Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Ivory Cubicle | Faithful God

If I call, will you come?

The words rang out across the room where a couple hundred college students gathered for worship. Most were standing somberly and singing matter-of-factly, if a bit wearily, not unlike an early morning Baptist service before the church coffee kicked in. A few of them, the usuals, had their hands in the air. I closed my eyes.

When I cry, do you hear?

That question had been one I'd gone back to time and time again. Not in any official, articulated sense. To actually put the question into words would beg the obvious answer, “well, of course.” But sometimes the heart has a question that a question can't actually express.

I believe every tear is caught up by a faithful God.

The words got progressively more difficult. I opened my eyes and scanned the rows. There was the friend who hadn't had a decent night's sleep in weeks from stress and long hours at work. Another was drowning in assignments that had been put off due to physical injury. Several, I knew, had just been crushed by bad grades on yesterday's test. There were guys who had been dumped by their girlfriends, girls who had struggled with eating disorders, some whose families were in disarray. Many had tried to drown their sorrows in various ways – a bottle, a knife, a shotgun. None had worked.

“How is faith to endure, O God, when you allow all this scraping and tearing on us?” the old Reformed philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff said on the death of his son. I’m inclined to ask the same question.

“You have allowed rivers of blood to flow, mountains of suffering to pile up, sobs to become humanity's song--all without lifting a finger that we could see,” he continued. “You have allowed bonds of love beyond number to be painfully snapped. If you have not abandoned us, explain yourself.”

It's interesting when someone wrestles with God. Jacob did it. He ended up blessed – and his hip was dislocated. I've become more and more convinced that nobody walks away from wrestling with God unscathed. But when God eventually prevails, the wrestler comes away blessed.

So I will cry until you come, cast my cares into your arms.

One of the girls was trying to hold back the tears. It’s dangerous to give a bunch of students, with stresses, cares, and anxieties, permission to cry. They might just take you up on it.

The words struck me, though. The image of a loving Father embracing a weeping child stands starkly opposed to another image, one of a Father turning His face away while His son cries out, “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Can we truly be made one with God if we don't share in his suffering? “You will indeed drink from my cup,” Christ told the sons of thunder. I think that applies for us as well. “Through the prism of my tears,” Wolterstorff says, “I have seen a suffering God.”

Faithful God, you hold my life secure, all my days are yours.

I'm reminded of the words of Gerard Manley Hopkins after a shipwreck left dozens of souls drowned off the coast of England. “Past all,” Hopkins wrote, “grasp God, throned behind Death with a sovereignty that heeds but hides, bodes but abides.”

Yes, past all, grasp the Alpha and the Omega, the God by whom all things consist and in whom we live, move, and have our being, He who brings rain on the just and the unjust alike, and who sent His son on earth to atone for the sins of a fallen humanity. Past all, grasp a mysterious Providence who works all things to His purpose, who speaks at times with thunder and lightning, and at times with a still small voice.

“He has put eternity into man’s heart,” says the Preacher, “yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.”

We’re not told that we’ll know everything, at least, not this side of the grave. Isn’t that what faith is for? Isn’t faith the courage to move forward despite our questioning and wrestling? Isn’t it the ability to say, “God, I don’t know what you’re doing, but I will trust you anyways”?

Posted by Nick Barden
Picture: Gusvave Dore, Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane (1889).
Song lyrics from "Faithful God" by Gateway Worship.

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