The other day, my friend Missy asked me that question.
For those of you who may be new to this blog, in 1998, my firstborn son, Noah, died suddenly at the age of 9 months. That’s not the only suffering I’ve encountered in life, but it was by far the worst, most shocking, most devastating suffering thus far. There is no way you can experience a tragic loss without it transforming your view of God. No matter who you are—devout Christian, nominal Christian, Buddhist, Atheist. It doesn’t matter. If you suffer loss in this life, it will alter your view of God, one way or another.
She knew that. That’s why she asked me.
So, here’s what I told her:
Honestly, Missy, this is such a HUGE question, I think I could write a book. Literally, a book. Maybe I will, someday.
I have a “Before Noah’s Death Sandy” and an “After Noah’s Death Sandy.” For me, everything changed when I buried my baby—and it continues to evolve and affect everything I believe about God. Still. Today, even.
But here are three things that immediately come to mind:
1. God is not who I thought He was. Right after Noah died, it was almost as if I stepped back in shock and looked at God and said, “Who ARE you, anyway?” I guess I thought that I had more control over God and what He did—you know, through prayer and living an obedient life. I didn’t realize this at the time, but I always approached God sort of like a bank. That if I keep making “good deposits” I could go and make a withdrawal (in the form of answered prayer,) whenever I needed it. Since I didn’t ask God for much up until that point, I felt like He owed me a lot—namely, my son’s healing. Turns out, He owes me nothing. I don’t try to make good deposits any more. It doesn’t work.
2. God is not threatened by my questions, my doubt or my anger. He is very secure in His deity. A lot of people are fearful to let loose on God when they are suffering and they don’t understand the origin or the reason for their suffering. They are afraid God will distance Himself or abandon them altogether. I was shocked to find out that when I unloaded on God all my rage and snot and tears and accusations, He not only embraced me, but held me closer than He ever had in my life. It was almost as if I could sense Him saying, “I know you feel this way. Let’s walk through this together. Say whatever you need to say. I love you no matter what.” I don’t know how to explain it, but I sensed Him holding me closer and crying with me—even though I was screaming at HIM! The intimacy-level between me and God skyrocketed after Noah’s death. I would have expected the opposite to happen.
3. God is sovereign. He alone decides who lives and who dies and who ends up with what disease, who gets healed or not. I know prayer plays a part, but honestly, I’m still trying to figure out what part that plays. Especially with physical healing. I don’t get it and I don’t TRY to get it. Whenever I pray for someone, I have to qualify it with, “Lord I believe, please help my unbelief.” This is an on-going issue with me, but I know God is okay with it. I just try to stay close to Him and know He will continue to perfect me until I see Him.
Q4U: That’s my list. What has God taught YOU through suffering?
God Speaks Through the Storm (a 16-part series about hearing God’s voice in the midst of devastating life-storms)