Monday, September 19, 2016

When God Seems Silent

While waiting in a doctor's office this week, I overheard the receptionist talking with a patient near her. Although I missed the first part of the conversation, the receptionist related how she'd just come off this fast and was praying specifically for someone to step in (not sure what position) from 2:00-5:00 in the afternoons. She told the patient that she started off with no answer, but would keep asking until she got what she needed. Basically stating that she would pray until God gave her what she wanted. And sure enough, God delivered. A woman had taken the position and was able to cover the time. The client nodded and offered praise, "Isn't it great to be children of the King?"
The receptionist responded, "God is so good."

Now, I don't want to diminish their faith or the statements they solidified at the end, but as I sat in the hard metal chair, rubbing a headache away and waiting to get further blood-work done, I wondered if they would have said the same things if God hadn't "delivered."  If the person hadn't stepped in to help out? If the struggle continued on as it had before? If God's answer had been not now... wait? If life didn't turn rose-colored like we expected; if we didn't get a slice of heaven here; if we had to wait, would it be okay then? Would they be saying "God is so good"? 

When people proclaim God's goodness, it's often after an affirmation of their desired outcome. Since God gave me what I wanted; therefore, he is good. Or even, God gave me what I thought I needed, so he is good.

But is God's goodness contingent on our finite ability to discern what's best? We grasp a limited view--fractured at best--of the big picture God paints. If we stood two inches away from a Monet painting and stared at it, we'd hardly grasp what we were seeing. I love Impressionism paintings, but they must be appreciated from afar. If I glare at one brush stroke of black and fail to see all the other strokes around it, I've lost sight of the purpose of the painting. 

Image result for Monet paintings

Still, I get the dilemma: when children face repeated abuse and the system isn't protecting them and God seems distant and apathetic, I want to scream, "We're desperate here! We really do need you! Wouldn't it be good for you to step in and save them, Lord? Why do you seem to do nothing?" We're all praying. We're pleading. And the struggle burns on.

When family members wrestle through chemotherapy and fight against that nasty "c" word and nothing seems to help, I want to scream, "Is this your plan? How does this seem good? Why don't you just end the suffering?" We pray. We plead. And the struggle continues. 

A friend's marriage unravels, and despite years of counseling and prayer and effort, the spouse still walks away, abandoning them and their children. The accident leads to crippling and reduced function. The child remains a selfish prodigal, with no intentions of returning home. The sexual molester goes on unchecked. The liar and cheat swindles another person.

Our Normal Rockwell dream has turned into Edvard Munch's The Scream.

No, this life isn't what we thought it would be. Sometimes God says "no." Sometimes we don't even hear the "no." Sometimes we wonder, is he listening? Does He truly care--in every situation, all the time? Is He doing anything? What? Where? What is the point?

After Malachi finished his prophesy in the Old Testament, it was about 400 years before people heard from John the Baptist, "Make way; He's finally here!" Where was God? Had he abandoned them--decided it wasn't worth it? 

Second Peter chapter 3 expounds on the struggle of waiting for God's judgment day on evil. We see through one angle, but the Lord comprehends and orchestrates it all. Read the whole chapter for further understanding, but these verses speak of waiting and spanning out our perspective.

 But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come... ( 2 Peter 3:8-10 emphasis mine)

Those of you who know me grasp this idea: I hate waiting. I'm a get-er-done, check-off-the-list kinda girl. And although I've grown in my patience an itty bit, I'm sorry, but sometimes God just seems so slow. I tap my toe and scowl at my clock and demand, "When?"

Randy Alcorn says in The Goodness of God that evil will eventually meet eternal wrath. "The wheels of justice may seem to turn slowly, but they turn surely. Scripture assures us that justice is coming; 'God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil' (Ecc. 12:14). Justice is certain, even when it isn't immediate.

"Since sin demands death (see Romans 6:23), if people are to live, justice must wait. God delays justice not to make our lives miserable, but to make our lives possible" (61-62).

What if God said "Enough already!" before Randy Alcorn's conversion? Before Paul's transformation on the road? Before yours? 

Habakkuk 2:3 encourages God's people to wait without despair, "For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay."

So, what do we do in the waiting time? If an estimated two-thirds of the Psalms are psalms of lament (Yancey 82) then surely we should approach God with honesty and brokenness and all the tumultuous feelings we are experiencing. In The Question That Never Goes Away, Philip Yancey addresses the angst in Habakkuk, the prophet's plea with God.

2How long, Lord, must I call for help,
but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, “Violence!”
but you do not save?
3Why do you make me look at injustice?
Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?
Destruction and violence are before me;
there is strife, and conflict abounds.
4Therefore the law is paralyzed,
and justice never prevails.
The wicked hem in the righteous,
so that justice is perverted. (ESV Habakkuk 1)

We keep talking to God. The temptation--at least for me--is to cross my arms, grunt and say, "What's the use?" Our pride tells us, there's no point in asking, for He will do as He pleases...or seemingly ignore as He chooses. But, Scripture encourages the opposite. We come to the throne room and ask, "How long, Lord?"

We keep fighting injustice. Just because the world appears to have lost every sensible grip on morality doesn't mean we as Christ-followers toss the banner. (I Thes. 4:3-8) We keep serving with compassion, saying no to lustful selfishness, and choose the honorable way.

We keep remembering that our Savior suffered. Though we fully grasp the purpose of it now, Jesus' disciples didn't understand why the Father allowed Jesus to endure such extreme pain and suffering. God feels our pain, and His felt much more. Even when we wonder what He's up to, we need to remind ourselves that we aren't alone. 

"A highway shall be there, and a road, And it shall be called the Highway of Holiness.
The unclean shall not pass over it...But the redeemed shall walk there, 
And the ransomed of the Lord shall return., And come to Zion with singing,
With everlasting joy on their heads. They shall obtain joy and gladness, 
And sorrow and sighing shall flee away."  Isaiah 35:8-10

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