Blessings in Disguise

There are some theological points that I have refused to settle, either because they are more fun philosophical points that have very little impact to how to react to bad drivers in Texas, or because, like said drivers, they are really scary with a lot of weight behind them.

Maybe the most important question to settle, then, is that on suffering. It’s pretty huge. The basic question is, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” That stands until you disqualify the entirety of humanity as essentially good. The next question is, “Why do bad things happen?” Again, the quality qualification of “bad” eventually necessitates an arbiter of absolute justice outside of ourselves. It disqualifies us as the champion against bad and gives us complicity in the sourcing of evil.

The next question then, is “Where is God when I suffer?” It’s a fairly passive aggressive question, considering his omnipresent reality. Finally, after asking all of the questions we don’t really mean, we come to two essential questions that we must ask in times of duress or give up on faith entirely as complete pretenders. They are questions asked directly of God.

1. Did You do this to me?

2. What are You going to do about this?

There was a time when I actually asked God if He was the source of a very painful moment in my life. It was a wound inflicted by another person who would claim that his choices were steeped in prayer and religiosity. Therefore, I had to ask if it was actually divine justice that had caused so potent a wound. The answer was, “no.”

Not that there haven’t been times, though, directed by God’s will to test and prove something in our lives. See Job whose faithfulness was tested and strengthened, whose wisdom was found lacking in the light of the glory of God, whose friendship choices were displayed for the folly that friends can be in hard moments. (If Job had my friends, the book would have been much shorter)

There have been whole people groups set for destruction. I imagine the people of Egypt who benefitted from the slave labor of the Israelites but only slightly and, nonetheless, woke up one morning to mourn as one people due to the loss of the firstborn.

Asking the first question is important. If we are afraid to ask God about what His reality is, we stunt the growth of our faith. Faith does not share space with fear, therefore faith grown through fear is useless and perverse.

The second question is vastly more important, however, in the long run. If the first question looks backward casting about for cause, the second one looks forward hoping for the future.

I once took a group of students to Joplin, Missouri. Actually, we went three times. The most eye opening trip was the first we took, however. We expected to go into a zone of suffering, anguish, and grief. As we pulled into town, the houses looked like play homes suffering from the after effects of a four year old’s tantrum. Many homes were simply twigs of timbers jutting at every angle under the sun. Corrugated tin hung from amputated tree limbs like stiff laundry. No tree canopies spread. No shade. Only heat.

And this smell…

But where the town looked and smelled like death, the people exuded life. I spoke with a woman whose father was a first responder. Two days after their town was destroyed by a tornado, sirens wailed into the night again. Because of the horror stories shared by her father, she began to write names and social security numbers on all of the limbs of herself and her children. Her children began to sharpie obsessively onto the limbs of their dolls.

We spoke as she checked my group of students into her church like some sort of make-shift hotel. We bunked down in the pews and the classrooms filled over the course of the week with cots from other groups, all spreading out across Joplin to work on the recovery.

A day before the storm, their church leadership wondered how they could get more people into the church.

Each night we went to sleep, each square foot of the place was filled with living, breathing people.

Every site we went to work on people’s properties, the survivors told us with joy about the lives they saw saved. One had a classic corvette that he took our boys for rides in, like mounting a fire breathing dragon. Another had pictures from seventeen different neighbors she had gotten to know because of the storm. Some shared stories of miraculous survival.

One family told the story about the house they lost, which had just been completed the week before, which included a new storm shelter which saved their lives. By their estimation, a completely worthwhile investment and loss of massive amounts of money.

The utter perspective of these people on suffering was stark. It inspired my students to work their hearts out. Their work inspired a nearby relief worker to believe in God.

“What are You going to do about it?”

Just watch.

Our last Sunday in Joplin, we gathered for a worship service in a tent outside of the church. Inside was our sleeping area. Outside, a packed canopy gathered to hear about God’s love. One woman gathered there stepped up to the microphone and began to sing.

For my life, I don’t know how she managed to sing without completely losing it.

We pray for blessings, we pray for peace
Comfort for family, protection while we sleep
We pray for healing, for prosperity
We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering
And all the while, You hear each spoken need
Yet love us way too much to give us lesser things
‘Cause what if Your blessings come through rain drops?
What if Your healing comes through tears?
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near?
What if the trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise?
We pray for wisdom, Your voice to hear
We cry in anger when we cannot feel You near
We doubt Your goodness, we doubt your love
As if every promise from Your word is not enough
And all the while, You hear each desperat plea
And long that we’d have faith to believe
When friends betray us
When darkness seems to win
We know that pain reminds this heart
That this is not,
This is not our home
It’s not our home
What if my greatest disappointments or the aching of this life
Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can’t satisfy?
What if the trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise? [1]

1. Laura Story, “Blessings,” Blessings. Brentwood-Benson Music Publishing Company Inc. 2011. CCLI# 5897818

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