Why We Might Not Want to Live Without Suffering

The other day, I learned the physiological mechanics of a mosquito bite.

Yee-haw.

Some of you might have seen the same animated video that I did as it makes the rounds on Facebook. I learned that it’s really all about the mosquito’s saliva (ick) – it acts as both an anesthetic and anticoagulant, allowing the female to get the blood she needs (what a wonderful provider God is!….I think…).

Then the video concluded with an interesting point: the actual swelling and itching of a mosquito bite isn’t directly caused by the saliva. It’s caused by the body’s immune  response to the bite. The saliva is an allergen, which triggers antibodies to attack the foreign intrusion, and that causes the swelling and itching we’re all familiar with as we writhe around upon the grassy ground, scratching like gangbusters.

I was reminded of other bodily responses. A lot of symptoms we experience to various problems aren’t actually caused by the problem: they’re the result of our body fighting the virus or the infection or whatever.

We would not want to live without physical pain.

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Renouncing the “Manipulative Mother” God

reachHave you ever been convinced that God is deliberately withholding something from you so that you’ll become more satisfied in him?

We want something. Said something delays and proves elusive. We consider the idea that God is behind the delays and start exploring the reasons why he might say no (a long research, as many of us know).

We discover a number of possibilities, each with a basis in Scripture. We learn that we might simply need to persist in prayer. Elijah did – and on something that he not only already knew was God’s will (making it rain) but held the sole responsibility in Israel for making happen, by God’s own decree.

We consider the possibility that our requests might not be as beneficial for us as we think (or that their timing might not be).

We learn that Satan has a role in our lives, and that God provides tools for resisting his ravages.

We examine our own hearts and lives to make sure our own sin is not setting us back.

But stick to your search for long enough and one theory will start cropping up and standing out more than any other: the idea that God is saying no purely to make you more satisfied in him.

If you’re reading the right pastors and authors, this one will find its way into your vocabulary. “Satisfied in him” is probably John Piper’s favorite three words. It was John Eldredge who introduced me to the idea: that God will allow difficulty or delay into our lives and prayers every once in a while, in order to purge us of our distractions and fruitless pursuits.

At first, it’s interesting from an academic point of view. You nod and acknowledge the fact that God alone is worthy of our praise, worthy of our highest value, worthy (and capable) of being the one vessel of satisfaction from which our hearts can draw.

But as time goes on, the idea gets…irritating.

You might already be irritated just having read it in my post.

At some point down the road, in a moment of deep frustration or heartbreak, you get honest: “God, why do you have to be this way?” It strikes us that God appears to be acting like that manipulative mother you see in bad teen movies, the type who sabotages her daughter’s relationships so that she’ll stay at home. “Why are you jealous of my happiness?” we bitterly pray. Perhaps the thought only flashes through our mind instead, and we guiltily stuff it down, but it still happened. It’s a vulnerable moment, as God seems distant and indifferent to our groaning prayers.

But God is not acting out of fear, loneliness, or pettiness, as the manipulative mother might. Such motives are impossible for him.

Instead, he is acting out of his delight for us.

“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,
   and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
because the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
   and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. – Hebrews 12:6-8

If unanswered prayers are a form of suffering (and they certainly can be, depending on the prayer), then they are also a form of discipline – and a sign of God’s ownership and acceptance of us. I’d rather that than getting everything I want but wondering whether I was really his.

God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing. – C.S. Lewis

That statement is quite alien to our daily thinking. We think we can get it. We really do. Just answer this prayer, give us this thing, and we’ll be good. Many of us don’t know that we can experience peace from God, much less that it’s more real than anything else.

God is not playing spoilsport, holding good things spitefully out of reach until we give him some attention. He is sweeping ugly spikes and pits out of the way until we can receive his greatest gift: himself. The idea that he is the greatest gift requires a total rearrangement of our worldly thinking. But it is a journey worth taking.