Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Our Pain and His Promises: How to Bridge the Gap

Have you experienced that seemingly impassable divide between your present circumstances and God’s promises of love, joy, peace, healing and deliverance? I certainly have. For years, I was unable to experience any of my Savior’s promises. Depression and panic attacks tore so violently at me that going to church was a torment.

It seemed to me that everyone else was a spiritual winner and I was the biggest looser. They were realizing God’s blessings in their lives and I wasn’t, or so it seemed. Compounding my problems, I was convinced that there was something horribly the matter with me.

Similarly, a friend informed me that he had been experiencing the unceasing torment of same-sex attraction. He had become a sex-addict and found himself unable to escape the cycle of shame and guilt followed by praying for the Lord’s deliverance. His life was entirely removed from God’s unreachable promises of deliverance.

Unfulfilled hope grows faint, and many seek greener pastures elsewhere. How, then, can we grasp hold of the reality of God’s promises when they seem so far off – so ephemeral like a desert mirage? First, we need to realize that we are not alone:

·        No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it. (1 Cor. 10:13)

In fact, the burdens that we bare are the same ones with which the Psalmists also struggled. In a typical lament, the Psalmist lays out the problem. He begins by citing the promises of God in God’s own words:

·        I will maintain my love to him [David] forever, and my covenant with him will never fail… I will not violate my covenant or alter what my lips have uttered…that his line will continue forever and his throne endure before me like the sun; it will be established forever like the moon, the faithful witness in the sky." (Psalm 89:28-37)

Once the Psalmist recaps God’s glory, faithfulness and promises, he then brings his angry indictments against God:

·        But you have rejected, you have spurned, you have been very angry with your anointed one. You have renounced the covenant with your servant and have defiled his crown in the dust. You have broken through all his walls and reduced his strongholds to ruins… O Lord, where is your former great love, which in your faithfulness you swore to David? (Psalm 89:38-40)

He charged that God has failed to fulfill His promises – that Israel is now in ruins, seemingly contradicting God’s promises of unabated future glory. This raises a related problem. Is there a contradiction in God’s Word? Is it therefore untrustworthy? Are the Psalms no more than an expression of the human struggle and not completely the Word of God?

Indeed, we are faced with what appears to be a bold-faced contradiction: The Psalmist cites God as saying, “I will not violate my covenant or alter what my lips have uttered,” but the Psalmist charges, “You have renounced the covenant!” Contradiction, right?

Not necessarily! Scripture often contains errant human statements to make its point. Job’s three friends had stated many things that were wrong. Besides, when God appeared to correct Job, He charged that Job had stated many things wrong about God!

Does this mean that we can no longer trust Scripture? Well, no! However, we first have to determine the overall purpose of the book. The Book of Job demonstrated that we all have our breaking point, even the most righteous of men. In Job’s case, his suffering brought his self-righteousness to the surface. He eventually repented of his wild charges against God.

Likewise, in the Psalms, in an inerrant manner, God brings to the surface human errant sentiments and statements. In the case of Psalm 89, the Psalmist concluded his indictments with a simple statement of trust: “Praise be to the Lord forever! Amen and Amen.”

This is perplexing! How can the Psalmist conclude with praise to a God who he knows to be unfaithful? He can’t! Instead, at the end of his diatribe, the Psalmist reaffirmed his faith in God despite the tremendous chasm between God’s promises and Israel’s present disappointing reality.

However, despite the apparent contradiction, the Psalmist reasserts his faith in the God of Israel and reassures himself that there is a resolution to the tension, albeit obscured by his God.

In another Psalm, the Psalmist receives the answer to his dilemma – a divine revelation. He too had experienced the seemingly impassable chasm. While Scripture clearly taught the blessedness of those who followed their God, the Psalmist perceived that it was the other way around – that the evil were receiving all of the blessings! He temporarily concluded that he was wasting his time serving God:

·        Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure; in vain have I washed my hands in innocence. (Psalm 73:13) 

However, after God had bridged the impassable chasm between reality and promise, by way of revelation, everything was then changed for the Psalmist. He was enabled to see the big picture in which God resolved everything - the puzzle fit together and every mountain and impassable chasm became a highway into His presence:

·        I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you. Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Psalm 73:22-26)

We are all ‘brute beasts” before God. We are all so undeserving of His mercy. Our Lord uses the tension between our painful and humbling present reality and His promises of glory to reveal this to us. He uses this protracted waiting period to kindle within us a knowledge and a longing for Him alone:

·        Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. (1 Peter 4:12-13)

If life is too comfortable here – if there is no tension between reality and promise – we will not “be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” Instead, we would probably apply for a time extension – “Come back in a couple of months. I’m not ready yet!”

My friend had to persevere in faith for years, but finally he was delivered from the torments of same-sex attraction. Sadly, many have not persevered. Perhaps they had the false expectation that reality and promise would immediately come together and therefore became overly discouraged.

In the midst of my many-year struggle with depression and panic attacks, I had forsaken any hope of deliverance. It just didn’t seem that the gulf between my reality and His promises could ever be breached. Fortunately, I had tried everything else out, and everything had proved an unmitigated disappointment. Therefore, I had nowhere else to go and continued to camp out at God’s doorstep. The door was closed but perhaps it might open. It wasn’t much of a hope, but it was my only hope. Meanwhile, the Psalmist counsels, “wait!”

·        I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord. (Psalm 27:13-14)

How then do we bridge the gap? Sometimes, the only thing we can do is wait. (But sometimes, it might also be “Repent, and follow Me!”)

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