I like to think of God’s “attractive” attributes: loving- kind- merciful- benevolent. I like the verses that say God “plans to give us a hope and a future”, not to harm us. (Jeremiah 29:11) Or “if God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31). That “God so loved the world” (John 3:16) or that he is an “everpresent help in times of trouble”, our “refuge and strength” (Psalm 46:1).
When I go to pray, I like to think of all the Biblical references to answered prayer- amazing instances of God coming through for His people- miraculous feats of power or undeserved moments of abundant blessing.
Tell me the stories of how David slayed Goliath, how Hannah gave birth to three sons and two daughters after giving up Samuel to God, how God parted the sea for the Israelites or gave them mana in the dessert. I want to read how God used Elijah to pray down fire, or how God rescued Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from the furnace. I want to read about people being healed, Lazarus being raised from the dead, water being turned into wine, a storm being stilled, and that Jesus multiplied loaves and fishes for thousands with merely a prayer of thanksgiving to His Father.
I sometimes take all these parts of the Bible to mean that if I just trust in God, my negative circumstances will get better; all the things I’m praying about will be answered (the way I want them to be), and God wants to honor my faith and obedience by blessing me as I request.
But even though I know those positive stories of victory and miracles aren’t the only ones in the Bible, sometimes I’m still surprised (dare I say, offended?) when I stumble on a story that looks very much to me like God just doesn’t care.
This is precisely what happened as I was reading through the Old Testament and bumped into the story of Ezekiel. He was a prophet to the Israelites who at this time were pretty much ignoring God and anyone who spoke for Him. It didn’t help that God mostly told Ezekiel to prophesy that there would be disaster if they didn’t repent and obey. Plus, God asked Ezekiel to do all these weird things to symbolize what He prophesied. So God has Ezekiel building a diorama of Jerusalem using a block of clay, and using little battering rams and ramps to show how God would let the enemy besiege Jerusalem. (That doesn’t get you a seat with the cool kids at lunch.) Oh and at one point God commands Ezekiel to use human feces as fuel to cook his food. Fortunately God honors Ezekiel’s request to use cow dung instead. Still, if you think your 9-5 is bad…
But here’s the kicker. And I literally cried when I read it. Ezekiel 24:16-18 says that God told Ezekiel: ” ‘with one blow I am about to take away from you the delight of your eyes. Yet do not lament or weep or shed any tears. Groan quietly; do not mourn for the dead’…so I [Ezekiel] spoke to the people in the morning and in the evening my wife died. The next morning I did as I had been commanded.”
WHAT??!! God takes Ezekiel’s wife- his delight- away as another elaborate metaphor for the stubborn Israelites. And Ezekiel isn’t supposed to grieve. Oh, and he obeys anyway.
So what the heck do I do with that??
Well, obviously I want to explain it away. Because God is a good God and a good God wouldn’t do that without an obvious reason. Right? Was it something Ezekiel did?? But clearly Ezekiel didn’t do anything wrong- he was probably one of the few Israelites actually obeying God at the time. Did God give Ezekiel abundantly more family for his trouble, like He did with Job?? Well, the Bible doesn’t mention it. Fine then…um… well surely at least his wife’s death wasn’t in vain- SURELY God knew that if poor Ezekiel’s wife could just die, then all the Israelites would get it through their thick heads what was going on, and God would spare thousands more people through her death.
BUT NO!! Not in the short run anyway. The Israelites weren’t going to change- they weren’t going to repent and listen. In fact, it seems the wife’s death was just to get the Israelites attention, so they would LISTEN to Ezekiel….so that when the prophesied disaster came upon the Israelites they would know that God is the Lord. (Ezekiel 24: 27) Well isn’t there a less dramatic way to make that point? The whole thing seems very disheartening. Like Ezekiel and his wife were just pawns…like God didn’t care.
To be honest, when I read this passage I was in the middle of feeling kind of crappy about life, and I honestly was kind of mad at God for that. Well this just put me over the edge. Ask my mother- I sent her a very bizarre Ezekiel text that day. And even as I write part of me still struggles, but I keep coming back to this idea:
God is God. He is the Great I AM. He is the creator of the world. He is HOLY. Psalm 89:11 says “The heavens are yours, and yours also the earth; you founded the world and all that is in it.” So first of all, I have to get to a place where I realize that if God is creator, if He is…well, God- then at a most basic level I have to concede that He has a right to do what He wants, even if I don’t always like it. A Holy God doesn’t really have to explain Himself.
So God is Holy-and yes that could be a stand alone reason to follow Him. But if that is the only reason to accept His sovereignty in my life then everything becomes sort of robotic- perfunctory- lifeless.
Thankfully, if I look at the whole of the Bible I’d say that God does care very much for His creation. (Replay all those verses from the beginning!) God is Love from his first interaction with Adam and Eve in the garden, to the way He shows mercy to the Israelites time and again, to his overarching plan to rescue humanity through the ultimate unthinkable sacrifice of His Son. So somehow God is both Holy creator…and good and loving. Better to us than we deserve, even. That is a God that deserves my devotion on His own merits, but chooses to SEEK me anyway…chooses to give grace to His created.
So how do I still trust when God does things that don’t seem loving? I think it starts with keeping both God’s holiness and love in mind simultaneously as I look at life. Then, I have to acknowledge that God’s thoughts are beyond my understanding. Isaiah 55:8 God says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways…” So could God do something that seems unloving in our eyes, but is part of God’s larger story of love and redemption? I believe yes. I also have to remember that God often does things for “His name’s sake”… and there is nothing wrong with that. If I expect Him to start doing things for “Carrye’s name’s sake” or “Bob’s name’s sake”- I mean- it would be silly. It would only make sense if I were God’s peer.
Second, God did not create sin. He did not cause brokenness, corruption, shame, and injustice. Those are all things that came out of the fall…precisely BECAUSE God gave man free will. The choice to follow or not. The choice to love Him or not. So yes, in a perfect world, there would be no death, no sadness, no resistance to following God. And one day, that world will exist. (Revelation 21:4) Short of a complete overhaul of the world, we will certainly experience trouble. (John 16:33) Can God use bad things to further His ultimate plan? Absolutely. Does He cause them? Is that even the right question?
Maybe this sums up what I want to say:
In the movie “Stranger than Fiction” (2006) Will Ferrell plays Harold Crick, an ordinary man who begins to hear in his mind the voice of a woman narrating his life. *spoiler alert* As the movie continues Harold realizes that he is the main character in a book that an author is currently writing- and everything that she types up in her book happens to Harold in real life. Unfortunately, he finds out the author is planning to kill him off, and tries to find her to make her stop writing. In the end, she lets Harold read the final pages of her book before she types them- the story of how he will die- and he decides that the book is perfect and beautiful and he tells her to finish it even if it means that he dies.
I’ve been thinking about this movie and how it relates to how I feel about God. I don’t think I WANT to say to God, “Do absolutely whatever you want with my life. It is my joy just to be part of the beautiful story you are writing.”
And so I kind of sulk. And mope. And act like it’s a bad thing that God wants things to go His way. And think there’s no way to tell if it is even worth it to follow Him. Maybe it’s a crap shoot.
But, bottom line. I believe God was, is, and always will be. I believe He created the world and all of humanity. I believe that He very much loves us- to the extent that He sent His Son to die to redeem us all. I believe that He is Holy, Perfect- and therefore all that He does is Righteous. I know that even my love for Him is only a result of His love for me. So I can wrestle all I want with my place in relation to Him, but it doesn’t change who He is. And if I want to follow Him as Jesus asks, I must “deny myself” and “take up my cross daily” (Luke 9:23). I pray that God will bring me to the place where I freely say, “It is my joy just to be part of the beautiful story you are writing.” No matter what.