I traveled to NJ/NYC a few weeks ago for my day job, and, as per usual, went to pick up a new library book for the trip. It’s a gorgeous 4-5 hour train ride, mostly along the Hudson River. It’s calm. It’s quiet. Perfect for an afternoon for reading.
When I stopped in the library, the book I had on hold wasn’t there. The weird thing is that according to the library records it WAS still on the “holds” shelf… only it wasn’t. So the lovely librarian (no really, I have the best library and librarians!) went to try to find my book. While I was waiting… this book jumped at me. Like I couldn’t stop staring at it, my eyes kept coming back to it.
I’m sure it was the title in combination with the author. James Patterson wrote a book titled, “A Woman of God”? I flipped open the cover to read the summary – and I hardly read it, honestly. I can’t explain it. Just knew I had to read this book. You can check the book out here: http://amzn.to/2p1FP9N
After the first few chapters, a thought occurs to me: will the author answer the question, “Why does a benevolent God allow so much pain and terror?” (Or at least attempt to answer it.)
Fast-forward 100 pages and a couple hundred miles down the Hudson, and I’m stifling a sob. It wasn’t easy reading. My heart was broken… the main character, Brigid, had suffered. Greatly. Sometimes, saying life “sucks” is an understatement. It just plain rips you up.
I took an emotional break – watched a comedy on my phone – and eventually came back to it over the course of my trip. I’m a sucker for a plot – no really, I am. If the story hooks me – I can’t unhook. Even if it’s awful writing. Even if I hate the characters. (This was not true for this book… I’m just saying that if a plot hooks me, I’m done.) I just HAVE to know how it ends. Such is the case for “Woman of God.”
I got to the end and was disappointed. No, I was disappointed in the writing or the way the plot shaped out. God didn’t answer me.
Isn’t this how it goes…. well, frequently? We’re faced with something new… a life event, an opportunity, a move, a promotion, a new relationship… and in this case a book… and we think… “Ah-ha! This is it! This is that way! This is how God’s going to finally answer me!”
Not that God doesn’t boom down an answer. Sometimes, I think He does. But I think He’s much more likely to use moment like Elijah had, desperate and depressed, alone and hungry… when God whispered in the silence. Not the activity. Not the move. Not the book. The silence.
Did I really think that reading a novel was going to answer my deep-seated questions on suffering? I mean, isn’t that laughable? (Maybe, maybe not. Literature IS an art form that can force us into introspection. However, I think if I was honest with myself, I really didn’t think this book was going to answer it.)
However… I’ll tell you, what I did find… encouragement.
Pain sucks. People leave us, people die. People lie to each other and kill each other… literally. It’s a graphic, awful world we live in sometimes. And what I encountered was this lovely woman that honestly fought with God over the issue. Don’t we all? Don’t we all get to this line where we go… “That’s enough, God. SERIOUSLY. I’ve had enough of _______. I’m walking away for now.” I think if we all have these kinds of conversations, regardless on faith or level of it. The thing that differs amongst us all is how long we keep away. Sometimes it’s a few minutes, a day… or decades.
This is often my reality. I have struggled with Him a great deal over the issue of suffering. Aside from physical pain, there seems to be no break to the emotional upheaval. I have beat against heaven and asked, “How much more?”
While I have plenty of theological arguments with the book’s definition on sin, the permanency of God’s presence or denominations, it didn’t change the fact that God relentlessly pursued her. When she’d encountered tragedy, she’d would walk away for a period of time, and God wooed her back. God does that with all of us. All the time. He’s begging for our attention and our hearts.
What I found is that the question on suffering was never answered. Why did Brigid go through all that she did? At the end of the book… the actual terms of the suffering mattered little, but her obedience to what God had told her to do. Her long-term response to her pain and her choice to still live a life in pursuit of God is what mattered.
Let that sink in for a minute.
The age-old question, “How does a benevolent God allow pain and terror?” is answered in more questions/issues – God isn’t just benevolent. He’s also just. He’s jealous. And gracious and merciful. Benevolence as a character attribute does not adequately describe God.
Not sure how the arms of justice and mercy can reach around and touch in one entity? Meet Jesus. He’s the answer to the question, the balm for the pain, the substitute for eternal suffering, and the perfect example on how love justice and mercy (Micah 6:8). Jesus is always the answer.
In my own suffering and doubt and teeny-tiny faith I am faced with the issue… I need more Jesus. My issue with His “benevolence” is because I’m not rubbing shoulders enough with the Living Proof of justice and mercy.
I often find that the verse I choose for the year ends up defining a core value or reminder I need. It usually pops out at me and I don’t necessarily see the “why” for a few months in to the calendar year. The verse(s) for 2017 – Hebrews 12:1a-2:
[L]et us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
He knows suffering. If there’s anyone I should fix my eyes on, anything I need more of while walking in the junk of life, it’s Jesus. He may not necessarily answer the WHY, but I do think He’ll make it more bearable, be the balm, be the substitute, and be my example on how to walk in pain while still exuding grace. Instead of beating my hands against his chest demanding an answer, I think I’ll look Him in the eye and keep running “for the joy” even as I endure.
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