Who Are You God?

Darkness closes in. It’s always been there, on the edges of my world, but I’ve kept it safely away with faith and hope, along with some denial and selective attention. I’ve focused on the light…the love of God, his final victory, goodness in people around me, beauty and tastes of joy. 

Now the light has disappeared, and it’s only darkness. It’s everywhere. In our own home it’s the death of Samuel and the silence of God. In our neighborhood it’s the family whose 5th grader was just diagnosed with cancer. Their middle school son has already battled leukemia twice. This is too much pain for one family. I see darkness in the lonely, the hungry, the addicted, the victim. There are wars and famines and floods. There is brutality and abuse. The world is overrun with horrible, horrible darkness. 

I find myself asking questions that have confused thousands of others before me. How can God allow this? If he hates it, if he is good, if he is powerful, how? 

I know the usual answers. But I am surrounded by darkness, and they no longer satisfy me. They only worked when most of my world was light. 

*************************

God, why did you take my son? It would have been better for you to take me instead.

Why have you hidden from me? I look to you for answers, but you cannot be found. You have left me when I’ve needed you the most.

You promised to be near to the brokenhearted, but I am alone and find no peace.

*************************

I wonder if God is different than I’ve believed. 

I don’t doubt that God is there. Science and nature point me to something, or someone, bigger than what I see. To accept that marvelous complexity and beauty is random is too much of a stretch. I believe in a creator. 

But what is the character of this creator? Beautiful and powerful, bigger than me. Those things I see. 

Is he good?

I continue to get stuck on this.

He allows suffering. The Bible is clear about this, and my observations of life concur. There is a lot of suffering. He chooses to use suffering as a refining process, as a test of faith. He allows us to suffer so he will increase in glory, and to display his power. And sometimes suffering is a punishment. There might be more reasons too, but these he has acknowledged.

Job

Is it good that God uses us, in painful ways, to promote his own glory? This seems to be what happened to Job. God wanted to show Satan just how faithful Job would be, so he allowed Job to lose everything. I admit, this story has always made me cringe. It seems dark. God comes across like a bully, and Job the victim. If God is good and just in using Job in this way, I have to reevaluate who I am in relation to who God is. This story makes me much, much smaller, and God much bigger than I find comfortable.

It’s one thing to consider these things in theory. When confronted with a taste of it, I found I wasn’t actually ready to go there. It’s easier to sing words of surrender on Sunday morning, set to a crescendo of worship music, than hold my child’s life before God with open hands. I would have failed Abraham’s test with Isaac. No, God. Not my child. That’s too much to ask. That can’t be good. I don’t want you to have full rights to my life if this is where it’s going.

How big is God? And how insignificant, exactly, am I? Am I willing to exist for his glory alone? Does God’s love make that all OK? And why in the world would God create us for his purposes, and then program us to want our own? It’s as if he designed us to be conflicted. He wrote it on our hearts to be fulfilled when we follow him, yet gave us free will to choose differently. 

A set up, so he could be glorified? 

Continue reading

The Benefit of the Doubt

It’s easy for me to give others the benefit of the doubt.  

I can understand the motivation behind even the most shocking and irrational actions. I don’t excuse those things, and reasons rarely turn a wrong into a right. But I am able to look at someone’s story and explain why they did something awful. I am a life-long student of human behavior.

Sometimes I drive my husband crazy. To him, my desire to understand seems to justify wrong, just a little. He’s a black and white kind of guy. Some things are evil, and he doesn’t care why. 

Maybe this is why I have not struggled with anger against the driver who hit us and took Samuel’s life. I realize it was a mistake, even if it was a dreadful one. She was irresponsible, and her recklessness cost all of us terribly. She should be held liable for the outcome of her actions. And yet, Samuel’s death was still a mistake. If she had known that fiddling with the lid on her hot chocolate was going to take the life of a little boy, she would have stopped. She did not intend to harm us, so I have empathy for her. I expect she will stay bound emotionally to our family through guilt for the rest of her life. 

But God?

It’s hard for me to give God the benefit of the doubt.  

God doesn’t make mistakes. He doesn’t do stupid things because he’s afraid, or because he’s trying to meet unfulfilled needs. He’s never careless, and he doesn’t have accidents. Everything he does is perfect and right. 

That’s the part I don’t get. 

I’ve questioned almost everything in my life this past year. But one thing I know for sure is that God not only allowed Samuel’s death, he somehow led us to it. The accident was not haphazard. We were not in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Some friends invited us to join them at a waterpark the day after Thanksgiving. I was hesitant to accept the invitation because I wasn’t sure we would be good company for an entire day. My kids get whiny when they are tired, and two of them complain if they are splashed. We also have food allergy issues, so it’s a pain to eat out with us. I didn’t want a long day to end up stressing the friendship our families were building.

I did something unusual. I asked God for a sign. “If we should go, can they ask us again?” I can’t remember another time I’ve done that. It wasn’t an idea or a thought, it was a prayer. At the time it was insignificant, asking God for a circumstantial sign over a minor choice, made complicated by my insecurities.

Ten minutes later I heard from my friend. She really hoped we could come, and they were looking forward to spending the day with us.  

My sign. We said yes.

I prefer to spend Black Friday at home, away from the crowds.  But this year we got into the car, and headed out on a road we don’t normally drive. And while we were sitting at a red light, we were hit. And Samuel was gone.

One witness said the car that hit us had been swerving for a full mile before the crash. The witness backed off, because the situation was obviously unsafe. As they approached the red light, the witness realized a crash was imminent and pushed her OnStar button for help before it even happened. We were sitting in a long line of cars at the light, but the driver never saw us. She hit us going full speed. Her cruise control was set at 66mph.

Others saw the danger and stayed away. God could have warned us, but he did not. We were where God told us to be that morning.  

There was no mistake. Whatever it means, God took Samuel that day.

I’m having a hard time reconciling this. I accept God’s sovereignty on a grand scale in the world, but now that it has such painful implications for my family, it doesn’t make sense. I can’t blame Samuel’s death on evil or an accident. I can’t question why God allowed it to happen. Allowing something is passive, and this seems directed. I don’t have answers.

I have to believe. 

I struggle with who knows best. The old me would have found this ridiculous, entertaining the notion that I might have better ideas than God. Those were the days when faith was simple and complete. Now I wonder if God’s plan is good. Do I accept this plan that I can’t understand? I resist it, dismayed that my child is gone and that I’m inundated with anxiety and despair, battles I thought I’d won 20 years ago. I’m confused at the distance I feel from God. When everything falls apart God should be enough, so where is he? I would not choose this. Do I think I know better than God?

I’m not angry at the woman who caused the accident because she didn’t intend to harm us. 

What does God intend? 

Finally, here is the core of my struggle. Samuel’s death feels like harm no matter how I look at it. And God seems cruel.  

Boys and SticksOne of my favorite photos is of my two boys, squatting on a huge tree stump, with sticks in their hands. They are playing with ants. They poke them, fascinated at the control they feel and the chaos they create. There are a few casualties, of course. There are always casualties when boys play with sticks. Because it’s ants I don’t care much. If they were poking caterpillars I’d probably ask them to stop.

When I think of God, I think of that photo. My life feels like a game, and I wonder if God is poking at me with a stick. I wonder if I have even reached caterpillar status, or if I mean as little to him as an ant. 

It doesn’t help when people try to encourage me with the story of Job, his great loss, and his final confidence in God in spite of his suffering. I find no comfort in Job’s story. It seems Job suffered because God was showing off, or bragging. His life was totally devastated so God could prove a point. God restored him in the end, but nothing replaces the family he lost. Job was content with the answers he received from God. I must be more resistant than Job, because God’s responses don’t erase the questions in my heart. God emphasizes his control, his knowledge, his supremacy, and his greatness. He does not reassure Job with his goodness. It still seems cruel. 

I wait. I try to hang on, try to be patient until God chooses to reveal himself in my life again. Although honestly, half the time my “waiting” is really more like obstinately sitting in a corner, mad that I am not getting my way.

Will I believe, with every piece of my broken and stubborn heart, that God is good, wise, and always loving? Will I give my silent God the benefit of my doubt? 

Reaching the Bottom of the Barrel

Shortly after Samuel died I began to struggle with my faith.  It showed itself slowly.  I didn’t feel God’s presence or strength after the accident, even though I publicly said that I did.  In those first few weeks I felt shock and numbness that I labeled peace.   As that faded, and the pain surged, I relied on faith.  God is good, I can trust him.  God loves us, God will help us through this.  I didn’t see it or feel it, but I had faith stored away like food for a long winter.  We let everyone know we still trusted God’s mysterious ways even in the middle of tragedy.

Maybe it was the questions that started to consume my faith.  Or maybe it was anger.  I watched the world leave the funeral and go straight into celebrating the Christmas season.  My head understood this, but my heart felt it as injustice, as insincerity.  It could have been the loneliness.  Maybe I needed someone to hold my arms up like Moses, and without help, my heart grew discouraged. Maybe it’s just difficult to avoid doubt in deep grief.  Whatever it was, God’s silence continued, and my faith diminished.

It’s hard to pray when it feels like God isn’t listening.  It’s hard to read the Bible when it feels strangely feigned.  Without faith, a verse about God answering my calls for help seemed about as reliable as Disney lyrics that tell me to wish upon a star so my dreams will come true.  Sweet, yes, but fantasy.  Music, always my joy and expression of hope, was a roulette of bad feelings.  My head was filled with despair, not songs of praise.  And certainly not songs of surrendering to God.  Surrender?  God wants to take more? Hadn’t I given enough for at least a year or two?

This should be my place of peace.  I should find comfort and strength in God.  

God is not my comfort.

It is an awful thing to lose a child.  It might be a worse thing to lose God.

Some days I hold on.  I find a crumb of faith and start breathing again, desperate because I don’t want to lose this most important thing.  Crumbs don’t last long.  The floor is picked-over.  Was that the last one, or is God preparing a feast?