For although You were angry with me, Your anger is turned away, and You comfort me. (from Isaiah 12:1)
I have a friend who will not read the Old Testament. The strain between it and the New Testament is just too much for him. I’m not that jaded but I do get it. Does God and his Old Testament dealings with man ever puzzle you or, does this all fit together neatly for you? Our passage today presented a puzzle piece to me and it has prompted me to pray, “Father, if Christ died for me while I was yet a sinner when was it that You were angry with me?”
This was just one of the puzzle pieces the Bible and life’s circumstances had scattered out on my game table. There were also puzzle pieces related to God’s sovereignty and mine and many which related to the interplay between good and evil. Frequently I would look at the disparate pieces and think, God may not be directly responsible but, in his omni-status, he must (and it pains me to even think this) at least be a passive accessory to what I perceive as tragic outcomes.
I desperately wanted to complete this puzzle. Once it was finished I believed that I would have an accurate composite of God which looked the way it needed to – then I could love and trust him. The problem was that new (and definitely unwanted) pieces were continually being added to the puzzle. When I worked the puzzle, dark and misshapen images of God would appear. I was stumbling badly… “Lord, If you can do all things, how is it that (insert your own nightmare puzzle piece) has happened! How can this be!” I had not watched over my heart. Without much work, I had built a case against God. Having pieces that seemed to come from different puzzles did not make me want to sing. It made me want to scream.
Many in this place (like my friend boycotting the OT) have given up finding God in the scriptures or in life. For them there is an unworkable deal-breaking tension between His so-called goodness and the ever present badness of life. For them the strain of this puzzle is is too much. They vow to avoid a God who is so inconsistent, so unsafe.
If you are in this place may I make a suggestion as one who has begun to sing again? Be totally honest with yourself and God about your anger, your heartbreak, your disappointment and yes, even your unbelief. Speak to Him (scream if necessary) with all the emotional honesty you can muster. I promise you, he can handle it. It will in fact be the music he has been waiting to hear from you – a song filled with honest lyrics. This is his specialty. Recall; Jesus is the Man of Sorrows who was misunderstood, rejected and abused, who ultimately hurled his question (and ours) directly at God from the cross…
Father, why hast Thou forsaken me?
And then there was David. Listen to his song when his puzzle wasn’t coming together.
Lord, You have forgotten me. How long until I see Thy redemption?!
All men are confronted with this puzzle; at some level we are all working on it. Some remove pieces until they can assemble an image of God to their liking. Others, in anger, kick the game table aside and say, “To hell with this puzzle!” Then, there are those commendable hearts, like David’s, who, after venting their heartbreak and anger, do what Isaiah did. They choose to sing.
I will give thanks to Thee, Oh Lord…I will trust…I will not be afraid…I will joyously draw near…I will call upon His name…I will cry aloud.
For a season, our sacrifice of praise may include intellectual strain and emotional pain. But every saint who has carried their cross and worked out this aspect of their salvation will testify
There is joy in the morning.
Here is a powerful mystery; In-Christ our spirits have the capacity to behold God as he is, even while the puzzle is unfinished. If we will persevere, hostile thoughts and emotions will eventually wain, wounds will ultimately heal, if they are offered to God with open hands and an open heart. Eventually the sun will rise and we will join Isaiah, singing before the world and the great cloud of witnesses…
God you are my strength and my song and You have become my salvation. I have learned to joyously draw water from the springs of my salvation. You have done excellent things in me and I will tell my story. I will sing my song.
In the mysterious economy of God’s ways, he somehow uses those places of our greatest pain to compose the most significant parts of our songs. It is in the process of rewriting the music in our hearts we discover a more intimate dimension of relationship with God. It is in the daily crucible of life where relationship with God becomes personal, where we make the priceless discovery that he is our’s and we are his.
Father, It is our destiny to sing. Teach us to reclaim our songs from the ash heaps of our life. Help us to entrust our unanswered questions to You until such a time we need to know (if that even exists). Even though our minds cannot catalogue nor organize You, thank You for giving our hearts the capacity to behold You by faith and to sing of Your goodness. May our hearts return in innocence to that place where we not only hold You harmless but esteem You as good. Amen.