Monday, January 15, 2018

When the Bible Pours Salt in the Wound

Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely…  If I go up to the heavens, you are there;  if I make my bed in the depths, you are there…  For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”
-Psalm 139: 4, 8, 13-14

There are different scripture passages I have struggled with since the twins’ birth, Warren’s death, and in light of John’s chronic struggles.  A minister at our church tackled one of these passages on Sunday: Psalm 139.   This is the kind of passage that gives you warm fuzzies pre-pain or pre-disability but can add insult to injury or create confusion post-pain. 

On the one hand, we are encouraged by the sentiment of being fearfully and wonderfully made, of being uniquely knit together in our mothers’ wombs, known intimately, and that God is always with us no matter what.  But then there is the rub.  Was John (or others with serious congenital problems) also fearfully and wonderfully made?  Did God knit him together in this specific way, becoming the cause of his pain and struggles?  Is He the reason my son cannot sit independently or feed himself, let alone walk or talk?  Jesus healed so many, even brought individuals back from the dead.  Why has His full healing touch not fallen on my son?  Is he (and are we as a family) not as loved or as chosen as others?

I have found that these questions, and how we view suffering in general, fuel a heated and specific debate within the faith community.  What does God cause versus allow?  When is God to blame rather than simply blaming our broken world?  Some assign credit to God but in a way that draws security and meaning from trusting God wanted a person to be born a certain way or come across a certain illness or struggle in his lifetime.  I find some Christians promote or even demand this view of God’s sovereign involvement, the notion that God, of course, orchestrated every single aspect of how someone was “knit together” and that He planned certain struggles in order to point people to Himself. 

If you fall in this camp, you gain more comfort believing God is in control of the struggles than in believing God did NOT cause these struggles. I call this “the everything happens for a reason” camp.  Those in the other camp are horrified at the idea that a good God could be responsible for such deep pain and suffering.  Instead, they believe we are responsible as sinful human beings, Satan is responsible, and/or our fallen world is responsible (going back to Adam and Eve and original sin), depending on each individual scenario.  You can find Scriptures to support both views, at least at first glance, and perhaps at final glance as well.

I tend to fall in the second camp, believing that while God is all-powerful and is intimately involved in our lives, He is not the source of our pain and suffering.  Instead, He came to take away all pain and suffering and reconcile our hearts to His, which is why He sent His Son Jesus into the world.  In a broken world due to Adam and Eve’s rebellion, we needed a Savior to usher in God’s redemptive and healing work.  God did not give up on us, just as we are called not to give up on Him even as we await the full consummation of His restorative plan.

There is SO much more to say on this (we haven’t even touched on the fact that God created time and is outside of and over time, while we as humans operate in linear time with limited understanding…), but I knew the timing of yesterday’s sermon on Psalm 139 was significant seeing that John is having a big procedure this Tuesday morning.  After all these years on the cerebral palsy journey, new treatments like this one bring these types of questions to the forefront of my mind and heart. And with those questions come all the emotions, hopes, dreams, fears, and the balance of praying with bold faith versus guarding my heart and not getting my hopes up for fear my mama’s heart and faith in God would not survive another blow. 

Even though I may doubt from time to time or find myself disappointed in God’s ways or simply in what He allows, as I sat in church yesterday, I realized my heart’s inclination is to trust, to find solutions, and to have a passage make sense in light of God’s goodness and not merely in light of our pain. 

As for John and this passage, we inhabit the tension.  John is both fearfully and wonderfully made and is also someone, like all of us, whose body has been affected by the fallen nature of this world.  God loves and intimately knows each one of us; part of this is His knowledge that our bodies, in their current state, are frail best understood as “dust” or “grass.” We will all age and die.  God also knows we are His beloved masterpieces created to do good and wonderful things (Ephesians 2:10) while also being frail and feeble when it comes to our attempts to uphold morality, justice, compassion, and love.  And yet with God, there is hope for our many failures because “even darkness is as light to Him” (Psalm 139:12). 

And so we carry on.  We pray for light to shine in our dark places.  With our limited understanding, we pray for John’s healing in this life and for God’s hand on the treatment he will receive tomorrow morning.  His Kingdom come and will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.
-1 Samuel 16:7


  1. Love these photos! John, and all of your children, are just so gorgeous!

    I, too, have read so many books and listened to many sermons as I have tried to understand suffering and God’s control over all things. As my favorite Bible professor said, “God is so big, He cannot fit into our little pea brains. He, and His ways, have to be embraced with our hearts.”

    The best books I have read are among this list:

    Mom to Little Miss Mollypop :)

  2. I love your posts, Mary Elizabeth! I hope you'll write another one sometime soon! Karen