The

Here’s an interesting game to play.  Someone shout out a word… what’s the first Bible passage that springs to mind?

Perhaps someday I’ll study enough Hebrew and Greek to attempt an original language word study.  But for now, here is a word study in English.  Stick with me here, this is cool.

When I think of “The” the first passage that springs to mind is John 14:6 “I am the way, and the truth, and the life…” Every third word is “the!”  Is this repetition important?  Probably.

Jesus is claiming that He is not just one way to know God.  Jesus is claiming He is the way.  “I am the way, and the truth, and the life,” Jesus said.  And then He continued, “No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).  Definitive, declarative statements.

This was not the only time Jesus refered to Himself in such definitive terms.  Earlier, before raising Lazarus from the dead, Jesus told Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life.  Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live” (John 11:27).  And before that, when Jesus was travelling with his disciples into Caesarea-Philippi after performing many miracles in the surrounding countryside, He asked his disciples, “Who do you say I that am?”  Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 15:15-16).

Did you catch that?  The Christ, the Son of the living God.

Peter’s proclamation is recorded in all three synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke).  And it is at this point in the story that an important narrative turn occurs.  From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised (Matthew 16:21).  Jesus repeats this lesson several times (e.g, Matthew 16:21, 17:22-23, 20:17-20).  But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him (Mark 9:32).

Throughout the rest of the story, the disciples struggle to understand what Jesus told them.  When He was captured in the Garden of Gethsemene, they scattered.  When He was put to death, they feared for their own lives.  Even after the tomb was reported empty, they hid behind locked doors.  They knew He was the Christ, the Son of the living God.  He was the way, the truth, and the life.  He was the death and the resurrection.  More than anyone else, His disciples should have understood.  But they did not.

Until Jesus appeared to them again.

On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them, “Peace be with you” (John 20:19).

My Bible then says the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.  I can’t help but think “glad” is a bit of an understatement, but regardless, they were finally beginning to understand what it meant that Jesus was the Christ.  All except for poor Thomas, who had missed the visit.  The other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, unless I see in His hands the mark of the nails, and place my hand into His side, I will never believe (John 20:25).

Eight days later, His disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them.  Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you” (John 20:26).  Jesus showed Thomas His hands and His side and Thomas no longer disbelieved.  “My Lord and my God!” Thomas exclaimed.

Here is the most fascinating part of this word study.  The disciples knew long before Jesus’ death and resurrection that He was the Christ.  But simply knowing that He was the Christ was not enough.  It took a personal encounter for them to truly understand.  And it took a personal encounter for that tiny definite article “the” to transform into an even more powerful little word.  Did you catch that transition?

Jesus is the way and the truth and the life.  Jesus is the resurrection and the life.  Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.  But like the disciples, we can know all that and still not really know Christ.  The transition happens when we declare not only that Jesus is the Lord and the God, but that He is my Lord and my God.

Jesus will not be coming to each of us in the same manner that He came to Thomas.  After 40 days of teaching His disciples, He ascended into heaven and the Bible suggests He will come again only at the end of this world.  But Jesus also promised that when He went, He would send the Holy Spirit to abide with each one of us and draw us into a personal understanding of Him.  And in this way, Jesus does appear to each one of us.  To each one of us He says, “Do not disbelieve, but believe” (John 20:27b).

Jesus does not want us to respond with a definite article.  He wants us to respond with a personal one.  Because Jesus is not simply the way, the truth, and the life.  He is my way, my truth, and my life.

Then He said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side.  Do not disbelieve, but believe.”  Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:27-28)

Flying Sushi

The other night I went to a sushi restaurant with some friends.  We rode a motorboat across the lake to a giant floating raft that housed the restaurant.  We were ushered into a long rectangular room where we sat on low benches.  Japanese waitresses in colorful flowing gowns walked quietly among the tables filling plates from kettles they carried on towel draped arms.  I looked down the table and realized I didn’t actually know anyone there.  The whole experience suddenly took on a “Hotel California” feel.  And I don’t even like that song.

“What is this?” I asked, pointing to a platter that looked like a halved avocado covered in fish eggs.  They answered, but I couldn’t understand what they were saying.  Not because they were speaking Japanese; that would make sense.  It sounded more like pidgin or Old English or something that was almost comprehensible.  But not quite.  It was at that point that I realized the bench I was sitting on was actually a trapeze.  Yes, a trapeze.  I was hoisted into the air and began careening around the room, smashing my feet into the stucco walls hoping to slow myself down.  Each time I hit, I only seemed to pick up speed.  I hurled back through the crowded tables with people and bowls of food parting before me.  Flakes of stucco cracked off the walls as I rebounded.  (Someone was going to have to completely spackle that room by the time I was done.)  The last thing I remember was the terrified look on some newcomer’s face as I barely missed her head and found myself clinging, bat-like, to the corner of the wall.

Then I woke up.

Perhaps I should have started this blog post with a disclaimer.  Earlier this week I was having back spasms and was given muscle relaxers and pain killers that had me sleeping 19+ hours a day for four days straight.  Then my doctor cut me off.  The four days were rather uneventful, at least, as far as I recall.  (If any of you told me something important earlier this week, you better tell me again.) The return to non-drug induced sleep, however, has been a bit more memorable.  Not only am I having crazy dreams about eating sushi while on a flying trapeze, I wake up feeling as though I have been eating sushi while on a flying trapeze: pounding headache, churning stomach, sore muscles and all.

The other morning I woke up at 3 a.m.  I am typically not a nocturnal wanderer, but this night I needed a break from the crazy dreams.  I slipped from bed and made some toast and tea.  I pulled a Bible Study from my shelf that a friend had given me but which I hadn’t had time to use.  I read about Psalm 120:1 In my distress I called to the Lord, and He answered me. 

He answered me.

You know, people talk about having a personal relationship with Jesus.  I don’t always know what this means.  When I first became a Christian, it sounded a bit too… religious.  Sometimes I would just smile and nod and step away.  Except that in the last couple of years, I’ve seen it.  I’ve seen people that do have a relationship with Jesus.  They have that hope about which Peter says we should always be ready to give a testimony (1 Peter 3:15). They aren’t just Christians.  They are truly friends of God.  They have a relationship that makes me say: I want what they have.

Don’t get me wrong.  I have a relationship with God.  But it is qualitatively different than where I am headed.  I talk to God all the time.  What I don’t do very well is wait for His answer.  “Okay, God,” I say, “Here are all the things I’m thinking about today.  Got it?  Okay.  Catch you later.”  And I’m off.

In my distress I call to the Lord.  But I’m completely missing His answer.

Until He sits me down at 3 a.m. with a cup of tea.

I learned from my 3 a.m. study that the word translated as Lord in Psalm 120:1 is the Hebrew word Yahweh, which refers to God’s nature as a covenant maker and covenant keeper.  This makes the words of Psalm 120:1 that much more powerful to me.  The Lord answered the Psalmist and He answers us because He is the God who keeps His promises.  Promises like, I will not leave you nor forsake you (Joshua 1:5).  Promises like, I am with you always, to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20).  Promises like, I have called you friends (John 15:15).

Friends.

We can be more than Christians.  We can actually have a relationship with God.  We can be a friend of God.  Have you ever paused to look beyond the jargon and think about what this means?

If not, a 3 a.m. cup of tea is a great place to start. 

In my distress I called to the Lord, and He answered me (Psalm 120:1).

An Important Theological Rambling

I used to think Christians believed this: God will cast into Hell anyone who does not believe in Jesus.

Wait, you might say.  That is what Christians believe.

Perhaps.  But there is a distinction that I think is critical. It’s not so much God casts someone into Hell simply because he or she doesn’t believe in Jesus.  God is not saying “Believe in my Son, or else.”  I think that’s sometimes the way the Christian message comes across.

What Christians actually believe goes something more like this.  We are already destined for Hell.  From the moment Adam and Eve went against the command of God, we have been separated from God.  There is nothing we can do to earn favor with God, to save ourselves, to make it into heaven.  For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).  Even the tiniest sin separates us from God.  “I say to you,” Jesus said, “that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire” (Matthew 5:22).  For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it (James 2:10).  Is it any wonder that at one point Jesus’ disciples cried, “Who then can be saved?” (Mark 10:26)

Christians believe that because God is holy, He cannot be in the presence of sin.  Because we are sinful, we can never be in the presence of God.  There will come a time of judgment and every one of us – on our own – will be found sinful and be cast away from God’s presence.

But God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).  God did for us what we could never do for ourselves.  He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to live a perfect life and then sacrifice Himself for us.  God’s judgment and wrath were poured out on His Son when Jesus took our sins to the cross with Him.  On the day of judgment, Christians will say “God, I have sinned, but my sins have already been punished.  I gave my life to Jesus, and Jesus already paid for my sins.”  God will look and see that, indeed, Jesus already paid their price.  Their sins are forgiven.  Their debt has been paid.

But those who don’t accept Jesus as their savior will stand before God alone.  They will say, “God, here are my unpaid sins.”  And God will have no choice but to cast them away.

Belief in Jesus, then, is less like the ultimatum “believe or else” and more like a lifeguard casting a lifesaver to a drowning person.  The lifeguard is not saying “Take this lifesaver or I will drown you.”  No.  The person is already drowning, and the lifeguard is reaching out to save him.  Likewise, we are already drowning.  God is reaching out to us.

There is one problem with this analogy.  The best way for us to help a drowning person is to toss him a lifeline.  But God is omnipotent.  He doesn’t need to toss out a lifeline to save someone.  He could just snap His fingers and save them.  Why, then, doesn’t He just snap His fingers and save us all?  Why does He choose to send Jesus into the world instead?

The answer, I suspect, has much to do with free will and the presence of original sin.  But those are thoughts to pursue another day.  For now, the point remains, regardless of reason, that God did send Jesus into the world as our lifeline.  Jesus Himself declared, I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me (John 14:6).

Yes, Christians do believe that those who do not believe in Jesus will be eternally separated from God.  But it is our sins – not our lack of belief – that originally separated us from God.  Sin is the punishable trait.  The lack of belief, or the failure to accept God’s Lifeline, does not initially separate us from God; it keeps us separated from God.

God has cast us a lifeline.  Grab hold.

God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).

Upcoming Event: Is Faith in God Reasonable?

The Great Debate: Is Faith in God Reasonable?
Friday, February 1, 2013
7:00 – 9:30 p.m. Eastern Time
Online OR Purdue University (West Lafayette, IN)
FREE!

Next Friday, Purdue University is hosting The Great Debate: Is Faith in God Reasonable? This debate will feature Dr. William Lane Craig vs. Dr. Alex Rosenberg. Best of all (for anyone not living in central Indiana) the debate can be viewed live through a webcast! You can also sign up to host a live or recorded viewing for your church or other group. Attendance either in-person or online is free, but you need to sign up to view online.

I am not familiar with either of these debaters, but William Lane Craig is noted as one of the leading apologists and debaters for Christianity today. Alex Rosenburg likewise comes with an impressive resume filled with experiences related to the philosophy of science. Are you intrigued? You can learn more and sign up to view online at www.symposiachristi.com/?page_id=13.

Feel free to spread the word to anyone who may be interested!

Flyer for debate

Flyer for debate

Going Through, Part II

Click to read Part 1.

When I was writing the first “Going Through” article a couple of months ago (seriously, where does the time go??) I was already thinking of part 2.  Unfortunately, rather than sitting right down and writing it then, which would have been the smart thing to do, I waited.  Now, I have two completely unrelated thoughts racing through my head and absolutely no thoughts related to the topic at hand.  But if I don’t try it now, I may never try it.  So I am gong to jump in and start…going.

I took the title of these articles in reverse.  The first article focused on the second part of the title – the “through” part.  This article, then, is on that all important first word.  The “going.”

Unfortunately for us, not only is “through the valley” not always the most pleasant experience, through doesn’t even begin to happen without us first going.  Life is not a scenic bus ride.  We don’t get from here to there without a little work.

David said, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…” (Psalm 23:4a). 

Even though I walk…

This is not a passive verse.  It starts with an action.  It starts with David stepping forward into a very scary place.  He is not being carried through the valley.  He is also not going quickly through the valley.  (How I wish I could speed through the valleys!)  No, David is walking.

In the NIV translation, this passage continues “I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4b).  I love the verb tense of this line.  It doesn’t say, “I am not afraid right now.”  It says: “I will fear no evil.” Future tense, definitive.  Like a promise.

For David, fear was a choice, and he willed himself to not be afraid.  How?  Because God was with him.

This is powerful, but I think we do ourselves and David a disservice if we think it is easy.  I don’t believe we can walk into a dark valley and say, “I will not be afraid!” and have all fear immediately vanish.  Our emotions are not tied to a switch that we can flip on and off at will.  I think David probably was afraid.  In fact, we read lots of David’s writing where he is clearly terrified.  But I think he is talking here about a different kind of fear.  Not just what we feel, but what we believe.

We can feel afraid but still trust God enough to go.  Our actions can declare, “I will fear no evil,” even when our emotions say otherwise.  Sometimes it is during our slow walk through the valley – not before – that God’s presence becomes real enough for us to believe, if not actually feel:  I will fear no evil, for you are with me. 

Fear is the devil’s ploy.  Fear can prevent us from going through the valley… but only if we let it.  David knew, as we should know, that even in the darkest valley, God is with us.  His rod and his staff are there to comfort us. 

I may feel afraid, but I will not be afraid.  When God calls, I will lace up my walking shoes and go.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. (Psalm 23:4)

Something More

My dog does not understand how I can sit for hours flipping pages in a book.  I hold it out to her, but she sniffs it disdainfully and walks away.  Where I see another whole world, she sees only ink and paper.  My book is utter foolishness to her who cannot read.

As I’m thinking about this, I am reminded of a similar sentiment Paul wrote to the Corinthians.  For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18).  Indeed, where some see only wood, others see so much more.

I am reminded of this again, when the tables are turned, and I am dragging my dog away from some ordinary clump of grass that she is sniffing intently.  It is only blades of grass to me, but it is clearly something more to her.  There is another whole world I cannot see, except to watch her enter into it.

I think of the book, and the grass, and the cross.  It is hard to imagine, but it is not impossible to believe: beyond what I know here, there could be something more.

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18).

Plow Forward

You may have noticed the last two articles seem a little contradictory.  After all, the moral of Cooking Tip #1 is to consider your actions before you leap; the moral of Non-Newtonian Fluids is to leave the pondering to someone else.  Leap out of the boat and go with gusto!  So wait, aren’t those contradictory?

Personally, I prefer the term “complementary.”  Here’s why. 

In Cooking Tip #1 we looked at what happens when we act impulsively on our own hasty desires without considering the consequences.  In this case, the desire originated from us.  It’s something we want.  And anytime it’s something we want, we need to pause and consider the consequences.  Is it also something God wants?

Interestingly, Peter’s walk on the water (Matthew 14:22-33) also originated with something he wanted.  It was Peter who first said, “Lord if it is you, tell me to come to you on the water.”  But think about this for a minute.  Peter didn’t just decide: “Check it out!  Jesus is walking on the water!  I’m going to walk on water too!” and hurl himself out of the boat.  He told Jesus “[You] tell me to come to you.” 

Jesus could have said, “No, you fool, stay in the boat.”  But He didn’t.  In another exhibition of His glory and power, Jesus said, “Come.”  And at that point there was no more time for second thoughts.  It was too late for Peter to shout “Just kidding!”  The time for pondering was over.  The time for action had arrived.  Peter got out of the boat and went.

Jesus is very clear, at several points within the Gospel accounts, that when He calls, it is our job to follow.  We see this in the calling of the disciples.  “Follow me,” He said.  And every time He called, his true disciples dropped everything and followed Him.  Then, before sending out the seventy-two, Jesus told those following Him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62).

Once we are called, we must move forward.  Once we step out of the boat, we must not look at the wind or the waves.  We must not hesitate.  Even when opposition blocks our path or makes us stumble – physical opposition, emotional opposition, mental opposition – we must put our hand to the plow and move forward.  Even when faith itself is weak, we must dig in and plow forward.

I love what C.S. Lewis wrote about faith in Mere Christianity1.  “Faith…is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods” (p. 140).  In other words, faith is keeping our hand to the plow once we have started.  Even when, as C.S. Lewis wrote, our “emotions will rise up and carry out a sort of blitz” (p. 140).

Plowing forward is not blind activity; it is commitment to what we believe.  It is commitment to Who we believe.  C.S. Lewis noted: “I am not talking of moments at which any real new reasons against Christianity turn up.  Those have to be faced and that is a different matter.  I am talking about moments when a mere mood rises up against it” (p. 140).  He is talking, in other words, about the wind and the waves that we must simply plow through.  The wind and the waves are scary, but they do not change the fact that Jesus is still standing there, calling. 

Christianity has never been a contradiction between reason and faith.  It is prudent to check our desires and to seek wise counsel in our actions.  But once God has called us – whether generally into His Christian family or specifically to some purpose you feel He is guiding you toward – the time for hesitation has passed.  When He calls, we must plow forward.

 “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62).

1 Lewis, C.S. (1980). Mere Christianity. New York: HarperCollins.

Emotional Trust

Sometimes I wonder: If I have faith in God, why do I still feel afraid or angry or overwhelmed… or all three? Shouldn’t faith mitigate all these negative emotions?

My impulse is to think of such emotions as bad, as though my faith must be weak if I am scared or sad. But when I look to the Bible, I see that many of the most faithful also exhibited the most heart-rending range of emotions. Faith is clearly not exclusive of emotions. In fact, such gut-wrenching emotions may actually be a sign of trust.

Yes, trust.  If this sounds backwards to you, consider this: How much do you have to trust someone to share with them how you really feel? How much do you have to trust someone to – heaven forbid – cry in front of them? For me at least, the answer is: a whole lot.

The Bible says God knows our inmost being (Psalm 139), but it is still human nature to “put up a good front.” Sometimes emotions are God’s way of getting us to be honest with Him. When we trust Him enough to admit what we really feel, He never casts us away. He pulls up a chair and listens.  God is the friend we can trust with our darkest emotions.  And when we turn to him with what we feel – even when we think we shouldn’t be feeling it – the result is not a weaker faith, but a stronger one.

Pour out your heart like water in the presence of the Lord (Lamentations 2:19).

Give it to God

Do you know what I love most about the story of Jesus feeding the five thousand?  I love the boy with the fish. 

We know this story so well.  We know how crowds of men, women, and children followed Jesus until he stopped to speak with them.  We know how the day grew late, the crowd grew weary with hunger, and the disciples asked Jesus to send them away so that they may find something to eat.  But Jesus tells them to feed the crowds.  “How many loaves do you have?”  He asked.  “Go and see.” (Mark 6:38).

The boy is almost a footnote in the story.  He is not even mentioned in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, or Luke.  In those, the disciples merely reply to Jesus that they have only five loaves and two fish (Matthew 14:17; Mark 6:38; Luke 9:13).  But in John, from the pen of the apostle of love, we read where the loaves and fish originated: “Here is a boy,” John writes, “with five small barley loaves and two small fish…” (John 6:9).

Imagine what it must have been like to be that boy!  How terrifying and exhilarating to be pulled from the crowd and placed before Jesus.  The account gives us no perspective for what the boy was feeling.  Was he honored to offer up his meal to the service of these men?  Or was he afraid, knowing that he, as nothing but a boy, was about to lose his meager meal and return home hungry? 

And then, how amazed he must have been – amazed and bewildered – to see his small meal pouring back out of the basket, feeding one group of hungry men after another.  What did he think when that basket passed back to him with an offering far bigger than what he put in?  An offering so big, in fact, that he ate until he could eat no more, leaving pieces of bread on the ground.  How amazing it must have been to watch the crowds around him also eat until they could eat no more, leaving more pieces of bread on the ground which the disciples picked up, filling twelve baskets.  Twelve baskets!  “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” (John 6:14).

And yet, the story of Jesus feeding the five thousand is not merely the story of this miraculous sign which marveled the crowd.  It is also about the boy, who teaches us the second of our three principles: Give it to God. 

We see this same lesson modeled by the widow whom Elijah visits (1 Kings 17).  At Elijah’s instruction, she uses the last of her flour and oil to make a small cake of bread for him, leaving nothing for her or her son to eat.  And yet, her offering too was returned to her with such abundance that “the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry, in keeping with the word of the Lord spoken by Elijah” (1Kings 17:16). 

In the natural world, there are finite resources.  We have limited time, limited energy, limited money, and limited possessions (although when housecleaning I sometimes feel as though possessions multiply behind closet doors!)  It is only when we give it all to God, as humbling and terrifying as that is, that He is able to use it for His good purposes – both for others and for us.  I read once that in opening our hands to give, we are also opening our hands to receive.  Truly, when we open our hands to God, we receive far more in exchange.  God is our infinite resource, but first we must start with what we have, and give it to God.  He can do far more amazing things with it than we can.

Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst.  Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life (John 4:13-14).

Suffering

You may have noticed from my previous notes that I like analogies.  I think a study of our world can be instructive, and analogies help me think about spiritual principles in a more concrete way.  But as we close out the Lenten season, my thoughts go to those times for which no cute little analogy will ever suffice.  Times, in short, of suffering.

I heard a story the other day of an adoptive family who had raised a boy from infancy, when at age 9 the biological father claimed custody, and this little boy was taken away from his adoptive parents to live with the father he did not know.  I can think of nothing more gut wrenching – not even murder – than having your child taken away and having to simultaneously experience both your own pain and the pain endured by your child.

What does one say to anguish like that?

Mother Teresa once said that we can learn a great lesson about suffering from the women who stayed at the cross of Jesus as he was dying.  I was struck by this thought, having always focused on the suffering of Jesus rather than the suffering of those who witnessed his agony.  The response to suffering, Mother Teresa says, is to be present.  And to share in the other person’s suffering just by being present. Just like the women who stayed at the cross of Jesus.

Think about that.

In this world, we are blessed not because we have no suffering, but because we do not suffer alone.  God is present.  And He is tough.  He can take our anger, our fear, and our anguish.  Like Jacob wrestling with the angel we can cry out again and again for his blessing (Genesis 32:22-31).  We can beat our hand against the door asking for it to be opened unto us (Matthew 7:7).  We can weep like Rachel (Matthew 2:17-18), argue like Abraham (Genesis 18:16-33), plead for rescue like David (Psalm 22), suffer like Job.  We can even cry out like Jesus: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me (Matthew 27:46)?

The truth is, because of Jesus, God will never forsake us, even when it feels like He has. As Jesus bore our sins on the cross, the Father turned away so that He would never have to turn away from us.  At Jesus’ death, the temple curtain tore in two, signifying the barrier between us and God was removed.  Suffering was not removed, but God’s presence in our lives was restored.

Even when we don’t see him, even when we don’t feel him, even when we don’t believe in him, even when we suffer, God is present.  God is I AM.  Our anger, our suffering, our disbelief does not make him disappear.  In fact, engaging with him will only draw him nearer.

In times of suffering, this may not make us feel better, but it is still true.  Just as the presence of a friend does not actually remove our suffering, so the presence of God does not remove our suffering.  Instead, it helps us endure.  Rodney Atkins has a song called “If You’re Going Through Hell” that states: “If you’re going through hell, keep on moving.  Face that fire.  Walk right through it. You might get out ‘fore the devil even knows you’re there.”  So too is our passage through suffering.  In times of pain we need to reach out to God, to our church, to others – and we need to keep pushing forward.  As dark as suffering can be, God has demonstrated to us that it will eventually dawn onto an Easter morning.

I will never leave you nor forsake you (Joshua 1:5).  In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world (John 16:33).