I am currently reading Knowing God, by J.I. Packer for the RUF-first-year-intern-summer-study-program. I had read most or at least part of it in high school, for Sunday school at our church. But reading it again was helpful, well timed, and necessary. It has been a timely reminder of who God is, who I am because of who He is, and how I am supposed to live in response to that knowledge.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that this has been an overwhelming summer. Wedding planning, as everyone warned me, has turned out to be somewhat stressful. It’s not the bane of my existence, by any means (and engagement isn’t really as hard as everyone hyped it up to be) but in conjunction with the other transitions happening at the same time, it has been a whirlwind…that feels more like a deep whirlpool that I’m on the verge of being sucked into.
But it’s silly of me to despair or get caught up in the roller coaster of lists and emotions and tasks and everything. I have been thinking about the way God answers prayers and the way he teaches us, and causes us to grow.
The sermon at my church on Sunday was about Psalm 13. Our pastor talked about the question people often raise, and that sometimes stumps people or turns believers astray – why do bad things happen? Why do we suffer and grieve?
But the way he worded it just made so many things click into place in my head. I’ve been playing thought-Tetris with the idea of grief for a few years. I wrote an essay about the different forms grief takes in my heart, and has taken outwardly in my life through loss. And I’ve seen grief as a theme – I tend to fixate on sorrow and dwell in the reality of suffering in the world. We should be motivated to overwhelming joy when we realize that God does not desire that suffering should continue forever – that he provides a way for us to have new life.
Recently, I think I’ve allowed this fixation of mine with grief to creep into my everyday activities. Maybe that’s hard to imagine…how can you just feel grief all the time? Every small negative thing becomes a function of the larger truth that this world is broken. So rather than seeing God’s goodness in everything, I begin to see the world’s brokenness in everything, and everyone.
But back to the sermon. He put it this way: God gives us grief.
Two interpretations of this statement immediately came to mind:
- “Stop giving me grief!” is something people say when someone is bothering them or pestering them about something. So God is giving me grief?
- Grief is a gift? A gift? Like…a good thing?
I think both of these formed themselves into fully true thoughts. The second idea is a little easier to explain. God gives us grief, as a gift, so that we might be drawn closer to him and be made more like his son. Grief is an opportunity for us.
I was talking to someone about this recently, and I think about it fairly often – a moment in the movie Evan Almighty (which I actually kind of liked…not super fond of Bruce Almighty, though) where Morgan Freeman says to Evan’s wife: “Let me ask you something. If someone prays for patience, you think God gives them patience? Or does he give them the opportunity to be patient? If he prays for courage, does God give him courage, or does he give him opportunities to be courageous? If someone prays for their family to be closer, do you think God zaps them with warm fuzzy feelings, or does he give them opportunities to love each other?”
It’s basic, and even a little embarrassing that I maybe remember this more than relevant Bible verses…
Anyway, it clicked with the grief thing. I don’t always put it in so many words, but I think I’ve struggled with wondering why I experience grief – why I have a heart that’s prone to see the broken side of things, and why certain events have marked my life. But this is the answer, and this makes sense of things. While this has been a characteristic of my heart, something that has always characterized my prayers is the request to be made more like Christ.
Ever since our church’s communicants class I took when I was in elementary school (where you’re taught what it means to take communion and how to do it) I’ve been praying the same thing. The pastor told us that before we drank the grape juice we should pray that Jesus would wash us clean with his blood and help us to be more like him. The imagery could be a little alarming for a child, but it was actually comforting to me. And when I don’t know what to ask for, or when I know I just need to pray, I just ask that in everything I would become more like Christ – because he’s the perfect example.
I’ve just never thought of the way the events in my life have been answers to this prayer. They’ve given me opportunities to respond in a Christlike way – not that I have always done so, by any means.
He doesn’t just zap me into perfection. That’s why sanctification is a thing. [Sanctification, summary definition– the renewing work of grace, making us die to sin and live to righteousness] That’s why it’s a process. He doesn’t just make me more like Christ. Christ had to face trials greater than anything I will ever know. And he makes it possible for me to endure whatever I am given here by giving me himself. And that should all be encouraging, and humbling, and show me exactly how to become more like him – by following his example when I encounter challenges.
“Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood…It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?”
Hebrews 12: 3-4, 7
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”
Today, Knowing God suggested that I read Psalm 18, and there was one part of it already underlined in my Bible – presumably by a younger me. And as I read it again, I thought how fitting it was. I’ve never been one to say that particular people have their own verses…but if I were, this would probably be mine –
“For it is you who light my lamp; the Lord my God lightens my darkness.”
There’s no way that I would be the same person I am if I didn’t believe in God – if I didn’t have faith in Christ. That may be an obvious statement to some people…it may seem hyperbolic or cliché to others. But I was talking to Nick the other night after church, about the sermon, and telling him how it resonated with me, and I realized how true this is. I think I might have made a great postmodern writer – expounding on the meaninglessness of everything in life and the idea of ultimate emptiness, probably coming up with some cool literary devices and methods to convey this idea and being known for my worldview of existential nihilism.
But that is not the case. That will never be me. And as much as I can appreciate the work of such writers because they get at something about the human condition, I will never fully ascribe to their standpoint…because I believe in God. I believe that there is grace, and that goodness exists because of him. I know that life is not the way it’s supposed to be in this world, where there is sin and darkness and death. But that’s just it – there is a “way it’s supposed to be,” and there is a God who encompasses all of those things.
He knows the longings of our hearts, and he can even empathize with where we are. He loves us, and he wants us to love him. And love…it’s not all we need, but it is all we want sometimes. Love is this ultimate thing. Love is, ultimately, what we are commanded to do. And love brings us home.