I’m back at that quote by Angie Smith from Monday’s blog because I have more questions. Here’s the quote again, in case you forgot. “We are reminded that even today, the perceived inability of others has no relevance to the ability of God, nor can it change the sovereign will of God.” (Chasing God, by Angie Smith)
My question is this; What happens when we believe God has the ability to change circumstances, situations or people and He doesn’t? We know His ability doesn’t depend on other people. Yet He remains still. I know He can but He won’t.
He can take away this illness. He can change people’s hearts and attitudes. He can open doors. Yet He doesn’t. Although we try and stuff the doubts down, repress the anger and frustration, it still hurts. The stinging I feel deep in my chest is real. Although it has nothing to do with my health.
I was reminded of the story of John the Baptist in my devotions the other day. Beth Moore, in Portraits of Devotion writes about John sitting in prison, sending word to Jesus, asking if he really is the Saviour. “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?”(Matthew 11:2-3)
Why does John ask this, when only days before he baptized Jesus? He knew who Jesus was. John was probably confused, discouraged and maybe a little bit angry. What was he doing in prison when he was supposed to have a great ministry going on? I like what Beth writes; “Like John, have you ever found yourself waiting and waiting on Christ to come through?”
Most of us have been in John’s position at some point in our lives. Would you agree that it’s one of the most painful experiences ever? Why is that? Because it’s personal. Or it feels that way. You feel like God has abandoned you. That you don’t really matter. You are not unique or cared for after all. It makes the original hurt even more agonizing. Like rubbing salt in a cut.
I get mad. It feels like I’m being played. I’m just a pawn in some big game. I’m angry at God for not moving, not doing what I want Him to do. When He can! That makes my wounds sting even more.
I’m mad at circumstances. Things out of my control. I’m upset with myself, because as Christians, we aren’t supposed to be feeling like this, right? We’re given the cliche answers. Sin came into the world and so we live in an imperfect world. Life will be hard. Things this side of heaven will never be as we want it to be. Blah, blah, blah. It doesn’t make me feel any better. It doesn’t change my situation or circumstances. Yeah, you bet I’m angry.
So where do we go from here? That’s an excellent question. I’m not sure I have the answer.
Staying angry with God doesn’t work. Been there, done that. Don’t get me wrong. I believe God can handle our anger. Our questions. Our fury. So go ahead and let Him know how you feel. Ask your questions. Scream out your frustrations. He’s got it. It doesn’t scare Him away. You are not too bad for Him to come near. You are not too hard to handle. In fact, I think He’s right there beside us as shake in our anger, as we scream out in pain. He lets us have our temper tantrum, justified or not. He lets us get it all out. Because for some of us, only then, can we hear Him.
That still small voice. Like a soothing balm. The gentle caress. It’s only when we are all cried out, shouted out and emptied out that we let Him draw near.
Is this right behaviour on our part? I’m not sure, to be honest. But sometimes it’s what plays out. It is what it is. And from what I understand about God, He doesn’t work inside the lines we put in place. He deals with each of us, right where we are. As author Bonnie Gray, likes to say, AS IS. So if we need rebuking, He will do it in a way that we can handle. Jesus didn’t hesitate to rebuke some of his disciples and others when it was warranted.
Other times it wasn’t what was needed. As Beth Moore points out in her devotional, Jesus did not rebuke John for his doubt. Because Jesus knew John’s heart. John’s heart was pure, devoted but it was a little hurt at the moment. Confused. A terse rebuke wasn’t called for here.
This is what I love about this story of these first cousins. Jesus’ handling of John in this moment is a beautiful portrait of loving kindness, understanding and dealing with a loved one in a manner that is totally appropriate for the situation. I can’t help but think that in today’s church, a good number of people would be telling John to ‘suck it up and stop doubting.” Repeating the old cliches. Instead of dealing with a wounded, hurting heart. A man who knew who Jesus was but needed a little reassurance, not reprimands.
The other thing I love about this story, is it’s about a leader who has doubts, and is wounded. God always deals in real life not fairy tales. Leaders doubt. They get hurt. They get confused and don’t always understand what God is doing. You know what? That’s normal. It’s okay. It doesn’t make them less of a leader. What is wrong is that many people refuse to accept this about their leaders and it forces them into a corner of faking it. John doesn’t keep his doubts a secret. He sends his followers to Jesus, and in doing so, lets them in on his thoughts. Again it’s Jesus’ response that makes the difference. He doesn’t tell John, that he should know better because he’s the guy who was supposed to prepare the way. He confirms and reassures John’s doubts. Then the choice is left to John.
It isn’t a happy ending for John. He never leaves prison and is beheaded. It wasn’t that Jesus or God could not free him. They could. It wasn’t God’s will. And that’s hard to understand. But there is no doubt in my mind that John fulfilled his calling. I like how Jesus dealt with his emotions. I like that Jesus never forced John to do or believe anything. It was left entirely up to John. I believe John decided to trust Jesus for who He was and lived out the rest of His days in faith. I don’t believe that John didn’t have bad days in there. I do believe that God saw John through every second of them. That he was close by even when the temper flared or despair seemed to overwhelm.
So although I don’t understand why God doesn’t move or change things and it makes me mad, I know that He is trustworthy. That even in my questions and anger, He is there.