Our God is our refuge and strength,
an ever present help in trouble.
Some times you come to understand something radical, something new. Sometimes you have a gradual incline in understanding that results in a mountain peak of truth. Today I think I both broke through to truth and reached a summit by which I could see new truths, all at once.
It began when I started to teach on the nature of evil at the beginning of this semester. It started out as an intellectual and theological joy, this pursuit of deeper understanding, but it planted a root in me that today came to fruition. As we started our study on the Fall of humanity in Adam and Eve, we took some time to discuss what evil is, and where it comes from. Men with oceans of intellect stronger than mine can’t answer this question fully, but what we did arrive at is this: God is not just the definition of good, He IS good. Therefore evil is what God is not, evil is the absence of God, evil is the vacuum of rejection of God.
I took away a profound realization from this study. And by realization I mean something that I always knew, but that actually realized, or became real, in my everyday life and thinking. That realization was this: we deserve evil. We deserve what we get. We chose it. We were presented with God, with goodness itself, and we chose evil. We created the Fall, and therefore we should not be surprised by suffering, because when we rejected God we chose a world without Him and, therefore, without His goodness.
What we should be surprised by is God’s goodness in the midst of a broken world that rejected Him. By His presence.
And that is what today became real in my heart. That God is present in the very absence of Himself. God is here, present, in the world that rejected Him, in the world that we chose to fill with evil which is the absence of all God’s goodness.
He is still there. In Death, there is Life.
God’s goodness through suffering is not simply what we can find to benefit from in a worldly sense in our pain. For example, it is not just when someone is saved as a result of our pain; it is not just when someone is helped by our suffering that God’s goodness even in pain is apparent. Those things are bonus and incredibly wonderful, but we should not rely on them for seeing God’s goodness in our suffering.
God’s goodness through suffering is that He is present in it. That He is there at all. That He is there by our side when we hurt.
I don’t have to see the worldly result of His goodness through suffering. I delight in it and rejoice when I see it. But it is enough for me that He chooses, undeserved by me, to be there when I am experiencing the consequences of my sin and of the sinful world I helped to create. When the pain that no one’s sin but my own (directly through action or indirectly through my participation in Adam’s Fall) brought on myself comes, I am in awe of the God that chooses to re-enter this broken world through His Son and stand by me.
But it doesn’t stop there. God isn’t just present in our pain, he participated in them. In Christ’s wounds I see how much he loved me, that to be with me he participated in the suffering that my sin helped to bring into the world.
My suffering is valid. The sin of the world is supposed to hurt. But like my Dad did when I was a child, holding and kissing me after a spanking, loving me even as he punished me; so is God my strength even to bear the punishments for our sin. Even the punishments of pain, and death, and anguish. And he is so good that someday he will take away even those.
It is enough. How can it not be enough, when I don’t deserve any of it? What more could I want than God’s presence? It is enough.
I’m not attempting to tread fine theological roads here, I am just trying to express a truth in terms that we can understand and in a way that we can hang onto when we’re hurting.
My sister-in-law Ellen is working on a project promoting mental health awareness and understanding, and I want to share her vision with you in the hopes that you’ll participate and spread the word. I think the project has the potential to be a very powerful display demonstrating to viewers the humanity and needs of those struggling with mental health conditions.
A community art project addressing mental health in our world
Open Up! is an opportunity for individuals to share anonymous messages about mental health that will collectively make up a powerful art display.
We want mental health advocates to participate – mental health professionals, individuals diagnosed with a mental health condition or anyone who has supported a family member or friend with a mental health condition.
Using a greeting card or note card, design a short message that answers one of these questions.
- What personal triumph have you experienced in the area of mental health?
- What don’t most people know about mental health?
- What is depression? What is bipolar disorder not? What is obsessive compulsive disorder? What is post-traumatic stress disordernot? Etc.
- What is your greatest wish for our world when it comes to mental health?
Be personal and creative in your own special way – the hope is that your self-expression that will touch those who see it (remember your note should be anonymous).
Our vision is for this project to raise awareness in the community – building connection, understanding and compassion in the area of mental health.
Put your note in the mail and send it to:
c/o Ellen Hale
4004 Pleasant Glen Dr.
Louisville, KY 40299
Contributions should be submitted by March 12. If you would like to be notified when Open Up! goes on display, please include your e-mail address.
I’ve received some requests to hear more about my healing process. I tend to give encouragement for today and hope for the future, but I don’t tend to dig into the gritty details of my desperate healing process.
The truth is that it really hurts to think about. I don’t like to relive it.
But when I do dig back into my past I can also see the glory of God’s hand working through my life. In response to requests I’ve received, I’ve been sifting through some papers and projects I worked on during my first year of counseling to see what I actually wrote about myself during that time. My “eureka” moments were often painfully simple but packed a deep punch. And so I’ve decided to share a few of them with you – the glory moments, not the desperate moments. I hope they speak some truth to you!
The following is an excerpt from a paper that I wrote on suffering in my life. I worked through a specific event. One part of the assignment was to respond to the question “Who is God–relevant to this struggle?” And here is what I wrote:
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way… (Ps 42:1-2)
I know this. I have turned to this psalm for comfort many times. But I had misunderstood Psalm 46 to mean that if God was my refuge, I would not be fearing–God is a refuge, therefore, I do not fear. Then what was I missing? Why was I fearing? How does one gain this type of refuge? And, most puzzling to me, if we don’t fear, what is there to seek refuge from?
My answer (and the short answer usually automatically given by teachers and leaders) was that I should not fear because after I died, I would be with God. There would be a final deliverance from my suffering. That is our refuge, the hope of eventual safety with God, and God would strengthen me to cling to that promise.
But what about the hurt now? And why was that answer not as comforting to me as it seemed it should be?
This particular week, however, through discussions with others, class readings, Bible reading, praying, and the work of the Spirit in my heart, I began to understand this in a new and more profound way. I began to understand that God is not just a refuge in some abstract sense. I learned to see the rest of the Psalm–a very present help in trouble. He is right there to comfort me now. God is present and near, even in all my sin and wretchedness. ”While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Rom 5:8(.”
If that is so, then he will give me comfort and peace while I am still in my sin. I can be a refugee and still hurt, because honestly, there will always be something to fear. David is a great example of this truth. Powlison points out (in Suffering and the Sovereignty of God) that in the Psalms, “David does not mentally rehearse the fact that God is in control in order to quietly press on with unflinching composure. Instead, trust pleads candidly and believingly with God: ‘This is big trouble. You must help me. I need you. You are my only hope.’” In Why Does it Have to Hurt?, Dan McCartney states that in Psalm 27 David is “actually struggling to remain confident.”
I had been seeking something impossible–either an absence of fearful circumstances or the willpower to not fear in the face of fearful circumstances. Consequently, for so long, I assumed that I could only achieve peace once I gave up fear. That fear was keeping me from God. But I began to learn that fear should be the very thing that brings us to God. His comfort and forgiveness gave me the third option that broke me free from being trapped in distress.
In the end, I learned that the first step was not destroying the fear. I learned that the first step was admitting to God that it hurt, that it was painful, that I was scared, and then letting him bring me peace in that fear.
I love winter. I love the snow and the cold and the bundling up. This morning I woke up with my husband still snuggling in bed with me, home for a snow day. I opened the curtains to see the snow falling and covering my pretty iced pond and fell back asleep with the snowflakes drifting past the windows and my husbands arms around me.
I was miserable.
Sometimes it happens at Christmastime, sometimes it doesn’t come on until the last cold days of March or April, but it seems that every year I get hit with a round of “Seasonal Affective Disorder” – or, translation, “I Hate the Cold and the Dark and Can’t Stand it Anymore and it’s Getting Me Down.”
The difference is that usually it comes when it’s just dark and brown and muddy, when winter has lost its luster and shine. But right now, I just want the snow to go away. I’d take a week of rain over the continued freezing cold. I want the mornings and evenings to be brighter and I want going to the gym to not be a battle against the frigid air. I want out from under the blankets on my couch and I want to have Diary Queen and Rita’s.
I want to complain.
That’s it, really. There’s nothing wrong. I get to see the sunshine all day in my sunny apartment. I have plenty of social activities going on. The snow is lovely. But I’m just grouchy.
The worst part is that I start to crawl back into my old hole. I start to get nervous about coats and cars; about washing my hands and about putting on socks; I get nervous about working in the kitchen or pulling that book off the shelf. And if you’d ask me, I wouldn’t know why anymore; I’d just avoid it. I start heading back down all the same paths but this time it’s more ridiculous; I don’t even remember why these things upset me anymore. They’re just there, and it’s just easy. And I get confused in a rut that’s both familiar and unfamiliar at the same time.
It’s hard to tell myself that it’s just the winter. That it’s just lack of warmth and sunshine and ease of going outside. That it’s just the quietness of everyone holed up in their homes and the busyness of my husband’s work life. That it’s just post-holiday loneliness. That it will go away.
But it will. It’s circumstantial. It’s really not related to me at all. It’s my reaction; but it has nothing to do with anything that can really cause me fear or hurt. To fight back against such nebulous tentacles is hard, but I do it, every day. Sometimes better than others, but I keep doing it. It’s these times that our guard has to be up even higher, even as exposures go down and I’m huddled in my chilly house all day. Sometimes I feel I have to fight harder when it seems there’s nothing to fight against… except myself.
There was a time I found this beautiful enough to photograph. The textures – the icy tips of the grass, the varying glasses on the water’s surface, the distorted reflections.
It didn’t change. I did. I will find it again.
It wasn’t easy to begin writing a blog on beauty in the everyday. To be honest, it was really a form of therapy for me to actually see the black, contaminated world I was so afraid of as a place that still held beauty and joy. To me, everything outside of my safe zones was a mass of weeds – choking, ugly, over-running weeds.
At first, I just wrote as a way to relieve my mind of some pressures, to look at my circumstances from a slightly different angle. But one day, I was weary of the grinding cycle of staying strong for work, of getting home and getting clean and comfortable and fed, of waiting out the evening in the safest place possible, of going to sleep and then starting all over again. It was so sad. Even the safe places were just ways for me to stave off harm and fear, not places of peace.
And so I resolved that day to try to look at some of the things in my day as being actually good and enjoyable, not just protective or ritual. It was a completely new attitude for me. The result was this blog post, a simple one that is certainly not a popular one, but which marked a turning point for me. The idea that even in the darkest of circumstances, there could be something – anything – that gave me joy opened up a whole new world for me. Suddenly in a field of black, choking thorns there was a daisy, bright, white, yellow, happy, and serving no purpose except to make me happy.
It gave me something to search for, to push for, to live for. It helped me to put my theological belief that God made a good world into practice. It also helped me to have a very realistic (some might say cynical) view of the world. God made it good. We fell into sin, and we broke it. So there are daisies. And there are weeds. We shouldn’t focus on one and ignore the others.
And so my search for joy in the details is not just a blind optimism of a bright eyed young girl. It’s more than a yellow and blue blog with a fluffy title. It’s a piece of the epic battle between Satan’s forces and God’s kingdom. It’s a tool in the redemption of this broken world. It’s a weapon in the war against sin, fear, despair, discouragement, and brokenness. It’s a step in the journey to be Christlike. It’s a lesson in ministering to the brokenhearted. It’s a way for me to have hope when it’s so easy for me to have none.
What could be a more perfect example of disguised beauty than than the cross? The cross was horrible. It was death, and pain, and mutilation, and seemingly the end. But there was beauty – there was forgiveness, self-sacrifice, and love even before Christ died, in his acts towards those around him. There was life, redemption, encouragement, and strength in his resurrection.
So let us seek for hope. Let’s not see joy as something for the blithe and worry-free. Let’s see it as something to fight for.
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