Sometimes You Cry (And so does God)

rain_drops_ Something happened recently that made me wonder for the first time in my life whether God is cruel. Rather than a loving Father, was he actually more like Zeus, that tempestuous Greek god who sometimes entertained himself by hurling lightning bolts toward earth?

Our pastor’s teen-aged son Thomas had been on dialysis and in need of a kidney for some time. Finally, the perfect donor was found, a family friend. We all rejoiced, called it a miracle, an answer to prayer. Our pastor’s wife, Sarah, was enduring her own health crisis. She had just been through chemo and was facing radiation, but thankfully a break in the treatment afforded her the strength to be with their son when he received his new kidney.

The day of surgery was girded by prayer. By mid-afternoon, an email was sent out: All went very well. Both Thomas and donor were doing fine. When Thomas awoke, he whispered to his mother, “I’m so thankful it’s done.” And everywhere, you can be sure, God’s people rejoiced.

Early the next morning, the second message came. Thomas had undergone emergency surgery. The kidney had somehow developed blood clots and couldn’t be saved. The transplant had failed.

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I stared at the flashing cursor on the screen, feeling stunned. And that’s when the thought came to me that maybe God is cruel. Had this been some sort of joke, a Zeus-like lightning bolt aimed at good people who had trusted him?

I was angry. I was scared. In that moment, and for the next few hours, I doubted the very foundation of my life. And I did something I hardly ever do: I cried.

~~~

Once upon a time, a ship got caught up in a deadly storm at sea. The storm lasted not just for a night, or for several days, but for two full weeks. Wind and rain pounded the ship so violently and relentlessly that finally, as one man later wrote, “All hope of our being saved was at last abandoned.”

That man was Luke, the author of the book of Acts. He was traveling with the Apostle Paul, who was a prisoner being taken to Rome. Finally, the ship ran aground near the island of Malta, and while the ship was lost, all the men survived. They were welcomed by the inhabitants of the island. A fire was built for them, and they were fed.

And then some wonderful things began to happen. Paul prayed over a sick man, a man of some prominence on Malta, and he became well. When the news spread, others who were sick came to Paul, and he prayed for them, and they too were healed. The islanders marveled as they witnessed the power of God. In turn, for three months, they generously provided for all of the needs of the shipwrecked crew (see Acts 27 & 28).

Once upon a time, a raging tempest left a ship’s crew devoid of all hope. But in spite of what they felt and how it looked, there was hope. Paul and Luke and the others were brought by that very storm to a place they never expected to be, a place of healing, and rejoicing, and hospitality and camaraderie. A place where good things happened.

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A basic tenet of Christianity, a message every evangelical Christian has heard: God works all things together for good—all the storms, the shipwrecks, the trials and tragedies, the failed kidneys.

Something else to consider as well: Sometimes while he is working all things together for good, God cries.

Certainly he did when he was here on earth. You see, when I was angry about the failed surgery, I ranted at God, telling him he has no idea what it’s like to live in this world, to face the daily struggles, the heartache, the loss. But he stopped me with the words: Yes, I do. Don’t you know that by now?

 Jesus, God in the flesh, experienced everything we experience. While on earth, he was a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. He knew temptation, hunger, disappointment, loss. When one of his closest friends died, Jesus wept—even while he was walking toward the grave to raise Lazarus back to life. Even though he knew the ending, he still suffered the grief.

Even though he knows the ending to each of our stories, I believe he grieves with us today in all our sorrows, because we belong to him and he loves us.

~~~

When the surgery failed, our pastor wrote: “God is no less faithful today than he was yesterday. God is no less loving today than he was yesterday. Our faith is unshaken even if our understanding is reeling.”

God’s goodness is unlimited. It’s our understanding of his goodness that’s limited. We simply can’t always know what he is doing, what island the storm is taking us to for our own sake and for the sake of others. But God knows.

Just as Jesus told Peter, “You do not know what I am doing, but later you will understand” (John 13:7).

Until we do understand, we trust. And we believe in and hold on to God’s love, because it’s the one thing that sustains us through all our trials, and brings us to the good places we are meant to be.

 

Meeting God on the Horizon

Do you really believe that what you believe is really real?

~ Del Tackett, The Truth Project

Child's drawing When I was a child drawing nature scenes, I—like most children—harbored a strange perception when it came to the meeting of earth and sky. In truth, they didn’t meet at all. The sky was always a blue strip across the top of the page while the earth was a corresponding ribbon of green across the bottom.

In between was a whole lot of nothing. Just a huge patch of non-color in which hung the sun and into which the trees shot up their branches and the flowers their blooms. It was in this place of nothingness that the people made their homes and walked their dogs and had their picnics and lived their lives.

At that young age, I didn’t understand that there was something called a horizon, a place where the human eye perceives a meeting of sky and earth, a point at which blue touches green and all the gaps are closed and the picture is complete.

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I wonder how many of us wander around in that place of non-color all our lives because we think that God’s heaven—with all of its accompanying mercy, goodness and joy—is up there while earth is down here and somehow, for some reason, “never the twain shall meet”?

How many of us live as though there is no horizon, no place where God’s Spirit leans down and touches the human soul?

~~~

I have lived that way myself. I have lived as though God only watches from a distance while I am tempted to despair, that he looks on in indifference while I have unmet needs, that he makes no move in my direction when I feel crushed by loneliness or feelings of isolation.

I’ve lived in this place of non-color and nothingness, though thankfully God allowed me only to pitch a tent in this desert rather than to build a permanent place of residence. He has helped me pull up stakes and has walked with me, pointing all the time toward the horizon, saying, “Meet me there.”

~~~

Heaven and earth do meet, and that’s the whole point of our existence. A maturing of faith, a growing in our knowledge of God, assures us that God is not up there but down here, right here with us, around us, in us, touching us, closing up all the empty spaces, making us complete.

In our despair, we find within our hearts a glowing nugget of hope that can’t be denied. In our need, we receive provision—an unexpected check, a loaf of bread, an anonymous gift. In our loneliness, we sense a love that wraps itself undeniably around our soul and, even in the darkest hour and sometimes even in spite of ourselves, never lets us go.

~~~

We have to allow God to be more than a pleasant thought or wishful thinking. He has to be more than an idea, a theology or a vague concept. We have to allow him to be what he is: Lord of creation, God of all mercy, a Father who through the death of his own Son Jesus tore open the curtain to the Holy of Holies and allowed us to enter into his presence.

We have to let his heaven touch our earth, every moment of every day. We have to live our lives on the horizon.

And we can. Because he himself brings us there. He created us to dwell with him there. On the horizon, he fills our lives with his love.

~~~

The joy of Jesus must rush through all the corridors of your mind. The heart must know He has come to guide, comfort, and help in the hour of need. There must be no doubt, no question that God has chosen to come and commune with His servant….I want God’s total presence. I want to flow in His river of love.

                                                                                             ~ David Wilkerson*

*From David Wilkerson, Have You Felt Like Giving Up Lately (Grand Rapids, MI: Fleming H. Revell, 1980), pp. 55, 56.

Karen’s Story: Trading Fathers

In this excerpt from her memoir, Trading Fathers, Karen Rabbitt describes how God first revealed his love to her. She was dealing with a lot—as a child, she was sexually abused by her father, and as an adult, she had two serious emotional breakdowns, one postpartum, in 1975, when she was 23, and the second two years later.

By 1979, she was both terrified of another breakdown and was praying for a revelation of the love of the Father. Because her trust in her earthly father’s goodness had been betrayed, she was struggling to trust God’s goodness. Weighed down by shame and guilt, she didn’t understand that rather than sending punishment, God wanted to fill her life with good things.

But all that changed one special night. Here is Karen’s story…

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Because the psychiatrist had no answers for me, I asked God. I wrote my request in my journal, with a date: October 30, 1979. It had been two years since the second crisis. “Help me understand so maybe it won’t happen again.”

God began to answer the next day. Jerry and I, as was our habit, were lying in bed together, reading before sleep. In the new issue of Logos Journal magazine, I saw words that changed my life. A chaplain quoted a schizophrenic woman: “I’ve always been taught you should be so good before taking the Lord’s Supper.”

Then he wrote: “Here was her guilt—a core problem in the lives of persons with mental- emotional problems.”

In my journal, I wrote:

That hits home. I think that God is going to just throw me away if I don’t do tremendous things for him—intercession, drama ministry, some other enormous, demanding activity. God has helped me a lot with free-floating guilt, and I feel pretty close to being healed of such high requirements for acceptance. A growing awareness that God will accept me—that he may not have a demanding work for me to do . . . that he will welcome me with open arms if I’m only able to be faithful to my family—Jerry and Jenny.

As I wrote those words, a warmth I’d never felt before began at the top of my head and flowed through every inch of my body. In one swoop through my being, God’s love filled my heart. He was smiling at me. His arms were open as I walked into his embrace. It was the revelation of the Father’s love I’d been asking for.

Jerry noticed my deep breathing. “You okay?”

“Never better.” I leaned over and kissed him. I could have kissed the whole world.

Though excited, I also felt a deep calm. That was new. Excitement, for me, usually led to racing thoughts that made it hard to get to sleep. That night, though, I drifted off easily, with a sense of Jesus’ arms around me.

The next morning, I picked up my Bible and opened to Jeremiah, where I’d been reading the last few weeks. I’d been making an effort to read the Bible more consistently. The women at Prayer and Share all seemed to set aside a daily quiet time for prayer and Bible study.

Jeremiah rang with God’s thundering judgments against his people for their disobedience and rebellion. I knew I was disobedient, too. I didn’t know exactly in what way, but there was always more I could be doing. That morning, though, as I began to read in chapter 26, something clicked.

Verse 3 says, “Perhaps they will listen and each will turn from his evil way. Then I will relent and not bring on them the disaster I was planning because of the evil they have done.”

God wants to change his mind and stop the punishment. I looked around my cozy house. I thought about my good husband. God has given me so much. I wrote in my journal:

It’s taken a long time to have a real sense of God’s desire for me—that he has good things for me—that he grieves at my sin; not sadistically rubs his hands together as he looks forward to seeing me in pain as I live out the consequences of sin.

I had not yet realized how my father’s seeking pleasure at the expense of my pain had impacted my image of God.

What I knew at the moment God revealed his love to me was a joy I’d never felt before. That surface feeling of joy didn’t last more than a few weeks, but it settled in my heart.

Previous to this revelation, I had only hoped in his love. After this revelation, my roots grabbed hold of the soil of his tender care.

~~~

Postscript:  After this revelation, Karen has never seriously doubted God’s love. And she has not had another breakdown, in spite of taking no medication for the last 40 years. The revelation of the love of the Father changed her life as much as becoming a Christian seven years prior to this experience.

You can read the rest of the story in a free pdf of Trading Fathers at:

https://karenrabbitt.typepad.com/files/2013-trading-fathers.pdf

More resources, including videos, from Karen are available at: www.tradingfathers.com

Karen Rabbit Karen Rabbitt