Our Heavenly Father always does some of His best work during the most daunting times.
This is true historically. It is true in spite of the most oppressive of regimes. It is true for you now. In spite of life’s atrociousness, God’s grace abounds as though upping the ante on His ancient adversary and the enemy of our souls.
Still, thinking all this through and keeping your wits about you while in the midst of the storm is tricky business. If your doctrine—or your God—are inadequate, your position is likely in danger of being overrun.
Personally, I was taught a doctrine of why bad things happen that promoted exemplary behavior by force of threat. I embraced this teaching as though correct and I tried hard so as to avoid the consequence of bad things happening. However, as life bore down and my body and soul carried the weight of this fallen land, my doctrine of suffering proved inadequate. Of course, the primary casualty in that flawed doctrine was my deity and His reputed reputation.
I didn’t know what to do with these fallibilities—an inadequate doctrine and an inadequate deity. I didn’t fret much about tossing out the shortsighted doctrine, along with some other shortfalls that were becoming evident, but abandoning the deity was another matter.
I hung onto a fragile concept of God by the thinnest of margins. Had I been more impulsive, I would have jettisoned Him, the doctrine about Him, all those associated with Him, and all the horses they rode into town on. But I knew He existed, and therefore I knew I had to deal with Him or be an intellectual fool.
For years my approach to this relational tension was to keep as far away from Him as possible. I figured the farther away I was, the more exemplary my behavior, and the better job I did of living in my own resourcefulness the less cause I would give my deity to interfere in my world with suffering designed to refine me.
Did you catch that?
I believed God was the cause, instigator, perpetrator, and genius behind a spectrum of suffering I couldn’t escape—and by declaration, He describes Himself and all that He is as love. Love, huh?
I hung onto a fragile concept of God by the thinnest of margins.
This being the case, the notion of Him loving me was irreconcilable with the love I desired. Abusers call their abuse, love, and to the abused this definition of love is deserved. And make no mistake, the deity of my doctrine regarding suffering was abusive. I didn’t deserve to suffer, per se, but don’t all those abused believe abuse is their fault? The bully who was my deity and described Himself as love perpetrated pain upon me. At least, this is what I was told.
I trust you can see why I held onto faith in Him with a gossamer thread.
And then, there came the day when He cut the thread—a story for another day. I did all I could by way of negotiation with my deity to absolve myself of culpability for the un-arrested freefall from our relationship, albeit tenuous. I feared a tumbling, tumultuous distance that could never be regained, a gap that could not be closed, and with the cutting of the tie resolved myself to hell—that is, life apart from God.
I was correct. With the cutting of the tie, I fell away from my deity and my doctrine. My faith lapsed.
I would have to return to my journals to figure out how long this lapse of conviction and belief lasted. It wasn’t a day or two, but neither was it a lifetime, although it seemed such, and it was a lapse, not wholesale abandonment. I still had to contend with a deity I knew existed but didn’t trust.
I think God knew—of course He knew; He knows everything—I had little use for His love.
Along the way, with careful hands that must have understood how wary I was in my soul, Father approached. Circumstantially, nothing changed. Life was just as onerous as ever, but in the midst He progressively became pervasive. With one judicious touch after another, until I would let myself trust, He introduced Himself as He truly is, not as He was cast, and inch by inch He won my confidence.
My mustard seed of faith became trust. Oddly enough, God didn’t approach with declarations of His love. I think He knew—of course He knew; He knows everything—I had little use for His love, a love I was told that was devoted to my suffering refinement for His benefit and pleasure. Instead, He approached me with His like.
Today, I’m convinced of His love, and I’m very appreciative. But I rarely hear that from Him, i.e. that He loves me. I see it, but He doesn’t talk about it much. What I hear instead is that He likes me, appreciates me, and respects me. I realize, as a psychologist-counselor, that I fundamentally need to be loved—just as we all do—but how He loves me with His like of me provides the lash points my soul requires to find security.
From here, from this secure place, I have been able to recast my suffering to a doctrine worthy of Father, respectful of my circumstantial challenges, and representative of who He declares me to be. And at this point in my life, I’ve had enough opportunity to test these beliefs that I’m convinced they are sound.
What I doubted was that God was good to me.
While it is not the primary theme of my book Battle for the Round Tower, one of the storylines I tested as I wrote was whether or not God is truly good or not. Of course, I know He says He is in His Book, and I know this is what I was taught. But the people making this declaration were the same folks espousing an insufficient doctrine in hopes of making my behavior representative of their values. Never mind if they misrepresented God.
When the frayed thread holding my theology together was cut, I didn’t quite expunge my deity from my earlier life and days, but I certainly threw away any notion of His goodness. I gathered from stories that there were folks for whom He was good, and I didn’t doubt them. What I doubted was that He was good to me.
This question of His goodness is—for the time being—the last bastion of doubt associated with my suffering and the affliction of those around me. The enemy of our souls is vigilant and resourceful. It would be foolish for me to believe he is defeated in my life. But of those strongholds regarding what I believe about Father and life on this orb that have yielded grudgingly over the last three decades, the question of whether Father is good or not has dissipated substantially thanks to His careful hand.
There are times, not every day, but occasionally where I have to stop and sort through my doctrine of suffering and the goodness of Father God. It used to be, not so long ago, that if I stopped to ponder I sank into a morass of distrustful marshland. It was best in those days to keep slogging. At least I can stop now without drowning to gather my wits and find my bearings.
But in all candor, I still have to stop sometimes when the demands are formidable. One day my wary flesh will be overcome and my soul’s systems will be strong enough that I won’t have to stop, I’ll be able to think on the fly while in the midst. But today I am immensely more proficient at pondering and progressing with a stronger trust in the One who likes me—and He seems fine with me stopping to sort out what I know from what I was taught.
Rather than weighing me down, my rebuilt doctrine of suffering keeps my nose above water, and that is a glorious victory when this life is a hurricane. Rather than my deity deriding me with punishment for my frailty in the midst of suffering, I’m acquainted with a Father who is good. Good to me, not just good to other people.
To read more on this subject, but in a novel, not a doctrine format, I recommend Battle for the Round Tower. Whereas doctrine states, a novel shows while it tells a tale.