"I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world." — John 16:33
If God could write a sticky note reminder to me right now it would read:
Child, be careful how you define my goodness. Or this will continue to be a stumbling block to you. Trust Me.
– Your Eternal Father
I sometimes have my own ideas of how God’s goodness should play out. My equation goes something like this:
God is good + this is what “good” looks like = the good I expect in life playing out as I reason it should.
Then I round a corner and disappointment punches me in the face. Without even realizing it I put my hope not in the person of Jesus Christ, but the expectations I have for God’s goodness. Then, when my face is numb with the blow of disappointment, I feel baffled and crushed. As I stumble back, the reflex of my pain can cause me to use my last bit of strength to retreat inward for self-protection, instead of driving me to claw stubbornly to the throne room collapsing at my Savior's feet.
Retreating inward for self-protection instead of turning to God in gutsy vulnerability is a form of self-reliance. When we seek to be our own shelter we often use denial, skepticism (which we may call ‘realism' and certainly would not call unbelief), self-pity or self-justification. In this place there is no food or water source except for these self-destructive defenses which can only harden our heart with bitterness, disillusionment, doubt, or fear.
When I find myself cowering from God with a hardened heart, there is no other way but to begin with crying out in honesty. “Lord, I wish it hadn’t happened this way. At this moment, and maybe forever I cannot begin to fathom why. But restore my soul God, restore my mind, will and emotions to you.”
There can never be forward motion with God without utter truthfulness. Your feelings may not be rational or theologically sound. The reality of them may be fighting with your rehearsed Sunday school answers in your head. But only complete transparency will do. My feelings are the wayward, treasonous, foolish part of me that I must force to stand before Truth so they can be conquered. Always this jump from self-reliance to God-reliance takes trust that God is who He says He is, even when our human reasoning cannot grasp Him.
I cannot know whether the trial is from the hand of God’s sovereignty or the result of a sinful and bent world, but I can rest in Romans 5:3. It explains that we have access by faith to God’s grace that enables us to stand and at the same time rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only this, but we can rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that they lead to endurance, then character, then hope. And hope such as this will never disappoint us because God’s love has been poured into our hearts. You see in the midst of it all God employs our suffering to bring fortitude to our weak hearts and to grow in us a type of character that knows to hope in God’s glory and in an eternity of glory.
I have prayed things like, “God I want only your will.” “God I want my life to count.” “Lord, help my life to be about knowing you and making you known, only.” Because I don’t want to ultimately hope in motherhood, or comfort, or health, or man’s acclaim, or even my beloved husband. I want to hope in Glory. I want to hope in Christ. And this is the hope that will never put us to shame or disappoint. It is the only real hope.
The problem is I forget. I forget my First Love. I forget His love is better than life. I forget this world is not my home. And it can feel like the end when he wields his double edge sword of truth to cut away what’s false in me. But through the pain is also God’s grace, accessed by our faith, enabling us to stand and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
"For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known." — 1 Corinthians 13:12