The “omnis” give a lot of Christians trouble. If God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and in all places at all times, why do horrible things happen in His children’s lives? The answer I often hear is that God refuses to usurp the free will of man, and–since fallen men make lots of stupid, cruel choices–the rest of us get hurt in the fallout.
Sorry, but I don’t buy it. I don’t believe that’s the reason we suffer, because, frankly, it doesn’t square with God’s promises and attributes. If the Bible is a reliable authority, then God does according to His will in the armies of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth, and no one can stay His hand. He brings His purposes to pass with perfect faithfulness. The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps. He goes before us, with us, and behind us as a rear guard, numbers the hairs on our heads, and knows what every moment of our life will hold before we take our first breath. Nothing takes Him by surprise. Even Satan is on a leash and can only afflict with His permission.
None of this suggests a frantic God running around trying to clean up messes made by mere creatures of dust. Besides, God says we should expect to suffer. The cross wasn’t Plan B. The cross was the plan. Period. The Lamb was slain from the foundation of the world, before Eden.
The Bible isn’t ambiguous on the purpose of suffering. The problem is that we self-indulgent creatures of flesh, bound by laws of time and space, struggle to square our perception of a “good life” with the prevalence of pain and evil. We’re focused on the temporary, not the eternal. Even though God ordained suffering for His own Son and assured us we were not above our Master, we somehow still expect to live comfy lives filled with nonstop pleasure, fortune, and fame.
And meanwhile, Jesus wonders if He’ll find faith on the earth when He returns. Faith. That mysterious quality we can’t muster, but rather must receive as a gift from the One who authors it, then tests it with fire, and who even goes so far as to declare that no one who lacks it can please Him. He also promises to perfect faith. But we say, “No thanks, Lord. I’m content with the faith I have. But, hey, could you please give me that job promotion? Oh, and a bigger house, because You know how much I love to entertain, and I promise I’ll always play contemporary Christian music when company comes over. And about my BMW. Seriously, Lord, it’s already five years old, and I’m embarrassed every time I pull into the country club parking lot. The new model has GPS, and I know You’re all about helping the lost find their way.”
Oh how I wish I were kidding.
God is wise. He gives what is good. He created a breakable world, because He loves redemption more than superficial perfection. And this is why books like Mary DeMuth’s memoir, Thin Places, are so important. Mary doesn’t gloss over pain. She doesn’t pretend that healing and wholeness are one simple prayer away. She openly shares stories of abuse, abandonment, betrayal, shame, and addiction, never shying away from the hard theological questions. She embraces the tension between her experiences and God’s sovereignty, and she doesn’t have to fully understand it all to declare, “He is good. He is holy. He is my Redeemer.”
Faith. Real faith. Not “if you’ll give me what I want, I’ll serve you forever” faith, but “though He slay me, yet will I trust Him” faith. The kind that Jesus will be looking for when He returns. Faith that transforms tragedies into thin places where only the frailest of veils separates the soul from her eternal Lover.
The year following Jacob’s near-drowning accident, I understood something for the first time. There are hurting people all around me. They look fine, act fine, smile when they’re supposed to smile. But their hearts are shattered. I knew it, because I was one of them.
I also know there are a lot of broken people who convince themselves that everything is okay. I often meet them when I speak. Some part of our story touches a memory, and a long-forgotten or carefully ignored seal cracks. Tears streaming, they tell me they’ve been living with survivor’s guilt or bitterness or unforgiveness, and they didn’t even know it. The festering sore had became their normal.
When Jesus rescues you from yourself–when He takes your self-pitying, angry, confused, rebellious, fearful heart and whispers eternal purpose to your pain, you can’t keep that startling truth to yourself. When He redefines the word “good,” strips it from the greedy hands of Madison Avenue, Wall Street, and Hollywood, and empowers you to receive suffering as a gift, you can’t hoard the peace that accompanies that revelation.
If you have a pulpit, you preach it. If you’re a singer, you wrap it in melody. If you’re Mary DeMuth, you fill 215 soul-baring pages with beautifully crafted words–deep calling to deep–and you pray God will breathe life into those words and soar them to the waiting ones who desperately need to know they are seen and loved.
God is not far from the broken hearted. Reach out and touch the hem of His garment. You’ll find it in Thin Places.