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~ The Pain and Blessing of the Storm ~
How interesting that the "steady-state" paradigm doesn't govern the kingdom of God. Daniel was not spared from being thrown into the lion's den. He was protected from harm while among the lions. (See Daniel 6.)
A prayer, "Spare me from the lions," could mean two different things: "Spare me from encountering them" or "Spare me while I am among them." God did both for me.
Regarding the first prayer, I have no idea how many times it was answered, how many times I was "delivered from evil" without me knowing it. I believe, given my human proclivities toward sin, the number is beyond counting, starting from my birth. "Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me" (Psalm 51:5). (So much for the "pure innocence" of children, who must be taught, early on, to not lie, obey, share their toys and not fight." The "terrible twos", referring to the age of children who can now speak and exert their wills, isn't a stage of development of independence but a manifestation of what some orthodox churches call "original sin," the inheritance of disordered DNA in the body and soul.)
Where God's hands are manifested for all to see lies in those places and times where I was among the lions and people watched sleeplessly for the outcome. When the outcome came, God's people would then praise Him, given Him all the honor, glory and gratitude. This is as it should be.
Psalm 107 fascinates me. It is an eloquent description of the juxtaposition and wisdom of evil connected to the divine:
"They were hungry and thirsty, and their lives ebbed away. Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress...
"Some sat in darkness and the deepest gloom, prisoners suffering in iron chains...Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress. He brought them out of darkness and the deepest gloom and broke away their chains...
"Some became fools through their rebellious ways and suffered affliction because of their iniquities...Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress. He sent forth his word and healed them...
"Others went out on the sea in ships...They saw the works of the Lord, his wonderful deeds in the deep. For he spoke and stirred up a tempest that lifted high the waves...In their peril their courage melted away...Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and he brought them out of their distress. He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed. They were glad when it grew calm, and he guided them to their desired haven...
"Whoever is wise, let him heed these things and consider the great love of the Lord."
In all these many examples, many enough to suggest God wanted to drive this point into our hard heads, danger and despair precedes deliverance and jubilation. The juxtaposition of the two are needed to have us perceive through our physical senses the divine interventions and presence.
When I am again thrown into the den of lions hungry for flesh, let me not forget Psalm 107 and its teachings. My God is more glorified, evident, praised and thanked than when I experience a steady-state of prosperity and blessings. My humanity, of course, desires that steady-state and interprets it has God's favor. The "gospel of prosperity" is very popular among some evangelical circles.
During a spiritual encounter conference, I was asked to introduce an exercise to the participants using my own life as the example. As I was familiar with the exercise, I informed the leaders that I was a bad choice since I would not model the conclusion to which they wanted the participants to arrive. They insisted and I accepted.
The exercise asked the participants to place on a graph two lines. The y (vertical) axis represented the degree of our relationship with God and the x (horizontal) axis was the timeline of our lives' major events and personal decisions. Two separate lines were to be graphed. The anticipated outcome of the exercise was to show, on paper, that the line representing our good and happy (prosperous and personally rewarding) life events would come very close, if not coinciding, with the line representing our closeness to God. Conversely, the line representing troubling events in our lives should be far removed from the line representing our affinity with God.
Well, my graph was "upside down." The times in my life when I was most personally productive, successful and "blessed" from a worldly viewpoint where the times I was most removed from my personal devotion, self-sacrifice and reliance on God. Most of the conference leaders "got it" as biblically supported as they recalled the lives and fates of the prophets and apostles. A few were upset and scrambled to recover the intended point of the exercise, that the closer one is to God and His will, the less trouble and hardships one will encounter in this life. They stuck to their program, but not to biblical or experiential reality.
Back to considering Psalm 107, why does God allow the prisoners to enter into gloom, the sailors to fear for their lives on stormy seas, or to suffer affliction, instead of sparing them from entering into the hungry lions' den? During the exodus from Egypt, why did God not have the sea already parted upon the Israelites' encounter with that seemingly hopeless barrier? Why make them sweat, lose heart and faith, and complain to Moses that their lives in slave labor in Egypt was preferable to making their graves in the desert sand?
My humanity, of course, desires that steady-state of happiness and contentment, but my spirit is most happy when my God, the Creator of my being and of all life, is made unmistakably evident to me and others in my suffering followed by grace, mercy and deliverance.
What greater honor can I be bestowed than to be a sign of the Creator's presence and work through His wayward children, I among them? "I lift up my eyes to the hills -- where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth" (Psalm 121:1-2). Of all resumes and credentials, nothing I ever read surpasses "Maker of heaven and earth." I am happy and honored, though most unworthy, to be included in it. As Boss, Master, Lord, the All, I am not about to think I can understand or make an opinion about the ways of the Maker of heaven and earth! I am most happy to be listed on His resume (The Book of Life as depicted in Christ's Revelation to St. John) as one of His references to His glory, a stumbling, unworthy and pitiful mortal man. Thank God He chooses the least of His people to invite to the head table of the Lamb's marriage to the Church! With His permission, however, I would be most happy to clean the heavenly Church's toilets, starting with the one I use. That, for me, is heaven.
John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
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