Sunday, February 5, 2023

Crucible of Suffering and Our Sovereign God

Last week was the sort of hard week that feels like a month but also leaves one, come Saturday, asking, “Now what did I do this week? Why was it so unfruitful?”

We began with life-threatening health emergencies for not one but two family members. The human has an initial diagnosis and was given one medication to address the problem until the specialist appointment this week. We do not know the detailed prognosis or path forward yet, but I do not exaggerate in calling it life-threatening.

Moose Tracks, our dachshund-terrier mix, woke last Sunday with severe abdominal pain, to the point that when I tried to touch his middle, gently, to suss out the location of the pain, he yelped and ran away from me. He was diagnosed with pancreatitis caused by genetics, an infection of unknown cause, and “dietary indiscretions.” The emergency animal hospital kept him for 36 hours, then sent him home with 3 medications. That’s in addition to the inhaler he started using at the beginning of the year for the respiratory inflammation that caused his last emergency vet appointment in October. He’s been busy.

In addition, an essay into which I poured my heart, soul, mind, and strength was rejected for the fourteenth time. It seemed poor stewardship of time and energy to make further attempts.

Then the ice storm that blasted much of the United States hit here too, shutting everything down from Monday night through Thursday. Schools remained closed Friday too. We are grateful our power stayed on, and we didn’t suffer burst pipes or lose any tree limbs.

In the midst of that, the usual medical appointments, phone calls, and paperwork continued, and the caregiving and cooking and mounds of laundry that don’t stop for drama.

At the same time, the Lord gave me eyes to see His providences in the midst of all the hard and anxiety-inducing events. Both health emergencies happened just before the ice storm would have made accessing appropriate, timely care and medication difficult or perhaps even impossible. Moose Tracks improved enough for us to collect him before the roads became too bad, so we had him with us during the storm instead of being forced to leave him in hospital till Friday.

The human patient was able to have a doctor’s appointment, imaging test, and obtain a prescription before the ice closed most doctor’s offices for the rest of the week. That dear one, because of ice days, was surrounded by family and not at home alone, in the event of a worse emergency. The weather cancellations occurred at the perfect time to make rest an easier choice for that person, too. She would have had to wait an additional 3 weeks to see the needed specialist, but he had a cancellation for the first appointment Monday (possibly when you are reading this).

We were safe, warm, housed, clothed adequately, and well-fed. Those are providences at all times, but easier to recognize in treacherous weather when their lack can quickly become life or death.

The only emergency veterinarian open on Sunday morning in our time of need was an excellent one, as it turns out, but we wouldn’t have known how far they would exceed expectations if we had had 4 or 5 choices. They had a vacancy to care for our Moose Tracks, which was a difficulty in his October emergency.

All of that does not un-hard the hard things, but it does remind me Someone is with us in them.The Bearer of Sorrows bears us up in the dark valleys. He never leaves us alone. He suffers our suffering with us and dwells in us.

Our hope and security lie in the two-sided truth that the LORD our God is strong, and the LORD our God is loving. If He were only loving but without power, He could not protect us from harm or bring about His purposes in our lives. If He were only strong but not loving, He would be terrible rather than wonderful, and there would be no safety anywhere. As it is, He is utterly strong, and utterly loving, so that nothing can touch us without His permission, and if He permits it, we can know it is ultimately for our good. As Joni Eareckson Tada has frequently said, “God permits what He hates to accomplish what He loves.”

Hannah Whitall Smith wrote of this in her classic book, The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life:

Second causes [secondary causes, God being the First Cause of all things in her reasoning] must all be under the control of our Father, and not one of them can touch us except with His knowledge and by His permission. It may be the sin of man that originates the action, and therefore the thing itself cannot be said to be the will of God; but by the time it reaches us it has become God’s will for us, and must be accepted as directly from His hands. No man or company of men, no power in earth or heaven, can touch that soul which is abiding in Christ, without first passing through His encircling presence, and receiving the seal of His permission. If God be for us, it matters not who may be against us; nothing can disturb or harm us, except He shall see that it is best for us, and shall stand aside [not really, I take this as a figure of speech] to let it pass.

An earthly parent’s care for his helpless child is a feeble illustration of this. If the child is in its father’s arms, nothing can touch it without that father’s permission unless he is too weak to prevent it. And even if this should be the case, he suffers the harm first in his own person before he allows it to reach his child. If an earthly parent would thus care for his little helpless one, how much more will our Heavenly Father, whose love is infinitely greater, and whose strength and wisdom can never be baffled, care for us! I am afraid there are some, even of God’s own children, who scarcely think that He is equal to themselves in tenderness, and love, and thoughtful care; and who, in their secret thoughts, charge Him with a neglect and indifference of which they would feel themselves incapable. The truth really is that His care is infinitely superior to any possibilities of human care; and that He, who counts the very hairs of our heads, and suffers not a sparrow to fall without him, takes not of the minutest matters that can affect the lives of His children, and regulates them all according to His own perfect will, let their origin be what they may (103-104).

If you did not have such a loving earthly father, I am so very sorry. That is a terribly deep wound. I hope you can at least imagine such a father, or that you can call to mind a friend’s or even a fictional father as Smith describes in the above. May your Heavenly Father reparent you and heal your broken and bruised heart. He is the Father you wish you had had, the Father your heart longs for. He sings His love over you and carved Your name into His hands. Nothing and no one will keep His love from you.

In addition to filtering every circumstance of our lives through His powerful hands of love, He displays His beauties in new and magnificent ways when the night seems darkest. We don’t really know He is all we need until He seems to be all we have and we are desperate for Him. He is much stronger in us than we think He is, and sometimes we have to fall on our faces in weakness to realize that fully.

The late counselor and professor David Powlison describes it this way:

When life goes easy, Christian faith either seems irrelevant or it just adds a nice frosting of spirituality and community to round out the personal resume. But when life goes very hard (and life always ends up very hard), the true God sparkles. But making the connection isn’t always easy. How on earth does ‘You are with me’ (Psalm 23:4) connect with ‘Right now I am walking through a dark valley. I feel vulnerable. Shadows of death threaten me. I am besieged with evils.’ How does ‘You are with me’ get traction, so that I am changed and become unafraid?

Making the connection and going forward is never an easy process. But God does meet us in our need. He enters our plight in person. He shares in our troubles. Suffering is the crucible in which Christ shows himself. Suffering is the crucible where faith awakens. Suffering is the crucible where love becomes wise. We learn faith and love when life goes wrong” (February 4, Take Heart: Daily Devotions to Deepen Your Faith, by David Powlison).

Whatever you face at the gateway of this week, dear crumble,  I pray you find grace to rest in the sovereign love of God, to trust Him in the dark, and to see His fingerprints on your circumstances even when it’s hard. May He show Himself to you in sparkling new ways and make His presence strong, near, and bright in your darkness. May the presence of the Savior in your suffering sustain and refine you. May you learn to know God better in your current trials than you possibly could in times of ease and  plenty.

Courage, dear hearts.




1 comment:

  1. so sorry about your brutal week, Christina!

    it must have been challenging to write such a focused and reflective essay in the midst of all the events you described, and i hope it was therapeutic as well as difficult. i'm not sure about Powlinson's claim that "when life goes easy, Christian faith either seems irrelevant or it just adds a nice frosting of spirituality and community...": though things can work that way, i don't know that they always do. in particular, i think that when things go very well, that can and sometimes does engender a very strong sense of gratitude towards God, which can move us away from self-centered-ness and towards God centered-ness (a God-centeredness that may persist, even if our good fortune turns to bad fortune). One might think that in His mercy, God providentially uses both good times and bad times to draw us to Him, and perhaps makes different calls on whether to allow/enable some impending bad (or good) thing to happen to someone, depending on whether it would move that someone towards Him, or away from Him.

    sorry too about the rejections of your essay, which to my mind is eminently publishable. my daughter who's a doctor has expressed incomprehension and alarm about the way the media contributes to a narrative according to which covid problems are behind us, despite the very worrisome data coming out from re-infection studies.

    i'm praying for you all...



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