Farewell 2016! Hello 2017! Having experienced inconceivable loss of varying kinds, my bedraggled family is ready (in the words of my oldest daughter) “to robustly shake off any lingering dust from year 2016.” And yet, as we look forward to a new day and a new year, how can we not look back and behold that in the midst of deep pain, sorrow, devastation, and trials our God is still God?
It is true. When life is all rosy and sparkling, it’s easy to say, “We are blessed. God is good.” As a child, I somehow equated blessings and a good God to “a good life.” A + B=C. I sometimes further confused things by equating blessings to a good God to a good life: A=B=C.
For sure, life includes blessings and celebration. And when it does? Wow! We ought to celebrate. I mean REALLY celebrate with great praise and thanksgiving to God. Enjoy. This past year included welcoming a new son-in-law into our lives. Honestly, it was THE highlight of the year. We celebrated.
In his book on The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis states, “Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home.” In essence, we are not meant to live on mountaintops, at least not yet.
So what happens when the outcome of life includes pain and sorrow? How does the A + B= C equation work when “C” looks like utter “L (loss) + D (devastation)?” What do we do with suffering? Why does God allow it? How can Christians possibly call God good?
Addressing the topic of pain and suffering? Frankly, I won’t pretend to have answers to difficult questions. Using mathematical metaphors in the process? I am in dangerous territory! Of one thing I am sure: my little girl equation is flat out wrong. My little girl understanding of God was wrong. For God is absolute.
God is God. He was, He is and He ever shall be. He does not fit into any human equation. When I try to fit Him into my own formula or box Him into my three dimensional way of thinking, it is futile. God is above all.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. Is 55: 8-9
Would I really want a God I could completely understand? Sometimes I think so. And yet, isn’t this what makes God unique? He and His ways are incomprehensible. Within His incomprehensibility, we are required to live by faith.
Job thought he understood God. With brash accusations and fist pumping (fist pumping is how I imagine him), he desired an audience with God:
But I would speak to the Almighty, and I desire to argue my case with God. Job 13:3
Behold, I have prepared my case; I know that I shall be in the right. Job 13:18
Oh, that I had one to hear me! (Here is my signature! Let the Almighty answer me!) Job 31:35
Yikes, Job! Are you sure?
This reminds of the day I asked my little two-year-old daughter to pick up a toy lying in the middle of the kitchen. Stopping suddenly, she took a wide stance, placed her little fists on her hips, tossed back her dark curls, and with chin jutting out exclaimed, “Make me!” Literally, I had to spin away from her in order to suppress laughter at the humor of her response. Then came my firm response.
Well, Job receives God’s response, his audience with the Almighty:
Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said:
“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me.” Job 38:1-3
In essence, God tells Job to put on his big boy pants because he has some explaining to do. What happens? Does Job stand up and make his case?
“Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth.” Job 40:4
No! Job shuts the heck up! Why? God reveals Himself to Job. God opens a window to His own wisdom, majesty, might, power and glory. Job obtains an exclusive opportunity to behold God. When Job beholds God, he immediately recognizes and beholds what an insignificant schmuck he himself really is. His mouth shuts immediately.
It’s interesting to note that at no time does God give Job a reason for Job’s great suffering. And yes, Job suffered. This was real, unfathomable suffering: loss of all his children, loss of wealth and loss of health. Not only this, in the midst of suffering, Job’s “friends” show up to villainize him. Misery to the maximus!
Yet, Job remains clueless about the little parlay between God and Satan. Within the book of Job, God remains silent concerning the issue of suffering. Significantly, God simply reveals His own majesty.
Truth is, we are promised one thing in this world: “trouble.” “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) Rather than living on mountaintop experiences, most of us will endure significant chunks of time in wilderness conditions.
On a trip-of-a-lifetime to Israel, I beheld the actual Judean “wilderness.” The view cut me to the core. Peaks and valleys of hard, treacherous, rocky terrain undulating for as far as the eye can see. It provides a powerful word picture of a hard, harsh, heartless, hopeless, inhumane world that sometimes seems to never end. As I stood beholding the vast expanse, I wept. I wept.
Jesus knew the wilderness well. He spent significant time there.
What then is the antidote to the wilderness? Same as Job: to behold God and His glory. Something about gazing upon God, seeing Him and understanding who He is reminds us of our own “schmuck-iness.” Throughout the generations, God has had His own way of revealing His absolute truth: God is God. The message echoes and resonates back to God telling Moses: “I AM WHO I AM.” (Exodus 3:14)
When Isaiah beheld God’s glory, he cried:
“Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (Is. 6:5)
When Peter beheld Christ’s glory through a miraculous provision of fish, what happened?
[Peter] fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” (Luke 5:8)
A clear view of God and His power provides Job, Isaiah and Peter with a reality check to their own humble condition.
I adore how God announced the arrival of His Son to the lowly shepherds. At the time of Christ’s birth in Israel, shepherds were looked upon as the schmucks of all schmucks. Yet God sends His multitude of angels to such as these:
And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” Luke 2:10
The poor, lowly shepherds receive the news of the angels, they listen, go, and behold Christ the Lord for themselves. The result is trans-formative. How then do they return to their rocky fields?
“…glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.” Luke 2:20
Glorifying and praising God. In the wilderness.
Is this relevant to me? If shepherds can journey in the wilderness glorifying and praising God, then I can, too. First things first: behold Jesus.
Is that possible? Does God still reveal Himself today? Absolutely! According to Romans 1:20, God reveals Himself is through creation:
For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. (Romans 1:20)
Another predominate way God reveals Himself is through Scripture. Within His Word, we are invited to BEHOLD Him, His ways, and His truths over 1100 times! To behold: to gaze upon, to see, to look, to understand.
Heading into 2017, as hard as we try to shake off any lingering 2016 dust, chances are pretty good that we’ll find ourselves once again traveling a wilderness road. A stroke of midnight does not necessarily wipe the troubles away. Whether life, relationships, health, or wealth, losses persist.
Rather than focusing on the wilderness views this year, my goal is to more continually behold God and His glory. Remembering the angel’s words to the shepherds, I want to: fear not, behold our Good News, and to know His abiding joy.
Why? Capturing a glimpse of God leads to glorifying and praising. Even in the wilderness.
Walking on your own wilderness journey?
Please consider joining me this year as I seek to know, behold and authentically relate to God through His Word. Praying through Scripture, I’ll offer simple prayers that praise and glorify His Name. Together we’ll learn to fear not, to behold Him and to live with abiding joy.