When I look back on my life, I see that each and every trial and tribulation I’ve endured was worse than the previous. It’s like God is up in heaven, smiling with his ever-knowing, sympathetic grin, saying, “If you thought that was bad, just wait till the next one.” This is not to say that I believe God is a cruel slave master who desires to inflict pain upon his children, but rather that he knows a heck of a lot more than I do.
The last two years have been, without a doubt, the worst of my life. I took a ministry job that I thought was a dream come true, but it turned out to be an absolute nightmare. I’ll spare you the details… Suffice it to say, things got so bad that I had to bring in some elders to help my pastor and I work towards reconciling the situation.
At first, I took comfort in the elders’ involvement. I remember telling my wife, after the first meeting, that things were going to be alright… that she and I would be safe, and that finally someone was going to help us. But, things never got right, we were never safe, and no one ever helped. Finally, after months of agonizing meetings and inquisitions, I was told that if employment was taken off the table, my pastor would work towards reconciliation with me. I resigned from my job, but my pastor never fulfilled his end of the bargain.
The very people who were supposed to protect, encourage, and yes, even discipline me, did nothing but continue the pattern of spiritual abuse and dehumanization that I was already suffering. I rapidly lost all hope. Not just the hope of reconciling the relationship (my pastor had been a friend, and I did honestly want to reconcile with him), but I also lost all hope in the goodness of God and his gospel.
When I came to the realization that the very same hope I held for salvation (that Jesus lived a perfect life for me, died bearing the wrath of God for me, and rose to new life for me) was the very same hope for the man who shat upon me and put me through hell, it turned the gospel into the worst possible prank God could ever pull. It turned me into a kind of hybrid Christian. I desired God, yet wanted nothing to do with him. He was my only hope, but I just wished he would leave me alone. I needed this God, but the idea of trusting him was sickening. The words “jaded” and “cynical” did not even begin to describe my attitude. Hopeless is what I was. And it was a lonely existence.
Thankfully, my wife and I were introduced to a wonderful woman, who took us in, cared for us, and re-introduced us to the goodness of God. She taught us to hear the gospel in the voice of God, not in the voice of those men that abused us. It has been a long journey. The silence of those elders has been deafening, but God’s goodness has been blinding.
I know I’m not the only one who has been through hell. There are people out there who have (or have had) it much worse than I ever will. For some people, the evils of this world are evidence that God cannot be the kind lover that he describes himself as. I don’t pretend to have answers for them. C.S. Lewis even said that having all the paradigms of human suffering and divine goodness did not help him at all in the aftermath of his wife’s death. So, I’m not sure giving those folks a definitive answer would even help them. My bout with God only lasted a few months. And it was not my vast knowledge of systematic theology, or my codex of scripture, or any of the books I’ve read, that helped get me through it. Rather the tender, yet firm, care of a woman who had been through her own hell, and came out the other side.
And perhaps that’s the only answer we should ever give. I don’t have much to offer, but I’m convinced of this: One day we’ll look upon the absolute goodness of God, and we, when trying to compare all the darkness this world has ever known, will wonder why we ever dared speak a word.