Sunday, February 8, 2015

God in the Free-Fall

I was about 14 years old when I went repelling in the Shenandoah Mountains. It was at once the most thrilling and the most intimidating thing I have ever done. The hardest part? Going over the edge. I had the harness and diaper firmly attached by a repelling expert, but trusting that it would keep me safe as I went backwards over the edge was very hard to do.
When we are little, we dream of growing up to become successful. And while 'successful' itself is defined in any number of ways, we all tend to see it as a basic presence of comfort, be that comfortable spouses, children, and friendships, a comfortable income, a comfortable soul housed in a comfortable body.

Oh, we know that marriage and raising children is hard work. We're familiar with things like infertility and cancer, accidents and infidelity, unemployment and financial disaster. But they dance on the edge of impossible. Those things don't really happen, at least not to us, because we go to great lengths to ensure that they don't. We eat right and exercise, take care of our houses and our cars, are ethical employees and business owners. We enter carefully into covenant relationships. We set aside the Dave Ramsey emergency fund. The list goes on and on and on...We pursue success, however we define that, with all seriousness.

Last week, on Christian radio: "Pastor Mary" came on and chatted with the D.J. for a few minutes about calamity and how she reassures that her people that calamity is never from God, but God uses it.

Unfortunately, Christian radio doesn't always offer more value than its secular counterpart. The account I cite above was wrong on a couple levels, one of which is for another day, but I jabbed my finger at the off-button in disgust.
Wrong, wrong, wrong.

I form light and create darkness, causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the Lord, who does all these. Isaiah 45:7

God is the author of calamity. He gets to do whatever He wants to do. That's what makes Him sovereign. Or let me say it this way: that's what makes Him God. When we grow up, we often discover that Life does not go the way we dreamed it would when we were young. Along the way, we forgot to factor in the storms, the cliffs, the free-falls.

We know that He is sovereign over light; we forget He is sovereign over darkness.
We know that He is sovereign over life; we forget that He is sovereign over death.
We know that He is sovereign over sight; we forget that He is sovereign over blindness.

So,  we buckle our kids securely in the car; we work to keep them healthy; we pray for them. And sometimes, God puts His sovereign hand on the small of our back and pushes us to the edge of the cliff....

We set aside a rainy day fund. We budget carefully, tithe faithfully and live frugally. And sometimes, God puts His sovereign hand in the small of our back and pushes us to the edge of the cliff...

We work hard at our marriages and our friendships. We commit to walking with integrity. And sometimes, God puts His sovereign hand in the small of our back and pushes us to the edge of the cliff...

Life will bring us to the edge of the cliff for one reason or another because it is at the edge of the cliff where God teaches you things you would never learn when you are happy, healthy, and well-fed. But it's worse. Sometimes God puts His sovereign hand in the small of your back--and pushes you over the cliff's edge. Dear one, when that happens, give credit where credit is due. You are not being 'attacked.' (Where do we get that???) You are being discipled.

Fact: the only way that you know that God is everywhere, I mean really know it, is that you've been everywhere with Him. Or rather, He's been everywhere with you. God is there for your walk in the park. God is there at the cliff's edge.

And God is still there in free-fall.

He humbled you and let you be hungry and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live on bread alone but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord. Deuteronomy 8:3

I love author Linda Dillow's name for God: Blessed Controller of All Things. He is in control of everything that comes your way. He does not blink; He does not forget; He is not bound by human action. But He is the blessed Controller. He is, in every way, good. And sometimes, his goodness takes us through the storm or over the cliff's edge.

A few months ago, I was visiting a friend in the hospital. Her son had been in a horrible car accident the week before, and he had not yet awakened. I gave her a hug in the hallway, and she smiled at me through the tears, "God is good." Wow. Just wow. Here in the quiet bustling hall of a hospital, I came face to face with a mighty woman of God. I will never forget that. Here is a woman who knows what it is to be in free-fall--and knows that God is there with her.

I never planned on free-fall. But I sure spent a lot of time presuming on what God would and would not do to me. I presumed that God would never push me to the edge of the cliff. I rested in that. Then He pushed me to the edge of the cliff. I presumed that God would never push me over the cliff. And I rested there, too, thinking how much I had matured. Then He pushed me over the cliff.

I've spent a fair amount of time in free-fall. And I don't presume upon God anymore. I was talking to another friend the other day, a friend who has also done time in free-fall. And he said, "Oh, I am so far beyond anxiety now." Exactly. The only thing I presume now is that God will do whatever it takes to accomplish His purposes.

My first experiences in free-fall brought out some ugly things in my heart.
Hold your peace, you rebellious pot. The Lord is God, and you are not.* 
Now, I understand a wee bit better. And like my friend, I am SO over much (maybe not quite all...) of the anxiety I used to have. I've just seen God too often to waste my time biting my fingernails.

Free fall clarifies things very quickly. It teaches us that solid ground is not what we stand on. Oh, it seems like it is. We like the feel of the solid-ground-of-good-planning beneath our feet. But we confuse that feel with the Sure Foundation. Only going over the edge, with wide-open space beneath us, shows us that God is the only Rock we are really standing on.

That's how it's always been.
We just didn't always know it.

Your way was through the sea
Your path through the great waters;
Yet your footprints were unseen. 
You led Your people like a flock
by the hand of  Moses and Aaron. Psalm 77:19-20
*Hold Your Peace, 2014, Douglas Wilson