Is God Punishing Me? Theology Matters.

Even though I knew better, one of my first thoughts after I got the news that Dominic had run ahead to heaven was, “Is God punishing me?”

Because when something THIS awful happens, it seems logical to assume it is in response to a massive cosmic imbalance.

As a matter of fact, even though it sounds counter-intuitive, it’s almost more comforting to believe there is a discernible reason behind my son’s death than to swallow the truth I may have to live the rest of my years not knowing.

I combed through my life-searching every nook and cranny-for what I did that deserved this kind of retribution.

And while I, like all of us, have a closet full of sin, I could not find a single transgression that rose to the ranks of demanding my son’s life in payment.

But then I realized that any of my sins-whether I counted them big or small-DID demand payment.

And God sent HIS Son to pay for them.

To us, the greatest demonstration of God’s love for us has been his sending his only Son into the world to give us life through him. We see real love, not in that fact that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to make personal atonement for our sins.

I John 4:10 PHILLIPS

They HAVE been paid for.  All of them.  Every single one.

There is no sin debt outstanding.

That’s an important concept to grasp.  It is absolutely critical that bereaved parents (and others who suffer horrible tragedies) get this theological point right. 

God is not out to extract payment for sin.

Now, He may well allow us to suffer the natural consequences of our sinful actions.  There may be things we must endure because of sinful choices we make.

But that is very different than suggesting God is visiting sickness or death or ill fortune on a heart because of unconfessed sin.

As a matter of fact, that was precisely the charge God Himself laid against Job’s friends when they simply would not let go of the idea that Job must have done something to justify his suffering.

After the Lord had spoken these words to Job, the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. Now therefore take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and offer up a burnt offering for yourselves. And my servant Job shall pray for you, for I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly. For you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” So Eliphaz the Temanite and Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite went and did what the Lord had told them, and the Lord accepted Job’s prayer.

Job 42:7-9 ESV

Even Job wanted God to explain Himself.  

While the Lord showed up, He never did give Job an answer. 

Instead HE asked the questions.  

We like to think we can figure God out, dig up the reasons why this happens or that doesn’t.  

Truth is, we’d do better to follow Job’s example once he encountered the Living God:

Oh, I am so small. How can I reply to You?
        I’ll cover my mouth with my hand, for I’ve already said too much.  (Job 40:4) 

Before I knew only what I had heard of You,
        but now I have seen You.
    Therefore I realize the truth:
        I disavow and mourn all I have said
        and repent in dust and ash.

Job 40:4 ; Job 42:5,6 VOICE

God’s thoughts are not my thoughts, His ways are not my ways.  

But He is perfect. 

He is SO perfect that He has provided the once and for all sacrifice that satisfies the price of sin by the blood of His Son, Jesus Christ. 

I may not understand (DO not understand!) why He has allowed my son’s death. But is was NOT punishment.  God does not lie.

I can rest satisfied in that truth.

bereavement-is-the-sharpest-challenge-to-our-trust-in-god-if-faith-can-overcome-this-there-is-no-quote-1

Have I Put God in a Box?

I honestly thought I had a fairly accurate and well-rounded theological grid before Dominic ran ahead to heaven.

I had studied Scripture diligently for over 25 years, read extensively, engaged in active and insightful conversation with thoughtful believers and swallowed some difficult truths.

But when faced with my child’s untimely and sudden death, I realized that I had also swallowed some untruths and half-truths.

I thought I had God figured out, that I knew how He worked in the world and that I was definitely on the inside track to gain His favor and blessing.

I was wrong.

I wrote this a couple years ago, but it is something I have to come back to over and over in this Valley of the Shadow of Death:

Every idea of [God] we form, He must in mercy shatter. The most blessed result of prayer would be to rise thinking ‘But I never knew before. I never dreamed…’ I suppose it was at such a moment that Thomas Aquinas said of all his own theology, ‘It reminds me of straw.’

Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer (1964)

It’s possible that you haven’t thought of it this way, but if you are a believer in Christ and have yet to walk through faith-shattering trials, you may have placed God in a box.

I know I had.

Read the rest here:  God in a Box

What If I’m Angry* With God?

God’s grace meets us where we are, not where we pretend to be.
~Esther Fleece, No More Faking Fine

Yes, I know, the commonly touted wisdom in church circles is not to ask, “Why?”

It’s also bad form to admit that you might actually be angry* with God. 

But I can pretty much guarantee that over half of any congregation sitting in the pews on a given Sunday has had at least one moment when, with raised eyes they screamed, “Why?????” to the sky aimed at a God they didn’t understand but believed in anyway.

I know I have.  

David did.

Paul did.

Job did.

So what does a heart do if it’s upset with God?  Stuff it?  Reason it away?  Shame it to silence? Hope it fades on its own?

I think the only thing a heart can do with that anger and doubt and disappointment is take it straight to the Throne of Grace where we are promised to find help in an hour of need.

Hebrews-4_16

That’s what I did.  

I wrote hundreds of pages of journals with my Bible beside me.  When the Holy Spirit brought a scripture to mind as I was writing, I looked it up, read it and usually copied it into my journal right alongside my questions and rambling.

Sometimes I would write the letters large and decorate them or look up the meaning of words in a concordance or dictionary and write the definitions or synonyms out to help me deepen my understanding.

In the end, my heart was finally able to accept the truth of Who God is-my loving, omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent Heavenly Father-even when I do not like what He is doing.

Reaching a place of accepting His will while still acknowledging the pain it brings me (like Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane) has given me a measure of peace.

It has freed me to walk on in this life and to take the good, the bad, the painful and the wonderful in stride.

Do I still have moments (days!) when I want to scream?

Absolutely. But I am submitted to God and bow my heart to His.

It took a long time.

The more I read and studied Scripture, the more I found evidence of anguish, tears, and the messiness of human emotion. When we are in pain, the pain we are facing is temporary, even though it never feels temporary. Pain can linger, and it will always be with us, but for the believer in Jesus Christ, pain is never the final destination.

~Esther Fleece, No More Faking Fine, p. 134

*I am lumping a lot of strong (often considered “negative”) emotions in with the one word “angry”-for me, it was actually disappointment-God did not live up to my expectations (which is not to say He should or that my expectations were accurate).  For others it might be distrust and for some it might be doubt (does God love me?).  I’m most certainly NOT suggesting that Jesus was angry with God in the garden but it is plainly stated in Scripture that He begged God for another, less painful way that would still accomplish the Father’s plan.

 

Only Love is Eternal

I’ve read I Corinthians chapter 13 dozens of times. 

It was one of the Scriptures read at my wedding.  

And while I thought I understood what Paul meant when he wrote, “Love never fails” and “the greatest of these is love” I was oh, so wrong.

1 cor 13 love is

It took the death of my son for my heart to fully embrace the eternal power of love.  

I have lost many things since Dominic ran ahead to heaven:  my sense of control, any certainty that tomorrow will necessarily be better than today, the life I thought I would have here on earth, and foolish confidence in my own ability to discern how God works in this world.

But I have gained this:  Absolute unshakable rock-solid assurance that LOVE lives forever.  

the answer is still and again love

Only love can help a heart hold onto hope when all evidence screams, “Let go!”

Only love can overcome despair when darkness clouds my vision and obscures the light.

Only love can weave a golden cord that keeps me connected to my child in heaven.  

Only love is strong enough to drive the God of creation to send HIS Son to pay for MY sins.

john 3_16

Love is the strongest force in the universe.

Ask any bereaved parent.

When all else dies,

love lives.

child-and-mama-heart-together

 

The Danger of Rushing to Serve After Loss

There are all kinds of doubts that creep in and take up residence in a mind after child loss.

Most of them have to do with the child that ran ahead to heaven.

But many are also about me:  “What should I be doing? Where should I go from here?” 

For those of us active in church ministries, we wonder, When do I return to service?”

There can be a lot of pressure to “get back in the saddle” if you fill a large role in a particular ministry.

No one ever wants to find a replacement for an effective Sunday School teacher, youth worker or hospitality hostess.  It’s hard when you have months of warning and nearly impossible when the vacancy opens up suddenly and unexpectedly.

But does the difficulty in finding my replacement mean that the burden is on me to keep serving, even when I am utterly broken, empty and unable to do so?

I don’t think so.  

I’ve learned many things through child loss and one of them is this:  the world still turns and things still get done in spite of the absence of any single person.

God invites us to join in the work He is doing in the world.  It is HIS work, not mine.  And He will absolutely assure that it gets done.  If I am unavailable to fill a position, then He will raise up another to fill it.

Jesus said, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”  

His yoke is easy, His burden light.  

yoke-of-oxen

We are never to serve out of a place of exhaustion, weariness, emptiness.  

Grief certainly exhausts us, wears us down and depletes our resources.  

Take a season-as long a season as necessary-to allow the Holy Spirit to minister grace, mercy and love to your broken heart.  That is the calling of Christ on our lives.  To listen and follow our Shepherd-our Gentle Shepherd-who promises to bind up our wounds and tend our shattered souls.

heals the broken hearted

People who have not suffered the death of a child will not understand.  But it won’t be the first time you’ve been misunderstood if you’ve ministered for more than a minute.

Don’t let others’ expectations or your own fear of failure keep you from hearing the call of your loving Father to come to Him, to lean on Him, to rest in His arms as He sings over you.

rejoice over you with singing

There will be a day for ministry again.  

I promise.  

crown of beauty planting of the lord

 

Did God Take My Child?

This is a question that comes up all the time in bereaved parents’ groups:  Did God take my child?

Trust me, I’ve asked it myself.  

How you answer this question can mean the difference between giving up or going on, between turning away or trusting.

So this is MY answer.  The one I’ve worked out through study, prayer and many, many tears.  You may disagree.  That’s just fine.  I only offer it because it might be helpful to some struggling and sorrowful soul.

I believe that God is the Author of life and the arbiter of death. What that means (to me) is that He is ultimately in control of everything and could (if He chose) intervene and stop the death of any person if He wanted to.

Nothing and no one is stronger nor more powerful than God.

However, we live in a fallen world where sin has tainted the original creation God declared “good”. So there are natural disease processes, genetic malformations, undetected birth defects (that may go unknown until well into adulthood like heart defects) that lead to death.

God does not intervene each time-but He could.

People make sinful and foolish choices that have natural consequences. My son was going way too fast in a curve on his motorcycle. God did not override my son’s free will (just as He does not override our free will all day every day) and my son ran off the road.

There are universal physical and biological laws that most of us are thankful for each day that then took over in my son’s case and doomed his motorcycle to certain paths and his body to certain death when it impacted the ground.

God didn’t intervene but He could have.

Job was ultimately protected by the fences God placed around his person. I believe each of us are too.

Yet God is weaving a bigger tapestry, writing a bigger story than only the part that includes me and my family.  So my son’s death and the changes it has wrought in me, in others that knew and loved him and even further out into the world are part of God’s big story.

I have made peace with the fact that I do not understand nor like what God has done in my life by allowing my son to die, but I will trust His loving character and wait to see how it will be redeemed in eternity.

No, God did not TAKE my son. But He allowed his death.

I gain more comfort in a God Who could have saved my son but chose not to, than a God Who does not have that power.

His word declares that He keeps my tears in His bottle. 

I believe it. 

And I believe that one day He will redeem every one and restore what my heart has lost.  

you keep track of all my tears

Though the Mountains Fall

I spent my teen years living in a suburb of Denver where the mountains marked west and you didn’t need a compass or GPS to get around.

Man and woman mountain biking, Dolomites, Italy

It never occurred to me that the mountains might crumble or that I might wake one morning to find them somewhere else.  

They were steady, sure and absolutely dependable.  

When I moved to Pittsburgh and was forced to navigate without mountains to guide me, I found it easy to get lost (and I got lost a LOT in the first few months!).

The landmarks I had depended on were gone.  

That’s what it felt like when I received the awful news. 

In the first shock of death everything that has seemed most dependable had given way. Mountains were falling, the earth was reeling. In such a time it is a profound comfort to know that although all things seem to be shaken, one thing is not: God is not shaken … the thing that is most important is to do what the psalmist does later, to be ‘still’ and know that God is God. God is God whether we recognize it or not. But it comforts us and infuses strength into our faltering spirits to rest on that truth.

~Elisabeth Elliot

The earth beneath me gave way.  I was falling. 

But God…

When my heart was shattered, my hope hanging on by a thread, the Spirit of God brought truth to mind and gave me the strength to hold on.

though the mountains

I trust God’s Word and His character, even when I don’t understand what He is doing.  

His faithful love endures forever. 

I can depend on that.  

No matter what.