A friend of mine asked me to share a bit of my journey with his Sunday School class. My journey is not unlike yours. It is filled with many blessings and a few struggles. But in recent years, my struggles have included living with chronic cardio vascular disease. It’s included open heart surgery, stents, repeated hospital stays, restricted diets and disciplined exercise. All the while, pain has often continued and made me wonder what the next year, month, week, day and moment might bring.
My friend gave me these instructions, “explain how your heart issues have had bearing on your Christian journey especially in terms of making space for God in your life.” I thank him for the challenge. It is always good to clarify what God has done and try to get some insight into what he’s doing.
Over the next 3 posts, I’d like to point to 3 areas where I believe God has created space for himself through the ongoing difficulties.
First, my hardships have made room in my theology for new encounters with God. By new encounters with God, I mean new ways of understanding Him and relating to Him as my God. This is not unlike what Job experienced. Though my hardships are nothing compared to his, the journey is much the same.
For a person of faith, it is relatively easy to begin like Job did. In the beginning of our hardships we may be able to say with great faith, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord (Job 1:21).” His suffering was real and his faith was real. When you think it’s going to be over soon, we say with confidence, “God, I trust in you. I am yours.” And we mean it with all the hope we can muster.
But when tough times persist and get even tougher, things change. Remember Job had a few friends come to him and help him? Again and again, they were questioning Job. They figured, if God was doing this to Job, he must have deserved it – at least a little. Job needed to inspect his own life for something he had done wrong. In between their arguments, Job made his own argument! He was righteous. And if he had opportunity, he could argue his case before God and he would be proven right. They had a prosperity view of things. When we do good, God does good to us. Conversely, when we do bad, God does bad to us. Therefore, if things are bad, there has to be a reason.
In the end of the story, Job was confronted by God himself. God asserts his power, his goodness and his authority to do with his creation whatever he desires. Job accedes. In the end, Job has received the reward of his suffering – a new way of knowing God. He said, “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me.’ I heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes (Job 42:1-6).”
Hear again what he says, “I heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you.” I knew about you, but now I know you. The suffering created space in Job’s life for God to break in and make himself known. I’ve had the same experience again and again. God has challenged my thinking. He has challenged my view of him, his goodness, his mission and his priorities. He has made me rethink some aspects of my theology. He has pushed me to a deeper understanding of His Word. He has cleared away some of the “Sunday School” answers and replaced them with questions. God has shown me himself in new ways. In it all, God created space for Him to be God in new ways for me. As a pastor and Christian, I had “heard” a lot about Him. But now Him, “my eye sees.”
Lest you think this is an easy process, it’s not. And it isn’t one any of us would choose. But it is a process God chooses for us.
What is your experience? Has suffering created space for God to show up and make Himself known?
Read more; Pt. 2