holy Spirit in your life. Practice the spiritual disciplines to the best of your ability, but don’t beat yourself up when you find yourself afraid for the future, when you realize that you can’t force yourself to trust God by an act of your will alone. Understand supernatural intervention is required and it doesn’t happen overnight or even quickly.”

What would words such as those do for a broken or struggling believer?

What would they do for you?

 


 *Notes on Trying the Lord

There is a fine line between trying the Lord, as in searching the scriptures to see what He says about Himself and trying the Lord by demanding that He prove to us He is worthy of our trust.

Got Questions?.org has a great article that discusses the distinctions between the two. And while the article says of Malachi 3:10 “This is the only situation given in the Bible in which God tells His people to “test” Him.” It later concludes that “The Israelites at Massah tested God because they lacked faith in Him. The Israelites in Malachi’s day were invited to test God because they had faith in Him.” (To read the article in its entirety, click on the following link:  What Does it Mean to Test God?).

I am in no way advocating tempting the Lord. As a believer and disciple of Christ Jesus, I am coming to God from a position of faith. There’s an important distinction that must be drawn between coming to God doubting his power and character and coming to Him fully confident of his power and character yet confused because He didn’t behave as we expected. Are we not then trying our faith as opposed to testing God? (James 1:2-3)

 
9 Comments

Posted by on July 9, 2016 in Faith

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Conversations with Melanie – Part 2

download (3)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.

tumblr_mmnbe46lP11r1ibwko1_1280

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.

deep-green-valley-sea-tunnel-hd-wallpaper-1920x1080

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.

eph31718

 

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

 
7 Comments

Posted by on February 9, 2016 in Faith, Grief

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

 
%d bloggers like this: