Sacred Reverence :: Part 3

(This was originally posted on August 5, 2011.  It has been pulled from the archives and edited.)

Note: You may want to read “Sacred Reverence :: Part 1” & “Sacred Reverence :: Part 2” if you have not yet done so.

I laid out the situation in the Part 1, my “theory” that took God out from any blame for my birth defects and subsequent pregnancy losses. Then in Part 2, I explained how God entered the situation and showed me how my “theory” was wrong. In this post, my goal is to attempt to explain how God and the situation reconcile together ~ in giving God the utmost sacred reverence in the face of being made with physical imperfections that caused huge grief.

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Let’s start at some basics. As I was coming to grips with this, I sat down and outlined the reasons that bad things happen to people. In very broad, basic terms, it seems to me that there are probably five reasons, at least that we as humans can see, why bad things happen. These include:

  • an individual making a bad choice and having to deal with the consequences personally
  • an individual making a bad choice that affects another individual’s life badly
  • spiritual warfare (attacks from the devil/demons)
  • God allowing things to happen
  • God disciplining His children (although not all discipline is in the form of “bad” things)

In light of the subject of birth defects, I know that they are not a result of me making a bad choice ~ they were in no way, shape or form my fault. Some birth defects, including the ones I was born with, can be the result of the mother taking drugs or even some prescription medications. However, that’s not in my case. I don’t believe that my birth defects were a result of spiritual warfare. I don’t believe that the devil has enough power to be able to “butt in” to the creation process and cause birth defects. There was no where else to turn except to God. I have come to believe that He allowed and willed my birth defects to happen ~ that He made me exactly the way He had intended, birth defects and all. And then as I’ve matured and grown up both with God and with the birth defects, I feel that He has used them as a tool for discipline (spiritual growth) for me.

Discipline, Not Punishment

I feel that I should explain something about discipline here. A lot of people interchange the word “discipline” and “punishment”. However, if you look at the actual meanings of those two words, they simply cannot be interchanged or looked at as similar. Discipline means “to teach” or “to direct”. As parents, our goal is to discipline our children, and not just when they do something wrong. When they do something wrong, we discipline them to understand why what they did was wrong and teach the consequences and why it was an undesirable thing to do, and to do that, many times there is a punishment that goes along with that. But as they live their lives, we should be teaching them, directing them, and growing them up into maturity – proactively guiding them – this is discipline.  (Not living reactive where punishment is usually at the forefront.) 

An example of discipline is something as simple as making a toddler take a nap. God showed me this analogy very clearly not long ago. My toddler was playing and having fun in her own toddler world, laughing and giggling. I looked at the clock and it was 1:00 – nap time! I went over and scooped her up and told her its nap time and took her to her room. Her smiles quickly changed to crying, whining and protest. Her fun – going along minding her own business, doing whatever she was doing, had been rudely interrupted by me. I don’t like interrupting her fun, but for her sake and both of our sanity, I know that it’s best to stay as disciplined as we can to stick to her nap schedule. She wasn’t doing anything wrong to be sent to her room in exile for a nap. It’s just one of those things where “Mamma knows best”, done out of love, though she can’t understand that now. It probably just looks mean and cruel to her, for no good reason, much like “punishment” actually is. Punishment is like terror and revenge – it’s what constitutes abuse.  

God is a God of love and is Love. He disciplines (teaches, trains, directs) His children out of love to bring them into spiritual maturity and a closer relationship with Him. He doesn’t just rain down punishments for no good reason, to poke at us with folly, or to abuse us for some sick, twisted reason. He LOVES us.

Perspectives & Perceptions

This is where I want to touch on perspectives or perceptions. As God’s children, just like my toddler, we can be going about our lives, having fun, minding our own business, and BAM! Something comes along and happens to us that rudely interrupts our fun, our lives. All we see is the rude interruption, the bad emotions rising up within us (sadness, grief, anger, irritation), and we don’t see a reason. Some people do think God is punishing them. It just seems mean and cruel and not fair. That is our perception of the situation. And as humans on earth with finite thinking and knowledge, we can’t know or see or understand the whole perspective from God’s view. We can’t know exactly how He’s working. We have to trust that He knows best and is working out of love. (Which He has proved to me in my life, and thus my trust in Him, my love with Him…as well as my surrender and obedience to Him, has grown by leaps and bounds by this proving – this discipline.  There’s no denying, though, that it is still hard.)

Is it any wonder, then, why God put four verses about perspective right in the middle of the most famous chapter about LOVE in the Bible? 1 Corinthians 13:9-12 says this,

For our knowledge is fragmentary (incomplete, imperfect), and our prophecy (our teaching) is fragmentary (incomplete and imperfect). But when the complete and perfect (total) comes, the incomplete and imperfect will vanish away (become antiquated, void, and superseded). When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; now that I have become a man, I am done with childish ways and have put them aside. For now we are looking in a mirror that gives only a dim (blurred) reflection [of reality as in a riddle or enigma], but then [when perfection comes] we shall see in reality and face to face! Now I know in part (imperfectly), but then I shall know and understand fully and clearly, even in the same manner as I have been fully and clearly known and understood [by God].” AMP (bold mine)

Again, we can’t know exactly how He’s working…our perception is dim and blurred, incomplete and imperfect… it’s actually a skewed view of the totality of reality.

These verses go together great with my analogy of nap time – as a child talks, thinks & reasons like a child (as if the loving discipline was punishment or that God wasn’t even in it at all because it’s hard to reconcile a loving, caring God with something bad), but now when I have matured, I have put those notions (of punishment or excluding God from the situation) aside, and chosen to accept God’s loving discipline in the midst of a bad thing, all the while drawing closer to Him and pursuing a higher calling. When we finally get to heaven, we will know and see fully what is going on “behind the scenes”. We will know what true reality is, and not just have to continue living by our perceptions of reality.

Transforming Love

It’s kind-of like we need to give God the benefit of the doubt (faith) that He really is working things out for our good and with love. All of the grief and pain that both of my birth defects have caused me, including the loss of three babies, has been gut-wrenching going through it, but it has been transforming and amazing and beyond human understanding of anything I could ever ask or think in my resulting relationship with God. The benefits aren’t only for me. I have a new compassion and passion for people groups (people with birth defects, women who have lost babies, or struggle with infertility issues) – I can relate to these people now and empathize with them. And by experiencing suffering of my own, and all the emotions, I can even relate better to people suffering in other ways, and am more in touch with my emotions. I can find ways to minister to these people now and reach out to them and comfort them. I can be God’s hands and feet on earth for these people, in helping to give them hope and point them to God’s love. Ultimately, I can help to start and/or strengthen people’s personal relationships with God. It’s not about me anymore, as it naturally is with the fresh sting of a loss; I want everyone to experience the amazing transforming love of God. My heart is heavy for others.

Perfect Plans = Pain

I read “The Knowledge of the Holy” by A.W. Tozer. In that book, I was struck by how often Tozer refers to God as perfect. Then it made a connection in my head that really what’s wrong with most people, (including probably why certain people are atheists or agnostics), is they simply don’t believe that God is perfect. The perception of perfection is not true perfection. It’s hard to accept that, I think, for most people. They have a perception that perfection should mean no birth defects, no lost babies, no infertility, no wars, no divorce, no cancer, no bankruptcy, etc. This seems logical. However, I think that in order for God’s full, perfect plans to come about, refining and growing that can only be known by these hardships and pain has to be present.

To choose how we will react in circumstances and grow, to truly love God and others, can only come with suffering.

Loving God and loving others is perfection, at whatever cost that has to come. It cost God His only Son, Jesus, to relate to and to show His love to us.

I read somewhere, “We would never know the light if there was no darkness to compare it to.” One way to take that is that we would never know perfection if there was no suffering to compare it to.

Thoughts on Suffering

Here are some great thoughts from “A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows Through Loss” by Jerry Sittser. Jerry’s story is remarkable. He lost his wife, his mother, and one daughter in a drunk driving accident. He says,

“This book is about catastrophic loss and the transformation that can occur in our lives because of it… Once I started to think about my own loss, I found myself exploring a new world of meaning that opened up before me. I began to ask questions and eventually to find answers that proved to be both satisfying and unsettling… It is how we respond to loss that matters. That response will largely determine the quality, the direction, and the impact of our lives… it is possible to live in and be enlarged by loss, even as we continue to experience it. Response involves the choices we make, the grace we receive, and ultimately the transformation we experience in the loss. We will find our souls healed, as they can only be healed through suffering.” 

Even though his losses of his close family members were different from my losses, I could totally relate to his thoughts, feelings, emotions and the transformation that he speaks of. When things are said and done, there is an understanding that we aren’t thankful for the circumstances, however, it is possible to still find the ability to be thankful in the circumstances. The soul has expanded. A different kind of joy is found.

Another book I read is “How to Handle Adversity” by Charles F. Stanley. This book had many great nuggets for me. Here are some of Charles’ thoughts:

  • “Some things are so important to God that they are worth interrupting the happiness and health of His children in order to accomplish them… the Son of God allowed those He loved to suffer and die for the sake of some higher purpose.”
  • “When you hurt, God hurts. Regardless of what He may be in the process of accomplishing, regardless of how noble His purposes may be, He is in touch with what you are feeling.”
  • “…whatever He is in the process of accomplishing through our suffering will always be for our best interest. The degree to which things actually work out for our best interests is determined by our response. As we trust God through our adversity, when all is said and done, we will sincerely believe it was worth it all.”
  • “…His goals in all that happened were to bring glory to God and to cause others to believe in Him… was worth risking the rejection of some of His closest friends. It was even worth the death of a loved one.”
  • “More important than keeping everybody healthy was moving people to faith. Just as He allowed those He loved to suffer for the sake of those who had not believed, so He will allow us to suffer today. Nothing gets the attention of an unbeliever like a saint who is suffering successfully.”
  • “I can hear the skeptic now, ‘Are you saying that God would allow me – His child – to suffer for the sake of some unsaved person?’ That is exactly what I am saying. But keep in mind, it was His Son who prepared the way. If almighty God saw fit to allow His own Son to suffer unjustly that we might saved, why should we think it below us to suffer so that others might believe?”
  • In talking about a child born with Down syndrome, Charles writes, “Would God allow this child to be born with a handicapping condition for the sake of thirty nurses? Absolutely. Just as He allowed a man to be born blind that His Son might heal him. Just as He would allow one whom He loved to die in order that he might be raised. And just as He allowed His own Son to be murdered in order that many might receive eternal life. God allows suffering so that others might come to faith in His Son.”
  • “…God’s goal for you and me is not ease, comfort, or pleasure. Neither is it that we simply avoid eternal condemnation. Many Christians believe, however, that these two ideas are the sum total of God’s will for their lives.” 

God’s goal is for us to conform to the image of His Son, with Him living through us. Some of these nuggets might be tough pills to swallow. However, they refocus our thinking and perspective.
Finally, I want to share a little from the book, “Disappointment With God” by Philip Yancey.

  • “Why the delay? Why does God let evil and pain so flagrantly exist, even thrive, on this planet? Why does He let us do slowly and blunderingly what He could do in an eyeblink? He holds back for our sakes. Re-creation involves us; we are, in fact, at the center of His plan. The Wager, the motive behind all human history, is to develop us, not God. Our very existence announces to the powers in the universe that restoration is under way. Every act of faith by every one of the people of God is like the tolling of a bell, and a faith like Job’s reverberates throughout the universe.”
  • “We cannot understand what “rules” apply to a God who lives outside of time, as we perceive it, and yet sometimes steps into time… whenever we try to figure out God’s role in any given event, we necessarily see things “from below,” judging His behavior by the frail standards of a time-contingent morality. In another dimension, we will undoubtedly view such matters very differently. We remain ignorant of many details, not because God enjoys keeping us in the dark, but because we have not the faculties to absorb so much light.”
  • “The kind of faith God values seems to develop best when everything fuzzes over, when God stays silent, when the fog rolls in.”
  • “The deepest longings we feel on earth, as parents, as lovers, are mere flickers of the hungering desire God feels for us. It is a desire that cost Him the Incarnation and the Crucifixion.”
  • “The apostles go on to explain what good can result from such “redeemed suffering”: maturity, wisdom, genuine faith, perseverance, character, and many rewards to come. Why rejoice? Not for the masochistic thrill of the trial itself, but because what God did Easter Sunday on large scale He can do on small scale for each of us… as Paul expressed it, “All things work together for good.” That well-known passage is often distorted. Some people interpret its meaning as “Only good things will happen to those who love God.” Paul meant just the opposite, and in the very next paragraph he defines what “things” we might expect: trouble, hardship, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, sword. Paul endured all those. Yet, he insists, “in all these things we are more than conquerors”; no amount of hardship can separate us from the love of God.”
  • “The two worlds, seen and unseen, merge in Christ; and we, as Paul kept insisting, are quite literally “in Christ.” Embodiment is the end of all God’s work, the goal of all creation. From below, we tend to think of miracle as an invasion, a breaking into the natural world with spectacular force, and we long for such signs. But from above, from God’s point of view, the real miracle is one of transposition: that human bodies can become vessels filled with Spirit, that ordinary human acts of charity and goodness can become nothing less than the incarnations of God on earth.”
  • “The Spirit will not remove all disappointment with God. The very titles given to the Spirit – Intercessor, Helper, Counselor, Comforter – imply there will be problems. But the Spirit is also “a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come,” Paul said, drawing on an earthly metaphor from the financial world. The Spirit reminds us that such disappointments are temporary, a prelude to an eternal life with God. God deemed it necessary to restore the spiritual link before re-creating heaven and earth.”
  • “God’s plan includes risk on both sides. For us, it means risking our independence by committing to follow an invisible God who requires of us faith and obedience. For God, it means risking that we, like the Israelites, may never grow up; it means risking that we may never love Him. Evidently, He thought it a gamble worth taking.”

I want to point out that this whole idea of God disciplining people, first of all, He only uses things to discipline His children – believers who have accepted His free gift of salvation through Jesus. God does take a huge risk in disciplining us if it isn’t in a way that seems loving to us. (Not all discipline comes from something bad happening, either! Quite the contrary, in a relationship with God, He will show us and teach us and guide us in very loving, gentle ways as well. But He won’t always step in to save us from bad things and will choose to instead use them and grow us through them.) Our perspective and reactions need to be right, in order for the discipline to grow us and for God’s plans to work through it.

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Aside from the lessons in these Sacred Reverence posts, my biggest comforts come from:

#1 Realizing that God is completely in control and is using everything for my good, (I think much good has come out of this), and being able to fully trust and love God, and give Him the sacred reverence that is due Him.

#2 Knowing that my three babies are in heaven with God – living in a perfect place with a perfect body and a perfect Father, and one day I will meet them and know them.

I hope that by sharing these things, they may help someone with their struggles to at least begin to see God’s goodness, despite the circumstances, and reconcile seemingly bad things with a loving God.

“Life is whatever I receive it to be…
Why not jump over doubt and dive into belief?
No eye has seen nor ear has heard…
My faith is breathing only because, I hear these words…
Exceeding and abundantly more than we could even ask or think
Surpassing all human understanding
I’ve been given this amazing peace!”
~Beckah Shae, “LIFE” lyrics

Hugs & Blessings,

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