Part 3: In the Hard Times, Where is God Located?
When life is hard it is only natural and normal to ask the question, "where is God, in all of this!?"
I've been exploring a couple thoughts on that exact question. In Part 1 I suggested that God is ahead of us, inviting us towards a better future, a better way of life. And, like the father in Luke 15, God stands poised to run towards us at the first inclination that we might be ready for repentance.
In Part 2 I suggested that when we are in the Valley of Hard Times that God ALSO is right there, IN the Valley with us. Present, holding us, carrying and sustaining us. Not just waiting on the outside for us to emerge, but in the trenches with us being our strength.
Finally, I'll offer one more thought.
Part 3: In the Hard Times, Where is God Located? Behind us. Having just shoved us off the cliff and in to the Valley of Hard Times.
What if God isn’t just at the top of the valley, cheering us on, waiting to welcome us home?! And what if God isn’t just also down in the valley with us, carrying us and sustaining us and holding us...
What if God also stands on the OTHER edge of the valley, the once from whence we came, because it was God who directed us to the valley in the first place?
What if God is the one who actually PUSHED us over the edge?
Okay, I know that sounds a little crazy. And it probably is. I’m probably wrong about that. And that’s okay.
But I can’t help thinking about it anyways.
Two reasons why.
- My own life experiences have given me reason to think that this might be the case.
- In Matthew the Gospeler's opinion that's exactly what God did to Jesus.
In chapter 4 of Mathew, as he's about to tell the story of Jesus being in the wilderness for 40 days, Matthew writes this:
“Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.” -Matt 4:1
Did you catch that?
Jesus was led BY the Spirit of God in to the wilderness. Yes, sure, eventually he encounters the Satan while he's out there. But it was the Spirit who sent him there.
Now, to be fair, perhaps God didn't PUSH Jesus over the edge and in to the Valley. I imagine this leading was more of a gentle prompting. But the point still remains. It was God who initiated Jesus' entrance in to the wilderness and ultimately in to a time of great temptation.
Have you ever done something that you just felt, in your bones, in your very spirit, was something that God was leading you to do? You just had this sense that this was where God was leading you.
Take this job. Begin a relationship with this person. Initiate this conversation. Go here. No, no, no... I mean there.
Are you with me? You been there before?
And then, think back, and examine if any of those situations, those scenarios, those relationships, those life choices eventually went to crap. Just a total backfire. And you found yourself thinking, "wow, did I just TOTALLY misunderstand God on that one? How hard did I swing and miss on that?!"
I've been there. I'm betting you have, too.
But I think that sometimes, even though we end up questioning ourselves and doubting that we really were walking in the direction God was leading us, that sometimes (in our more clear-headed moments) we end up concluding that indeed we had done as we felt led by God.
We entered the wilderness at God's prompting. Not fully realizing (of course) that it would, in fact, turn out to BE a wilderness. Filled with pain and sadness and rejection and hunger and thirst and temptation.
But we still say it was God's leading.
And don't we generally come out of those times stronger than before? I mean, isn't every wilderness, every Valley of Hard Times, something that ultimately shapes us and grows us to become a better US? I don't know... maybe not every time. That's likely not true.
But most times. I wager.
Julian of Norwich is one of the most important Christian mystics in church history. She was an anchoress in Norwich, England in the 14th century. An anchorite was essentially a spiritual hermit who would live in a cell, carved in the side of a church, choosing to live a life of prayer and meditation.
Julian said this:
“First, there is the fall, and then we recover from the fall. Both are the mercy of God!”
I love placing the very FALL itself within the mercy and the grace of God.
After all, we grow most after we fall, right? We discover more about ourselves after we fall.
If we are to grow, mature, then losing, falling and failing is a requirement. It is a necessary, and even GOOD part of the human journey.
I have always tried really hard NOT to fail. I won’t start a new effort unless I know I’ll be really good at it. This is why I put off learning to play guitar for like 3 years. Because I knew I would be awful at it in the beginning. (Brilliant, right?)
But there is grace IN the fall itself. Not just in the getting back up again.
So I guess that’s why I feel that sometimes, when we ask the question: where is God during this incredibly hard season of my life, I just wonder if one possible answer is: at the beginning of it all, prompting you to journey out in to the desert, in to the wilderness, so that you can find a type of transformation that can ONLY happen in the wilderness.
But (to go back to Part 2) God doesn’t just send you packing with a couple loafs of bread and a canteen... No, God is beautifully present IN the wilderness with you. Every step of the way. IN the darkness. IN the thick of the trial and pain. Holding you... sustaining and carrying you...
And (to back to Part 1) God is also ahead of you. Waiting with open arms... ready to RUN to you, scoop you up, and carry you home. Throwing a party to celebrate the courage it takes to finally repent, to turn around, to decide to live a new way.
Praise be to God, the One who leads, sustains, and invites.