I’ve had this conversation more times than I can count with people from all walks of life. The Optimistic Pastor, The Grieving Friend, The Dying Healer, The Strong-Minded Professor, The Grace-Giving Therapist, The Angry Teenager, and The Abused Woman.
When there is nothing good in your life, when it has all fallen apart, when everyone has walked away, or everything you once knew taken away from you, does God remain to be good?
I believe too many of us raised in the church are too quick to jump in and say, “Of course He is!” and usually add the comment drenched in shame, “How could you ask such a thing?!” We place blame on the suffering mother instead of listening to her story; finding out why she is asking the question in the first place.
To be completely honest, I have been struggling with the realities of the life I have been given to live and my belief in the goodness of the Creator. I think of the story when John the Baptist was in prison. John was feeling alone, abandoned, and was suffering unimaginable things in a cold, dark cell away from anyone of comfort. So he reached out to the One whom He has trusted all along.
Matthew 11:2-6 says, “When John who was in prison heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?’ Jesus replied, ‘Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised and the good news is proclaimed in the port. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.’ “
If you are like me, you were hoping for a rescue mission to end the story. Maybe something out of the latest Jason Bourne movie or Mission Impossible. But that’s not what happens. Jesus doesn’t come for John. Jesus leaves him there. And tells him not to fumble. How do we find the goodness of God in situations like this?
My family and I were staying at the farmhouse a few weeks ago. My Aunts, Uncles, Cousins, and Siblings were in town to attend an awards ceremony for my father the night before. I had tried to stay downstairs as long as I could. I tried to pay attention and enjoy the laughter and stories of my cousins. The boy who is headed to Greece this summer, the girl accepted to a medical program in Asia next year, the woman signing the lease to her first apartment, and the young married couple flying overseas, as they do most summers. But the fatigue was too great and I had to take to my guest bedroom.
My Aunt climbed the stairs to my bedroom at the old farm house. An activity that was just as hard on her as it was me. Before we even said hello, she crawled into bed with me. As she settled in she snapped her Cochlear Implants into place, making sure she heard every word I said.
She knows what pain is, what life looks like when your body betrays you, when you lose pieces of yourself suddenly and slowly. She knows it. Yet all she wanted to do was encourage me. She said in times like this, it’s impossible to hold on to things you once believed; things you once hoped for.
She said, “So when everything else is gone, cling to what you know. God loves you. You needn’t believe anything else but that. He loves you, Meg.”
There are going to be times in our lives when we can’t see the goodness. When all that looms in front of us is darkness, despair, and pain. There may be times even where we can’t find God. Some would argue we’re not looking hard enough, but I might ask those well-meaning people, “How dark was your darkest moment?”
It’s true, the Lord’s light will always overcome the darkness. But if we can’t see it, how do we pass through?
I believe it’s by clinging to what we know. This is different than what we believe. What we believe has feeling behind it, passion, hope. What we know are things we refuse to let go of, even if we have little proof left in our hearts. These are truths that the thought of life without them scares us more than the darkened road we’ve been asked to trod.
My mind may be screaming chaos at me every moment of the day and night. And my heart might feel colder than an Indiana winter, but I know that if loosen my grip on what I know to be true, that God loves me deeply, my mind and heart may never be restored.
I was reminded in my quiet time this morning that the Lord’s presence is not dependent on our awareness of Him. We do not have to feel He is near, for Him to be near. So I tighten my fingers around His love. I squeeze until my knuckles turn white. And I promise myself I will not forget. When I can’t see goodness, when I can’t feel His love, when I can’t hear His voice, I cling to what I know, that He loves me.
And if today you are like me, you are weary. You feel like you have searched and searched for Jesus so long your legs feel broken, your arms to weak to reach out, and your heart far to wounded to hope again, then I urge you to stop. Don’t tell yourself to keep going. The truth is, when you are sick with fatigue and maybe even despair, you do not have to go find Him. The unmatchable love of God promises that if we simply say, “Jesus, please come find me”, He will come running. He will leave the 99 to search for the injured one.
Jesus may not have rushed to John’s prison cell, but He did not ignore John’s cry. He answered with assurance He is who He says He is. John clung to what he knew and he died confessing the love of God. If you are the one injured sheep today, or the suffering believer, cling to what you know and ask Him to come find you. He will come to you one way or another. But He will come.