12.15.2009

Affirmations

Several weeks ago I received an e-mail from a very good friend faced with making some difficult decisions. As she shared the details with me, she ended by recounting a recent conversation she had with the Holy Spirit. While seeking direction for her life, she was taken back to Jeremiah 29:11, "...for I know the plans I have for you...to prosper you and not to harm you...to give you a hope and a future..." She took solace in the understanding that God was a step ahead of her weaving together the details of her life; somehow this thought brought a renewed sense of comfort and hope. In all honesty, as I read the e-mail the first time I found myself sighing, inwardly shuttering at the cliche thought that "God was in control and in the end all will be well." In fact, I withheld my response to avoid interrupting the apparent work of the Holy Spirit in her life. What I didn't count on was the work of the Holy Spirit in my own life that morning.


For the better part of two years now I have wrestled with the concept of a God who loves and predestines, but still allows terrible, hurtful things to happen in our lives. The sovereignty of God has offered absolutely no comfort, but instead has only complicated matters. Before you offer some cliche response, let me say that I understand "free will" and "he works everything together for the good of those who love Him...", yet daily I returned to the same questions, "Where where you?" "How could you?" "How can I ever trust you again?" And, each day ended the same as the one before: silent. Maybe it's because I wasn't listening or looking in the right places for the answers to my questions. Maybe it's because I was so angry at God that nothing He had to say satisfied me. But, the list of angry accusations seemed only to grow longer as time passed. Perhaps most difficult was now the "safe" place I had known all of my life no longer seemed "safe"--at least as I saw things.


Yet, as I returned to the prophet Jeremiah's words, penned during a time of deep personal and national tragedy, I too sensed the prompting of the Holy Spirit to consider his message. Unlike my friend, it wasn't the thought of God's personal involvement in the details of my life that brought comfort. Instead, I became aware of God's good intentions toward me. Probably much like Jeremiah and the deportees in Babylon, I couldn't help but question God's motives and His intentions for all that had been happening in my life. Everywhere I looked things challenged what I understood to be true about Him. Things that were once clear now seemed hazy and nothing was making sense. Again, maybe it's because I wasn't listening or looking in the right places, but nonetheless hopelessness and despair were becoming my constant companions.


But there was something compelling about Jeremiah's message. It was while witnessing one of the greatest tragedies of his nation's time that the prophet was able to hear the heart of his God for His people. It wasn't to leave them in absolute desolation as it may have appeared on the surface. Nor was it to abandon them in the land of their enemies. It's true that they were in Babylon as judgment, but it was never God's intention to bring harm to them. Instead, His plan was to restore His people to true relationship with Himself. Doing this was a painful process. It required the dismantling of false theologies and the dethroning of false gods, but this was all done with the anticipation of His people being all He had called them to be--unashamedly His. (It's no wonder they called Jeremiah the "Weeping Prophet." Part of me wonders if he wept as he wrote these words to the people of his time. I can't held but wonder if he was overcome with a sense of awe at the mercy of God and the very fact that this wasn't the end of the road for his people.)


As I considered Jeremiah and his words, I sensed the Holy Spirit reminding me that while at times things seemed to the contrary, God's motive has never been to destroy me. His intentions have never been anything more than dethroning the false gods and silencing the voices of the so-called prophets so that I could see him more clearly. It hasn't been about "using me for His glory" or "shaping character", although I certainly believe those are both valid outcomes from His work in my life. It has always been about making me unashamedly His. Does that mean I believe He is the author of all that has transpired in my life? No. Does that mean I have an answer as to why things have transpired as they have? No. Does the betrayal and disappointment make any more sense today than it did they day they happened? No. Do some of those deep places ache any less? Not really. Yet, "I call this to mind and therefore I have hope"... Just as He was ever-present in Babylon, He has been ever-present in my dark places. Just as His intentions were good toward His people in Babylon so many years ago, His intentions toward me are good today. He isn't my enemy, lurking around dark corners, waiting to ambush me when I least expect it. His motive isn't to exploit my weakness or to leave me collapsed under the strength of His hand. Instead, He is the One who has seen my trouble and grief (Ps. 9:14) and has come to break the arm of the Wicked One. He hasn't ignored my cry (Ps. 9:17); instead He has offered me His strong right hand for encouragement. He has not left me abandoned as a child without a father. No, He is the Defender of the Fatherless and Oppressed. He has not stood far off, hiding himself in times of trouble; the Lord is King and the nations will perish from His land. The hope for my future lies in the truth that He has come to end the reign of terror (Ps. 9:18) that has made me a captive of Fear, Anger, Despair and Disappointment.


Today, I'm not sure I'll ever have the answers to all of my questions or even solve the great mystery surrounding God's sovereignty. But, what I can do is find comfort in knowing that He has not come to leave me broken, but to "give me hope and a future."