A loving God and a year of misery.

I am a person of faith. More specifically, I am a Christian. Think less Jim Bakker and more tree-hugging liberal, but I digress. With this bent of a belief system, I like many people from different types of belief systems, including atheist and agnostics. I get it. Faith of any kind takes a huge leap of…well…faith. Trust is in short supply in our current society and to trust something that you can’t touch, taste, see, or hear seems absolutely foolish to some people. I can relate because I was one of them.
From “non believers” I am often asked, “how do you know?” and “how has it affected your life?” To answer the first question, I don’t know. No one does. It appears that the world has become so wildly uncertain that we have an epidemic of know-it-all(ism). Pretending to have it all figured out brings people comfort. Albeit temporary and false but it provides some immediate relief. Truth be told, I personally know preachers and lifelong believers who have doubts. It seems impossible for a thinking person not to. If someone tells you that they KNOW for sure, they are delusional or lying. It’s one thing to have die hard convictions but fully another matter to be 100% certain. I don’t think the human condition will allow it.

Now for the second question, “how has it affected your life?” I can explain it simply by telling you about the year that I’ve had. In August I was part of 100’s of 1000’s of people whose homes were flooded during a record rainfall. Our basement was submerged in 3 feet of water and sewage. We lost about 90% of the contents which included all of our baby & wedding photos, some musical instruments, washer, dryer, furnace, hot water heater, etc. There is far too much to name. It rocked our world. We couldn’t live in our home for three days and had to pay well over $10,000 simply to make it livable. Anything that the water touched had to be thrown away. We couldn’t afford to rebuild it back to the way it had been, but we were simply happy to have made it through all the financial hardship.

Fast forward to a month and a half later. It was a lazy Sunday evening. I’d spent the day mostly relaxing and felt pretty darn good. Without warning I sat up from the couch and my heart essentially went into atrial fibrillation. An ambulance ride and a hospital stay later, I was told that I had a heart problem and I needed to change several aspects of my life. Needless to say, it was one heck of a year!

So how is this reassurance of a God? Why wouldn’t my all powerful God come and save me from all of this? Honestly, it’s a tough and fair questions but I do know that even from a biblical point of view it is promised that life will not be easy. However, what is so different now, more than any other point in my life, is that all of this mess didn’t make me bitter, it made me empathetic. I would like to take credit for this and tell you that I am an empathetic person by nature but it’s simply not true.
In the past, if even a minor indiscretion happened in my life, I would have been bitter and angry.

I would have used it as an excuse to behave however I felt but there is a transformation that takes place in your heart and mind when you start to try to understand the heart of Jesus.

Yep, I dropped the J bomb.

But even if you don’t believe that he is the son of God, he was a pretty cool dude with an amazing belief system. Knowing the heart of a person like Jesus does something to your soul. I am proof. With each passing hardship I became more empathetic. I kept waiting for bitterness or resentment to creep in but it simply didn’t. I am human and have most certainly had moments of anger or confusion but the overall take away, daily, is that I have so much more empathy for people who have suffered through these things and the like. I actually faithfully pray when I see an ambulance transporting someone and take the time to thoughtfully listen when someone is telling me about their hardships.
That was the long answer to the question. The short answer? I try to sincerely not live by dogmatic rules and pull out convenient scripture to suit my life. By really trying to emulate the heart of Jesus, it changes who I am as a human being for the better. I can’t recall a single other thing that has done that for me.


Guest blogger, Dr. Terry Clees, shares his insight on, “God, why have you foresaken me?”

About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”)

(Matthew 27:46, New International Version)

From noon to three, the whole earth was dark. Around mid-afternoon Jesus groaned out of the depths, crying loudly, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”

(Matthew 27:46, The Message)

It really doesn’t matter how you translate or paraphrase Jesus’ final coherent words according to the Gospel of Matthew—it still sounds agonizing. It is the cry of a man at his end. It is the cry of a man who crossed the line from hopeful to hopeless. It is a line that a lot of us play hopscotch with as we go about our situations in life. We feel full of hope one minute, then a bit of bad news or an unfortunate incident sends us reeling into hopelessness. Does it matter that Jesus can say: “been there, done that”? I believe it does, but before I explain why let me explain why I think Jesus went from being hopeful to hopeless and wasn’t simply quoting the first line of Psalm 22.

Jesus was full of hope because he knew he was part of something big. Scholars will debate until they are blue in the face just how much Jesus knew and when he knew exactly what he knew. I think it is suffice to say he knew he was part of something big. He may have even known that the something big had to do with an apparent sacrifice—perhaps even a Father sacrificing a Son. But Jesus was familiar with Scripture and he would have known the story of Abraham and Isaac (Gen 21-22) like the back of his hand. In that story the apparent sacrifice went all the way to a knife at the throat before God intervened and provided an alternative to Abraham sacrificing his son, Isaac. Therefore, even when things looked difficult: friends sleeping when they should have been praying, the beatings, friends fleeing and denying, and even to the crucifixion Jesus could have been hopeful based on what happened with Abraham and Isaac.

However, Jesus gets to the point when he realizes the last second has passed—there will be no stay of execution and there will be no ram caught in the thicket. Jesus is going to die. No doubt that Jesus may have recalled Psalm 22 as he crossed into hopelessness, he probably was very familiar with it, but I think the words also carried meaning. He felt hopeless. Where was God? Jesus had been faithful all the way to the cross and now he was dying—why had God forsaken him!?

My son was severely injured in Iraq when the Humvee he was driving hit an IED. As I sat with him through weeks of being in a coma and many, many months of recovery I always found comfort in talking with parents who had a child in a similar situation. They understood the pain, anger and grief—we had that in common.

Jesus has promised to always be present to us; his presence is real and close even though at times it seems quite distance. When I am slipping back and forth between hopeful and hopeless I am often able to find great peace in Jesus being present with me because he knows exactly what I’m going through. The touch of his hand through a flower, the whisper of his voice in the wind and the steadying strength to take another step all gives me hope when I feel I have been forsaken.

Dr. Terry Clees is a pastor of a church in Adrian, MI where he has served the community the past eight years. His hobbies include weightlifting, coaching wrestling and writing. He earned his doctorate degree at George Fox Evangelical Seminary where he studied spiritual formation.