Pain That Lasts
Chronic emotional distress is different than anything else we face as humans. Whether it is caused by the loss of a job, the breakup of a marriage, the onset of a disease, or the death of a dream, it presents unique emotional and spiritual challenges to the follower of Jesus.
A lot of popular songs in contemporary Christian music talk about these challenges. Some of the most important are “God Is God,” “King of the World,” and “Thy Will.” These songs are so important, and so meaningful, because they treat their material with an honesty and a vulnerability that is not always found in religious music. In so doing, they arouse empathy in those who hear, which, in turn, allows the artists to take us with them as they embark upon the long journey to understanding and healing.
Faith Seeking Understanding
Christianity is meaningless without faith. It is the very heart of our relationship with God. And yet, it is our faith that is most directly challenged when we endure a long period of emotional distress. The pain of whatever we are enduring is hard enough for us to deal with, but we often must also deal with feelings of confusion, disappointment, and even anger. We do not understand why it is that this awful thing is happening to us, and we want somebody (namely, God) to do something about it.
So how are we supposed to understand extended periods of difficulty? Why do they happen, and why do they affect us in the ways that they do? Sometimes, we have every right to be confused by what is happening to us. We have done exactly what God called us to do, and yet it still blew up in our face. I think that those are the hardest times for us to deal with. There are no easy answers; indeed, as we will discuss next week, the answers we do find may not be answers that we want.
Discovering our Deficiencies
Sometimes, however, the story is a little different. The challenges we face may not be our fault, but they do reveal deficiencies in our understanding of who God is and what God is about. Notice how Natalie Grant (along with her fellow songwriters) describes her own wrestling with God.
I tried to fit you in the walls inside my mind
I try to keep you safely in between the lines
I try to put you in the box that I’ve designed
I try to pull you down so we are eye to eye
Her words resonate with me because I am right there with her. It is easy to wax eloquent on issues of theological importance when those issues do not directly affect me. But when my dreams and desires collide with cold, hard reality, it gets a lot harder to see how ideas like God’s omniscience could ever bring any comfort to anyone. The truth is that sometimes I just want a God who does what I tell Him to do and who otherwise keeps His mouth closed and His hands to himself.
Fortunately, that is not the God we serve. He is a God of power, of wisdom, and—most importantly—of love. God will not be told by a mere human that He should just leave well enough alone. Why not? Because God loves the universe He has made and all the creatures that inhabit it. As much as it pains me at times to admit it, I do not have the power, the wisdom, or the love to run the universe effectively.
I do not write these words lightly. I understand—both intellectually and experientially—that there are are some things in life that just don’t seem to be fair or good. Nevertheless, I can, and I must, sing “God is God and I am not” precisely because “I can only see a part of the picture He is painting.” I am convinced that my level of spiritual maturity is directly related to my ability to acknowledge God’s place in the universe and the level of joy that I have in doing so.