We Are Not Alone
Dear Chapel Hill Family,
I wrote the following reflection in early June, just following a visit home. As we talked about this week’s FearlessQ—How can a good God allow evil and suffering?—Pastor Megan asked if I would be willing to share this reflection with all of you. Rereading it yesterday, and with an upcoming visit home in mind, it was a great reminder that we aren’t tackling Fearless Questions this summer to try to boost our intellectual powers, but rather to learn to live in the actual world—the real, non-theoretical world, full of aches and pains and joys and triumphs all mixed in with our humanity designed to bear God’s image. So, I hope these thoughts are encouraging to you, and that they help you prepare for worship this weekend. If you’re currently experiencing a disconnect between God’s goodness and your present circumstances, come looking for God even in the darkness. If that doesn’t describe your current situation, come with a tender heart, looking for ways to gently love your brothers and sisters who feel like the walking wounded. We don’t need you to try to fix anything for us, but rather to just sit with us, ready to listen when we’re ready to talk. Your presence is enough—it reminds us that we are not alone.
…I just spent five days with my dad in my hometown of Tualatin, OR (just south of Portland). Visits home now are in some ways just like visits home during college—I nap a lot, my dad makes me cookies and appetizers, and we generally just lounge around. In other ways, these visits are incredibly more challenging than they used to be—each day includes the opportunity to visit my mom in a memory-care facility, our house is in need of some major cleaning and purging and repairing, my family photos are waiting to be put into albums my mom never got around to buying.
Each time I go home, I have to wrestle with the question of a good God in a world filled with suffering. This question is really a question about God’s sovereignty, which Pastor Mark will be talking about when he kicks off our FearlessQ series on June 18/19, but I thought I would share a few thoughts that came from a timely sermon my friend Justin preached this weekend. My friends, in a church community called Colossae, are journeying through the book of Genesis, and this weekend found us looking at the story of Joseph, who suffered unimaginable betrayal at the hands of his own brothers as a young man but eventually was placed in a position to save his entire family. The tagline of Joseph’s story is this:
“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Gen 50:20)
Justin reminded us of a couple things that were true of the story of Joseph, and are true for us today when, not if, we encounter suffering and pain. First of all, God is with us in both the highs and the lows—He is not a God who is indifferent or far off. Joseph’s story tells us several times that “God was with Joseph” even in the Egyptian prison! Secondly, God is working all things together for good. To affirm that statement, we need to redefine “good.” When Joseph says that “God intended it for good,” he is not using good as a synonym for happiness/health/wealth/safety. He’s using it to describe the advancement of the Kingdom of God. God working all things together for good is not a guarantee that our lives will be suffering- and pain-free. But God does promise to be with us, and He does promise that His Kingdom shall be without end—He does guarantee us ultimate victory.
Now, if I’m brutally honest, knowing all of that didn’t make it any easier to sit with my mom on Monday morning. But it was easier this week than it was four years ago, and I believe that it will continue to become easier and easier to see God’s kingdom advancing when I look at my mom. It’s progress that’s pretty hard to chart, but with the long game in mind, I’m seeing movement.
So here’s my hope: That this summer, as we engage difficult, challenging questions that are nowhere near cut-and-dried or black-and-white on the ambiguity spectrum, you would be brave enough to wade into the water with God and with those you love. Ignoring something difficult doesn’t make it go away—I can tell you from personal experience—and in facing the difficult questions we always find the God who is with us. One of my favorite prayers, if you will, is this cry from a dad in the Gospels: “Lord, I do believe—help my unbelief.”
Here’s a song that has been a part of my life this spring—God is indeed with us, and for us, and nothing can separate us from Him!