Have you ever read the story of Job? I don't know about you, but I don't think there's any other book in the Bible that could confuse a person more.
I understand the basic idea of why all these terrible things are allowed to happen to Job. In fact, I enjoy reading that part of the story! I admire how Job stands firm despite the devil's attacks. I enjoy reading of Job's steadfast resolve, his fortitude, and his strength of character.
But I only really enjoy it when it's in the story of Job.
What I mean is, when the tragic story of Job starts looking like the stories of people I know, I get confused. I get angry. I feel disillusioned. Bitterness grows within me. And when troubles and hardships happen to me... I get stressed. Furious. I isolate myself. Those are the times I begin to doubt God's love.
When I hear peoples' testimonies and they talk about a time where they didn't feel like God loved them, I think to myself, "Yeah, right. I know that God always loves me. He will never leave me nor forsake me." Yet, looking back, every time the littlest thing goes wrong for me, or when things get busy and chaotic, my mind starts telling me: "God's not with you." "God doesn't love you." "God's purposely making things hard for you."
In short, I am a Child of Israel. I am the fickle-hearted Old Testament Israelite. When things go well, I'm at the top of the roller-coaster. God is my Number One. I praise Him, I thank Him, I worship Him. Then, when things turn slightly off the tracks, I become a different person. "God, how could you do this to me?" "God, don't you love me?" "God, how could you let this happen?"
Just last week at church, we sang the chorus every church-going believer knows: Blessed Be Your Name. The familiar chorus goes:
You give and take away,
You give and take away.
My heart will choose to say,
"Lord, blessed be your name!"
For the most part, I don't have a problem with these lyrics. I'm content to sing them and I affirm some hypothetical truth in them. In theory, it doesn't bother me - at least not when things are going well. I think to myself, "If God is God, then it's up to Him who gets lots and who gets little. It's not my job to decide. If God determines it fit to take something precious away from me, then I just have to trust."
And of course, this is true. I don't understand why He sometimes takes things away, but for the most part, I don't really care. Usually, I just assume that His plan is best and that everything will work out in the end... but, as you can imagine, I feel that way more when I watch other people suffer. I hold that point of view a lot less firmly when I am the one losing. Perhaps there's a better way to think about it all.
A friend of mine once told me about a time in her life when she felt like God was just taking everything away from her, one thing after another after another. She felt like there was nothing left. She felt totally spent, useless, and depressed. But one day, she came to a point of understanding. A point of understanding that impacted me in a deeply meaningful way. She realized that by losing all these things she thought were important was not God's way of punishment. It wasn't God's way of showing indifference. Rather, it was proof of His love.
Woah, woah, woah- what? Yup, you read that correctly. When I feel like things are falling apart around me, I often view it all as "just life." During those times, I don't feel any connection to God. I feel as though He isn't involved in my life. I reason that, if He was involved, life wouldn't be treating me this way.
But that's not at all how it is.
We get way too attached to the things of this world. Our jobs, our friends, our possessions, our family, our reputations... I could go on. Christ sees our spirit's motive: to take up our crosses daily and follow Christ to the bitter ends. But he also sees our minds, which often confuse our hearts. Our mind says, "I will take up my cross only when it is convenient for me to do so, only when it means I don't have to sacrifice anything I love, and only when I feel like it."
God knows the intentions of our impressionable minds, and He knows our hearts as well. And I'm starting to see that, perhaps, when things seem to be falling apart around us, that's actually God. That's God pulling things away for a bit to show us that He is all we need. That's God taking away the idols we clutch to reveal that He is sufficient. That's God prying from our grip the poison we think is candy, and giving us Living Water. The Bread of Life. Christ, Himself.
Like a toddler, we kick and scream and cry when our beloved toys get ripped away. Like a baby, we grab for the chemicals that look like juice. We eat that which is not food. We drink that which is not water. We think we know best, and we can't understand why our parents take away our discoveries. Why don't they let us put the wire in our mouth? Why don't they let us play in the cupboard under the sink? Like a baby, we hate it when God, our Father, takes those things away from us. It's so unfair! It's cruel! Doesn't He love us? Doesn't He want us to be happy?
He takes our devices away. He rips them from our grips. And He gives us something else: Himself.
Isaiah 55:2 - Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; listen, that you may live.
It's easy to believe that we know everything. We look around us and we think we know exactly what we need. And when God's shopping list doesn't match ours, we think He's the One at fault. On our shopping lists, we write down everything known to man. Money, toys, food, friends, a solid reputation, a good house, health, beauty, and success. And on God's shopping list for our lives, He writes down one thing: Jesus.
We cling so tightly to the things of this world. I cling to my dancing life. I cling so tightly to it, it becomes my only passion- my most important goal. But God whispers to me, "You don't need that. I am all you need. Let me prove it to you." Maybe I get an injury, preventing me from dancing for a bit. Maybe it suddenly seems like my life is falling apart. And maybe it is. But if that life is collapsing because of a minor bump in the road, then clearly, my life is being built around the wrong thing. This is God's way of telling me that.
This friend of mine told me how once she got to a place where she felt like everything was gone and there was nothing left, that was when she felt God the most strongly. That was when God started to rebuild a real life for her. A life centered around who it should be centered around. Not herself, not her hobbies, not her friends, not her occupations. It was a better, more fulfilling life being put into place. A life focused on God.
When God comes first, the things He wants to institute in your life will follow.
The things of this world are destined to fall apart when our hope is placed in them. God is the only truly trustworthy and stable figure we will ever have. When we find our total sustenance and identity in Christ alone, that's where hope is found!
He gives and He takes away. He gives us Himself, and He takes away the things that distract us from what really matters. He teaches us to count on Him for what we need and not rely on our own understanding of the situation. He gives us Jesus, and He takes away our counterfeit messiahs. He gives us life, and takes away the death-bringing devices of our day. He gives His life, and takes away our sin. He gives us mercy, and takes away our guilt.
Blessed be His Name.