November 19, 2015

Worshipping a God Who Takes Away

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[intro]Sorrow. Grief. Loss. No one I know likes to think about this aspect of life, but from time to time it comes crashing down on our world. All of us in some way or fashion will someday experience the depth of this reality—and probably quite personally.[/intro]

It’s nothing new, really. Adam and Eve experienced it when one son murdered the other (Genesis 4). Job, when his entire family was taken from him—along with all of his earthly possessions (Job 1). Jesus Himself experienced this reality in His short time on earth. He lost a close friend (John 11). Mary did, when her son bore the sins of the whole world (John 19:26-27). Life comes and goes. That is the reality of living—and living while those we love die.

Yet, in the midst of this, we as Christ followers can be sure of the loving and caring nature of a merciful God. He, too, willingly gave up His son so we might truly live.

I’ve lost members of my family whom I dearly loved. My mom and dad, grandparents, and unborn child….before we even knew my wife was with child. My wife’s parents and grandparents, and also our young grandson. I’ve never really questioned God’s presence during these losses, nor have I seriously considered whether or not God loves and cares for me in the midst it. Some do. That is understandable. I don’t condemn or look down on anyone who does. Rather, I have experienced the darkness and shroud of grief that at times can surround us in these times of sorrow.

We can identify with the deep sorrow that others are feeling. We may even offer our “condolences,” at least as best we can. Some have difficulty understanding the grind of “moving on” with our lives when we lose a loved one when it is not really a matter of “moving on,” but rather, of adjusting to life without someone we dearly loved and still miss. At times like this, it is not a matter of “getting over it” as much as it is living with the harsh reality of loss.

As I recently was struggling to move from under a dark cloud of loss—a dark time of remembering, a dark time of missing someone so much that it seemed more than I could possibly bear—I was once again comforted by the blessing and good fortune of being able to experience the time I had with the one I sorely miss. Not that I find joy in the loss, but that I find peace in knowing the God of the universe—the one who gives life and who also takes it.

I know we flinch when we hear those words: “God takes life.” Call it want you want—God has the times of all His creation measured out. Whether I like it or not, it is true. That was the experience of Job. His entire family died. All taken from him. All of his earthly possessions were gone. And this is how Job responded:

Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.’ In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.

Job 1:20-22

Job understood and acknowledged God’s sovereignty over everything. He chose to trust the Sovereign God.

He “takes life” before we think or feel that it is fair, or warranted, or timely, but the reality is, it is not up to us to determine or question. Sometimes, all we have is to throw our emotions, feelings, and lives onto the reality of knowing a loving and merciful God. That is not simply an option. It really is the only option.

When I struggle at times with accepting God’s plan and timing in all of this, what helps me most is reminding myself of the reality and truth that there is more to this life, than what I experience in my own little world. Sure, God is concerned about us and does not desire for us to experience dark times of loss, but He also has a larger plan for humankind. A bigger picture that I usually am unable to see and understand. The fact also is that we live in a very fallen world full of pain, sin, disease, and destruction. Yet in the midst of all of this, our eternal destiny can be secure—and it is secure for everyone who has put their trust in Jesus.

Feeling loss—even months and years later—is not simply a measure of our own weakness. Rather, I believe it is a reflection of the value of the person we feel deep loss for. It is not revealing a weakness, but rather the reality of the value of that life.

I read this quote recently, which provided some perspective to me on this issue:

The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again, but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same, nor would you want to.

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and John Kessler

I have often been reminded of the passage in Isaiah 53 where we are told that Jesus Himself “was acquainted with grief.” Certainly, the grief and sorrow Jesus was specifically referring to was a result of our own turning away from Him—the reality Jesus experienced of having those whom you love and whom He died for turn away in disgust, unacceptance and rejection. Yet, it also tells us that He “has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows,” no matter what may be the cause or source.

I find it tremendously comforting that Jesus Himself knows what grief and sorrow is all about—even though the level of loss we experience can in no way attain the magnitude He experienced. Yet, none the less, He knows and understands. Jesus does not deny it. He doesn’t dismiss it. He doesn’t consider us weak-hearted. But rather, He waits there, in the midst of the loss and grief with us—until we are ready go forward.

And going forward does not mean that we need to forget or get over or move past it. We don’t get over our grief by forgetting. Rather, we get through our grief by remembering. It means that He is willing and able to move ahead with us as we pick up the remnants of our loss. How could God ever expect us to forget? Move forward and heal—for sure. But forget? No, that is not His expectation at all. He desires us to move forward through the loss and grief, knowing full well that He understands and that He is in the process of helping us experience the greater purpose in it all—a purpose that in this life can completely be beyond our understanding. Understanding is not the pathway to acceptance. Trust is the path we must choose to take. Trust in a merciful God who already has displayed more mercy toward each of us than we could possibly ever deserve. And that, I believe, is the path we need to take.

In the book of Lamentations there is a passage of Scripture that I find great hope and security in not only knowing, but believing:

But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul. “Therefore I will hope in Him.”

Lamentations 3:21-24

As we go through deep loss or grief or sorrow, and remember those for whom we experience this loss, we must allow the truth of our Father’s compassion and understanding bring us His comfort. He, too, knows loss and grief. He gave His Son for us. He understands.

Image Credit: Georgie Pauwels

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