On a night full of long stares and longer shadows, on a night of open mouths but few words, on a night when neither standing nor sitting gives relief, when reddened eyes hover over shortened breaths, on a night when the spine forgets to stand tall and hands feel too heavy to wipe tears, on such a night when the hours mean nothing, when you loiter indifferently between sleep and wakefulness as thoughts swirl like leaves in the tornado — I can’t go on without him. Lord, not me. Why this, why now? O God, not my child. — on such nights we long to be left alone. Yet an unwelcome voice comes to whisper.
He loves to find us in the ruins. Our blood draws the shark. Did I not offer you better than this? His whispers of doubt pour salt into raw wounds. He questions. But the believing soul rises to meet him.
Satan says, God must be exceedingly angry with you to have injured you so.
I do worry that this night confirms my greatest fear: that my God has finally forsaken me. I shiver to wonder whether I am now abandoned in this great hour of need.
You do well to fear.
Yet, I must cling to God’s words of promise. They are the “lamp to my feet and a light to my path” — not my dimming circumstance. There, I read that his children ought to expect affliction and persecution. My Savior’s question, as I now recall it, is just the opposite of yours: Why do you expect ease on the road to glory?
He told me beforehand of this narrow and hard way. He stated plainly that I must carry a cross to the crown. “In the world you will have tribulation,” he promised. No, his word prepares me to be stabbed in the darkness.
But why, after all that has happened, do you still assume that you’re his child?
I do read of those who cry out to him on that final day “Lord, Lord,” in presumed familiarity, to which God replies, “Depart from me, workers of lawlessness; I never knew you.” I know well that some in this life assume to be his without actually being so.
But those were wicked men and women who took up the Lord’s name but laid aside his commands. They built their lives on sand, not the rock of his word. By his grace, I love him, am joined to Christ by faith, and delight to obey him — not perfectly, but consistently. My sufferings do not prove that I am one of these self-deceivers.
So then, God wounds even his true children like this?
Not all. At least not like this. But his apostles do instruct us not to be surprised at fiery trials. They call me to count it all joy when unwelcome pains knock at my door, and sorrows wake me at unexpected times of the night. These sufferings produce character, and character produces hope.
On top of this, the painful experience of discipline, instead of being a sign of orphanhood, is a sign of adoption. Hypocrites and liars avoid their crosses and chastisements; sons and daughters do not. I am a fellow heir with Christ — provided I suffer with him that I also might be glorified with him.
Besides this, even from this dark room I can see the moon shining from my window . . .
What of it?
Has God not said that when the fixed order of his universe — the sun that runs its course with joy, the moon that sheds forth its gleam, the stars that keep stand as watchmen on their towers, the seas whose waves dance where men cannot — when these rise in successful mutiny against their Maker, then, and only then, shall I have cause to begin to worry that he shall not fulfill his covenant to me (Jeremiah 31:35–37)?
I suffer, yes, but I do so under this nightlight fixed in the dark sky, reminding me that he has not ceased to love me. And this is only one of many such reminders.
But if this is how God treats his own, why remain his?
I do not deny that God has dealt me a severe blow. I moan, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away” (Job 1:21). I now know what it is to be so utterly burdened beyond my strength that I “despair of life itself” (2 Corinthians 1:8). As the road grows rough, I am tempted to turn back.
But I have been so tempted before and God has strengthened me by his grace. When my feet began to stumble, he upheld me — and he shall do so again. I have walked with him on too many sunny days to doubt his faithfulness to me now. He who keeps the roaring waves from overcoming the shore shall keep at bay the ruinous floods of affliction, which would otherwise utterly overwhelm me (1 Corinthians 10:13).
But what of justice? Surely, he is being unreasonable with you to cause so much hurt.
I thank you for this reminder. I must always remember justice. My sins — oh their horror — have earned more blows than this life can render. My evils are always more than my sufferings. I thank God — even in this sinking valley — that he does not deal with me according to my iniquities. Blessing, peace, joy — these ought to be the greater surprises for any descendants of Adam.
I warm with love for him who bore the full weight of my anguish — my justice. These are minor bumps and bruises that dare not approach the cry of dereliction, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Build a Babel of all human woes and it does not come near to the heights of the cross, where my Lord drank the cup of almighty wrath in my place.
He who did not spare his own Son for me — how can I now deny his goodness? No, he is doing good in my suffering. All must now work for good to me.
Wait, you blindly assume that God is doing good in harming you?
Sometimes, I admit, I cannot see the good he is doing in my suffering. But such is not for me to see.
A convenient answer. Would you not rather choose a more pleasant lot in this life?
I am sobered to consider what path I would choose if left to myself. I would travel the path of ease and comfort, the one without any clouds or storms. In so doing, I would choose a path of less consolations from my heavenly Father, less comfort from his Spirit indwelling me, less dependence on his saints, less communion through prayer, and less conformity to my Savior and King, Jesus Christ.
I would prefer my sins go undisciplined. I would prevent all pain. I would shield myself from tears, banish all weakness. And with these, I would lose the great reminder of my mortality. His perfect power would not rest upon me. I would not know him as the God of all comfort, nor would I be able to help those in their afflictions. Slowly but surely, I would make this world my home.
Should I not be grateful then, that he chastens, scourges, and buffets all in his perfect love and wisdom? Though no pain is pleasant in the moment, does it not bring forth ultimate good? Does he not rather leave those he hates unpunished, undisciplined, unattended? Is not the broad way easy?
For all your talk, I still detect a quiver in your voice.
And so with you. I see more clearly now what is at stake. I see more clearly what a poking of the bruised skull it must be for his children to sit in the rubble of former days and still have strength enough to proclaim, “Though he slay me, I will hope in him!” We expose your hollow promises when our bleeding souls prefer him to your bandages and blessings. When placed in the theater of suffering, we show before the heavens that your enchantments are but cheap counterfeits.
My soul clings to the Lord — yes, with a weak grip, as a baby grabs his Father’s finger, but his right hand upholds me.
So then, shall I leave you to rot in these ruins?
Oh, this is not my end. I remind you and my soul at once: I travel to a place where the curse is defeated, wrongs become untrue, and weeping is no more. It is the great calm after the raging storms, the great triumph after the battle, the great light after the deep darkness. And my shaking heart and puffy eyes anticipate that joy which builds higher because I knew sorrow.
The pleasure will intensify because I knew pain. The music will sweeten because I once groaned. My smiles will grow the greener because they were first watered with tears. The unshakable kingdom under my feet will feel firmer after this world of shadows. The King will embrace me with scarred hands of conquered sorrows. They will all preach an unending sermon of the glory — and cost — of forgiven sin.
Although you tempt me, this beaten path that all the saints have trod leads beyond the pain, beyond the blinding tears, beyond the valleys, far beyond the winds that bite and howl. I am more than a conqueror through him who loved me. When toilsome days have ended, he.
And when I braced to hear a reply — silence.
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you (James 4:7).