The New Year is always a good time for reflection, a chance to take a look back on how the past year has played out. What did God teach me this year? How did I grow? Did I grow??
A few lessons and experiences keep surfacing for me in regards to this past year: one is redemption, and the other is wonder. I had the great joy of leading a small group of women for a few months through a study of David's life (at least the first part of it... we've got a long way to go this spring!). Lots and lots of bad things happen to David early on in his story - he kills a giant, he plays the harp, he writes some songs and poems, he is hunted by a mad king, his best friend is killed, he gets married (twice)... all while being secretly anointed the soon-to-be-real king of Israel. It's like a super-double-secret, too, because Saul turns into this mad man that tries to kill David every chance he gets, and when David gets the chance to kill him he doesn't. It's craziness.
All this to say that a TON of junk happens in David's life, early on, and it left many of us in our study dumbfounded. What is going on here? Why do bad things happen to good people? It's the same old question we've heard hundreds of times, maybe even thousands of times. And then I think the most enlightening conversation I've had this year happened with one of the young women in my study.
The fiance of one of her friends died unexpectedly shortly before their wedding, and friends who were doing their best to console her said, "God works in mysterious ways... It must have been his time..." and her friend railed against this in grief and anger, saying, "NO - God did not kill my fiance in a car accident; God does not cause evil to happen so that he can do something good. He takes that something evil and awful and is able to turn it for good, in spite of the devil's handiwork." And I was like YES. That's it. Redemption.
God does not cause bad things to happen so that he can do something good. Bad things happen. Evil is in the world and its handymen are doing everything they can to turn our hearts away from God, and yet, and yet, God always sticks around after the rioters have come in and ravaged our hearts. He sits quietly, sometimes so silent we're not even sure he's there in the midst of that overwhelming grief and sorrow, and he waits until it is the right time, until we are ready to let go. And then, while the enemy is off rejoicing that he's ruined it for you, God is there, picking up the broken pieces and reassembling them into some strange mosaic you could have never imagined. You created this masterpiece out of all this rubble? All of these shattered mirrors and severed dreams... everything I thought lost... you redeemed.
Redemption. We don't even realize it is happening until it has happened and then we are surprised by joy, surprised by gladness, surprised that it all worked out for good, even though he said so over and over again in that one book. The goodness doesn't knock out the fact that what happened to you, to me, to us, wasn't dark and miserable and lonely and fierce. It is a smile with hard-earned, angel-wrestling tears of gratefulness to have felt very deeply and to continue to survive in spite of such deep hurt.
The bad and difficult events in your life have not happened so that God could do something good with you. They happened because there is an enemy who wants to see you beat down and separated from God. The miracle is that God is bigger than that, so big that he can take the downward spiral you feel like you are on and slowly ease it back to a slow road of recovery, put a bend and hill in here and there, and before you know it you can see how he worked that spiral right into a winding country lane.
It's amazing. And that's one thing I've been dwelling on late in 2008 into 2009. The others will have to wait for another night.