There have been so many times in my life when God has not shown up. So many times when I am at my wits end, when it is forth and long, ninth inning, I put up a last hope three pointer and the ball hits the tape and falls gently on my side of the court. My mixing of sports metaphors is not an accident. It represents the confusion I often experience as I mêlée through the options of rescue God could use. After all, he must win the game in one of the metaphors. But not only do I lose the tennis match, but the football, baseball, and basketball game as well. I just can’t seem to sync up my game with his. You know . . . the ones where victory is claimed (not just proclaimed).
Half the time is seems that things simply function just the way one would expect if God was in heaven playing darts. Our lives are filled with so many things that go from bad to worse. The hardest part about it for me is that the things we request are very often good things. On our best days, we seek God’s renovation. We long for it. We lay down at night and dream about it. Our eyes sting due to tearful begging for it. Who could argue that someone praying for a better marriage, obedient children, a quenched addiction, a calm spirit, an obedient heart, or a bill responsibly paid are outside of God’s will? Who could argue that praying for the ability to gird up our will and make serious changes in overcoming sin in our lives is wrong? I know that there are “those” stories out there. You know, the one’s where a person becomes a Christian, then all of the sudden everything has changed (for good!). I have a love-hate relationship with those stories. I love them as I love an epic movie where the hero has saved the world. I love to know it is out there. But those are just stories. I have very few (if any) of those stories. Most of mine involve a seemingly never-ending pattern: stumble, fall, dirt in mouth, think about staying down, renewing hope, getting back up, trying again, stumble, fall, dirt in mouth . . . ad infinitum. In fact, I am still in many of these stories.
At this point a mob forms in my subconscious rallying to find a way to express my anger and frustration with God. Yet no form of this finds a definite incarnation either in my words or deeds. “Why do you put up with this guy?” the mob yells. “Yeah, let’s take him to court. We can win!” Win what? A settlement with God? What would that look like anyway? I don’t have any grounds. There were no guarantees that he has failed to accomplish. The hope that I grope for was never here.
And those things we do get can taint reality in every way.
Entitlement. That is the word. Entitlement. I am entitled to have a good marriage. I am entitled to have financial stability. I am entitled to have health. I am entitled to be able to get a good night’s sleep. I am entitled to a sound mind. I am entitled to have children. I am entitled to a new television. I am entitled to be employed. I am entitled to never have an overdraft fee. I am entitled to have a family that follows the Lord. I am entitled to have a little more and the next cool thing out there.
Entitlement. Where did we get this? It certainly was not from Jeremiah. I love the way (relatively speaking) that he speaks of being on the run from the Lord.
He [God] is to me like a bear lying in wait, like a lion in secret places. He has turned aside my ways and torn me to pieces; He has made me desolate. He bent His bow and set me as a target for the arrow. He made the arrows of His quiver to enter into my inward parts.
I think that Jeremiah just felt entitled to being safe from his Saviour. His Shepherd was now, from his often entertained perspective, a predator seeking the carnage of his soul. In “secret places” God hides, ready to make his next strike. Not only was God failing to show up and rescue him from the harm of those outside, but he was, to Jeremiah, the one bringing about the harm. I wonder if these thoughts represent the mob of Jeremiah’s subconscious. His mind eventually turn back to reason (Lam. 3:21-23). But I am glad he had a parchment and pen handy to write these down. I am grateful for his transparency here. Jeremiah was the first great blogger. (How would you like to see the comments on his blog? I fear to go there.)
When I am at a loss, it rarely comes from the “big” things. Normally, it is the little nagging things that seem so meaningless. You know, the things that it would be easy for God to take care of. Maybe it is not the dinner bill that he fails to provide for, but the gratuities that we have to cover which eventually break us. I get tired. Then I read this:
If you have run with footmen and they have tired you out, Then how can you compete with horses?
I have often said to the Lord: “But Lord, the footmen are wearying me. Footmen! I can’t even keep up with them. I can’t compete with horses. I can’t. Ever. I am sorry.”
Back to Lamentations: Is it okay to say that God is a bear lying in wait? Is it okay to think that? Is it okay to think that God is not going to show up? At least in the way we think? I don’t know, but rarely do we humans pull off the okay.
Then there are those who encourage us. We need to be encouraged, so we listen. “Things will change,” they tell us. “You just have to believe that God will pull off a miracle.” I have mustered up “belief” before, but it was empty, vain, and totally destructive to my spiritual well-being. The damage done by mustering up hope in promises that God has never made stay with many people until death. Disappointment with God for not fulfilling commitments he never made. How much spiritual depression can be summed up in that?
Sometimes we need to take a cold hard look at Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, and see that life is hard and it will be until the end. Not always. But often. But our ultimate hope and God’s faithfulness are very specific, being positioned to take the world at the final stand. Our duty is not to mêlée for God to show up in places he is not supposed to or to do things that are outside of his program, but to wait with eagerness and expectation for the kingdom which is to come. The carnage that we see in us and around us, like it was with Jeremiah, are allowed for now. But not then. Then God will show up and we will have no doubt that it is him. That is what we are entitled to. Keep the faith with me until then?
This I recall to my mind, Therefore I have hope. The LORD’S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness. The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I have hope in Him.
C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger.
Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I’m a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. He can be contacted at [email protected]