Knowing God through personal study and experiencing God in the crucible of suffering are two radically different things. This autobiographical short story briefly walks you through the worst day of my life; the day I met the Lord in the crucible of suffering.
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For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. – 1 Peter 2:21 (ESV)
It was 5:05 PM when I walked into our smallish double-wide mobile home and saw the piano was missing. We were having marriage problems, but it never occurred to me that it was at that level. I immediately knew my wife and children were gone.
I ran through the house looking for them. If you can momentarily lose your mind, I lost mine–to the point that I was looking in the closets and kitchen drawers for my family.
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After exhausting every inch of our home, I fell in the hallway, heaving. I called it, “beyond tears” because I could not cry; I could hardly breathe.
At 9:30 that evening, I fell over onto the floor beside my large King James Bible, just have reading the first line of Psalm 51: “God have mercy on me.”
That was the last thing I remember from April 8.
The next morning, I went to work, where there was a floor scale for weighing things. I stepped on it–a habit I developed for no particular reason other than it was on the path that I took to my office. The scale read 158 pounds. I had lost ten pounds in fifteen hours.
Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live. – Jonah 4:3 (ESV)
I eventually asked the Lord to take my life. I wasn’t going to do it, but I hoped He would.
He would not kill me or remove the suffering. I finally admitted how angry I was at Him for what He allowed.
But he is unchangeable, and who can turn him back? What he desires, that he does. For he will complete what he appoints for me, and many such things are in his mind. – Job 23:13-14 (ESV)
The Lord eventually completed what He had in His mind for me.
He crushed me (Isaiah 53:10).
Of Course, He Is Not Safe
Four miserable years later.
Afterward, He reassured me–though it was utterly and mysteriously vague–that there was a purpose in His crushing. I believed Him, though it was five more years before I saw even the faintest glimpse of what I thought His assurances meant.
I went to Bible college for four years to learn about God.
And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” – Mark 1:11 (ESV)
I went in the wilderness for nine years to experience Him.
The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him. – Mark 1:11-12 (ESV)
After meeting God in the wilderness, I began to see with a different set of eyes. He was creatively working in me to bring shape to my “theology of suffering worldview” (Philippians 2:12-13).
How could I serve Him well in His world without sympathizing with my Savior and with other sufferers? The Lord wanted me to see differently.
I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes. – Job 42:5-6 (ESV)
The Lord took away everything that was dear to me. I was single, fatherless, penniless, and homeless, with no future hope of restoration on any front, or even a future that would be any different from my present darkness.
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, a darkness to be felt.” – Exodus 10:21 (ESV)
There is a “normal” darkness that can come over the soul, and there is a darkness of the soul that can be felt deeply. This latter darkness transcends words. Sublunary language never reaches the height or the depth of that darkness. You feel it though you can’t articulate it. It’s deeper than deep (Psalm 42:7), of which there is only one cure. You must die (Matthew 16:24).
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. – John 12:24 (ESV)
But If It Dies
What I could not see, what I was afraid to see, and what I refused to see was the Lord. I did not want to look at Him. To look at God in the crucible of suffering was to stare into my death (Luke 22:42). That is when it first dawned on me; here is my epiphany.
He had a Son, “Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief.” (Isaiah 53:10) Now I’m one of His sons.
See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. – 1 John 3:1 (ESV)
Why should I consider it a strange thing (1 Peter 4:12) for my Father to make me walk in the steps of His beloved Son (1 Peter 2:21). I prayed for His forgiveness of my stubborn, self-righteous anger that was demanding He sees things my way.
He forgave me.
Then Nothing Changed.
Except, I seemed to perceive a sprinkle of hope coming like a small cloud forming in the sky about the size of a man’s hand.
And he went up and looked and said, “There is nothing.” And he said, “Go again, seven times.” And at the seventh time he said, “Behold, a little cloud like a man’s hand is rising from the sea.” – 1 Kings 18:43-44 (ESV)
Eventually, the rain came.
And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. – Philippians 1:6 (ESV)
I was ready to serve others.
For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Mark 10:45 (ESV)
Also published on Medium.