There’s a huge silver maple in our backyard. It really is an impressive specimen – it’s about 10 ft. around and it has to be 50 – 60 ft. tall. It’s got big gnarly roots that stick so far out of the ground that my wife has used some of them to form retaining walls for a flower bed. Unfortunately, there are a couple problems with that tree: first, it has a big hollowed-out rotten spot at its base, indicating disease at its core; and second, the tree is only about 15 ft. from the back of the house.
That tree is so big that it overhangs about half the house. If you have any experience with silver maples, you know that they have a tendency to lose their limbs in heavy wind. Ever since we moved here, I’ve had my eye on that tree, thinking that the whole tree or some large part of it could easily blow over onto the house in a storm. Sure enough, night before last we had a thunderstorm. I was awakened about 3:30 a.m. by a loud thud.
I know this song has been around a while, but my family first encountered it just a couple months ago when we bought the Casting Crowns “Acoustic Sessions Vol. I” CD. Just about every phrase in these lyrics brings me to some gut-wrenching wrestling with who I am in Christ. To my mind, this song is a masterpiece because it does what a great song should – it makes me think and it makes me feel.
When tragedy strikes, Christ-followers often seek to process our pain by viewing the tragedy as a punishment directed at us by God. In an earlier post, I tried to make the case that we need not view tragedy in this way, because this is not consistent with God’s character. Unfortunately, the idea that God punishes through tragedy is ingrained in many people and has become a bedrock principle underlying their understanding of who God is and what He is like. I’d like to explore that mindset in this post.
If we choose to view God as the author of suffering through tragedy, those of us who feel guilty over our sins and shortcomings can easily find something that we need to be punished for – and so we readily accept the pain as being appropriately sent by God. Others of us search our own actions and our own hearts and find nothing there worthy of so severe a punishment, and so we become bitter and resentful toward God for having punished us unfairly. Sometimes, we swing back & forth between these two states – a guilt combined with sullen acceptance, or a bitterness always ready to lash out in anger.
As I look back, I am always amazed at how much my view of God changed after becoming a parent. Parenting gives us a whole new perspective on our relationship with God, and a much more accurate understanding of our Father’s heart. So it’s helpful to keep the parent-child relationship in view as we try to understand how God is working in our lives.
The issue of sovereignty vs. control that I referred to in the “Of Sparrows, Blue Jays and Tornadoes” post is a case in point. We can better understand that sovereignty and control are not the same thing when we take a look at our own households and our interactions with our children. Few would argue that in a healthy family, the parents are “sovereign” over the household. That sovereignty includes the authority to establish the rules of the household – for everything from how the family finances are to be handled, to whose job it is to take out the trash. Household rules & policies exist for several reasons: to keep order in the house, to teach children life skills, and at least in part to teach children intangible things like character and obedience (that phrase makes me think of about a dozen Calvin & Hobbes cartoons.) If the parents abdicate their authority and allow the children of the family to do whatever they see fit, chaos will soon rule the house. We have probably all seen families where the kids in some measure are in charge – at least in some area of family life – and it’s not a pretty picture.
I wanted to follow up on the idea that even though we can’t completely fathom the mind of God or understand His ways (see Romans 11:33 as one of many scriptural references on this topic), we are not left clueless about His character. I love the way “Who You Are” by J.J. Heller makes this point – that in the face of tragedy we may not understand what or why, but we can absolutely know God’s character because of who He is and what He has revealed about himself.
In class this Sunday, we studied John 14. This is a rich passage, and one of the things that struck me forcefully after writing the previous post is what Jesus says in verses 7-10 (my emphasis):
“If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works.”
We do know the Father because we have seen Him in His Son. We do not have to shrug our shoulders when tragedy strikes and pretend not to know that God is love. Did Jesus send tornadoes to strike little children dead, or did he return Jairus’ daughter to life? Did Jesus torment people with disease as punishment for their sins, or did He heal?