By Ben Swift
“The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.” This almost throwaway line has become somewhat cliché in modern conversation but I suspect its origins are more closely tied to a place of great tragedy and loss. Deep down, it probably speaks to some of our greatest fears. As we naturally come to deeply love the people and things of this life, doesn’t the potential of losing them sometimes become more emotionally crippling than even the fear of death itself?
When things go wrong and they always will at some point in our lives, we often seek to blame someone or something for the injustice that has taken place. The ultimate blame however, is often directed at God himself.
As if by some divine rite, mere human beings often stand in judgement of the Judge; accusing little clay pots finding fault in the work of the Master Potter.
Surely if God were a God of love he would end our suffering and bring about peace and prosperity for us all? How can a God who really cares appear so withdrawn from the cries of his creation?
“I cry out to you, O God, but you do not answer; I stand up, but you merely look at me.” (Job 30:20)
But have we really humbled ourselves enough to really consider the answers to these types of questions? And what of the consequences? For if God really was to eliminate all suffering he would have to eliminate sin and consequently all of humanity. There would be no one left to enjoy the peace.
For these are human questions and like Job we need to hear God’s answers, even when they stand far apart from the opinions of the world. We need to draw closer to the heart of God.
God’s ability to relate to his image bearers and the depth of his love are infinitely greater than we can ever comprehend. He does however, place in our possession, powerful, historical and scriptural accounts that through the work of his Spirit, can take us to a place of understanding; a place where our heart strings may become entwined with his, if even only for a moment, as we come to grasp just a little of the sacrifice he has made for us.
A powerful lesson can be learned about the depth of God’s love for us when we consider the story of Abraham and his beloved son Isaac. For a parent, the thought of losing a child and for some the experience of losing a child is as devastating a blow that life can deliver. So when Abraham is asked by God to sacrifice his precious son we can come to understand the mental torment this would have brought about.
A.W. Tozer in his book, ‘The Pursuit of God’, expresses Abraham’s torment on the night before he would sacrifice his son: The sacred writer spares us a close-up of the agony that night on the slopes near Beersheba when the aged man had it out with his God, but respectful imagination may view in awe the bent form and convulsive wrestling alone under the stars.
Interestingly, it’s at the point when we come to empathize with Abraham in the sacrifice he was willing to make for God that we can truly understand a little of the depth of love God has for his people including us. When all seemed lost for Isaac and his final heart beat was fast approaching, God intervened.
“Do not lay a hand on the boy,” He said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” (Genesis 22:12)
Surely as God provided not only a ram in place of Isaac, but also his one and only Son with whom He is well pleased, we can start to comprehend the true sacrifice made by him, an act of love so profound that while our hearts were far from him he was crucified for our sin.
‘Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and to cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.’ (Isaiah 53:10)
And so it is that the Triune God shows love for his image bearers in that the Father has given the Son with whom he is well pleased, the Son has given his life for the ransom of many, and the Holy Spirit has been given so that we may grow in faith through the life changing grace offered to us.
The truth is that God is far from being removed from the lives of his people. He knows all about suffering because he knows all about relationship. After all, the three persons of the Trinity have been living in a perfect love relationship eternally. While many aspects of God will remain incomprehensible one thing is clear: God is a God of love, relating to himself in perfect love and therefore suffered greatly while the Son was cruelly sacrificed under the weight of humanity’s sin.
While pain, suffering and loss will continue to rear their ugly heads throughout our lives, it should bring us comfort to know that when we need a God who is bigger than ourselves and who can relate to the anguish that so often accompanies loss and grief, our God understands and loves us. Not only does he want what’s best for us but he’s already taken care of it; as Jesus said on the cross, “It is finished.”
“Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)