For All Who Wonder

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Sometimes I wonder.
Christ Carrying the Cross
I wonder if it is worth it to obey Christ?  He does, after all, say crazy, ridiculous things about giving yourself away and having trouble in this world and carrying a cross into the world’s darkness as He did in order to follow Him for love of Him and love of the world.
Starry Sky
I wonder if anyone is actually listening when I pray?  I have, after all, asked for many beautiful things that never came to pass, things that any sane person would want to occur, and have hurled words into the void of space, words that seemed to return home empty.
busy street
I wonder if God really does exist when much of the time the world around me and sometimes even my own heart says that He does not.
What do we do when we wonder?
Wondering
Take the next step.  Say the next prayer.  Obey the next time.  The only way to find out whether all of this is true is to try it, live it, do it.
Ask and you will be given.  Seek and you will find.  Draw near to Him and see if He will draw near to you.  Ask for Him and see if He will come to you in ways that you alone can comprehend.  Look for Him and see if you can see a light at the heart of this darkness.  This is the only way to go on.
Our Light
Speak your doubts out loud when your heart hears only echoing silence.  “God? Do You know me even though I don’t know You?” is still a kind of prayer.
We draw near to him by following him even on clumsy and reluctant feet.  ~ Frederick Buechner
Is this a turning away from faith?  Not at all.  It is only moments and days, and sometimes weeks and months, that come to all of us who believe.  This wondering is common to us all.
Adeste fidelis.  That is the only answer I know for people who want to find out whether or not this is true.  Come all ye faithful, and all ye who would like to be faithful if only you could, all ye who walk in darkness and hunger for light.  Have faith enough, hope enough, despair enough, foolishness enough at least to draw near to see for yourselves.  ~ Frederick Buechner

Art credits: Christ Carrying the Cross by Joachim Beuckelaer; Planetary Nebula by NASA; Crowds by J. Solis

edited from the archives

House of Cards

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.

 

Why are we so defensive on God’s behalf?
Why do we become so frightened of hard questions?
Do we think the Bible asks us to defend God’s character, or is it deeper than that?
House of Cards
Not all of the time, but all of us do harbor a bit of the recurring agnostic inside. A tiny voice that says, what if it isn’t true?
What will become of me if it isn’t true?
This flicker of fear lingers so insidiously that when someone asks a questions to which we don’t know the answer, when someone expresses a doubt we ourselves have thought, we tend to lash out, to push away, to shame.
Remove one piece
If this piece of what I believe turns out not to be true, perhaps none of it is true.
Is God so fragile?
Is the God who flung the stars into space, who has the power to overcome sin and death so uncertain that one piece of the puzzle can bring the entire edifice crashing down?
Is our God a house of cards?
just one piece
what happens to the whole
If your God is a house of cards, you need a new God.
You need a God who is big enough to cradle all our questions, deep enough to hold all our doubts.
You need the God who shows His power through the universe we see, who reveals Himself through His Son in Scripture, who speaks to us through His Spirit within us.
When you know this God, you can let go of your need to defend. You can rest easy with, even welcome the doubts and questions of others.
will it crash down
When you are safe and secure in the LORD Almighty, you become a place for others to find rest. You become a safe place where people can sit with their questions and doubts without feeling shamed or guilty.
What if we as a Church became a place where people could question and yet trust, where people could doubt and yet worship, where people could wonder and yet love.
What if we welcomed the not-so-sure rather than driving them away?
What if we could be comfortable with the hard spaces, acknowledging that not everything has an answer we can know right now?
It starts with you and with me. Can we let go of our fear and trust that our faith is not a house of cards?
this house of cards
Imagine a church where people could worship even when they don’t have it all figured out.
Imagine a church where people could love and serve even in the times when they aren’t quite sure about it all.
Imagine a church full of people like…
Well, full of people like us.

Why?

Why?
It is a cry that explodes from a pain-filled heart. It is a cry that whimpers from a lonely soul.
It is a cry that propels its way out of all who hurt in one way or another.
Why did my twenty-six year old sister-in-law have to die in such a horrible way?
Kristina
Why did my Papa labor in pain to leave this earth on the very same day that that I labored in pain to bear my daughter into it?
Papa
Why do my friends suffer illness and miscarriage and even death while we still are young?
Stephanie
Why?
And yet I have to wonder: what would we get if we got an answer to our questions of why?
Would we gain satisfaction? Would it really change anything if God sat down in front of us and explained everything to our face?
We would still have to face the empty chairs. We would still be faced with the memories of pain.
Job asked why. He didn’t just ask, he demanded the chance to ask God why. He shouted for the opportunity to plead his case before God.
And God came.
He came not with reasons but with glory.
God didn’t reveal His ultimate plan, He revealed Himself.
God didn’t show the reasons for what happened, He showed His face.
And Job?
Even covered with sores and ashes, he looks oddly like a man who has asked for a crust and been given the whole loaf. ~ Frederick Buechner
In answer to all of our questions, may God be gracious enough to give us Himself.

Certainty and Faith

There sometimes comes into the heart of all of us a desire to be sure.  A sudden longing for certainty about that which we profess to believe.
Light
We wish to be able to say I believe with no niggling of doubt that causes us to draw back from the ringing shout we had wanted to pronounce.
Light
Doubt is that persistent shadow that startles us now and again just when we’d thought we’d left it behind for good.  It is that small voice that sometimes lingers and sometimes only whispers and is gone.
Light
We want it to disappear for always.  We long to be certain, to be troubled no longer by questions.
Yet I am beginning to discover that certainty is not faith.  Certainty is based on evidence, on proof, on concrete and unassailable fact.  Faith, however, is relationship.  It is risk and it is vulnerability.
Offering
Vulnerability
Certainty is about control, about predicting behavior.  Faith is a gift from me to you, a gift of myself placed into your hands.
Risk
I have read about certainty and faith in the context of a marriage.  Certainty in marriage is secretly reading all of your spouse’s emails and texts and journals.  Certainty in marriage is hiring a detective to follow your spouse to be sure he is being faithful.  Certainty in marriage is tapping the phones to be sure of the trustworthiness of your spouse.
Faith in marriage is a gift.  It is an offering of myself, of my vulnerability and my heart, to you as one whom I believe to be faithful.
When I trust you, I take a little piece of myself…and put it into your hands.  And then I’m vulnerable.  Then you respond, and I find out whether you are trustworthy…I give you the gift of my trust, and you give me the gift of your faithfulness. ~ John Ortberg in Faith and Doubt
Perhaps, after all, certainty is not what we truly long for.
If by it (the intellect) we could prove there is a God, it would be of small avail indeed.  We must see Him and know Him. ~ George MacDonald in The Curate’s Awakening
Perhaps, after all, certainty is not such a prize to be pursued.  Perhaps, after all, God is more pleased with the vulnerable gift of faith than He is by the chasing after an elusive proof of His existence.
Faith
May He be pleased by my trust.

Art Credit: Photographs of light by Kirk Sewell

Stomach Doubt

Sometimes it is a hiding in the two a.m. darkness.

Hiding

Sometimes it is a wrestling with something only partly known.

Wrestling

Sometimes it is a stumbling around in the dusk that is almost nightfall.

Stumbling

It is a doubt about God that is common to all who are awake and alive.  Whether you believe in God and at times doubt His existence or you disbelieve in God and at times doubt His absence, it is an experience of humanity.
Frederick Buechner speaks of head doubt and stomach doubt.
Head doubt can happen at any time and about anything at all.  I can doubt the existence of God, the true fabric of reality, even the evidence of my own senses if the mood is right.  When these doubts descend, I usually keep living my life as I have been living, continue to act as though I still believe, and in the end it eventually comes out right.
I have never experienced stomach doubt.  Perhaps only those who whose faith is the strongest, the saints among us, have experienced this kind of doubt.
I believe that Jesus did.  When He cried out “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?”  I believe that He was engulfed in stomach doubt.  He had, as Buechner said, “looked into the abyss itself and found there a darkness that spiritually, viscerally, totally engulfed Him.”

 

I don’t know that I am strong enough to withstand that kind of doubt.

 

It seems hard to pray that someday I might be.

When It Is Hard to Believe

I am wrestling with the difficulty of believing God.
God's Words
I suppose it would be more accurate and honest to admit that really I am wrestling with why I don’t believe God much of the time.
This struggle to believe manifests itself in different ways at various times and seasons in my life, but currently I am noticing it in two particular ways.
Trusting Him with my girls
One struggle I have is in believing that God truly loves my children.
I know.
When I say it like that, it seems ludicrous.  We are talking, after all, about the same God who gave up His only Son so that my children could be with Him forever.
Trusting His plans for them
Yet I worry about my babies.  I worry about their safety, about whether they will survive to adulthood (although sometimes I think that it might be me who causes them not to survive), about whether they will suffer some horrible trauma along the way.  I worry about whether they will learn to love God most of all and whether they will love people.  I worry about my children…which means that I am not believing God.
God has promised that He loves my children even more than I do.  He has promised that He will do what is best for them and that He will give them what they need.  But I still worry.  Why?
Part of the trouble is that I don’t trust in what God’s best is.  I know that sometimes His best is painful and even when I can trust in that for myself, I often want to protect them.  It is truly ridiculous that I would want to protect my children from God, but there it is.  Deep down inside, I sometimes believe that I know better than God, that my goals for my children are more important than God’s goals for them.
I don’t know why I wrestle with this.  When I state it so plainly, even I can see the foolishness of it.  It should be easy to believe.  Yet it is not.
Holy Spirit
The other struggle I currently have is in believing that God’s Spirit will truly guide me through life.  I have trouble believing that God is interested in all areas of life.  Can I really trust the Holy Spirit to guide me in my parenting?  Can I really trust the Holy Spirit to show me the best way to train, disciple, even educate my children?  Does God’s Spirit care about a business, a household, a career?
Method Books
I don’t believe it and so I want to rely on books, on methods, on other people to tell me how to raise and teach my babies.  Yet if Jesus is before all things, if all things hold together in Him, and if Jesus sent His Holy Spirit to us to guide us and teach us Jesus’ truth, then He truly is interested in showing me how best to live my life.  All aspects of it.
Why is that so difficult to believe, so hard to rely on?  It seems like it should be simple.  God has never broken a promise; He has proved over and over that His way and His love is best, that His Spirit is faithful to show us truth.  I am foolish to doubt the faithfulness of such a God.
The Israelites Doubting
Yet I do.  I am like the Israelites who refused to believe that God would provide enough manna on the sixth day to provide for the seventh or that He would provide enough harvest bounty in the sixth year to provide for the seventh year of Jubilee.  I doubt and I worry.  Yet even through the doubt and worry I still keep plodding forward, step by painful step, begging for God to help me trust Him, desperate for more of His Spirit.
I trust that He will.  “I believe; help my unbelief!”

Art Credit: The Golden Calf by Esteban March

Our Jealous God

The Bible is the Word of God.  It is God speaking to us, revealing Himself to us so that we can know Him, know how much He loves us and so that we can learn how to love Him in return.
Word of God
This Bible of ours is a beautiful book of love.  And there are parts of the Bible that are downright disturbing, parts that don’t adhere to our black and white notions of God.  We like to gloss over these, to skim over them so that we don’t have to think about them, but they just won’t go away.  There are parts of God’s Word that don’t fit the image we have of God.  They don’t fit the sort of God we want God to be.  Even God the Son does and says some absurd and strange things.  Like the cursing of the fig tree.  Who, for the love of God, would curse a tree because it is not bearing fruit in the winter?  How could that action possibly have been done for the love of God?
Another of these disturbing pieces is God as a jealous God.  We tend to think of jealousy as weak, as petty, as fear.  We think of it as wishing that we were and had what we are not and do not.  But God is in everything and by Him everything lives and moves and has its being.  How can both of these be true?
Unfocused
We don’t always get a resolution of the images of God that don’t fit, these pieces of God we can’t make sense of.  This one, though, has become clearer lately through reading Amazing Grace by Kathleen Norris.  She speaks of the jealousy of God as mother love, as a lion or tiger protecting her young with passion and fierceness.  This jealousy of God is the kind of jealousy that protects her vulnerable children from all that would hurt them, from all that would steal their joy.
Ten Commandments
It makes sense, then, that one of the times this image of God is given to us is in the first of the Ten Commandments.  These commandments were meant to show us how much we need God, to teach us how life works and the way we will be most happy.  So if God is jealous to keep false gods away from us, it is the jealousy that wants to protect us from all that would harm our souls.
God’s jealousy allows us to trust Him.
Who, after all, would trust a God, a parent, spouse, or lover, who said to us, “I really love you, but I don’t care at all what you do or who you become.”?  ~  Kathleen Norris
It is resolutions like this, resolutions that show that what seems disturbing is all somehow out of love and holiness, resolutions that help us trust for the unknown, disquieting pieces.  They help us trust that God is holy and is love and is working to make all of us and all of this world into what it was created to be.
Perfect World
Resolutions like this help us trust that God is a jealous God, “who loves us enough to care when we stray.  And who has given us commandments to help us find the way home.”  ~ Kathleen Norris

Art Credit: Moses Smashing the Tablet of the Law by Rembrandt

When You Wonder

Sometimes I wonder.
Christ Carrying the Cross
I wonder if it is worth it to obey Christ?  He does, after all, say crazy, ridiculous things about giving yourself away and having trouble in this world and carrying a cross into the world’s darkness as He did in order to follow Him for love of Him and love of the world.

 

Starry Sky
I wonder if anyone is actually listening when I pray?  I have, after all, asked for many beautiful things that never came to pass, things that any sane person would want to occur, and have hurled words into the void of space, words that seemed to return home empty.

 

busy street
I wonder if God really does exist when much of the time the world around me and sometimes even my own heart says that He does not.

 

What do we do when we wonder?
Wondering
Take the next step.  Say the next prayer.  Obey the next time.  The only way to find out whether all of this is true is to try it, live it, do it.
Ask and you will be given.  Seek and you will find.  Draw near to Him and see if He will draw near to you.  Ask for Him and see if He will come to you in ways that you alone can comprehend.  Look for Him and see if you can see a light at the heart of this darkness.  This is the only way to go on.
Our Light
Speak your doubts out loud when your heart hears only echoing silence.  “Do You know me even though I don’t know You?” is still a kind of prayer.
We draw near to him by following him even on clumsy and reluctant feet.  ~ Frederick Buechner
Is this a turning away from faith?  Not at all.  It is only moments and days, and sometimes weeks and months, that come to all of us who believe.  This wondering is common to us all.
Adeste fidelis.  That is the only answer I know for people who want to find out whether or not this is true.  Come all ye faithful, and all ye who would like to be faithful if only you could, all ye who walk in darkness and hunger for light.  Have faith enough, hope enough, despair enough, foolishness enough at least to draw near to see for yourselves.  ~ Frederick Buechner

Art credits: Christ Carrying the Cross by Joachim Beuckelaer; Planetary Nebula by NASA; Crowds by J. Solis

Two Years Ago

Two years ago this week, our beautiful Kristina left this earth.  As I take some time to remember her, I’ll dust off this essay that I wrote just after her death and share it with you again.
giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
He had to do the unthinkable.  He had to bury his wife.
Mike and Kristina Wedding

 

I sat at the feet of this younger brother of mine as he said goodbye to his wife of four years, the mother of his then one-year-old son.
Family Photo
I watched him struggle through despair, depression, doubt as he faces a long road of raising his son alone.
I watched my nephew cry and cling to his daddy, looking for his mommy and feeling afraid that his daddy will leave him too.
Through this long struggle, through one piece of bad news after another, through the next days and months and years of memories, where is God?
When all pleas seem to go unanswered, when even let the end be peaceful is ignored, what are we to think?
What do I really believe about God in all of this?
The Word of Life
God’s Words tell us clearly that there is pain, there is heartbreak in this world.  We should not be surprised.
More often than not, God chooses not to save His people, chooses not to spare them sorrow and hardship.  Hebrews 11 gives a long list of those who were killed or lost ones they loved, Jesus’ closest friends died martyr’s deaths, even His earthly father died without His intervention.
I have pondered long and hard this question of what I believe about God in the midst of “it wasn’t supposed to be like this”.  Here is my conclusion.
Ocean Waves
I know my God, His character, well enough to trust Him when I don’t understand, when I cannot see in the darkness.  I know, from what He has said about Himself and from what I have seen, that He is always good and always love.  I know that, if we only knew the reasons, we would adore Him for what He does.
God promises that we will have trouble in this world.  He also promises that if we are grateful to Him He will give us peace.  He doesn’t promise that He will take the pain away but that we will be at peace, that we will have joy.
Isn’t that a much bigger promise?
No matter what, God is still God.
Will I only praise and thank Him when He does what I like?  Will I only accept from Him what I deem to be good?
When I deeply think through the idea of declaring my circumstance to be bad, it seems incredibly arrogant.
How can I think that I know better than God what is good?  How am I more capable of naming something to be good than the One who is good?
Will I trust that God has a beautiful, amazing plan only when I can see the beauty of it?  Either God is God, and capable of having plans and reasons that I cannot comprehend, or He isn’t God, and I am silly for blaming a myth. There is not really any in-between place for the things with which I do not agree.
…if I go to Jesus, he’s not under my control either.  He lets things happen that I don’t understand. He doesn’t do things according to my plan, or in a way that makes sense to me.  But if Jesus is God, then he’s got to be great enough to have some reasons to let you go through things you can’t understand.  His power is unbounded, but so are his wisdom and love…He can love somebody and still let bad things happen to them, because he is God–because he knows better than they do.  If you have a God great enough and powerful enough to be mad at because he doesn’t stop your suffering, you also have a God who’s great enough and powerful enough to have reasons that you can’t understand.
King’s Cross by Timothy Keller
God is God, and since he is God, he is worthy of my worship and my service.  I will find rest nowhere else but in his will, and that will is necessarily infinitely, immeasurable, unspeakable beyond my largest notions of what he is up to. ~ Elisabeth Elliot
Aslan
can trust God, trust in His nature.
Of course he’s not safe.  Who said anything about being safe?  But he’s good.  He’s the king. ~ Mr. Beaver as told to C.S. Lewis in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

 

Fiery Furnace
When faced with the fiery furnace, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego told King Nebuchadnezzar that
If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and He will rescue us from your hand, O king.  But even if He does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up. ~ Daniel 3
When Job lost all of his children and all that he owned and was himself in great physical pain, he declared
Though he slay me, yet will I hope in Him. ~ Job 13.15
No matter what, I will praise God and offer Him my gratitude, my sacrifice of praise.
God tells us over and over in His word that He has a beautiful plan for humanity and creation as a whole.
And that he has a beautiful plan for each of our lives.
Sometimes I doubt this promise, this truth.
And then I look at Jesus, at His cross.
Bearing the Cross
I’ve been clinging to Romans 8.32 through all of this:
He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?
If God ever had to prove Himself, prove His love for us, prove that He is taking care of us, He has more than proved it all through the cross.
I’ve also been thinking a lot about Hezekiah.  In II Kings 20, he pleaded with God to “change his story”, to give him more life when God had told him (through Isaiah) that he was going to die.  God did change His mind that time, gave him fifteen more years of life.  And in that fifteen extra years, Hezekiah’s son Manasseh was born.  This son that wouldn’t have been born if Hezekiah hadn’t asked God to change the ending of his story ended up as king and “lead (Israel) astray, so that they did more evil than the nations the LORD had destroyed before the Israelites”. ~ II Kings 21.9
Our desired story ending versus God’s desired story ending.
Perhaps, just perhaps, God really does know best.  Perhaps He does know which story will bring about a beautiful, redeemed, transfigured people.
Light Shines Through
When through the deep waters I call you to go,
The rivers of woe shall not overflow;
For I will be with you, your troubles to bless,
And sanctify to you your deepest distress.
The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose,
I will not, I will not desert to its foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.
~ How Firm a Foundation, att. John Keith, 1787 (modernized)
credit for images: Lion photo, painting by Simeon SolomonCross photo

To You Who Doubt

IMG_2529
To you who doubt, I say
Bravo.
We are often closer to God in our doubts than in our certainties…it is all right to be like the small child who constantly asks: Why? Why? Why? ~Madeleine L’Engle
And have mercy on those who doubt…Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy,to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.
IMG_5621
IMG_5628To you who question God’s nature or even very His existence, I say
You are courageous.
If we begin with certainties, we will end in doubt. But if we begin with doubts and bear them patiently, we may end in certainty. ~ Francis Bacon
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?”
IMG_6411
To you who voice concerns over why the ugly exists and why life is unfair, I say
Thank you for speaking aloud the fears we all harbor deep in our hearts.
Love, which trusts God so implicitly despite the cloud, that it is brave enough to ask questions, no matter how fearful. ~L’Engle
And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!
You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.
IMG_2898
To you who doubt the things you have been taught, who question traditional religious beliefs, I say
Search on.
To come to a doubt, and to a debatement of any religious duty, is the voice of God in our conscience: Would you know the truth? Doubt, and then you will inquire. ~ John Donne
To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him? says the Holy One.
IMG_4929
When people shrink back in horror from your questions, when fellow Christ-followers load shame onto your heart, remind them of the faithfulness of doubt.
This (the faithfulness of doubt) is often assumed by the judgmental to be faithlessness, but it is not; it is a prerequisite for a living faith. ~ L’Engle
Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
IMG_2622
To you who continue to seek through the fear of what the answers will be, I say
Take heart. God is and He will be found.
If my religion is true, it will stand up to all my questioning; there is no need to fear. But if it is not true, if it is man imposing strictures on God…, then I want to be open to God, not to what man says about God. ~ L’Engle
And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest. Yet you are holy
road to emmaus zund
Semiradsky_Christ_Martha_Maria
To you who you are brave enough to doubt, brave enough to ask questions, brave enough to keep on searching for God Himself rather than what man says about God, I say
You deserve our deep respect for your courage.
You deserve our cheers and our thanks for refusing to settle for a shallow faith that only is manifested in appearances.
To you who doubt, I say
Well done, hero.
As a deer pants for flowing streams,
so pants my soul for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.
When shall I come and appear before God?
My tears have been my food
day and night,
while they say to me all the day long,
“Where is your God?”
These things I remember,
as I pour out my soul:
how I would go with the throng
and lead them in procession to the house of God
with glad shouts and songs of praise,
a multitude keeping festival.
Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God.

art credit: Road to Emmaus by Zund; Christ with Martha and Maria by Siemiradzki

This essay is, in part, for my brothers who kept searching for God at different times, in very different ways, and under very different circumstances, yet both found and were found by Him.