Praying From the Ash Heap

Last week about this time, I was miserable. Feverish, achy, somewhat nauseous, and doubting my own sanity. I had chosen, along with my husband, to get the COVID vaccine– even though we already had the disease earlier this year! We should have a built-up immunity, and medically, there is no compelling reason to get the vaccine and take the risk of suffering all the symptoms I suffered last week.

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Fever and pain have a way of making people cranky, impatient, and rebellious. Especially when they come as a result of trying to do “the right thing.” I was reminded of the Biblical character of Job, who suffered intense pain and suffering through no fault of his own. While my suffering was nothing compared to his– or to many of those who have suffered worse from COVID than I did– it brought some of the same thoughts and complaints. “What did I do to deserve this?” “Why me?” “Don’t you care about my suffering?” “How much longer must I be in pain?” “Wouldn’t it be better if I could just escape this fever and achiness?”

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Most of us are not “good patients.” No one likes to suffer, even for a short while. And it can be easy to let our pain determine our prayer life. Our focus narrows to our own circumstances, and how we wish them to change. We tend to go to God with indignation–how could He let us suffer like this?! And yet, even in his indignation and self-centered moaning, Job never lost sight of God’s essential goodness and justice.

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Job’s friends started out with a sincere desire to offer help and comfort. They heard of his sufferings, left their homes and traveled to visit and comfort their friend. When they arrived, they wept, tore their clothes, and sat, silent and supportive, for seven whole days! (Job 2:11-13) This is in contrast to Job’s embittered wife, who told him to “curse God, and die!” There is no other mention of her throughout all of Job’s suffering–which may have been one of the unheralded mercies of God!

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Job’s conversation with his friends may not sound much like prayer, but we see into Job’s heart and mind through these conversations. As his friends remind Job that God is Just, and that He punishes those who are wicked and rebellious, Job defends himself. But he also defends God–God IS Just; but He is also merciful and loving. What is happening to Job is not consistent with all that Job has experienced of God. In fact, it seems capricious and unfair. Job’s confusion and his questioning are not only coming from his pain and suffering, but from his surprise at God’s silence and seeming absence. Job’s friends see Job’s circumstances as confirmation of his sin. But though Job is confused by sudden change of circumstances, he is convinced that God will continue to be Just– that He will hear Job’s complaint, even if He has decided against Job for reasons Job may never understand. In fact, Job is still convinced of God’s goodness, declaring that “I know my redeemer lives…I myself will see him with my own eyes…how my heart yearns within me..” (Job 19:25-27), and that “the fear of the Lord–that is wisdom”(Job 28:28)

When we face the “ash heap” of despair, pain, grief, and doubt, whether we are isolated or surrounded by well-meaning friends, we have a choice in our response. We can praise God from the ashes, we can bring Him our doubts and questions. Or we can “curse God and die”– choosing to see only our circumstances and losing sight of who God is (and always has been).

The same God who brought David and I through our bout with COVID brought us through last week’s reaction to the vaccine. He is the same God who has comforted families who lost loved ones to this disease, and who has kept still others healthy throughout this crisis. I don’t know why or how we got sick back in February; I don’t know why I had such a bad reaction last week. I don’t know what the future holds, or what other pains and struggles we may face in the weeks and months ahead. The same God who finally appeared to Job–even though He never answered Job’s questions!–is the same God who holds the universe in His hand. He is the same God who never lost sight of Job. He is the same God who parted the Red Sea, healed lepers and kings, raised the dead, and promises everlasting life with Him.

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So I may not know what troubles I will face tomorrow, and I may not have the answers to all my questions. But, like Job, I know that my redeemer lives! I know that whatever happens, God will remain Faithful, Good, Just, and Holy. And one day, “I myself will see him with my own eyes…how my heart yearns within me”!

Where Are You, God?

I’ve missed posting a couple of blog posts this past week. My husband and I have been ill. We both came down with COVID, and my husband ended up in Hospital for a week with COVID-related pneumonia. As I write this, he is scheduled to be released to come home, where he will continue to recuperate. I will be finished with my quarantine period, but I am still recovering, as well.

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It can be very tempting in times of sickness or unexpected struggles to ask, “Where are you God, in all this?” And, while some would say it is not appropriate to question God, I think this is a good question to explore. There is nothing wrong with the simple question, if you are seeking an honest answer. Here is part of the answer I’ve received over the past two weeks:

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  • Where: I know all the “correct” and spiritual answers– “God is everywhere, omnipresent.” “God is seated on His Throne.” “God is right beside you, and His Spirit is within you…” These are big answers, true and Biblical. But they can be very cold comfort when you see your husband struggling to breathe, or when you are exhausted and frightened. God is omnipresent, but He is spirit– invisible and undetectable through our physical senses. We can “know” He is present, but we can still question His “Presence.”
    But when we are seeking His presence in the question, there are so many wonderful and comforting answers. God IS Everywhere– so that even when my husband is miles away in a hospital room and I am alone in our apartment, God is in both places at the same time, providing rest, wisdom, and healing! God IS on His Throne– orchestrating timing and people to offer their skills, advice, services, prayers, encouragement, and more. David and I have been sick, and even in danger, but God did not abandon us. He provided for us to be able to get David to the hospital at the right time; He provided friends and family to help us– even strangers to pray for us and encourage us. God’s Spirit gave us strength and courage to ask the right questions, make decisions, and trust Him through this process. And God will continue to be working within, and around, and through us as we continue to heal.
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  • Are: We may claim that God is omnipresent and omnipotent– always present and all-powerful– but often when things don’t go according to our plan, we question. Not so much where God is at the present moment, but where WAS He? Why didn’t He stop this from happening? And where will God be tomorrow, when the medical bills start to arrive? Doesn’t He know or care about the aftermath? The fall-out? When will my husband be able to return to work, if ever? How did we get exposed to COVID? Why didn’t God prevent it? How much more will we suffer?
    But once again, God IS omnipresent– not just in space, but in time. God knew this would happen long before we had ever heard of COVID. God has already seen the future play out. He knows the end from the beginning, and every step in between. I tend to get lost in all that I cannot see– past and future, why and how–but God is so much bigger than all that. There is NOTHING that can take God by surprise or cause Him to fail in His plans for us. God spends a great deal of time throughout the Bible reminding us of His promises; many of which are promises of His Presence, His Provision, His Protection, and His Peace. He never promised that our lives would be easy, problem- or worry-free, or boringly comfortable. Such lives don’t shape us or develop our character; they teach us nothing about God or ourselves. God wants us to have an abundant life– a life full of “LIFE”! And that means facing challenges that show us how to trust our Loving Father, and cause us to see the depths and breadth of His Love and Power.
  • You: God is Spirit; He is invisible and indescribable. Yet He is a personal God, and wants a personal relationship with each of us. It is easy to lose sight when I am worried or suffering– I forget the heights and depths of what God has done to pursue that relationship with me– ME! I never have to ask “Where is the God of the Universe?” I can ask, “Where are YOU?!” And even though God is Spirit, He also has a “body”– US! God is in the welcome voice of loved ones, and the hugs (even virtual ones during these days of quarantine) of family and friends. God is in the offers of help and advice from friends and strangers alike. God works through US to bring us together, to encourage, and strengthen, and guide us every day– on good days and difficult days alike.
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  • GOD: Illness gives one plenty of time to think, reflect, and meditate on God. It is a stark reminder that I am NOT God (and never could be, thankfully), and that God knows and always does BEST, even when I can’t see or understand. I know many thousands of people have not survived their COVID journey– they didn’t recover; they lost their husband or wife or other loved ones. God doesn’t stop being God when we don’t get a “happily ever after” ending. Some day, David and I will each die. We will leave or be left behind by other loved ones. God is still GOOD; He is enduringly FAITHFUL; He grieves WITH us, just as He rejoices with us. He SUSTAINS us, and He REDEEMS us.
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Where are you, GOD? YOU are everywhere, always, and perfectly where and when and how YOU should be. And I will praise YOU!

Why Have You Forsaken Me?

Have you ever doubted? Wondered, “Where is God?” Maybe even wondered if He exists at all? And then someone came along and made you feel wicked and small for having such a thought…”How could you!?”

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I know there are people who believe that faith is not really faith if you can have moments of doubt– that true faith never wavers, stumbles, or has tough questions. I don’t think this is Biblical, nor do I think this reflects God’s relationship with us. The Bible is full of “faithful” people who had moments of doubt.

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Abraham, when told that he would become the father of many nations, believed, and it was counted as righteousness (Genesis 15:6, Hebrews 11:11, Romans 4:3, etc.) Abraham’s faith was so solid, that he was willing to sacrifice his son, Isaac, the son of God’s Promise! Yet Abraham and Sarah acted outside of absolute faith when they brought in Hagar and tried to start a family on their own. God still blessed Hagar and Ishmael, but they were not part of the fulfillment of God’s plan. And over four thousand years of bad blood between the descendants of Isaac and Ishmael are a sad reminder that Abraham did not trust God absolutely and completely.

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King David was a “man after God’s own heart.” Yet David wrote often about his feelings of being abandoned or forsaken by God. (See Psalm 10, Psalm 13, and Psalm 22 among others.) Elijah, within hours of a great victory over hundreds of angry priests of Baal, after a miraculous demonstration of God’s power and faithfulness, hid in despair and asked to die, sure that God had abandoned him to his enemies (1 Kings 19).

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Most telling is the statement from Jesus Himself on the cross. “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:45-46; Mark 15:33-34) Although He was quoting one of King David’s psalms (22:1), the words still ask a very harsh question. Did Jesus Himself doubt God’s presence or His boundless love? (I don’t think so, but it is this kind of statement that often invites condemnation from those who cannot allow for any momentary doubt of any kind.)

I don’t believe any of these moments in the Bible are accidental. I believe God wants us to know that His presence and His faithfulness do not depend on the absolute strength of our faith. I believe it is one of the reasons that Jesus spoke of faith “as small as a mustard seed” (Matthew 17:20). It is not the size or the strength of our faith that determines what God can or will do. It is the size and strength of our faith that causes US to understand what God is doing and to participate more fully with Him. And taking our momentary doubts and questions to God shows a different kind of faith– one that is strong enough to BE tested and triumph. God rewards those who SEEK Him. If we never need to seek, or ask, or knock (See Matthew 7:7), could it be that we are not trusting in Him, but in our own wisdom?

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Take heart! Have faith! But don’t be afraid to go through valleys of doubt, or wrestle with difficult questions. And if someone else is struggling–be willing to listen to their doubts and questions, rather than just dismissing them. God does…

Heart, Soul, and Mind..

Jesus was asked many trick questions by people who wanted to discredit him during His ministry. One such query involved all the many commands of the law. “Which is the greatest?” With so many commandments, laws, rituals, and traditions, it would be difficult to pick just one. Which is more evil– lying, stealing, murder, idolatry?

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But Jesus didn’t skip a beat. 37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 9Matthew 22:37 NIV) Jesus was actually quoting from Deuteronomy (Deut. 6:5), when God was giving instructions to the people of Israel before they entered the Promised Land. Of course, Jesus, as part of the Triune Godhead, was actually present for these instructions– in fact, as the WORD of God, He may have been the very one speaking the same words hundreds of years before!

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The first three of the Ten Commandments all involve this concept. “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me”–don’t give your soul (your very essence) to someone or something else ahead of Yahweh. “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image”–don’t give your heart to worship anyone or anything that is created; instead, worship your Creator. “Thou shalt not take the Name of the Lord your God in vain”–don’t use your mind to devalue and defame the Sovereign Lord.

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God is Sovereign. He is Supreme. And He IS Love– it is not just something He chooses to do. Love is part of God’s essence, and it cannot live and thrive without Him.

But this brings up two questions: If God IS Love and He created us, why must he “command” us to love Him? This is one of the great arguments people try to use to deny God’s Sovereignty, His Goodness, even His existence. A Good, Wise, Sovereign, All-powerful God should not need to command love and worship from His creatures, should He? And, if He “commands” love and obedience, how can we truly love Him? We can fear Him, obey Him, be ruled by Him, but none of that sounds like Love.

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In theory, such questions seem daunting. But we have dozens of real-life examples of how such commands work. Every nation (and principality, and even every household) has rules and laws directing us how to behave and demanding respect for certain values. “Don’t sass your parents.” “Don’t deface or defile sacred spaces.” “Don’t litter!” We find it distinctly unsettling when we see children treating their parents with disrespect, malice, even abuse. Or when we hear of people whose hatred leads them to burn places of worship, or defile gravestones in a cemetery, or commit treasonous acts that lead to the slaughter of hundreds of innocent neighbors or fellow-countrymen. The planet groans under the strain of people who dump their trash in rivers or streets, or wantonly start wildfires or kill helpless animals.

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God does not “command” our love out of weakness. He could DEMAND abject obedience–overrule our will; punish without delay or hope of mercy; force us to act as robots or machines–but He desires us to Love Him freely. His command is for OUR good–when we choose to seek Him, follow Him, Love Him in ever greater measure, we grow to be more like Him–Loving Him teaches us what Love is really all about!

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The Law itself, the “command,” is NOT what pleases God or makes us Love Him. God’s purpose is not that we become ritualistic, legalistic, or weak-willed. He wants us to be joyful and live abundant and productive lives. But left to our own devices and our own “wisdom,” we will not achieve any of this. In fact, even with the law and commandments, we will still fall short. God’s love is such that He gave us an impossible command– love Him with our entire heart, soul, and mind– and then, He provided the only Way to make it possible.

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It IS possible to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind. It doesn’t require that we become hermits or ascetics, wasting away in a cave or mountaintop, starving ourselves and crying out day and night. It does require that we recognize that He is God, and we are not. It requires that we accept His mercy for the times we have strayed. It requires that we seek His counsel, and His correction.

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We need to love Him with our heart–draw near to Him in worship and thanksgiving.

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We need to love Him with our soul–trust Him to direct our lives, now and in the future.

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And we need to love Him with our mind–learn to listen to His words, and to meditate on them; to think more about the things of God, and less about the things of trivial and temporary import.

I Don’t Know Why…

I don’t know why…
God didn’t stop the bullet that took the life of a seven-year-old girl in Chicago last weekend;
God allowed for miraculous births in the same weekend in multiple hospitals around the world.

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I don’t know why…
Hundreds of people flocked to my hometown to defy social distancing measures and put others at risk of COVID-19 so they could drink and splash around in the shallows of a small lake. I don’t know why they left garbage and excrement in the lake and in people’s yards and in the high school parking lot.
Thousands of men and women risked their lives to maintain order and serve the public–donning their uniforms and braving the heat and the chaos to serve people who despise them, spit on them, defame them, and vilify them.

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I don’t know why…
God made snakes. And mosquitoes. And moles. And giraffes.

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I don’t know why…
On some days God feels so distant and silent; and other times He seems to be surrounding me and permeating me and holding me tight. I don’t know how His word can sometimes feel stale and sometimes cut right through me. I can’t fathom how God can be everywhere—every-when! That He knew me before all the history books and ancient empires and cities and shipwrecks and wars and all the stories I take for granted were even imagined…that He knows me now– every thought; every cell; every hair, every breath…that He knows me a million years from now. I don’t know why He chose to make me, and preserve my life, and bless me with days and hours, with friends and family, and teachers and tasks, challenges and changes.

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I don’t know why.
I don’t know how.

But praise God, I know WHO.
I know who made me. I know who holds me. I know who has the power to make good come from even the worst circumstances. I know who wins the ultimate victory over death and sin and disease and destruction.

And He walks with me and He talks with me—And He tells me I am His own!

I Don’t Know…

I spent a good portion of my adult life working in positions where my value rested in my ability to impart knowledge and answer questions. As a teacher, my job was to guide students into a base of knowledge about the English language (and especially spoken communication) so that they would be prepared to adequately speak, read, write, explain, defend, and use it. I was expected to know enough about grammar, spelling, connotations of words, nonverbal communication, sound logic (and fallacies to avoid), presentation, tone of voice, etc., to enable students to improve their communication and use language more effectively in their careers, academic endeavors, business dealings, and even in personal relationships. If they had questions about word choices, written or spoken directions, propaganda techniques, advertising tricks, euphemisms, or a hundred other topics, I was expected to have an answer– and one that would shape their ability to succeed.
When I made the transition to working in a public library, my job was to have answers– which books were at the appropriate reading level for various elementary students; where could someone find information about manatees; who wrote the Captain Underpants books (Dav Pilkey); did our library loan out encyclopedia volumes or sets of early reader books; could our library borrow a rare book from another library; what was the capital of Uganda (Kampala); did we have books that might help a child coping with the loss of a pet, or a parent struggling with toilet-training their toddler; where could someone find … the list was endless and extraordinarily varied. My job was to have an answer– or know where to find it.

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At no time was it expected that I would simply answer “I don’t know.” Even if I didn’t know in the moment, I was expected to search until I found an answer that was sufficient and satisfactory. However, in each case, I found situations where my “answer,” while satisfactory to me, and even to everyone else I had dealt with, was not enough to satisfy the person in front of me. Sometimes, I had misunderstood the question and given an answer to what I heard or assumed I had heard. I needed to listen some more, or ask for clarification before I could answer the question correctly. Sometimes, the other person was looking for an answer that didn’t exist– either they wanted confirmation of a falsehood they believed to be true, or they wanted a single, absolute answer to a question that was complex and open-ended. In rare cases, there were questions for which I could find no satisfactory answer– it doesn’t mean that there was none, but I had not found it, nor had I found someone else who could find it in the time allowed. I might find an answer that was not satisfactory, or I might find seven possible answers, but not one that stood out from the others, or I would find nothing but dead ends.


The Apostle Peter tells each follower of Christ:

15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.

1 Peter 3:15 & 16 (NIV via biblegateway.com)–emphasis added
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This does not mean that we must completely satisfy everyone who asks– the curious neighbor who knows nothing of the Bible and has dozens of confusing questions, or the nay-saying agnostic with a single “gotcha” question. Nor must we fight and fuss and pound the Bible until we “win” every theological and metaphysical argument–because we won’t! There are many things about the Bible, about Spiritual matters, etc., for which we will not have absolute or definitive answers–and neither will they! (That’s why they ask, sometimes.) And those things that satisfy our longings, our questions, our doubts– sometimes don’t meet the needs of the one who is asking, not because the answers are deficient, but because we are all different in our needs, and understanding, and experiences.

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Some people will listen to us merely to scoff and try to make us lose heart or make us look foolish. Others are afraid that our answer will make them feel lost or guilty. Some people have been hurt by others who have used the Bible as a cudgel or a whip– bringing shame, judgment, and contention wherever they go. We must not expect that our answers, our arguments, even our favorite scripture verses– that WE are enough to satisfy the questions, the doubts, and the spiritual needs of everyone we meet.

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What we should always have is an answer for the hope that is in us– why have we chosen to believe? Why do we choose to trust when we do not know all the answers? And our answers should be given with gentleness and respect– not arrogance and snide judgment. I don’t have hope because I know answers to tough questions. In order to have that kind of hope, I would need to know all the answers to all the questions– even those I haven’t asked or imagined! I don’t know about the future– I can’t explain why God allows evil (there are compelling arguments for some reasons, but no absolute answer that stops the question)–I don’t know how God’s Spirit moves, or why He drew me to Himself. I cannot “prove” God to someone who is determined to deny Him– not because God doesn’t exist, but because He will not force anyone to accept Him in this life, and especially not because I said a few words based on my limited understanding. My job is not to explain God–only God is big enough and wise enough to do that– but to reflect His character in a changed nature, and to explain what God has done in my life to effect that change. My hope is in the ONE I choose to trust– the ONE who does have the answers! God has not promised to answer all our “what ifs” or our “whys”– but He has promised to answer all our needs, and to BE the answer in every situation, no matter how daunting.

When God Asks a Question…

We often fear questions. We are afraid to ask questions; we are afraid of being questioned; we are afraid of asking the wrong questions or not asking the right ones. And we are often afraid of the answers, too.

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God is not afraid of our questions. In fact, He wants us to ask, to seek, and to knock (Matthew 7:7, Jeremiah 33:3, and others). God knows the answers to our questions– He even knows our motives in asking them! God may not give us the answers we expect, or answer in the manner or time we expect. But God encourages us to ask anyway, and to trust in His ability and His desire to give us what we need in the moment we most need it.

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God also asks questions–not because He doesn’t already know the answers, but because we can learn from the questions He asks, and the answer we give. Some of God’s questions seem self-evident; others are probing. Some are rhetorical; others are anguished. Let’s take a look at just a few, and see what we might be able to learn from them:

  • In Genesis 3, God asks some very obvious questions of Adam and Eve after they hide from him. “Where are you?” Adam and Eve had not successfully hidden from God. He knew exactly where they were and even why they were hiding. But instead of storming into the Garden of Eden with condemnation and instant judgment, God asked a simple question, giving them both the opportunity to confess, and a clear reminder of their broken relationship. There had never been a need (on either side) to ask “Where are you?” After Adam responds with the excuse of being naked and ashamed, God asks his second question, “Who told you that you were naked?” God knew the answer to this, as well, but He added a third question that forced Adam to get to the heart of the matter and tell Him the truth– “Have you eaten from the tree…?” God could have asked condemning questions– “How could you disobey me like this?” “Do you have any idea what you’ve done?!” But God isn’t asking questions to overwhelm Adam and Eve with their guilt and shame. He’s asking for truthful acknowledgment of their disobedience, so their broken relationship can begin to be repaired. God assigns punishment, but He does not bring additional questions and condemnation
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  • In the very next chapter, God asks Cain a probing question, “Why are you angry? (And why has your countenance fallen?)” God knows the answer. He knows how Cain feels and what Cain is thinking. God knows it so well, that He challenges Cain to master his anger and turn his face upward (i.e. seek God’s counsel over his own emotions). We don’t like probing questions, because they reveal our selfish motives and dark impulses. But God actually WANTS us to be aware of our own tendencies–and our need for His wisdom and grace! God is not afraid of our darkest thought– He doesn’t want to expose them for our shame, but enlighten us for our own good!
  • In Genesis chapter 18, the Lord asks a rhetorical question, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do…” (concerning the destruction of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah). God had already determined that they should be destroyed; He had no need to share this information with Abraham. But in asking the rhetorical question, God gave us a glimpse into His character (as well as a window into Abraham’s character!) God does everything with purpose. He is not willing to hide information we need, nor to waste time or energy on useless information. Imagine if we knew everything–everything!- that would happen to us for the next year? If we knew about that near miss at the intersection on May 22, or the toothache on June 2, or the “surprise” birthday party in October? But when God does choose to open a window, He gives us a chance to respond. Abraham did not choose to argue that Sodom and Gomorrah were not wicked cities, or that God had no business destroying them. His heart was driven to discover if God would destroy the innocent with the wicked. He got his answer (several times over!) And even when God did not find ten innocent people in the cities, He still offered rescue for Abraham’s nephew, Lot, and his family.
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  • It isn’t only God the father who asks questions. Jesus the son asked two agonizing questions in the New Testament. While He was dying on the cross, He asked the Father, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46). Jesus knew, intellectually and spiritually, why God had forsaken him; but His question echoed the one found all the way back in the Garden of Eden– “Where ARE you?” The ultimate anguish of being separated from God’s presence was felt by God himself! The agony of loneliness that comes from sin and shame and guilt– God knows it intimately from both sides!
  • Jesus also asked and anguished question of Saul of Tarsus– “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” (Acts 9:4) Just as God asked Cain to look carefully at his motives and emotions, so Jesus challenges Saul to reexamine his activities and ambitions. Jesus knew, of course, why Saul was hunting down those who were preaching the Good News. He knew Saul’s ambition and his zeal for the Law. He knew that it had blinded him to the truth. And in Saul’s physical blindness, Jesus could “open his eyes” to a greater ambition and zeal–to preach this same Good News to the Gentiles– the same Gospel that is opening eyes around the world to this day to see the Awesome, Eternal, Victorious, and All-Encompassing Love of God.
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Today, may we ask, seek, search out, study, cry out, knock on doors, and pursue this truth–God wants to meet with us! He wants to talk to us, to listen to us, to share closeness, to increase our Joy and be joined to us in our Grief, to lift up our countenance, end our isolation, and be the ultimate answer to our questions.

Childlike Faith

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I got to spend the day with my granddaughter earlier this week.  She’s three, and has all the energy of a firecracker, and the curiosity of a kitten.  She is learning to discern what things and which people are trustworthy (or not).  Having worked with children from infants to teens over the years, I have seen this progression in others– sometimes with good results, and sometimes ending in disaster.

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We hear about “childlike” faith–Jesus spoke of it; even praised it.  Yet we see examples of people whose simple faith puts them in danger from predators, bullies, scam artists, and other perils.  Is this really what Christ wants from us?  No!  Jesus didn’t commend foolishness; he told dozens of parables warning of foolishness and simple-mindedness.  The Apostle Paul also talks of “babies” in the faith needing to grow wiser and stronger.  There is a difference between having the faith of a child, and having the brain of a child.  Jesus doesn’t want us to be ignorant, gullible, or bratty, but He loved the willingness of children to ask questions, seek out answers, and listen with open minds and hearts.

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Most people become cynical over the years– some far earlier than others.  They trust no one and nothing but themselves, thinking they know best, or frightened to find out what they don’t know.  In many ways, they are as vulnerable (or even more so) as those who trust everyone.

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My granddaughter is still at the stage where she trusts her parents and grandparents to watch out for her, give her good advice, and answer all her many questions.  As she learns new skills, she often “consults” with us; asking our approval, wanting our input–as she meets new people, she will also take many of her cues from us.  Should she be polite, informal, respectful, quiet, reserved, loud, assertive?  She is still learning, but she still trusts us more than, say, her brothers or peers.  There will come a time when she will develop the habit of either following the examples we have set for manners, traditions, habits, and such, or looking to other models.

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Watching her, I was reminded of two very important questions I need to ask myself?

  • What does she see and hear from me?  Am I trustworthy in the way I talk to (and about!) others?  About her?  Am I giving her solid advice and good examples that will help her develop good habits and relationships?  Am I “present”– not being distracted or half-hearted in responding to her needs?  Am I teaching her wisdom about the dangers she must face in this world?  Or do I pretend they don’t exist or won’t touch her?

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  • Who am I trusting?  The obvious “right” answer is Jesus Christ, but is that the reality?  Do I lean on my own understanding, or consult with “experts” without asking for God’s wisdom or seeking His approval?  Am I seeking to learn from Him how to navigate the dangers of this world, or pretending they won’t touch me?

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Having childlike faith is not the same as having a childish faith; it’s not the same as being foolish or ignoring facts.  Smart children ask questions– lots of them!  But they listen to the answers.  Foolish children (and foolish adults) claim to know all the answers, and refuse to listen to advice.

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But I Don’t Understand…

I’m getting a double whammy this week–two Bible study groups; one studying Daniel and the other Job.  Some of you will groan just reading the first sentence.  Along with the book of Revelations, these are two of the most difficult and misunderstood books in the Bible.  And for good reason.  The book of Daniel doesn’t just contain the favorite stories of Daniel in the Lions’ Den and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, it also contains prophetic visions that seem to foreshadow two distinct sets of events– one set that happened in the time between Daniel’s life and the birth of Christ, and another set of events yet to come.

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The book of Job is puzzling– there are no good clues as to when it took place, or exactly where, or even if it is real or a parable.  There is a curious interchange between God and Satan that is unlike any other passage in scripture.  Finally, it is filled with difficult dialogues from Job and his friends, as they try to make sense of his suffering as God stays silent.  When God finally speaks, He doesn’t directly answer Job’s questions or his friends’ misleading statements.

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What happens when I don’t understand what God is doing (or seemingly NOT doing) in my life or the lives of others?  What happens when the world doesn’t make sense, and the Bible doesn’t seem to shed any light?  What happens when I pray, but God seems silent?

I think the answer has a lot to do with where I am in my relationship with Christ:

  • I can panic, lose faith, or become angry and insolent.  If I don’t know God or don’t trust him; if I doubt his goodness or wisdom or power, I may run from his word and his presence.
  • I can lean on my own understanding.  I can substitute my own limited wisdom for God’s, and try to “explain away” all the things I don’t quite understand.  I may ignore the Bible passages I don’t understand, in favor of doubling down on the ones I think I know.  I can insist on my own interpretations of difficult or disturbing passages, even if someone points out inconsistencies in my logic, or context clues that disagree with my view.

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  • I can lean on someone else’s understanding, listening to their views without question or without reading and praying through it myself.  If someone else has an answer, shouldn’t that be enough?  Even if I still don’t fully understand, at least I have an answer…
  • I can ignore the question–after all, do I really need to know about God?  Isn’t it enough that He exists and He is good?  If I say it loud enough and often enough, won’t that make the questions go away?

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It seems that there is a better way– God never promises us easy answers or complete answers to all the questions in this life.  We can be angry or grateful for that truth, but most of all we must accept it.  God will answer many of our questions–maybe not in the time and manner we expect.  And some of them we won’t understand this side of heaven.  But the Bible is clear in calling us to pursue answers, and be honest when we don’t understand.  God may not give us a simple answer, but He promises to give us wisdom– wisdom to seek, and wisdom to wait; wisdom to trust, and wisdom to keep knocking.
Ask, Seek, Knock, Wrestle, Search, Pray, Plead, Study, and Learn.

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“Do You See Anything?”

Mark 8:22-26 Revised Standard Version (RSV)

Jesus Cures a Blind Man at Bethsaida

22 And they came to Beth-sa′ida. And some people brought to him a blind man, and begged him to touch him. 23 And he took the blind man by the hand, and led him out of the village; and when he had spit on his eyes and laid his hands upon him, he asked him, “Do you see anything?” 24 And he looked up and said, “I see men; but they look like trees, walking.” 25 Then again he laid his hands upon his eyes; and he looked intently and was restored, and saw everything clearly. 26 And he sent him away to his home, saying, “Do not even enter the village.”

Have you ever wondered why certain stories and events are recorded in the Bible while others are not?  Scholars and theologians have been trying to make sense of this story for centuries.  Why did Jesus spit on the man’s eyes?  Why did He do the healing in two stages, when He had the power to heal the man instantly?  Why did He grab the man’s hand and lead him out of town?  Why did He tell the man not to enter the village on his way home?  We are left with dozens of questions and no definitive answers.

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This is not the only gospel story (or Biblical story for that matter) that raises questions and includes inexplicable elements.  In fact, many people, wanting to discredit the Bible, point to stories like this as “proof” that the Bible is not “true”; there are too many unanswered questions, inconsistencies, gaps and omissions. Why is God silent for hundreds of years between the prophets and the gospels, or why do we have no account of Jesus’ teen years?  Why are there stories of some of the Judges, and mere mentions of others?  Why did some writings become “canon” and others became apocryphal or even heretical?  For my part, I find such stories to be proof that the Bible IS inspired by God– Truth really is often stranger than fiction!

I don’t intend to try to answer all the unanswered questions, but since I think that ALL scripture is inspired by God, I’d like to look at what this passage might have to say about prayer, sight, and walking with Christ.

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First, this story comes about because, as Jesus is coming up to Bethsaida, he is approached by a group begging him to heal their blind friend.   Jesus responds by taking the blind man by the hand and leaving– taking him out of town and away from his friends.  We aren’t told why, but I think even without explanation, there are two “takeaways” here:

  • The blind man was not asking for healing– for whatever reason, his friends were the ones asking for help on his behalf.  We jump at the chance to pray for people who ask for help and prayer, but are we as eager to pray for those who do NOT?  The passage says the friends brought the blind man to Jesus– it doesn’t say if the man came willingly, grudgingly, unknowingly, or eagerly.  His friends brought him and begged for Jesus to touch/heal him.  We should have the same passion for lifting up our friends, family, neighbors, bosses, community workers, leaders, and even enemies.
  • Jesus took the man out of town to heal him.  Nowhere in the passage does it mention that his friends followed or saw the healing take place. The story includes them, and their actions, but it is not ABOUT them.  Just because we beg God for a miracle, or ask Him to help us plant a seed or make a difference, doesn’t mean that we will get to see the result.  Often, God will remove someone from our life just as they are on the verge of changes– even miracles– for which we have prayed.  That doesn’t negate our need to keep praying, nor should it diminish our joy at the ultimate result.

Next, there is the curious circumstance of the two-phase healing.  Jesus spits, touches the man’s eyes, and then asks, “Do you see anything?”  It is a unique question from Jesus.  Normally, in the healing process, Jesus doesn’t ask, he commands.. “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” (Mark 2:11 NIV);  When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out! (John 11:43 NIV);  He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”) (Mark 5:41 NIV).  Just as curious is the answer from the man.  Yes, he can see, but there is obviously a problem that needs to be addressed.  In this instance, healing did not come instantly and completely.

My point here is not to speculate, or try to find answers as to why this story is so different.  But once again, I see a couple of points to ponder:

  • Jesus often leads us to a place of questions instead of clear solutions, and it can be frustrating and uncomfortable.  But he doesn’t leave us there, alone and with no remedy (even if it feels scary in the waiting!)  Jesus did not torment the man with a hundred questions; he didn’t blame the man for not seeing clearly right away; and he didn’t leave him unable to see clearly.  Instead, he asked the man a simple question, “Do you see anything?”
    • When I am in a season of questions, am I listening for and listening TO the questions or merely itching for an easy answer?

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  • Jesus didn’t explain his question or justify his healing.  He didn’t redirect or ask a hundred clarifying questions.  He was more interested in the man’s response.  The man could have answered, “Yes, I can see,” and walked away disappointed and half-healed.  He could have answered in anger or bitterness or sarcasm and unbelief.  “How could you do this to me?.  What good is my sight if everything looks wrong?”
    • How do I answer when Jesus leads me to a place of questions?  Am I honest with myself and with Him about what I see (or don’t see clearly)?  Do I answer with the truth, or do I answer with impatience and distrust?

Lastly, we have a curious ending to story, though one more consistent with other healing events– Jesus restores the man’s sight so that he can see perfectly.  Then he directs him NOT to enter the village when he returns home.  Once again, I want to look at what I can learn and apply from this passage:

  • God wants to bring restoration and correction.  He wants me to see clearly.   He wants me to see others clearly; he wants me to see Him clearly.  It isn’t just physical sight that is important to Him.  He wants me to get insight as well.  I don’t need to have all the answers to the many questions this passage brings up to get insight and wisdom from it, but I do need to see that there IS wisdom to be gained from studying even the odd passages He has chosen to give us in His Word.

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  • God brings healing and insight, but He also gives us direction– in this case, the man was NOT to enter the village.  Once again, we are not given a reason why.  And we are not given any information as to the man’s response.  Did he obey?  It is a curious feature of many of Jesus’ healings that He commands people not to run off and tell others.  On this point, since it happens often, I will speculate..I don’t believe that God wants us to stay silent about miracles and blessings, but I do believe that there are good reasons to pause and reflect before we spread the word:
    • So often, in our elation and wonder, we trumpet “our” miracles and blessings– as though we were singled out because of who we are or what we have done or how we prayed.  We don’t do this on purpose; we’re normally not even aware of how it sounds to others…In time, the wonder sinks deeper, the humble awareness of God’s mercy and grace replaces the initial euphoria and self-congratulation.  We bring more glory to God and less attention to ourselves.  In my excitement when God sends me blessing, do I try to take some of the credit, or take pride in His gifts?
    • Related to this is the temptation to forget that others around us are still in pain or darkness.  God’s power to heal is absolute, but He doesn’t choose to remove all pain, nor does he prevent us from experiencing suffering and tragedy.  We NEED to share stories of His power, mercy, grace, and joy, but we need to do so with loving insight into the hearts and lives of others, remembering to “rejoice with those who rejoice, and mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15)  Do I spend equal time listening to others, praying for them and sharing their burdens?
    • The commands of Jesus are not arbitrary or capricious.  We may not understand why, but we should trust that they are for our good and God’s glory.  We don’t know what might have awaited the man in Bethsaida.   What we do know is that Bethsaida was singled out (along with Chorazin) as a village of unbelief and stubborn refusal to accept miracles.  When God closes a door of opportunity in my life, do I keep trying to break in?  Or do I take the next step in faith?

So I ask myself today– “Do I see anything?”  “Do I see clearly?”  and “Am I obeying Christ’s direction for the next step?”

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