How Long?

OK, I am a slow reader and a slow writer and an even slower reviewer of books—takes me a while to put my thoughts in words (especially if they’re going to be read!) but I did want to put up a review of Joni’s memoir: The God I Love.  And at last it is done.  [See:thestackofdawn.blogspot.com]

This memoir by Joni Eareckson Tada is a delightful read with a tender balance between portraying  inner thoughts and actions.  Joni was a lively kid with an enviable family life which makes for fun reading and now from the vantage point of maturity she follows the thread of God’s wooing her from the time she was little right up to the present. 

Some people aren’t comfortable with a story like Joni’s. How could God really allow such an ‘accident’ and leave such a talented, vivacious girl paralyzed?  They figure it should be hushed up, as though a Christian  quadriplegic were a contradiction in terms or a shame to the gospel.  As though she hadn’t enough faith to be healed and now she should just be quiet about her story rather than encouraging others to accept their weaknesses as God’s plan for them too.  Does a story like Joni’s really undermine faith? 

I don’t see it that way.  I love her explanation of the hard things, the evil things, the ‘wrong’ things that trouble our lives and our world.  She says God permits them, even though He hates them, because He has a greater purpose, something the love of which overrides the allowance of evil.  Well, she didn’t say it quite that way.  Her way of saying it was:

“God permits things he hates [ e.g. quadriplegia], really hates, to accomplish something he loves [e.g. my growing need of Him]. p218

Or, in other words:

“[God] permits what he hates so that his power can show up in people like you and me.”p263

Her whole story is a triumphant affirmation of Romans 8—what shall separate us from the love of God?  And, ‘for those who love God all things work together for good (Rom.8:28) We sometimes stop there with our own definitions of ‘good’ in mind, and wonder What happened?!’  But the verse continues: ‘…for those who are called according to His purpose.’  And what exactly is that purpose? 

We, as believers, are destined ‘to be conformed to the image of His Son’By nook or by shepherd’s crook God has in mind to conform us to Jesus’ image, this Jesus who ‘learned obedience through what He suffered’ (Heb.5:8) who humbled Himself to the point of death, (Phil.2:8) bent on obeying the Father in everything, yielding His right to life itself to the Father’s good purpose.  (Or else where would we be?)

Joni’s suffering affirms the value of trusting God with our lives, for His eternal purposes. Through her suffering Joni has come to realize the deep compassion of God for her. God has suffered too. He knows. He suffers with us.  She actually came to love Him more than she had before her ‘accident’, thus the book’s title—The God I Love. This is not always the outcome for those who suffer, or who watch people they love suffer.  I guess that’s why I appreciate Joni’s story.  It shows me a faith that works, not in getting me everything I think I want, but in transforming me into the image of Jesus. Isn’t this what I really want?

I confess I’m wimpy when it comes to pain/sickness/suffering.  I quickly fixate on me, myself, and I and wonder ‘how long’ is this going to last? Have you noticed how sickness feels like ‘forever’ until it passes and then it is as quickly forgotten as a passing dream, a mere triviality—a light momentary affliction’which it really is compared to the eternal weight of glory’ it’s preparing us for.  II Cor.4:17 It’s all a matter of perspective…

So I got to looking at the ‘how long?’s of Scripture.  We are in good company.  Seems the human condition predisposes us to ask this question.  It tends to go something like this:  ‘How long do I have to suffer?’

Not unexpectedly, a string of them happen in Job:
“How long will you torment me with words…”  Job 19:2

And a whole slew of them in Psalms to this effect:
”My soul also is greatly troubled. But you, O LORD–how long?
Turn, O LORD, deliver my life; save me…”
Ps.6:4

We want relief. 

There is also another legitimate ‘how long’. It has to do with our inborn  sense of justice that remains unsatisfied as long as evil goes unpunished. We see it in the martyrs cry of Revelation: They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true,how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” Rev.6:10 

But here it is not a self-oriented cry. They are already dead!  The cry for justice here is a cry for God to be glorified as the rightful Judge of all the earth. We’re getting closer to the ‘How long?’s of God.  When I look at what God is waiting for I see a different sense of priorities.

‘How long will you refuse to humble yourself before me? Let my people go, that they may serve me’  were words addressed to Pharaoh by God. Ex.10:3

Then there’s the incident of the Israelites on the verge of marching into the good land God had prepared for them. When the spies bring the report of its greatness, the people quail at the prospect and start whining that they never should have come on this trip. They should have stayed in Egypt! They simply don’t trust that God has their best interests at heart.  Or that He can bring them through the necessary battles.

And God says:
How long will this people despise me? And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them? 

How long shall this wicked congregation grumble against me? I have heard the grumblings of the people of Israel, which they grumble against me.” Num.14:11,27

We hear the echo of this unbelief in Elijah’s words generations down the line as the people dabble in idol worship: How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” I Kings 18:21

This bent to doubt can be traced to Jesus’ ministry years too: “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here,” Jesus said of the demon-possessed boy no one seemed able to help. Lk.9:41

God’s ‘How long?’ s are so different than mine.

I say,  ‘How long….do I have to put up with this?’…How long…till this pain goes away?

How long…does my dad have to suffer the loneliness and confusion of Alzheimer’s disease?

How long…till ______________ comes (back) to the Lord?

How long… till revival comes? till the church reflects the glory of the Gospel in a way that compels the world to take notice?

How long…till I see what I’m hoping for?
How long…till there’s relief?

And God says:  How long till you stop grumbling, and fearing, and wavering in your loyalties and trust me with your life, as is?  How long till you follow me with your whole heart and leave what you think you most want in My Hands.  How long till you believe that I am in control, working in all things for my greatest glory, which is ultimately your greatest good?!

Man says: “Where is the promise of his coming?” (II Pet.3:4) …nothing has changed. Nothing’s happening.  But  God says, when I come will I find faith on the earth? Lk.18:8

Good question, when you put it that way.

Lord I believe, help my unbelief (and THANK YOU for these testimonies to true faith along the way!)

–LS

He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen. Rev.22:20,21

“We groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved…if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” Rom.8:23-25

Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. Rom.5:2-5

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For more on Joni’s book see my review at: http://thestackofdawn.blogspot.com

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