Thursday, February 11, 2010

Removing a stone in my soul

Someone who writes as much about "perseverance and trust" as I do (see index in right column), must have a problem with it, right? Yep. You betcha. And those of you who read my previous post know that God recently exposed some other issues in my life that took me by surprise. Well, due to how troubling the combination of all that felt, I decided to take a personal prayer retreat at a monastery for a few days. I needed to get to the bottom of what God was trying to say to me. I spent considerable time in silence and in solitude, reading and praying.

And I heard God. In fact, as I was reading something in one particular book (if you'll permit another stone metaphor), I heard the familiar clang of a spade that's been aggressively thrust into the earth and has hit a significant stone. I was reading the chapter on Psalm 130 in Eugene Peterson's book, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. Peterson says that "the two great realities of Psalm 130 [are that] suffering is real [and] God is real." And the psalmist speaks of suffering in the context of a prayer to a God who is clearly understood "as a personal and concerned being."

"Eight times the name of God is used in the psalm [in eight verses]. We find, as we observe how God is addressed, that he is understood as one who forgives sin, who comes to those who wait and hope for him, who is characterized by steadfast love and plenteous redemption, and who will redeem Israel. God makes a difference. God acts positively toward his people. God is not indifferent. He is not rejecting. He is not ambivilant or dilatory. He does not..." -- CLANG! Here was the word at which my shovel hit the stone in me. I had been underlining that paragraph with my pen and suddenly stopped underlining. I paused. I stared at the word. I stared at Psalm 130. No, I thought, I don't see that idea in this psalm. I moved on.

The next day, as I read from a second book and sat reflecting on what I'd just read, it felt as though the Lord reminded me of that stone in my soul that I'd hit with my shovel the day before. It felt like God was asking me, "Why did you stop underlining when you hit that word?" I said I didn't think Psalm 130 supported the use of that word. "Yeah right. Look again." I looked again. The psalm definitely supported the use of the word I was stuck on. "Okay, so why did you stop underlining at that point?" I admitted that it was because I didn't believe it. Ah hah! That was the issue, right there. Unbelief. And what was the word? This is the phrase at which I stopped underlining: "He does not act arbitrarily in fits and starts." CLANG! I found myself struggling to believe that God's love wasn't arbitrary.

By arbitrary, I was thinking random, unplanned or even careless. And I began to realize that in light of my past experiences -- both distant past and recent -- I've come to see God's love as arbitrary. Most recently, I've thought of God's lack of action on my wife's behalf as so unexplainable that it felt arbitrary and uncaring. And because God's answers to my prayers didn't seem consistent with what I saw Him doing in the Bible, I felt that God's answers seemed arbitrary rather than according to any divine plan. And of course, that simply means I was thinking that God is not good. And of course, that means I was in a spiritual danger zone as I recalled the warnings of verses like Hebrews 3:12... "Take care brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God."

The second book I'd been reading was Suffering and the Sovereignty of God by John Piper, and in that book, Piper emphasizes that one of Satan's primary strategies is to convince us, amidst the suffering in this world, that God is not good. It seemed as though I'd stepped into that very trap, and the pain and anxiety it was causing me was resulting in an anger and cynicism and negativity that was coming out in various areas of my life.

But Piper's point in that book is to emphasize something far more helpful. And what Piper wrote now leaves me far less inclined to interpret God's responses to my prayers for my wife as arbitrary. After reading his book, I was ready to repent of the lie I've believed about His love and to embrace the God who has shown His love quite convincingly in the suffering He endured for us.

He writes: "When Joseph tried to do his very best, it went wrong. But God was never against him. Never. As a Christian you're interpreting your situation wrongly if you think that. If you cast yourself on the Lord, if you trust him, if you love him, he's going to work everything together for your good, if it takes thirteen years or twenty-seven years... You can always look at Jesus hanging on the cross and ask, is that infinite worth not sufficient to cover my sin? Is it not sufficient to cover my problem? Is it not sufficient to give evidence that he will help me? Just fall there... The bottom-line answer is: Look to Christ. Look to Christ. Look to Christ. Only in looking to Christ and the cross does Romans 8:16 powerfully happen. 'The Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.'" And God's love for His children is certainly not arbitrary. It is always, and ever will be, extravagant!

© 2010 by Ken Peters

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