Dry Valley, High Hope
These days, a good argument can be mounted for this viewpoint:
“Where is God, anyway?”
By turns, people have a tendency to feel ‘on top of the mountain’ one time, and then to feel ‘down in the valley’ another time. What is quite disheartening to more than a few people (including myself) is that a journey through a valley can take a very long time, and that the worst part of such a journey is the feeling that we are making the journey alone.
God is… many times… not revered as He should be, and this is… many times… manifested in people blaming God for the adverse circumstances that befall them: especially when there is not a root cause, clearly evident, that people can accept; many times, even when such a root cause is present, pointing squarely at the people in adverse circumstances, people will not admit it. God becomes what He should never be: a target of accusations that are groundless, because God does not have our distress as His goal:
For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to the children of men. (Lamentations 3:33)
While we may not use these exact words when we are in adverse circumstances, we can and oftentimes do readily identify with them:
I am the man who has seen affliction by the rod of his wrath. He has driven me away and made me walk in darkness rather than light; indeed, he has turned his hand against me again and again, all day long. He has made my skin and my flesh grow old and has broken my bones. He has besieged me and surrounded me with bitterness and hardship. He has made me dwell in darkness like those long dead. He has walled me in so I cannot escape; he has weighed me down with chains. Even when I call out or cry for help, he shuts out my prayer. He has barred my way with blocks of stone; he has made my paths crooked. Like a bear lying in wait, like a lion in hiding, he dragged me from the path and mangled me and left me without help. He drew his bow and made me the target for his arrows. He pierced my heart with arrows from his quiver. I became the laughingstock of all my people; they mock me in song all day long. He has filled me with bitter herbs and sated me with gall. He has broken my teeth with gravel; he has trampled me in the dust. I have been deprived of peace; I have forgotten what prosperity is. So I say, “My splendor is gone and all that I had hoped from the Lord.” I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. (Lamentations 3:1-20)
Is this a right attitude to have? Why do we blame God when we live in a fallen, broken, dying and lost world wherein there is not the certainty of even so much as a next breath?
NO… it is not a right attitude to have.
I do understand that many people find themselves in dreadful circumstances, beset with horrific suffering: they will say ‘How can you know what I am going through when you have not experienced it for yourself?’ I freely concede that, to this point in my life, I have not ever been in dreadful circumstances or endured horrific suffering. However, if it was true that someone who had never been afflicted with dreadful circumstances and suffering could not provide comfort, encouragement and support to those who are so afflicted, then only those suffering would be able to do so… which would negate most Christians (not to mention most people) from being able to provide comfort, encouragement and support. Remember: as Christians, we are not empathizing with those who suffer, because it is not possible to share in their feelings, unless we have personally experienced them… we are, however, able to comfort, encourage and support those who suffer.
People who suffer often say ‘Why is this happening to me? I didn’t do anything to deserve this! If God is good, then why does He allow me to suffer?’
God does not cause suffering. Suffering is a direct result of the fallen, broken, dying and lost world we live in… it is a consequence of our rebellion against God and His provision for us, because our forebears in Adam and Eve chose to mistrust God and usurp the divine privilege to know both good and evil. Suffering is the ongoing wreckage of our rebellion against God… the rebellion better known as sin.
As quickly as the Word of God is able to demonstrate the feelings of those in adverse circumstances, it is able to demonstrate a way forward:
Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. (Lamentations 3:21-26)
It will be readily observed that Lamentations 3:1-20… which details the despair of a person in adverse circumstances accompanied by suffering… is immediately followed by Lamentations 3:21-26… which assures all people of God’s great love, and which details that He is our portion and salvation.
How can this be?
The answer is rooted in God’s love, wisdom and sovereignty… all three of which, if understood for what they are… will cause us to trust God.
God in His love always wills what is ultimately best for us… God in His wisdom always knows what is best… God in His sovereignty has the power to bring it about.
I believe that people largely do not have a proper understanding of God’s sovereignty… He has supreme rank, power and authority, being above all others in character, importance, morality, excellence and every other possible attribution. This is declared and asserted on almost every page of Holy Scripture, but perhaps nowhere more bluntly than this:
Who can speak and have it happen if the Lord has not decreed it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both calamities and good things come? (Lamentations 3:37-38)
People largely take offense at this passage from Lamentations, because people largely cannot “compute” that both good things and calamities come from God, especially if they are on the receiving end of calamities; hence the comment oftentimes heard: “If God is a God of love, how could He allow bad things to happen?”
Something to remember is that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, acknowledged and affirmed God’s sovereignty in calamity, and God’s sovereign control over His life:
“Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?” Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. (John 19:10-11)
Whatever it is that we are going through that is a calamity… a “dry valley”… we may be assured that God has a loving purpose in it:
Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love. For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to the children of men. (Lamentations 3:32-33)
Have you even once considered that God may permit our suffering to bring us into a closer and more intimate walk with Him?
And why, would you say, would He do that? He does that because He knows that it will serve our ultimate good… we, because we are not omniscient (all-knowing) and we are not omnipresent (in all places at once, in every moment and dimension of time and space past, present and future), cannot see what God has planned for us. Only a being consumed with mindless cruelty would subject us to suffering, or allow suffering to afflict us, if there was no good purpose in it: God is not such a being. On the contrary, God is consumed with love for us, and His plans for us are the fruit of that love:
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. (Jeremiah 29:11)
We must never call God’s sovereignty into question because we do not understand, in the limits of our mortality, what God is doing. We must never conclude… falsely… that God cannot act as we think He would because we do not see Him act as we think He should.
God is not as we are:
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9)
Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?” “Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?” (Romans 11:33-35)
But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, “You are my God.” My times are in your hands; deliver me from my enemies and from those who pursue me. (Psalm 31:14-15)
God has His way of doing things (italic emphases mine):
Not only that, but Rebekah’s children had one and the same father, our father Isaac. Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad – in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls – she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden. One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?” But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’ ” Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use? What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath – prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory – even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles? As he says in Hosea: “I will call them ‘my people’ who are not my people; and I will call her ‘my loved one’ who is not my loved one,” and, “It will happen that in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’ “ (Romans 9:10-26)
The sovereignty of God is an implacable strength for us…
“The sovereignty of God is the one impregnable rock to which the suffering human heart must cling. The circumstances surrounding our lives are no accident: they may be the work of evil, but that evil is held firmly within the mighty hand of our sovereign God… All evil is subject to Him, and evil cannot touch His children unless He permits it. God is the Lord of human history and of the personal history of every member of His redeemed family.” (Margaret Clarkson, Grace Grows Best in Winter, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1984), pp. 40-41)
I have high hope in a dry valley when I read and reflect upon God’s knowledge of me as reflected in Psalm 139:
O Lord, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord. You hem me in – behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you. For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand. When I awake, I am still with you. If only you would slay the wicked, O God! Away from me, you bloodthirsty men! They speak of you with evil intent; your adversaries misuse your name. Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord, and abhor those who rise up against you? I have nothing but hatred for them; I count them my enemies. Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalm 139:1-24)
We are known to God, and greatly loved. Our hearts and souls not only pant for Him, but sing to Him; we are His! There is not a moment of our lives that He is not a part of; if we are not yet His in those moments, He listens with an attentive ear for us to call out to Him, that He might hold out His arms to us. Every breath we breathe is a gift of life received from Him, every bite of food we consume is a provision received from the bounty of His hands, and every step we take has already been ordained for us by His will and plan for us. We are not an accident, we are not a mistake, we have not been abandoned to our own devices and blind luck, and we are not at the mercy of either the whims of nature or the acts of malevolent people bent upon our destruction… we are in the hands of Almighty God the Father.
The dry valley will not last. The glorious mountaintop is ahead. Give glory to God!!