2 Corinthians 12:7(b)-9 You Might Not Get What You Want (But It May Be What You Need)

1 05 2013

anguish

“Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated.  Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power  is made perfect in weakness.’ So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” 2 Corinthians 12:7(b)-9 (NRSV)

Sometimes God’s answer is no.  Even when it doesn’t make sense.  Especially when it doesn’t make sense.

Every little kid can remember what seemed to be lofty, important prayers at the time, raised up to God-

Please make the other kids stop tormenting me

Please don’t let my grandmother die

Please bring my dog home, she didn’t mean to run away

but it seemed like God didn’t hear.

bullying

The other kids didn’t stop tormenting me, at least not until I befriended people who made sure that my former tormentors got theirs.  My grandmother died, and my dog never came home.  Where was God in that?  Is God all-knowing, all-powerful and all that?  Does God enjoy playing games with pitiful, helpless humanity?

A better example of what some might see as the callousness or capriciousness of God happened to my sister over 15 years ago.  She was happily married to the love of her life.  They had two beautiful children.  They loved God and belonged to a small, rural Southern Baptist church that was somewhat close to their farmhouse in the middle of nowhere.  They had an idyllic life and seemed to be set up for years of happiness.

Until the ice storm.  For whatever reason my brother-in-law decided to brave the storm and go ahead and take the kids to the sitter and go to work.  It was his last mistake.  There was a railroad track just down the road from their house.  The ice storm was so severe and visibility was so bad he didn’t see the train in time to stop.  He was killed instantly, and my niece (age four) was sitting in the front seat.  She died from her injuries later that afternoon.  My nephew was only 11 months old and was in a car seat.  He ended up with only minor bruising and a slight concussion.

Her life would never be the same.

I asked more than once, God, do you exist at all?  To her credit, and by God’s grace, my sister held on to Him more tightly.  She never lost her faith, but I sure questioned mine.

It took a very long time for me to get an answer to that question, or at least to accept what God said to His prophet Jeremiah:

“For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.”- Jeremiah 29:11 (NRSV)

Jeremiah didn’t have an easy go of things either.  Not only did he see what was coming, he had to broadcast the bad news as well.  Jeremiah didn’t have a pleasant or easy life, but he was greatly used by God.

The great philosopher and theologian Mick Jagger put it another way:

“You can’t always get what you want

You can’t always get what you want

You can try sometimes, you just might find

You get what you need-“

mick-jagger

We look at our plans in the short term and in the context of a finite, linear world.  God makes His plans in the context of an infinite, all encompassing universe.  We have no way of seeing things from His perspective.   Just as a toddler thinks parents are being cruel with the constant shouts of “NO” or “Don’t Touch!,” sometimes God’s people feel that frustration with our Heavenly Father when He has to say no.  We aren’t able to see God’s aim in our situations, especially when He needs to tell us:

This is for your own good

I need to get you on a different path

I have lessons for you that you need to learn

I’m not letting your ego get in My way

I’m generally not a good one with having a dependence mentality, but the fact is we are all completely dependent upon God for everything, for even something as simple and taken for granted as breath.

breathe

I’m not going to pretend that I understand the existence and the purpose of evil.  I struggle with the concept that if God is omnipotent and omnipresent, He has to be in, with and through what we would call good as well as in, with and through what we call evil or tragic.

I have an equally hard time with those who say that God is only in the good things of life and not the bad things.  If this is so, then why did Jesus weep when he learned His friend Lazarus was dead?  If God is only in the sunshine and flowers, does it mean anything in the 23rd Psalm when the psalmist asserts that God’s rod and staff comfort him in the valley of the shadow of death?

I don’t understand.  I don’t claim to know why evil exists and tragedy happens, but I thank God that He is there in the midst of it.

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Luke 12:4-7 The Sovereignty of God, and Hearing the Master’s Voice

10 04 2013

God-creating-creatures-by-R

(Jesus said:) “I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that can do nothing more.  But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten in God’s sight. But even the hairs of your head are all counted. Do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.”- Luke 12:4-7 (NRSV)

Today I was reminded in a deep and touching way, that God is in control.

Lately I’ve been been challenged by a number of things, the combination of which caused me to go back into panic/anxiety mode for several days.  Most of my life, especially in childhood, I have lived with deep and pervasive fear and anxiety.  I am prone to panic attacks, as well as I’ve had three episodes of major depression.  When I’m entrenched in anxiety, or despondent about my circumstances, it’s really hard to stay encouraged.   It’s especially difficult for me to know that God has a purpose for me and cares about my life when external circumstances act as a spark to light up my vulnerabilities to anxiety and depression.

There are people who will say, “How can you be a Christian and be depressed, or have panic attacks?” I want to answer back, “How can someone be a Christian and get heart disease, or get a broken leg or a case of pneumonia?”  We know that Christians suffer illness just as others in the world do.  Illness, be it a visible, physical illness or mental illness, which is harder to quantify, is part of the human condition.  Even the Apostle Paul had a “thorn in his side”- some sort of ailment or suffering, that he prayed would be taken away, and God’s answer was no.   God heals some believers’ illnesses in this physical body, but not others.  I don’t claim to understand why some people are healed and other people have to deal with the thorn.

thorn_flesh

Is it prudent or consistent with a Christian witness to tell someone with an illness that they wouldn’t be ill if they just had more faith?

What I think Jesus is emphasizing here is that physical or mental anguish are not the worst possible things that can happen to a person.  There is an end to physical suffering and mental anguish in this life, if only because this life is temporary, though I’ll be quick to point out that temporary does not imply meaningless.  This temporary existence is important.  It is in this temporary existence that we start to get to serve and get to know and trust God.

Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed. Psalm 139:16 (NRSV)

He (Jesus) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation;  for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. Colossians 1:15-17 (NRSV)

pool

I’m very thankful that I’ve had the opportunity to go to the indoor pool at the “Y” for the past few months.  I usually go a few times a week, early in the morning, to swim laps and to do exercise that increases my mobility and strength without tearing up my joints.  I’ve never been a sports fan or a particularly athletic type.   When I was a child I had rheumatic fever, and I was forbidden from playing any sort of sports, even had I been coordinated enough to play them.  I have slight damage to two heart valves as well as severe degenerative joint disease from it.  I still need exercise, but with the joint damage, working out is a bit of a challenge for me.  I don’t mind the pool though.  I can get a very thorough workout and I get some blessed quiet mental time with that workout as well.

When I was leaving and heading back to the car, I looked up to the sky and was treated to a majestic sunrise, complete with a few lingering stars, and living, dancing cloud formations.  I remembered Psalm 19:1 – “The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.”

I don’t have the answers for illness and tragedy and suffering any more than Job or Paul did.  Though other believers may disagree with me on this, I do believe that God has a purpose in suffering, although I admit I don’t understand the why of suffering, and I don’t know what the purpose of suffering is.  Theologians and higher minds than mine have discoursed for centuries on whether or not God causes suffering, allows it to happen, or if it’s completely a result of human rebellion and sin.  My take on it is that if God is omnipotent and omnipresent- and if He is not omnipresent and omnipotent, then how can He be God?- then He has to be in suffering, and have a purpose in suffering as well as in everything else, which is hard for some people to accept, and an idea that many reject entirely.

All that I can know right now is that God is not only with us in the suffering of this life, but He is also with us beyond that suffering, and for now that understanding has to be enough.