The past three weeks have been the most difficult I have ever gone through. These three weeks have been filled with illness, the terrible-three’s (the terrible-two’s are an out-and-out lie), a friend suffering the consequence of sin, a ministry I am a part of reeling in confusion and pain, having to cancel a trip to celebrate my parents 60th birthdays, and our family experiencing the emotional roller-coaster of finding out we were pregnant only to be told the pregnancy was ectopic and could be life-threatening to my wife if it was not ended.
Needless to say, I have had enough.
I know I am not alone. As trying as the last three weeks have been for me, I know some people who have dealt with far more for far longer. But that doesn’t change the fact that this has been painful for me and my wife. In the face of all this, I can honestly say I feel no pressure to be the “pastor” and have the answer for this. Honestly, even as a pastor, I have no answer for this. My questions before God about the reality of what my family has experienced over the last three weeks are the exact same questions anyone would ask.
Why not step in?
Why not act?
Why wouldn’t you make it right?
Why couldn’t you part the clouds and provide a moment for us to catch our breath?
Why everything at once?
Not only am I okay asking those questions, but I think there is something holy and sacred in being courageous enough to ask them. Don’t be fooled, those questions are only to be asked by the courageous. It is easy to spout trite Christian platitudes designed to make people feel better with bumper-sticker theology. But insipid axioms do little in the face of the actual brokenness of the world. It is more courageous to ask the hard questions of God and wait for him to answer than it is to find hope on the side of coffee mug. Asking those questions requires courage because, in the end, it is very likely they will not be answered.
Ultimately, it isn’t about the questions. Behind the questions is a deep current of emotion threatening to overtake us. But too often, when the fracture in the universe threatens to swallow us up in pain we fail to get fully present to our emotions. In those moments I think we do one of two things. Either we ask the questions but never investigate what emotion is driving those questions, or we resort to some banal Christian slogan to try and make us feel better.
This experience forced me to look at one such statement that gets spouted often when people go through a lot: God won’t give you more than you can handle. If I may be so bold, let’s just call that what it is:
Tell that to a survivor of Auschwitz.
Tell it to the man who lost his wife and child in a car accident.
Tell it to the girl whose innocence was robbed from her.
Tell it to the person crushed under the weight of depression and anxiety.
Tell it to the kids who just learned their parent has a terminal illness.
Limp, anemic sentiments will not stand in the face of a world that is not as it should be.
Now that I have said how I feel, let me back up this argument with some actual Biblical evidence. This particular statement, that “God won’t give you more than you can handle,” isn’t even in the Bible. There is a statement that sounds like it. 1 Corinthians 10:13 says, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to humankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.” But notice that verse is about temptation. That’s it. You won’t be tempted beyond what you can stand up against. This text is not saying that you will not experience more than you can bear. That idea just isn’t Biblical. If anything the exact opposite is true. Look at this text.
For we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers and sisters, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead (2 Cor 1:8,9, emphasis mine).
Later, Paul will write it is when he is weak that the strength of Christ is seen. In other words, when we can’t do it any longer. When we are fed up. When it has become too much. When we have nothing left. When we are empty. When it is beyond our capability to deal with it. Then, in that moment, the strength of the God of resurrection will be seen. Until we get to that point, we rely on ourselves thinking we can handle it and take care of the problem.
Don’t hear me saying I am rejoicing because of the last couple of weeks. I am not. Not once have I danced around our house shouting, “Yeah suffering!” Instead, in the midst of pain and hurt, I am actively expecting God to do something. I don’t know what. I don’t know when. But I am expecting the God of resurrection to heal us. I am expecting God to restore us. I am expecting him to redeem this situation. I am expecting him to do this and so I will be actively looking and waiting for him to do something. I believe expectant waiting can only happen when we exchange our feeble platitudes for an authentic faith that engages God with the full brunt of our emotion and pain. Only then can salvation been seen.
But that exchange takes courage.