When you are struggling through life – maybe it’s a particular relationship, a marriage ending, loss of a loved one, a wayward child, a job situation or a lack of a job situation, all of life’s struggles – there are so many platitudes that get thrown your way. God loves you and everything happens for a reason. Just keep swimming, just keep swimming. Whatevers.
We still struggle. If you’re anything like me, and I’m willing to bet you are, you know these things. There is no real question that you KNOW you KNOW you KNOW. But you still struggle. I still have these gnawing, growing feelings of unease, at least, pain and heartache, fear and dread, despair at worst. It is not that I am not clinging to God’s promises and his grace and omniscience and all that good stuff. You can be clinging to the life guard and still be screaming your head off, literally or just internally, that you are going to die. It may seem ridiculous to anyone not currently drowning. But we also know not all stories end well.
We know things. It isn’t that we don’t know them. It’s that we struggle to make sense of them and to feel stabilized by them.
We know that “all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” (Rom. 8:28 KJV) We know that God is at work, that “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Phil. 1:6 ESV) We know that he has our best in mind, that when others mean to harm us, He means it for our good. (Gen. 50:20 ESV)
We know things. But it doesn’t negate the very real turmoil in our souls, working out the details, trying to find light in the dark, scraping at the many holes in the plot, attempting to write a better script that answers all our questions when we have them and not a moment too soon.
What I remind myself, though, is that we also forget things. We forget that God promises grace for today, right now, and more for tomorrow. We forget about the story where God sent manna to feed his people, and when they tried to collect more than they needed, it spoiled and was wasted. We try to get ahead of ourselves and forget that God truly gives more than we need, but we aren’t meant to find security in our stockpiles – our 5-year-plans, our bank accounts, our investments, financial or otherwise.
We forget that God mourns with us. We forget that he is relenting from disaster. (from Jonah) That he doesn’t say “I told you so” when things go horribly wrong because of the natural consequences of sin and selfish ambitions. We forget that it is his will and his way for those who trust and fear him to inherit the land and that the enemies will be cast out in the end. But it may not be now. It may not be soon. It may not be in our lifetime. And that is the worst. We hate it. We want vengeance and vindication. We want God to do the epic pat on the back for us, for all the world to see, for all those plotting against us, harboring ill will, to see that God is on our side. Oh, how we want that. Vindication.
I was reminded recently about vindication as a theme for the Psalms. Psalm 43 is a prayer of mine these days. For me and my husband. Vindicate us! Defend us! Send us your light and truth! Show people what is really going on. THEN we can really worship you and praise you with full hearts.
It isn’t that we don’t worship. It’s hard at times. It’s hard to say “I trust you, God” when it feels like God is looking the other way. It feels like that stereotypical scene where a wife is looking for her husband to do something and he’s busy reading the paper. There’s a great scene in the animated movie The Incredibles like that. The kids are all running and fighting and screaming. Elastigirl, for all her powers, can’t get her kids to mind her and she screams at her husband, “Intervene!” So, Mr. Incredible says, oh you want me to intervene? OKAY! I’m intervening!”
How often have I felt like that? Ok, God, it’s time to engage! Don’t just stand there! I need you to intervene! Of course, I would never say that out loud. Ok, well, I’m learning to be more honest with God. Because truth is that I have felt exactly that way. God! Why are you just standing there?! It feels like you aren’t doing anything. I mean, I know you are working behind the scenes. I know you are doing something. I know this because you said you are. I know this because you told me that you will always be continuing your work for the good of your people and for your kingdom to your glory. But I also know your ways are mysterious. I know you promised a life of tribulation. I know you did NOT promise a life of ease and comfort. I know you promised all I need and I’ve clouded those needs with wants.
Then we get into the prayers of just show me a sign. Throw me a bone here. I need to see something. Just something I can sink my teeth into. Just to get me over this little bump in the road. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe. Oh, Jesus. Help my unbelief.
I don’t think believing means we stop praying for vindication. I know it doesn’t. Jesus reminds us of the persistent widow in Luke 18. Daily she goes and begs for justice. Daily she gets rejected. Jesus told us to continue to strive. Continue to pray and persist. Beat down the very will of our enemies by our resolve and commitment.
But I also think that believing means remembering the big picture. Remembering that we are but part of a puzzle, a very large, epic puzzle. God is moving all the pieces into their place. Aslan is on the move.
But it won’t look like it more often than not. And I’ll let you in on a little secret, a secret that the prophets of old knew far too well. Vindication from God? It kiiiiiiinda sucks. I mean it feels a little bit anti-climactic really. We want it to be an explosive and loud and clangy and in your face and fist in the air kind of moment. We hardly ever really get that in real life though, do we? We don’t get that scene in the movie where everything gets turned on its head and just when you thought it was going to be the worst, it turns out to be the awesomest and people clap and fist bump and a huge sigh of relief permeates the room.
But, God’s vindication – for now, for you, for me – is usually this: Peace. Just still, quiet peace. At first glance, that feels a wee bit lame. But it’s this… it deepens… it becomes Zero Fear. Zero Dread. Zero Condemnation. It gives us the steadfast love of God instead of his wrath. It makes clear that plans to harm you, words directed like poisonous arrows at you, will fail. That’s good. Your heart, your soul, your mind will be clear as a bell and settled wholly on God’s goodness, resting fully – a true, lasting, life-giving rest – on Jesus and his work on your behalf.
Isaiah 54 shows us this. That God does intervene. He is currently intervening. And it won’t look like what we want it to. But it doesn’t mean it will be any less epic. Because epic is a change of heart. Epic is when you are one way and then you become another way. Epic is when we admit we don’t have what it takes to believe, but we’ll believe any way. Epic is when God says I love you. Always have and always will. Epic is when God does, in his way, pat us on the back and says “Blessed.” None of this should happen. None of this would be true if it was left up to us to make it happen. Epic is that it does happen. It happens to us. It happens to me. Epic is that I was adopted as an heir, brought into the family of Jesus himself, and sit at his table, fully belonging there and welcome.
This is an intervention. It’s when you come into a room and God is sitting there and says, let’s talk. It’s God saying, you’ve been going your own way and now it’s time to go mine. But here’s the catch. You just have to believe. That’s the hardest part for you. I’ve already done the hardest parts. You do the work of believing. And even that, I am giving you. “This is heritage of the servants of the Lord.” “For the mountains may depart, and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed.”
If that isn’t epic, I don’t know what is.