Last week, the Awesome rescue of a Thai youth soccer team captivated our hearts as the feel-good-story of the decade. Yesterday, the boys and their coach were released from the hospital and are headed home a day earlier than expected. “Awesome” is capitalized purposefully in describing the events, as I can’t help but to see God’s fingerprints all over that rescue.
If you believe like I do that God intervened to make the rescue of the Wild Boars possible, then there is a corollary that we must also acknowledge:
If we believe that God intervenes in some situations, then we must accept that He doesn’t intervene in other situations, resulting in what we perceive as tragedy.
I don’t approach God’s sovereignty lightly. At times, it is the bitterest of pills to swallow. It tastes a whole lot like why? It catches in the back of my heart. When we are deep in despair, there is no spoonful of sugar. There is no sugarcoating.
Why didn’t my loved one walk away from the wreckage? Why is disease ravaging my loved one’s body? Why did my beloved take a stray bullet?
Why weren’t my prayers answered?
Confession – I didn’t pray for Brooke when I got the call telling me that there was a wreck and that she was unconscious. I didn’t pray that she’d be okay. I skipped straight to “she is okay.” I asked others to pray, but I had an unwavering faith like I’d never had before that she’d be fine and she’d make her way safely home. I just knew that God was in Mississippi and that He’d intervene.
God was in Mississippi on March 16, 2017, and He did intervene. I saw the wreckage of my daughter’s vehicle. I touched the space where an Angel Army surrounded a beloved friend protecting him from the fate that a reckless driver exacted of our precious Brooke. Had I been Commander-in-Chief of Divine Forces that day, I would have dispatched additional troops.
Therein lies the rub.
This is where we so often hit a snag in our faith.
The real Commander-in-Chief could have, but He didn’t. We’ve all been in that space – maybe you are still there. The space between what God could have done and what He does is sometimes as dark as a flooded cave in Thailand. The air feels thinner. The ground is melting away. Everything’s different. Or is it?
Or is it? That simple question beckons us to examine the darkness.
No one wants to examine the darkness. Why can’t everything be bathed in light? Why can’t the air always be fresh? Why can’t the ground always feel firm?
And, here’s where I let you guys down. I don’t have a simple answer to explain that dark chasm between what we want and what is. Frankly, it hurts my heart when others try to slap some overly simplistic explanation like “everything happens for a reason” on an indescribable hurt. I used to say that a lot. Not anymore. It’s too naive. It doesn’t shed any light into the cave.
The circumstances that push us over the edge are too complex for empty platitudes. Cutesy clichés are too flimsy to stand up against harsh realities. So, while I may not be able to explain away the hurt, I can testify that the greatest risk of getting stuck in the gap just might be a hardened heart.
While some were genuinely joyous when the collective prayers for a safe rescue were answered, others sat in silent resentment. Anger bubbled in their hearts at the sight of Thai school boys emerging safely from murky waters. Certain losses have the power to dishearten and disconnect us. Some have even reached a point where they are no longer able to rejoice in the blessings of others. They are stuck.
As difficult as it may be, we must guard our hearts. Our hearts are what makes us human. Our hearts reflect our Maker. We are the flip-side to the valley of the shadow of death. Others come to know God by our actions – the shadow that we cast. How we react in the face of adversity is a direct reflection of how we define God.
Yes, God is immutable. His attributes are fixed and determined, and we do not “define” Him as such. Rather, what we reveal of our hearts reveals how we view God. Do we trust Him? Do we know that He is holy and has plans to prosper us? Even when it isn’t obvious? Even when darkness creeps in?
When things don’t go our way – we have two choices: allow our hearts to callous or accept God’s sovereignty. Usually, hearts don’t harden overnight. It takes time. It takes multiple losses and defeats – each one depositing a layer of hurt and hard until all of the layers solidify. No judgment here. I get it. Problem is – the fortresses around our hearts rarely perform to specs. Hearts weren’t designed to function behind walls. Like long exposures to darkness inhibit the eye’s ability to focus in the light, hearts atrophy in the dark as well.
We cannot simultaneously believe that God is good, just, and merciful and house our hearts in stone. When we shut off our hearts to the world, we also shut off our hearts to God. When we lose our ability to connect to another’s suffering or another’s joy, our very humanity slips away. More sadly, we lose our connection to God. We cannot be connected to another or to God if we harbor secret (or not-so-secret) resentment when our neighbors receive the answer to our prayers.
At times, my lack of formal prayer in the frantic minutes between “there’s been an accident” and “we lost her” has haunted me. Maybe, I could have done better. Maybe, if I’d only prayed harder or . . . Maybe someone “out prayed me.” No. I don’t believe that is how God exercises His sovereignty. When I step back and examine those chaotic minutes between phone calls, my unwavering faith that Brooke would be safe and come home was the deepest, purest, most genuine prayer ever to escape my heart.
You might be thinking, “But, your prayers weren’t answered.” True, my prayers were not answered as I had designed. However, Brooke left that backroad Mississippi highway and landed straight into the arms of Jesus. She’s home. She’s safe. I need never again to worry about her.
We may not understand God’s battle plan, but we know He’s already won the war. For that reason alone, we can have faith that God’s plans are to prosper us. When spiritual skirmishes go our way, God’s justice, mercy, and goodness are obvious – at least to us. Someone else might be left feeling that they were “out prayed.” We may not always like the way God exercises His sovereignty, but we must have faith that He is every bit as just, merciful, and good when it isn’t obvious from the outcome.
I wish that I could bottle what sustained me for six minutes in March 2017. That intense faith is what we all need to sustain us for the next six minutes and the next after that and after that. We can’t always maintain maximum intensity. However, we can choose to renew our faith every time it feels shaky – even if that means in six-minute intervals.
Suffering produces endurance; endurance produces character; character produces hope.
Hope softens a hardening heart.