September 8, 2011

Living with Mystery

Approaching the Unknown
I have a friend, Laura Lavigne, who loves life and art and food. Her primary message is living from essence. In March 2011, when the earthquake hit Japan, she shared a letter from her friend's cousin on her blog.

At the time of her letter, this young woman was living in Sendai, Japan, which was only 80 miles east of the epicenter of the earthquake, prime position for destruction from the tsunami that followed an hour later. Though her village was slightly elevated, protecting it from the worst, the situation was still dire for her village.

The full letter is posted here on Laura's blog. I happened to read that same day a passage in Psalm 18 that gave me pause. There are many things I read in the Bible that give me pause, and I cry out to Him to help me understand His nature, His ways, His mysteries.

Verses That Give Me Pause
(vs. 4-19, God's Word Translation)
"The ropes of death had become tangled around me. The torrents of destruction had overwhelmed me. The ropes of the grave had surrounded me. The clutches of death had confronted me. I called on the Lord in my distress. I cried to my God for help. He heard my voice from his temple, and my cry for help reached his ears.

"Then the earth shook and quaked. Even the foundations of the mountains trembled. They shook violently because he was angry. Smoke went up from his nostrils, and a raging fire came out of his mouth. Glowing coals flared up from it. He spread apart the heavens and came down with a dark cloud under his feet.

"He rode on one of the angels as he flew, and he soared on the wings of the wind. He made the darkness his hiding place, the dark rain clouds his covering. Out of the brightness in front of him, those rain clouds passed by with hailstones and lightning. The Lord thundered in the heavens. The Most High made his voice heard with hailstones and lightning. He shot his arrows and scattered them. He flashed streaks of lightning and threw them into confusion.

"Then the ocean floor could be seen. The foundations of the earth were laid bare at your stern warning, O Lord, at the blast of the breath from your nostrils. He reached down from high above and took hold of me. He pulled me out of the raging water. He rescued me from my strong enemy and from those who hated me, because they were too strong for me.

"On the day when I faced disaster, they confronted me, but the Lord came to my defense. He brought me to a wide-open place. He rescued me because he was pleased with me."

A Terrible God?
And who is this terrible God who seems to have been credited in this Psalm with causing an earthquake, or maybe a hurricane or a tsunami, with his anger? Doesn't it sound like He's the one we need to be saved from? I know some people believe exactly that.

And I agree with most of these folks when they talk about this god who brings natural disasters upon us without warning to destroy us in his anger. We definitely need rescuing from that god. I refuse to to follow a god who would destroy his people and call it saving them. We need a different god than this one. Do we have hope???

A Subtle & Crucial Difference
There is a subtle but crucial difference between saying I refuse to believe in a god who brings destruction on his people WITHOUT warning and saying that I do believe in the God of the New Testament, who is the same God of the Old Testament who allowed destruction to befall His people many times WITH warning.

The god I believe we need rescuing from is the one who is angry at people for their sin and is set against them because of it. The God of the New Testament is not angry with people for their sin, and He is not set against any person. He is grieved by our sin, but only because it separates us from Him.

People are not going to hell because God is angry with them. They are going to hell because they have not yet heard or believed the Good News of the Gospel, that they don't have to live in hell because Jesus paid the price for their sin.

Hell is separation from our Father God. It is being afraid of God, as though He is a mad and abusive parent waiting to strike us for our wrong thinking, wrong speaking, or wrong acting. Hell is being a slave to the Old Covenant and therefore to the power of sin and death. It's not believing what Jesus Christ did when He paid the penalty for our sin.

I was living in hell for a long time, even I gave my heart to Jesus in Sunday School when I was six. From hell, I was spreading the message of an angry god with my attitudes, with my behavior, and with my words. I no longer choose to partner with the word that brought death.

What is Fear?
Do I fear God? Absolutely. Am I afraid of Him? Absolutely NOT! The great mystery I search out is to understand the difference, write about my journey, and hope that others will begin to understand the difference along with me. We are not our enemy. Fear is our enemy.

David seemed unafraid of the storm. He seemed to think the storm actually caused confusion and problems for his enemies. What did he see that we can't seem to wrap our minds around?

To be truthful, I am beginning to wrap my mind around it, though I don't know if I can yet explain it. I know the God I serve did not send that earthquake and storm, and He did not allow countless people to suffer without a thought. I know that Love would not be so callous.

Laura's Friend Reflects on the Devastation
(Reprinted with permission) And what about Laura's friend in Sendai? Here are some of her thoughts about the devastation:

"But I am very blessed to have wonderful friends who are helping me a lot. Since my shack is even more worthy of that name, I am now staying at a friend’s home. We share supplies like water, food and a kerosene heater. We sleep lined up in one room, eat by candlelight, share stories. It is warm, friendly, and beautiful."

"During the day we help each other clean up the mess in our homes....If someone has water running in their home, they put out a sign so people can come to fill up their jugs and buckets....Quakes keep coming. Last night they struck about every 15 minutes. Sirens are constant and helicopters pass overhead often."

"We feel grubby, but there are so much more important concerns than that for us now. I love this peeling away of non-essentials. Living fully on the level of instinct, of intuition, of caring, of what is needed for survival, not just of me, but of the entire group."

"Other unexpected touches of beauty are, first, the silence at night. No cars. No one out on the streets. And the heavens at night are scattered with stars. I usually can see about two, but now the whole sky is filled.  The mountains around Sendai are solid and with the crisp air we can see them silhouetted against the sky magnificently."

"And the Japanese themselves are so wonderful. I come back to my shack to check on it each day, now to send this e-mail since the electricity is on, and I find food and water left in my entranceway. I have no idea from whom, but it is there. Old men in green hats go from door to door checking to see if everyone is OK. People talk to complete strangers asking if they need help. I see no signs of fear. Resignation, yes, but fear or panic, no."

"Somehow at this time I realize from direct experience that there is indeed an enormous Cosmic evolutionary step that is occurring all over the world right at this moment. And somehow as I experience the events happening now in Japan, I can feel my heart opening very wide. My brother asked me if I felt small because of all that is happening. I don’t. Rather, I feel as part of something happening that is much larger than myself. This wave of birthing (worldwide) is hard, and yet magnificent."

Serving the Same God
I can't fully explain how I know this wasn't God, but perhaps it's not mine to explain. It seems to me that our Sendai friend and I serve the same God. It seems as though watching the media's version of events from our cozy armchairs, we may have missed something important. I don't know, but maybe.

I do know this: I have heard countless stories of people in natural disasters being rescued by the very angels Psalm 18 says God rides on when He comes against His enemies. And I also know this: I am not an enemy of God. He is not against me.

I hope you can say the same thing for yourself.

My prayer for you, for me, and for Japan is this: May the God of hope fill us all with joy and peace as we learn to trust in Him. For as we trust in Him, as He truly is, we will overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (paraphrase of Romans 15:13)

Peace & Joy,


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    In the Bible, Jesus often responded to questions with questions. Here are a few questions to ponder.

    Who is God? Is He really the God of Holy Scripture, or is He someone we have fashioned in our minds? Is He really the God who destroyed entire civilizations in His wrath or is he only a loving God? Is he really a God of justice or is he only a God of peace and love? Does He really allow bad things to happen to good people? Would he really send someone to hell...for eternity?

    Do we believe God's word is truth, or do we make amendments along the way to suit our liking? Do we believe God would abstain from doing something because it's not what we would do? Could it be possible that His standards of perfection and justice are higher than ours?

    Are we followers of Jesus Christ based upon the truth of Holy Scripture or have we made up who we would like Jesus to be?

    Do we need to be saved from God? Is it possible to be saved from God? If so, who would save we? Certainly not Jesus, because He and His Father are one. Jesus is the Word and the Word is God.

    Have we let our minds change who God really is?

    God tells us in scripture that His word is truth. It is my deepest prayer that we abide in His truth and not fashion the God of truth into a God of our liking. There is nothing the devil wants more than for us not to abide in the truth, thereby falling away from God.

    Is the God of the Truth loving and kind? Absolutely. Is the God of Truth righteous and just? Absolutely. Does he bring judgement upon nations and destroy civilizations in his wrath? According to the truth (His Word), yes, he does. Did He, in his wrath, bring the earthquake and tsunami on Japan? Only He knows, but one thing is for certain...he allowed it to happen. Did my little brother have to be killed at the age of 23, leaving behind a family in agony? One thing is for certain...God allowed it to happen. Did Jesus really have to be tortured and die a criminal's death in the worst way imaginable? Would God really allow that to happen to his own son? One thing is for certain...It was His perfect will and He allowed it to happen.

    I wish nothing bad would ever happen in this world. I wish it could never be possible that God would destroy his people. I wish my brother did not have to die. I wish, I wish , I wish.

    All I can do is put my faith in the God of Truth, knowing that His ways are better than mine, and I place my faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of my sins and the promise of eternal life with him.

    God gave us His Word, and his word is truth. It is my deepest prayer that we not change the truth of who God is and what is revealed of Him in scripture is to make it more palletable for our taste.

    I write this not to criticize or judge you. I am a sinner among sinners. I write this only to encourage you and let you know that I love you so very much.

    You loving cousin,

  2. These are excellent questions and points for all of us to consider. I do not receive them as criticism or judgment. In fact, I receive them as an answer to prayer. I want this to be a safe place for people to challenge what I ask their own explore the mysteries of God together. I don't like to do anything alone.

    I ask questions and pose unpolished thoughts and ideas to generate more questions. I do not claim to have it all figured out. I do not claim to know God any better than anyone else. I do not have all the answers, and I want to be clear that the very small glimpses I've revealed here of what I believe are not the whole picture.

    I am the last person who would wish to fabricate God into my own image. I embrace a God of mystery...a God who does not have to explain Himself, but who chose to represent Himself fully in His Son. A God who often leads me through darkness instead of steering me around it. A God I have come to trust, to love, to completely surrender myself to even when He doesn't make sense.

    However, one thing I refuse to continue doing is to study the New Testament in light of the Old Testament. Instead, I have purposed to study Jesus and look at the whole of the Bible with Jesus as my perfect theology.

    Jesus said He came to show His Father's heart. He healed every person who came to Him. He healed ALL diseases, He raised people from the dead, and He left deposits of life-changing joy everywhere He went.

    I have spent a lot of years wrapped up in approaching the God of the Old Testament without the full understanding and revelation of the God that Jesus came to represent, who is the same God yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

    I am so sorry for the agony you are going through, Andy, as you grieve for your brother. May He restore all things and more as you press into Him for revelation of the mysteries He has hidden away for kings to discover. Bless you, dear cousin. And thank you for having the courage to ask your questions and challenge my thoughts. I appreciate that more than you may ever know. ~Angela

  3. Beautiful posts, Angela and Andy! And so helpful to me now post-visit to the nursing home where I visited my Aunt Esther and saw dozens of older people in a seemingly pointless existence--made me wonder about God's loving-kindness and my lack of understanding.