Friday, December 31, 2010
Friday, December 24, 2010
From the idols of the earth?
Not a sense of right or duty,
But the sight of peerless (matchless) worth.
Not the crushing of those idols,
With its bitter void (emptiness) and smart (pain);
But the beaming of His beauty,
The unveiling of His heart.
Sunday, December 19, 2010
This is just one of the many things I continue to learn on this journey, and although I am hesitant to keep writing about grief, it seems important for me to do so, especially during this holiday season because such seasons are often harder for those mourning the passing of a loved one. So here are a few morethings I am learning about grief with my comments.
- During the early stages of grief your judgment about your ability to make good judgments is not trustworthy! During my journey I have already found myself looking back at some early decisions when I was sure that my ability to make decisions was solid only to now ask myself in wonder, "What I was thinking!" Sigh... so I learned that during deep grieving, especially at first, we aren’t even able to decide about our ability to decide, no matter who we are. So what can we do? We can listen to other people, especially those who love us and know us well and perhaps especially when they disagree with us!
- So the common advice given to grieving folks not to make major decisions that will be hard to recover from if they are bad ones is solid counsel. But if you do make a bad decision, don’t beat yourself up about it. Come to Papa and ask Him to help untangle it. (But if you heed the first point, you won’t need this one).
- On the other hand, it’s normal to think about the future, including wondering about another life partner if that’s what God has for you, even while you are grieving. My thanks to my friend, Tony K., for reminding me of this early in my journey. I was feeling so guilty about thinking about my future instead of just being sad all the time, and his counsel that this was a normal way of coping with grief and part of the healing process was like water in the desert. On the hand, it’s probably not wise to start deciding much about the future because of numbers 1-2 above! Listening to God, listening to others, and waiting for Papa's timing seems a better option to me.
- Don’t put deadlines on your grief (thanks to my friend, Bobby B., for this one). The depth of the sense of loss seems to be closely related to the depth (quality and duration) of the relationship. Because Jettie and I had such a good relationship for such a long time, my grief has been, and may continue to be, deep and long. Ours was a rare love indeed, and we had been deeply happy for a long time (not perfectly so—I am tough to live with at times). So I am not telling Papa that I need to grieve a long time based on this, but I also won’t be surprised if I grieve a while longer than I would like!
- Understanding everything won’t help, nor is it possible. I am discovering that the reason I want to understand things is that I want to regain some sense of control in my life. This is a perfectly normal reaction to the total loss of control that has happened to me. I am finding that asking God to help me understand some things—the things I need to understand as He defines them—is good, but demanding to understand grows out of fear and a need to control things none of us can control. Proverbs 3:5-6 is a good passage to hang onto even (or more accurately, especially) when your world falls apart and nothing makes sense. Again and again as I have begun the "Why journey" Father has simply invited me to trust Him, rest in Him, allow Him to embrace me, and in His embrace whatever clarity I need comes. (Not that I don't find myself still resisting His embrace at times).
- As you progress through your grief, you will begin to hear God’s voice again (beyond His whispered encouragement and love, which for me at least, were always there). That has meant for me that I can now tell the difference between when I am feeling my loss and when I am headed into self-pity. Hearing God's voice helps me make better decisions about what to do with the powerful emotions associated with grief. None of us can control the fact that emotions come, especially at first, but as we progress through the journey we do become better able to make choices that keep the emotions from leading us the wrong way because His voice begins to be clear again. Thank you, Papa, for this one!
- I am finding that there is a lot of help out there for grieving people (as you know) and that the "common threads" among them are the most helpful. Whether the source is secular or Christian, there are some common observations about grief that, although worked out differently in each person's life, are true and therefore helpful. (Some of these reflections I am making had their beginning in such sources). Bottom line is again to seek the counsel of others. Grief was never meant to be experienced in isolation (although isolating oneself is often what one wishes to do!).
- Finally, I have discovered that grieving is highly visible and well modeled in Scripture. I wasn’t able to see that very well before. Perhaps in a later blog I will elaborate on this one.
Monday, December 6, 2010
A god who causes everything that happens is not the God of the Bible. The God of Scripture is indeed sovereign, but the fact that God is sovereign doesn’t mean that He makes everything happen! That blasphemous picture of God is called Determinism, and that’s the god of Islam, but not the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. So what does it mean that God is sovereign? It means that He takes everything that happens within the context of the freedom that He grants to His creatures and causes all of it to fit into His ultimate purpose (Ephesians 1:11, Romans 8:28-29). So we live in a world where bad choices (starting with Adam and Eve) have allowed a huge amount of evil things to happen. But it is also a world where God is always working redemptively (and usually invisibly) to cause all things to work out for His ultimate good purpose: the revelation of the infinite love and goodness which are His glory. How God does this is beyond understanding, of course, but the Bible tells us that there are lots of thing that happen that are not God’s will (it’s His will that no one should perish, but some will perish, etc.). Yet in the end even those things that are not His immediate will somehow will be fit into His overall, eternal purpose (my head hurts when I think about this too much!).
Why is it so important to understand this about God? A few things come to mind. First, we cannot have a relationship with God apart from understanding this. God’s desire for a relationship with us requires Him to allow us the freedom to make real and genuine choices. Relationships can never be coerced or forced. You may submit to a dictator, but you won’t enter into a loving relationship with him/her! But with the ability to choose relationship with God comes the ability not to choose that relationship and the evil that follows such a choice. You cannot have freedom without allowing for the possibility of evil, but real relationships require freedom.
Second, as common sense tells us, you cannot be in a loving and trusting relationship with a god who causes bad things! Thankfully scripture reveals that God is not like that at all. (Who could love a god who “hurts us for his glory” or who could do something but "for his glory" chooses to do nothing?). Understanding that God is good, absolutely and completely good, is a key to our trusting Him even when we don’t understand what’s happening around us or to us. I love how Pastor Bill Johnson keeps things simple in this regard: "God is good. The devil is bad!"
Finally, God’s desire for us to be like Him in His goodness requires that His creatures be free to make real choices. My friend Steve Schell recently helped me to see this. Only when we choose to be good are we really good (like our Father). Coerced goodness is not goodness at all. Love (the motivation behind true goodness) cannot be forced, and nothing is more like Papa God than love! So the very fact that we are created in His image means that evil is a possibility because free choice allows for it. But that doesn’t mean that God does or causes the evil, as I trust you can see by now.
Thus we find ourselves in a world where, because freedom is genuine, freedom results in a world with lots of bad things (like a beloved wife, mother and grandmother dying prematurely from cancer or like mass shootings by insane and evil people, or like a hurricane from hell slamming into the U.S. coast, etc.). But we also find that our loving Father, in some way we cannot comprehend, redeems everything so that it’s good in the end. I can love and trust a God like that!
I offer two final pictures that may help as I close. First, there is a discussion in The Shack that I think states the truth clearly. Papa says to Mack, “Mack, just because I work incredible good out of unspeakable tragedies doesn’t mean I orchestrate the tragedies. Don’t ever assume that my using something means that I caused it or that I need it to accomplish my purposes. That will only lead you to false notions about me. Grace doesn’t depend on suffering to exist, but where there is suffering you will find grace in many facets and colors.” (p. 185)
Second, I personally picture God’s sovereign purpose as being like a huge river, flowing to a distant and beautiful destination. Everything in all of time and creation is being carried along on that river, and people (and other creatures like angels) on the river have complete freedom to do whatever they wish while being carried along in its flow. They can bump into one another, they can fight the flow, move with the flow, go from side to side, etc., but they cannot escape being carried along with the river to the final destination. This is not by any means a perfect picture, but it helps me, and maybe it will help you. There is a river of God’s purpose, flowing through time and eternity, that carries everything along to a good end even while it allows perfect freedom within the context of its flow. I choose to rest in that River, even when things bump into me or even submerge me for a while along the way.
Gratefully living in His River, looking for grace’s colors,
Tom, one of Abba's little children