Not long ago, I sat with a friend who has undergone remarkable suffering over a few short years.
I should tell you: She’ll be the first one to respond with hope. But I can also tell you that what she has is faith, not answers. I can see question marks curling around, pointing her year after year to the God who will, someday (and even now), reward those who earnestly seek Him. Her sinewy, muscled joy is built on what she can’t see; on decisions of trust she makes over and over again.
I army-crawled through my own questions not long ago, amidst a cancer scare for my son. And I’d say that truthfully, more than events that alienate me from God, my thoughts are what often enslave me, threatening to tear me from the rigorous discipline of trusting what is true.
Sometimes it’s a subtle laziness that keeps me from a thoughtful Christianity—a Christianity that rejects the platitudes or easy answers I’ve shelled out for myself. At times, I’ve shellacked over what I really feel, so my true feelings fester beneath.
Other times, I get honest about what I feel, but fail to anchor my soul to truth.
Sometimes we just need to retell ourselves the truth, or have someone do it for us when we’re too weak. To put our foot down on untrue, unbiblical, non-godward self-talk.
Do I really believe truth frees me (John 8:32)? Do I believe it enough to pursue it relentlessly, to set fences on my thought life? To take every thought captive and make it obedient to Jesus? To soak in what’s true and lovely, particularly about who God is?
In an attempt to take hold of that life preserver of sorts, I’ve yanked together some of the best advice I’ve received for seasons when God seems . . . away.
He does not call “bad”, “good.”
It can be jarring when someone else—or even our handy invisible-and-self-authored-but-not-completely-accurate “Guide to Being a Stellar, Unflappable Christian”—rattles off Romans 8:28 as one giant spiritual Band-Aid.
Yes, this verse is where we hang our hats. Yes, it is undeniably true.
But my perspective of this verse flipped on its head a few years ago while I listened to a podcast by Tim Keller. He pointed out that at the tomb of Lazarus, where Jesus knew He was about to completely conquer death—He still wept (John 11:35). He did not call this terrible fact of death and the utter brokenness of this world “good.” (This truth informs much of how I grieve with friends, too.)
As we see in the Psalms and Jesus’ own words during His death, Christian lament has its rightful place.
He is never completely against you.
When I was a kid, I remember what I still think of as the “snowball effect.” Essentially, once I reached a certain level of utter irritation, I had already transformed into a martyr, where everyone and everything was completely against me.
Woe is me! My favorite shirt has a hole, I missed the bus, we had a pop quiz, and now I’m just waiting for the other shoe to drop. (Think Alexander and the Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Day.)
But now I collide with adult-sized, soul-jarring pile-ups: Miscarriages. Cancer. Learning disorders.
Yet God unfolds for me that He holds every atom of the universe together: He upholds the universe by the power of His Word (Hebrews 1:3). From Him and through Him and to Him are all things (Romans 11:36). Essentially, it is God’s kindness that keeps me from vaporizing. It inflates my lungs as I type.
This truth remains: What He gives constantly far outweighs what He asks of me.
Even more, for those of us who belong to God, Romans 8:31-32 stands unwavering:
If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?
God turned His face against Jesus, so He would never have to forsake or betray us.
He still piles up gifts.
With that in mind, I think of my son’s reaction when we first discovered he might have cancer. He went back to an old pattern he’d picked up from struggles with his learning disorders: gratitude.
He immediately began verbalizing the ways God has shown us kindness: Good medical care. Early detection. Even the promise of heaven in a “worst-case” scenario. (If heaven is your worst-case scenario, you’re getting a glimpse of God’s goodness right there.)
His thankfulness jumpstarted the thankfulness of the whole family. We piled our gratitude on a neon-yellow index card tucked in our “cancer” binder.
That card constantly glowed its reminder that even in the presence of an enemy, in the valley of the shadow, God’s presence insists on making itself known everywhere.
And there, in training our eyes to see it, was a hope, peace, and anchor to the Presence we always knew was there—our God who is quite near after all.