Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Is My Love Not Enough?

God is not a man, that He should lie,
nor a son of man, that He should change His mind.
Does He speak and then not act?
Does He promise and not fulfill?
Numbers 23:18-19

“Ann, Is my love not enough? Do you think you must do something to complete it?” This was the Lord’s question to me many years ago as I prayed frantically, in my crazy Mama way, for my son who had withdrawn from college in the midst of a battle with depression, chronic pain, and abuse of prescription drugs. A couple of years later my daughter withdrew from school with the same enemy of depression chasing her home. Our years have been laced with “trouble”, to use Jesus’ own word. We have known sorrow, distress, disunity, loss, change and other forms of “trouble”. “Trouble” in this life is a given. This life is messy. There are things that happen, like the Shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., that are incomprehensibly awful that we are tempted to think God isn't paying attention. We are in between Christ’s two comings. But we are invited to live within the Promise Christ made: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33.

Many have walked with me through my trouble. In turned I have been honored to walk with several loved ones through a variety of “trouble” … divorce, unemployment, fear regarding prodigal children, struggles regarding sexual identity, all kinds of sickness (both physical and mental), and through the dying of loved ones. More than half of my extended family, including myself, have known depression intimately.  Over the last two and a half years my Father, my brother-in-law, my Mother-in-law, and my brother lived years with cancer, yet each died. And just recently, my brother’s wife found out she has breast cancer and will have a double mastectomy after Christmas. These are valleys shadowed by death. Perhaps they are somewhat like yours.  In each, I have heard the Lord’s question repeated: “Is MY love not enough?”

IS God’s love enough to ultimately transform, redeem, renew, heal, complete and bring meaning to what seems so senseless and incomprehensible? Is his love enough for the parents of those children shot? His question to me is repeated over and over. Everyday He challenges us to see Him standing in the midst of all the “trouble”, especially when it seems He has instead hidden Himself.

Brendan Manning, author of The Lion and the Lamb, offers this perspective on suffering:

"There is an intimate bond between the sufferings of Christ and the conflict and suffering in each Christian life. The daily dying of the Christian is a prolongation of Christ's own life. ... Our daily dying (in all its forms)… is our personal participation in the fellowship of His sufferings.

The redemptive value of Jesus' suffering lay not in the suffering itself but in the love that inspired it." (for in itself suffering has no value)

I do not believe that brokenness, loss, depression, cancer, or any other imperfection of the human situation, in body or soul, that brings suffering, is God’s will. In fact, I believe Christ came in all heavenly authority to declare he is victorious over all forms of suffering, even suffering unto death. His miracles of healing, restoring sight, casting out demons, making the deaf hear, cleansing the lepers, making the lame walk, and raising the dead speak to HIS authority and HIS will to unify, redeem, bring life out of death, and make right all that is wrong.

In this life, there is much I don’t understand and may never be able to grasp. But, I have grown in my conviction that Christ’s love is indeed enough. I don’t always feel it but, I choose to believe Christ enters into our suffering. As He entered the lion’s den with Daniel, God enters into the places in our lives where we are powerless. He is in the furnace, walking in the fire with each of us. When we are not capable of perceiving His presence with our physical senses, it is nonetheless a fact that He is there. It may be that the complete healing to our physical bodies or the total recovery of our finances or the renewal of our marriage or the healing of our grief or the salvation of our children and much more that we long for will come in our day and it just as likely may not. Nonetheless, His love IS enough and as those in the furnace did in the book of Daniel, we can choose to step out and declare, “We do not need to defend ourselves…. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it…But, even if He does not…” (and these are my words)... His love is enough.

One of my most favorite Bible verses comes from the 6th chapter of Deuteronomy:
"We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, but the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. Before our eyes the Lord sent signs and wonders - great and terrible - on Egypt and Pharaoh and his whole household. But he brought us out from there to bring us in and give us the land he promised".

That which is promised is embodied in Christ and in His love that is enough. He is our Promise. And we are His people, moving in and through this place in between His two comings. We are within the Promise, which is Christ Himself, and we move toward the Promised Land. We are held by the Promise and we hold the Promise within us. We are being moved through this wilderness, spending our time living to die to what was, trying to let the past be the past so that the promise that is within us might be released through the decay of the old life and our new life will released to grow up out of the humus. He brings us out. He brings us in. He sets us free. His love is enough to do this.

But, in this place, in this life in which we have “trouble”, we must wait actively for the culmination and the complete realization of Christ’s promise. We ache. We moan. We groan. We cry. We wail. We scream. We lament. We weep. We present our sorrow as an offering. We choose to believe. We practice our faith. We rejoice. We worship. It is what we do as God’s people inspired by the Promise to move toward the Promise. When we left our “Egypt” the moment we first chose to take up our own cross and follow Christ, the Promise went before us and even now He leads us, teaches us, and forms us through our wanderings. There is purpose in this life of wilderness wandering. It is where we die to what was. It is our cocoon of transformation. It is where fear and unbelief give way to courage and faith. It is where we are brought out, set free to move forward. It is where the cloud of unknowing is spun about us and the crucible of the love of the Almighty forms the new out of the old.

There is meaning in the suffering, the losses, the changes, the pain of brokenness, and the silence pressed upon us by that which is too huge to bear. Some days, I can see a glimpse of that truth, as if there is a break in the clouds and the Promised Land is in view… as if the air is clear and the vista uncluttered. On those days, my faith seems alive, but, this is not always true. In fact, more often you will hear me question the plan of God that takes me along this circuitous path that seems to simply take me through my past over and over again. It is not unusual for me to cry out “God, why did you bring me here just to have me die?” But, some days, I hear His words, “I have brought you out….to bring you in … to try you and test you …to see what is in your heart.” There is meaning. The Way, the Truth, and the Life define my existence. There is a future. There is a destination. There is the promise…Christ in us the hope of glory…the good news of life after death. And the journey, the wandering, the pain, the brokenness, the loss, the change, and the sorrow are all captured and saturated by His love that is enough.

Through the life of Christ, through the living Word, the sword of the Spirit piercing our hearts, the Promise Himself becomes the destination of our faith. And the journey that seems to go nowhere at times is defined. Though it cannot always be seen or felt and we may cry out in fear and loneliness along the way, we can remember and contemplate Christ’s question and challenge to believe: “Is my love not enough?” We are invited into his perfect love. The challenge is to welcome Him, invite Him to come in and take up His abode within us. The challenge is to get up each day and declare with our mouths it is true, HIS love is enough. Christ IS a participant in our sufferings. We become participants in His sufferings. We become one. In this relationship, we join with Christ in His creative work of transformation…the work of life-death-life.  And this is not just for our own benefit. As we are transformed, as the old dies and gives way to the new, we are able to become conduits through which this love will flow, impacting the lives of those He chooses for us to love.

This all sounds quite “spiritual”, doesn’t it? And of course it is. But, we are not completely “there” in this life, are we? This is not Heaven. More often than not I have been guilty of retreating into my longings for the Promised Land. I want to be there, in the perfected, and not here in the process. Often my longings insulate me from participating in my present life. At times, this has been necessary, but in the long term such a choice only keeps me from the joy along the way.

When our children were small we found great fun in reading books outloud. One of our favorite books was Ramona the Pest, by Beverly Cleary. At one point Ramona hears her kindergarten teacher request that they “wait for the present”. Ramona hears the word “present” and plants herself in her desk, determined she will wait , staying put, sitting still as long as she must to get the present. She waits and waits…through recess, through lunch. Finally, the teacher is determined to try to understand why Ramona won’t leave her desk. As it becomes clear that Ramona has misunderstood what the teacher meant by “present”, she recognizes she has missed a day of life waiting for what was always there.

We wait for the “present” because we cannot fully believe that the journey through our life in Christ, in His presence, is in fact just as great a gift as the destination. The story of Moses and His relationship with God throughout the wilderness journey toward the promise land shows us what should be, what can be. Moses was not satisfied for God to be outside the camp. He reasons with God, “How will the other nations know that you are with Your people…that we are your people?”  So God comes to the tent of meeting and the Word says that Moses “spoke to God like a man speaks to another man”. The “present” was God’s “presence”.

It is in living daily in His presence that redemption and renewal become reality as our minds are transformed. It is in speaking with Christ along the way that our hearts begin to burn with understanding as He reveals what is true. It is in the fellowship of His sufferings that we come to know that His love is indeed enough. It is enough to lead us through. It is enough to gather us, to strengthen our feeble hands, to steady ours knees that give way. His love speaks into our fearful hearts:

“Be strong, do not fear; your God will come,
He will come with vengeance;
with divine retribution He will come to save you.”

A highway will be there…
The redeemed will walk there…
the ransomed of the Lord will return.
They will enter Zion with singing;
everlasting joy will crown their heads.
Gladness and joy will over take them,
and sorrow and sighing will flee away.

from Isaiah 35

The chorus from Michael Card’s song, The Promise, says it so well:

The Promise was love and the Promise was life
The Promise meant light to the world
Living proof Jehovah saves
For the name of the Promise was Jesus
The Faithful One saw time was full
And the ancient pledge was honored
So God the Son, the Incarnate One
His final Word, His own Son
Was born in Bethlehem
But came into our hearts to live
What more could God have given
Tell me what more did He have to give
What more could God have given
Tell me what more did He have to give
At last the proof Jehovah saves
For the name of the Promise was Jesus