October 9, 2018
On Sunday, my wife and I met at our good friends’ house, a couple we have known for many years, and commemorated the anniversary of the wife’s struggle with cancer. While listening to her, she said with no uncertainty that it was just recently that she has become self-aware, humbled, and resolving life-long issues that have come to the surface from this journey, including a long standing fight with feelings of abandonment. This was contrasted with another moment on this same day she took a very earthy look at her ordeal and said at one point “I don’t care what good things or inner healing is being accomplished, I just want this pain to end!” Something she said she later regretted. These two moments were so revealing and teaching to me.
The call from the dust.
It’s hard to separate the natural human trauma of an illness, such as cancer, and the needed compassion, comfort, friendship in the ordeal, with the bigger picture of “what is going on here?” They are definitely two perspectives, and the second may only be broached by the most trusted friends. At one point I mentioned to our friend that her experiences (pain, confusion, demands, feelings of a closed heaven) were hers. And ours. She is connected to others who love her. She’s part of the body of Christ. My experience in prayer has been that in the fire, she may shout for joy. She is closer to God’s heart and goodness than at any other time. She is not abandoned, but cherished closely. There is something about living in extremity that unlocks a grace, honor, riches, and glory in the kingdom that is like no other time. These experiences are confusing. Humbling. Misunderstood. How could my Father who knows me let me travel such a path? Yet it is because we are so close, so treasured, that we are singled out. What a contrast. What a juxtaposition of extremities.
Reading in the book of Job, I see a similar story line. God’s question to Satan: “Have you considered my servant Job?” It was an invitation to the fire. And the fire came. And there Job sat, in the dust. Waiting. Wondering. Then came friends. Reasoning. Blame. Assumptions. Everything was tossed at Job, even the kitchen sink. And within that righteous, God-loved man, bubbled up offense. Impurities. Character traits which distracted and diluted the intense love of God in his life. To the surface they came. Aren’t I righteous? Don’t I deserve better? And considering God the opposer (in the face of his three friends), or less severely, the quiet onlooker (in the face of the fourth), he advocated for himself. The very impurity that held him back. There is something so totally holy and pure about the love of God — and I believe his blessing, true blessing in our lives is to experience him without the color, shading of a misinformed perspective or belief about me or him. But there is a deep risk associated with God engaging in this type of purification with his kids. Without the essential tie, connection, bond, and trust with the Father, an experience like Job’s could end badly. Very badly. The possibility of ending badly for Job is the same possibility that our friend faces. Yet, the reward is worth the risk.
I repeat, the reward, is worth the risk.
And she says after a year of this hell hole: I finally learned some things. I’ve come to term with things I never would have before this point. The goal quite possibly was not simply to endure pain in the flesh without meaning, but to be and live as the most precious one of the Lord. It’s not a pretty process. Vulnerability and exposure at every level. But… “I’ve finally come to terms with some things.”
We must embrace the now. The process. The feelings and where they lead. Yet no matter what percolates up from our heart, it must be mixed with the goodness and purpose of God. For me, I left my job in my mid-forties, wanting to resolve the “calling of God” on my life that I received when I was a teenager. I embarked on what turned out to be a very bitter journey, trusting in my faith and dedication to God. I believed he would provide. Period. I wanted to know my calling. I allowed my faith to be stretched to the breaking point in what I considered a test of my faith. If I could simply endure past these seemingly unresolvable financial issues and plunge into the fiscal abyss, he will honor my faith. And plunge I did. And my faith indeed broke. It wasn’t God that flinched in my game of chicken, it was me. Self-righteous me. Proud faith-exalting me. I broke. I was humbled. At that point, I too threw away all my Christian idealism and embraced his grace and the moment. I embraced my need to work. To engage — with my best — in the world around me offering my flesh with no strings attached. I no longer demand “a calling.” He has called me. I will live in his love. I went through a similar hell-hole when dating my wife. My very identity as a man was revamped. He put me on solid footing and delivered me out of so many delusions. But then, as it was later, through fire. Purification. The love of God in action. He, willing to let me misunderstand him for a season, acted on my behalf so that I could know him without the barnacles of life and my adversary that had so tenaciously clung to my body and mind. My tender Heavenly Father is very good at renewing me.
Where is God?
The second thing which stood out was the fact that our friend and her husband said they had not experienced the presence of God in this trial — until recently. Why? Why does God feel distant?
First, he is not distant. It’s only my perception of his proximity that I’m experiencing. But could it be that I don’t want to experience pain and I want him to change it? Obviously, our friends do not want cancer. Nor would I. At its core it represents the adversary and sin that he’s introduced in the earth. Yet, am I entitled to healing? Of course healing is a possibility — I see that when I read the Gospels and hear testimony in the church. But am I entitled to it? Well, it’s the children’s bread. Just like I’m promised life. And food. And every other good thing that is not always there when I feel like I need it. Yahweh. “I am… healing.” Of course he meets my need and I expect it. But when it doesn’t happen, what do I do?
This is something common to every man. Including Christ. Didn’t he plead in the Garden: “If it is possible, remove this cup from me?” It is possible. Nothing is impossible (it was Jesus himself who said this). Yet the answer was no. Not now. He had to go through this particular door, down this particular path. And it still lives in infamy. What he did, I’m not sure I still fully grasp. Yet it was horrible. And the taking of my sin (and separation from God) upon him is something that will abide with him — FOREVER. He was delivered. He was raised. He did recover. He is now the victory for all of us. But, he still did not want to do it. Just like Job did not want to, nor our friend, nor me.
It’s about timing. We don’t know how long and we would like to do everything in our power to change it. We want to change what the Father has put his own time (and goals) upon. Cancer? Death? Yup. But just like he established boundaries around the experience for Job, (you may not take his life), He has boundaries around every other experience of his children as well. It’s just that those boundaries are stumbling. I would never think that God would allow this kind of suffering or death.
So the thing that is standing out to me is this: When I am feeling desperate, wanting to change my circumstances, wanting to change God’s mind, wanting to claim my entitlement as a son, I become agitated and resistant to the present. Yet, the presence is in the present. It’s not tomorrow. It’s now. Is it any wonder my perception of his closeness is affected?
The turning of the tide
I love the stories of his amazing healing. Of those who have been raised from the dead. There just about every story imaginable that could describes the love, rescue, and salvation of my God among his people. The testimonies of God are deeply impacting, begging us to “do again.” His grace for my now is incredibly amazing. And when his purpose is accomplished, and his work is done within me, he, like in Psalm 18, stokes his fury against the messenger he used and obliterates him. He tosses out the tormentor which kept Job in the dust. Smoke comes from his nostrils. He is a man of war and comes to my aid. And then addresses Job’s three friends who didn’t have a clue about true righteousness of God found in this holy man. Then he returns the fortunes and favor to the man he loves. Rest. Peace. Trouble lasts for a night, but joy comes in the morning. We need green pastures. Still waters.
Our life belongs to him. Embrace the moment. Listen carefully. Be attentive to what he is saying. Be teachable. Humble. Recognize that a protected part of my heart is having it’s defenses disassembled. The very things intended to keep this type of influence out. He’s scaling my walls. Enduring the process is not an option.
But will this trouble come at the expense of his presence? His closeness to me? It may. But I don’t believe it must. It’s only when I demand something to which I feel entitled.
Our lives come with gift-wrapped opportunities every day. Yet it’s easy to look at that opportunity as the threat. Need speaks. But what is it saying? To escape? Or better, to grow? One thing is clear, his Spirit and presence will lead us in this. He’s a tender Shepherd, a Wonderful Counselor. We never are forced to consider him the adversary, just because the real adversary is given a moment.
The dust speaks.