God in the Darkness

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Sometimes it happens this way.
Sometimes when you are closest to God, you feel as though you are farthest away.
It seems to happen that when you are a new Christian, God speaks clearly, you feel His presence solidly, light is all around you.
New
Fresh
As you progress in your faith, God’s voice gets fainter, His presence is harder to grasp, the clouds begin to form around you.Old
Dry
This is how it was for Mother Theresa who began her life full of fire and certainty and spent the last fifty years of her life full of darkness and silence. She continued to obey, even when the dry times outnumbered the rich times.
As a baby, you need God to discernibly carry you. When you become more mature, you need to trust that God is still carrying you.
When God first showed Himself to Moses, it was in the light.
Light
In a miracle of a fiery bush that did not become ash, He revealed Himself to a man who did not yet know Him.
Later, God showed Himself to Moses in a cloud.
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In the middle of the cloudy dimness of a pillar of cloud, God spoke to a man who was learning to trust Him.
Once Moses became more perfected, he saw God in the darkness.
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In the darkness on the top of a mountain, God gave His Word to a man who knew Him.
We should not think that this is unusual. We should not despair when we must enter the darkness. We should not give up on God when we can no longer see Him.
Rather, we should continue to obey, continue to trust, continue to speak and to listen.
What you discovered about God in the fiery light does not disappear once He cloaks Himself in darkness.
He is still there, He still loves you, and He is still working to perfect you.
Becoming
Perfect
Especially in the darkness.

Ideas in this post come from St. Gregory of Nissa (335-395 AD)

Art Credits: God Appears to Moses from Saint Isaac’s Cathedral in St. Petersburg; Pillar of Cloud is a Bible card published by the Providence Lithograph Company; Promulgation of the Law by Gerard Hoet

Taking Time

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I’ve written before in this space about the beauty and goodness of time.
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I’ve written about this time we are in now, the thousands of years between creation and restoration, and how the delay of Christ’s coming is a gift to us.
I’ve written of the idea that it is not a failing of the created world that it reaches its fulfillment only through time. This is part of the way God made things. The created world takes time to be what it is. ~ Jeremy Begbie, Resounding Truth
Sometimes, though, it is easier for me to accept this idea in the abstract than it is to accept it in my own little life.
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It is easier to be okay with Christ’s delay in returning, because that feels a long way off anyway, than it is to be okay with a delay in God fulfilling a dream that I think is His will for my life.
I feel sure that I am not alone.
We think that if God wants us to do something, to accomplish some purpose, then it should happen now. Or at least within a year or two. If it doesn’t happen quickly, perhaps it really wasn’t God’s will.
I am certainly guilty of this thinking. I dream of writing in a way that changes hearts for God. I dream of articles and books, of ministry that is a part of the story of God’s kingdom.
When I get yet another rejection, I wonder if perhaps I was mistaken. Perhaps God does not want to use my writing after all.
I forget.
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I forget about Joseph who spent thirteen years in slavery before becoming second to Pharaoh. I forget that it took Moses forty years to get from the burning bush to Canaan. (Yes, I know he didn’t actually make it to Canaan, but that’s another story for another essay.) I forget that David waited over twenty years from when Samuel anointed him as king before he actually became king over all of Israel.
Like many of you, I forget that part of fulfilling God’s purpose means delay. It takes time to become what God created us to be.
Would Joseph or Moses or David have been the leaders they were without the waiting? Would they have been able to live out God’s story and lead His people without the process that shaped them into those very leaders?
No.
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And neither can we do anything within God’s story without allowing Him the time to change our hearts into the beauty He intended.
Whether it takes thirteen years or forty, we must accept where we are now, we must be faithful and obedient now, trusting that waiting is not bad, that delay is not ugly.
Growing into our role in God’s story takes time, so rather than chafing as though it were a setback, let Him use that time to make you into who He created you to be.
It will be beautiful, I promise.

Art credit: World Time by rizeli53; Ornate Clock by Kevin Tuck; Just In Time by Adrian van Leen; Clock Tower by Miriam Wickett

When You Are Desperate to Understand

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There is much that I don’t understand about this life we live.
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I don’t understand why good prayers often go unanswered. Prayers that even an indifferent parent would grant.
I don’t understand why young mothers die horrible deaths or why four year old little girls suffer abuse.
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I don’t understand why God often seems so distant, especially in our darkest moments.
I simply don’t understand.
Yet this thing I know to be true, even if I don’t understand why:
Sometimes God asks us to choose between understanding and Him.
This is the story of Job. Horrific things happened; God was silent.
Job’s friends offered their limited understanding; God offered the fullness of Himself.
And that’s the thing about understanding, you see. When we demand it, we usually don’t get it and in the demanding we lose the grace that God offers to us.
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If you choose God, however, you gain what you need most of all.
We will all receive understanding someday, whether on this or that side of death, but we need God now. Always.
If you have to choose, choose God.
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That was Job’s choice. He admitted his incomprehension and bowed before the God he had seen. And he was satisfied, ending his life full of days.
When we choose God, we receive the gift of His presence and that will satisfy us more than any understanding ever could.
We need God desperately. More than we need anything else.
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If you choose God, you will eventually gain understanding. If you demand understanding, you may lose the presence of God and yet never receive the understanding you gave up everything to gain.
If you have to choose, choose God. It is this grace that will get you through the hard thing you do not understand.
This grace that is the presence of God Himself.

Art credit: Photo of space by NASA

When You Have Trouble

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God promised that this life would be hard.
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It is part of what draws us together as humans, this trouble that comes to us all.
Whether the trouble is harming you directly or whether you are hurting while you watch one you love suffer, trouble is promised to us all.
Trouble is promised, yet Christ asked us to take up our cross if we want to come with Him, implying that we have a choice.
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If trouble is not our cross, if we are guaranteed trouble no matter what, then what does it mean to take up our cross?
What does it mean to share in the sufferings of Christ, as Paul encourages us to do several times in his writings, and how can that bring us joy? This is, after all, trouble we’re talking about, not fun and relaxation.
As I read through the Bible, God seems to tell us that we have a choice. That when trouble arrives, as it invariably will, we have a choice of how to respond.
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If we look to Jesus as showing us how to live life as we were created to live, we can see Him having to make the same choice and showing us which choice to make.
After the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Jesus is telling the disciples that He will have to die in order to be honored and glorified.
Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? “Father, save me from this hour”? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!
Do you see His choice?
His heart is troubled as He looks ahead a few days to His crucifixion and He sees His choice clearly.
It is the same choice you have.
Will you run away from your trouble, trying your best to escape it?
Or.
Will you make the incredibly hard choice to accept your trouble, asking God to glorify His name in it?
Will you try to escape your cross or will you take it up?
Now, I certainly don’t mean that it is wrong to pray that God will take your trouble away. Jesus asked that of God in the garden when He asked for this cup to be taken away from Him.
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I do believe, though, that the greater portion of peace and joy can be ours if we ask for God to be glorified in whatever we are facing.
This is what it means to be partners with Christ by sharing in His sufferings. This is what brings beauty and meaning to our own suffering. Suffering that will happen regardless of how we choose to respond.
It is hard to wrap our minds around this idea that suffering can be redemptive, bringing hope and healing to the world. Our world reacts so strongly against any kind of discomfort at all. Yet the entire life of Jesus shows us how grace and suffering can fit together.
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This language that combines suffering and joy is all over Scripture. Jesus endured the cross for the sake of joy, Peter tells us to rejoice as we share Christ’s suffering.
Trouble comes to us all. The astounding piece of this is that God chooses to use us, if we will allow Him, for the greater good, for the healing of all around us.
So for you who don’t know how you will pay your bills next month, for you who lost a child, for you who can’t imagine an evening without a fight, for you whose heart just broke in two, for you who are walking through the crippling loneliness, depression, physical pain, doubt,
ask God to help you make the choice that will bring the most peace and joy, the choice that will bring healing to those around you.
Ask God to glorify His name through your trouble.
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In this, you will be like Jesus. And God will grant you what you ask.

Art credit: Gethsemane by Carl Bloch

God’s Law

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My youngest is in that cute-right-now-but-not-so-cute-in-3-years sort of stage where she will turn and make sure she has my attention just before she does something wrong. She wants to be sure I know she is breaking the rules.
Testing the Law
There is something about breaking the rules that makes all of us more conscious of who is around us. As grownups, we probably want to be sure that no one is watching rather than making sure that the rule-enforcer is paying attention; regardless, we want to know who can see us.
When I make rules for our kids, I am really just describing to them how life works.
Don’t touch that stove because fire is hot and will burn you.
Don’t hit people because then no one will want to play with you.
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I’m sure my girls often feel as though I am just trying to ruin everything they want to do, but the truth is that I understand better than they do how life works best and I want to teach them how to navigate life in a way that will make them content.
Ever wonder why God gave the Ten Commandments? Why He gave over six hundred laws in the Old Testament or why more than one thousand in the New?
Is it because He loves rules? Is it because He enjoys watching His children stay restrained and unable to enjoy their lives?
If God did indeed create this world and everything in it, then this has consequences for every realm of human life. It’s not just about being moral, it’s about metaphysics. It’s about the nature of things.
In simpler terms, God knows better than anyone else how this life works.
If God knows how life works best, it would be cruel to withhold that information from those He loves.
Thus, He gave us His laws.
Rembrandt Moses with the Ten Commandments
Not as a way to restrain us, rather as a way to help us navigate life in a way that will help us to be most content, that will bring us the most peace and joy, that will make us most like Him.
Asking us to obey, then, becomes not a way to keep us far away from Him, but a way to bring us close. A way to prove His love for us by making us fit for His presence.
The next time you are chafing under His rules, remember who created this life and thus knows it best. Trust in His love, obey Him, and reap the benefits.
The next time you hesitate to bring your faith into the public realm, remembering that Christ’s rule has public ramifications may be the most generous and loving service you can offer to your neighbors.
A life of consistent obedience leads to ever-increasing joy.
Put it to the test and you’ll see.

Art Credit: Moses and the Ten Commandments by Rembrandt

Prayer

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Prayer.
This one word means so many different things.
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Asking. Adoration. Doubt. Despair. Confidence. Confusion.
We pray with expectation; we pray with hopelessness.
We pray in altruism; we pray in selfishness.
We pray boldly stepping up to the throne; we pray pessimistic, not expecting a favorable answer.
Prayer.
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Regardless of how you view it, aside from what you expect from it, no matter how you approach it, the Bible is clear.
We must pray.
From seek and you will find to the story of the widow who bothered the judge enough that he finally gave her justice, we are told to take everything to God in prayer. Everything.
Whatever else prayer is, if we are praying without ceasing, the words we offer to God permeate everything we do, everything we are.
Whatever else prayer does, if we continually give our hearts to God, we end up also offering our selves to others.
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If we offer our prayers to God while we offer ourselves to others, the power of God acts as a wireless network, acting for others to give rescue, healing, comfort, light.
As we offer our prayers to God, we become less ourselves and more a piece of a whole. A whole that covers the whole earth, bringing God’s love and kingdom to all.
We are woven into the fabric of God’s power and love, becoming a part of bringing His kingdom to earth, a part of His restoring of creation.
It (prayer) moves from God to others through us, because we have ceased to be self-centered units, but are woven into the great fabric of praying souls, the “mystical body” through which the work of Christ on earth goes on being done. ~ Evelyn Underhill (Christian philosopher and writer, early 1900’s)
All because of prayer.

Art credit: Gethsemane painting by Carl Bloch

There Are Times

I took a short break from blogging after experiencing some very difficult times related to my writing, and I’m glad to be back in my writing space. As I searched for the way to be obedient in what happened, I discovered that I don’t believe God has released me from writing here in this space, so I published a couple of essays from my archives while I prayed and thought and wrote. Here is what I wrote in the aftermath of my troubles. I pray that it will give a small bit of help to you.
 To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

 

There are times when I feel desperate for God.
Times when my path forward seems dark
as the hour before dawn.
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Times when the darkness seems to creep into my soul and
times when it wants to burst out of my heart and
threaten to hurt those around me.
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I always know in a cerebral sense that my very being depends on God, but
there are times when I know it in a deep, carnal way.
These are the times I see clearly into my own heart and
tremble with fear for the rage I see there.
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These are the times I am asked to forgive, to
turn the other cheek in a real and painful way.
These are the times I find I must return something
to God that is precious to me and find that my deepest self
wants to turn away from Him instead.
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It is in these times that I fall on my face and
beg Him to surround me with Himself.
It is in these times that I lift up my eyes and
plead for Him to heal me from the inside.
It is in these times that I know with a gut-wrenching certainty that
I am, indeed, desperate for God
in all times.
I need Thee, oh, I need Thee;
Every hour I need Thee.
Oh, bless me now my Savior,
I come to Thee.

Love Through Trees

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I couldn’t live where there were no trees – something vital in me would starve. ~ Anne of Green Gables
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I love coming across new evidence of God’s love for us.
I have always loved trees, have always felt much like Anne did about living without them, but the most I’d really thought about them in terms of their relation to God is what an amazing job He did in creating them.
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I recently listened to an interview with a couple of artists on Mars Hill Audio Journal.  It was only a minute or two of the entire segment, but they mentioned that after the human face and figure, trees are the main focal point for artists. Whenever there is a tree in a painting, it automatically draws the eye to it.
Why is that true?  One of their hypotheses was that it has something to do with our deep subconscious knowing that we need trees to survive, our knowing that we depend upon trees for life.  I wonder, though, if it is even deeper than that.
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My mind is drawn to the tree that God chose as our point of obedience.  We chose foolishly and we disobeyed.
My mind is also drawn to the tree that God chose as our point of redemption.  He chose beautifully and we were saved.
God has chosen trees for great purposes.  Did He have those purposes in mind as He created trees?  I wonder.
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Trees are often used in God’s Word to show strength and constancy.  One of my favorites is the Psalm that says that a man who delights in and meditates on God’s law is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in season and whose leaves never wither.
I wonder.  And I imagine.
I can imagine that God knew that He would create Man to love images, to hunger after metaphors to help explain the unexplainable.
I can imagine that same God, before He ever spoke light into being, planning out His world to contain specific metaphors of meaning, just because He loves us.
I can imagine Him planning His trees to look a certain way, planning to use them in a particular manner, so that we would see them and draw meaning from them and be satisfied, just because He loves us.
Perhaps that is a stretch.  Perhaps it didn’t really happen that way.  But it seems like something that would be just like our God: to carefully plan out His creation in the way that would give His children the most joy.
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Wouldn’t that be just like Him?

Art credit: last photograph by Kirk Sewell (R K Sewell Photography)

edited from the archives

His is a Terrible Love

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There is darkness in all of us.

The Road

It is a part of being human to feel the weightiness of the absence of God.
And there is an absence of God in this world.  The Bible we profess speaks of it.
The prophets and psalms all speak of Him who is not there when He is most needed.  The author of Hebrews strips all of our pretense away when he speaks of Noah, of Abraham, of Gideon and David and the rest who “all died without having received what was promised.”
It is the anguish of glimpsing the briefest glow of the light of presence without being allowed to bask in the sun.
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It is a terrible love, this love of God for us.  It is a love that means His absence as often as it means His presence.  It is a love that Jesus speaks of when He utters in His darkest moment the piercing cry of Where are you, God?
You who are in heaven for us, why are you not down here in hell with us?

Light of presence

It is a terrible love that speaks of carrying our own cross, that utters the truth that all ye labor and are heavy laden.
It is a terrible love that wounds, or allows the wounds, before the healing can come.
It is a terrible love that weeps at the death of a friend, of Lazarus.  They are tears that speak of the absence of God.  Of the part of God in the very body of Jesus who would not save the life of His own friend.
This is, after all, the Gospel.  It is terrible before it is beautiful.  It is darkness before it is light.
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We all labor and are heavy laden.  We work so very hard to pretend that it is not so, but even when we are appalled at the darkness, we cannot help but listen to Jesus because we see in Him not only the darkness of being without God but the glorious light of what it looks like to be with God.
It is out of the absence of God that He becomes most present.  It is out of the whirlwind, out of the storm that God first speaks to Job, answering Him not with answers but with Himself.
It is out of darkness that we first begin to perceive the light.
Paul says that “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise.  God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.  God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are”, and he points to “the apparent emptiness of the world where God belongs and to how the emptiness starts to echo like an empty shell after a while until you can hear in it the still, small voice of the sea, hear strength in weakness, victory in defeat, presence in absence.” ~ Frederick Buechner
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The cross itself is a symbol of defeat before it is a symbol of victory and it, too, speaks of the absence of God.
When the absence is all that we see, when we are tempted to see in it a well of doubt that could lead us into atheism or at least into becoming agnostic, there is yet something else to see as well.
It was out of the darkness and absence that God first spoke.  “In the beginning…the earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep.”
Darkness is upon our faces as well, a void that sinks deep into our hearts.  And perhaps it is necessary for the reality of this darkness to fold itself around us for us to be able to glimpse the reality of the word that God spoke into the darkness, “God said let there be light, and there was light.”
And there was light
It is a terrible love that is offered to us, and perhaps we must face the truth of the terribleness before we are capable of accepting the love.

Art credits: Three Crosses sketch by Rembrandt; Supernova photo by NASA

edited from the archives

An Unexpected Pause

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Made Sacred must go on hiatus.

I hope you will wait for me.

I understand if you will not.