AUDIO VERSION: YouTube Podbean
You have issues. Maybe you beat your wife. Maybe you always sabotage relationships. Maybe you have to show off all the time. Maybe you freak out over having sex. Maybe you can’t get enough sex. Maybe you fantasize about hurting people. Whatever it is, you can see that you’re messed up in your head, but you honestly don’t get why. The day comes when you finally decide to get help. All of a sudden, it’s like your eyes are opened. Finally you can see your dysfunctional behavior in a whole new light. Now you get that you beat your wife because you’re ragingly insecure and afraid of her dominating you. Now you get that you always sabotage relationships because you’re so afraid of someone else dumping you first. Now you understand that your obsession with sex is driven by a desperate need for the affirmation that you never got as a kid. When the lights go on like this, we feel like we’re making some real progress. By the time we start aggressively seeking help, we’re fed up with the damage that our destructive habits are having on our lives. We want to change. We want to cut away these old anchors and move on already. So now that we’re understanding ourselves better than ever before, it should be a simple matter to change, right? Wrong.
In Church, we’re taught this simplistic view of God. He hates sin. We sin. That’s bad. God wants us to stop it. It’s on us to obey God. This handy little formula isn’t going to bother you until you find yourself forced to realize that you’ve got some nasty problem in your life that just won’t go away. It’s not that you don’t want to be purity personified, but you’ve been searching for years for the magic button you can press to fix yourself and that button just doesn’t exist. Certainly miraculous cures happen, but not nearly as often as the prosperity folks and shamming healers try to tell us. Far more often God drags out the healing process over many years, and even then He doesn’t always give us what we would call a complete cure. Why not? Because your problems are not just problems to God, they are solutions.
Molesting kids is bad. It’s violating someone else, it’s perverse, it’s just nasty on every level. Well, fine, but then what? When we just stamp the “evil” label on an issue and act like we’ve said everything there is to say on the subject, we are missing everything there is to learn. Why do you want to molest kids? Obviously you’re messed up in your mind, but why? We all start off as cute little babies who don’t have a clue about right and wrong. So how does some little baby grow up into a man who feels compelled to hunt down and degrade others? Molesters aren’t born molesters, they are shaped into them by a series of events. Maybe your dad molested you, and there was no one in your life who gave a flip, therefore you never got any help to put the trauma in perspective, so it just sat there agitating your psyche until you became all warped by it. In the field of psychology, we’re good at analyzing behavioral and emotional responses to traumatic events, but we’re really lousy at recognizing Divine intent. Just as humans were created by a purposeful Creator and are not just the product of freak molecules randomly colliding, you didn’t become the messed up person you are today by some whoops.
God created you for a far more meaningful purpose than to watch you bumble through life the best you can. He has been ordering your life from the very beginning. Traumatic events don’t just fall on you from the sky, they are intentionally brought into your life by God. Maybe your father was some abusive drunk. Well, how do you think that happened? Do you think God flicked you down onto the earth by random chance? No, He most certainly did not. God carefully selected your family of origin. Maybe you didn’t have a mom—that was by design. Maybe you were super traumatized by your parents divorcing—that was by design. Your entire life has been a very purposeful sequence of events. God doesn’t just pop in to check on you when He’s got nothing better to do. He has been intimately involved in your existence ever since He began knitting your earthsuit together one molecule at a time.
There are two ways you can look at the mind-blowing series of events that happens once a sperm bonds with an egg. You could say, “Huh, that’s pretty wild. Look at how the cells just start splitting like crazy and specializing and forming this human being. What an evolutionary wonder.” And if you see it like that, you’re missing the whole point. God could have made you just poof into existence, but instead He makes the formation of you a nine month project, during which He pulls off countless miracles that no human scientist can begin to explain. Let’s see you take two microscopic organisms and build a human being out of them. Of course you can’t. The creation of you is way past human ability. This is the first big clue that you are here because Someone far greater than you decided that you should be. Once you realize that the body you see in the mirror was personally constructed by God Almighty specifically for you, you can hardly argue that no one in the universe cares about you.
In this world, humans give each other gifts to try and communicate how much they value each other. It’s the gifts we make ourselves that are considered of greatest value. Anyone can buy a greeting card off the rack, but your wife is most excited by the note you wrote inside, because she knows that part was a voluntary choice and something you added in just for her. Well, your body is something that God personally constructed for you. He made you from scratch. He made you so incredibly complicated that none of us can explain to you exactly how He did it. But we can all see that Someone who is far superior to any of us designed you, and that Someone is God. He was intensely focused on you back when you were just a teensy mass of dividing cells, and He has been focused on you ever since. Just as the formation of your toes and eyes was not some freak event, nothing that has happened in your life up until now has been some random accident. Everything that you’ve been through has been orchestrated by God with specific goals in mind. It is these goals that you want to be focusing on, not the shedding of all of your issues.
Once we understand that we have destructive patterns in our lives, we think that God wants us to find a way to fix ourselves. When we don’t know God, we often think He won’t even talk to us until we learn how to improve who we are. If we are Christians, maybe we’ve figured out that we can’t fix ourselves on our own, so we cry out to God for help. But what exactly do we pray for? For God to fix us and make our problems go away. We think this is the right thing to pray for, because we think that God must heartily disapprove of how messed up we are. But does He?
The theory that God just sees you as some flawed person only works if you first assume that God never intended you to be flawed. The terms “fallen human beings” and “fallen world” suggest that we have all plummeted downward from some ideal that God wanted for us. And yet is this really the accurate way to look at things? No, it is not. When we speak of sin as a purely loathsome thing, we are rejecting the sovereignty of God by pretending some terrible evil corrupted His good Creation when He wasn’t looking. How small and stupid God must be to have not seen sin coming. And now that it’s here, if He hates it so much, why doesn’t He just get rid of it? Who is this impotent Halfwit we’re all worshiping? If you really think God has nothing to do with how messed up you are today, you’d better stop singing songs about Him being in control because He’s obviously not in control if you found a way to mess yourself up apart from His will. You see, you can’t have an all-powerful, all-knowing God and a God who sits around grieving about what a dark mess His world has turned into. You have to choose one or the other. God says He is always in absolute control. He says that nothing happens in this world that He doesn’t want to have happen. So if you’re messed up in your head, it’s because God messed you up. And once we stop avoiding that critical truth, we can finally get to the question that matters: why did God mess you up?
If you want to really benefit from the burdens God has saddled you with, first you need to recognize that He is the One who gave them to you in the first place. Then you need to realize that you’re not getting rid of them until He lifts them off of you. As much as we’d all like to drop the pack and run free, psychological healing is far more often a long drawn out affair in which God slowly lightens our heavy load one ounce at a time. You will be extremely frustrated by His refusal to instantly cure you until you understand that He has reasons for delaying. You see, God didn’t make you what you are today just to torment you. Everything He puts you through on this earth is for the ultimate goal of drawing you closer to Him.
God is not just sunshine and smiles. He is a storm of many opposite extremes. He is a swirl of dark and light. If all you ever know about is happy times and pure thoughts, how close do you think you’ll be able to get to a God who understands things like sadism, sorrow, and suffering? It always comes back to the same issue: how close do you want to be to your Creator? How deep of a bond do you want? Do you want all of your conversations about life to be as deep as the conversations that you can have with a two-year-old? The older you grow, the less satisfying you find discussions with those who are much younger than you. Why is this? Because the identity just isn’t there. You’ve had experiences that they simply can’t relate to, so they’re unable to empathize with you. But while those who are much younger than you simply can’t relate, people who are older than you have a lot of insight to offer, because they’ve been where you are and they’ve had the chance to gain even more perspective by moving on through other experiences that you haven’t yet arrived at.
God designed you with the potential to grow into someone who could share a rich heart bond with Him. But if you’re going to even begin to identify with a God who has such a vast spectrum of passions and interests, you can’t just live your life in some sheltered bubble. You have to have experiences that will broaden your mind and deepen your character. For example, God is an extremely compassionate Being. Compassion flows from identity with another’s suffering. Compassion is a response to something negative. No one talks about having compassion on someone who is having a great day. We only talk about having compassion on people who are going through tough times. It’s the same with mercy. It’s only those who are in some kind of trouble who need mercy.
There is great beauty in what God creates, and we’ve all been here long enough to figure out that good can be greatly enhanced by pain and suffering. It’s when you’re feeling utterly heartbroken that someone’s soothing words can feel extra powerful. It’s when you’re feeling dirty and ashamed that someone’s acceptance of you is so healing. God uses evil to enhance good. He uses pain to compound blessings. But when we refuse to see His involvement in evil, we remain scared of it and never seeing the role it plays in creating the beauty we admire so much.
God is good. He is the originator of all pain, suffering and evil, yet He is still good. At first we don’t understand how this can be, so we freak out when someone tries to suggest that God wanted us to be assaulted or abused or wounded in some way. We think that if we see God as the One who set us up to be raped or beaten or neglected, we’ll never be able to feel safe in His Presence or trust Him to take care of us. Yet when we deny God’s involvement in our pain, we close our minds to lessons which would utterly free us of the very fears which we are so afraid of being ensnared by. First God intentionally breaks and wounds us in life, then He urges us to see His involvement in the process so that He can then use the whole experience to strengthen our bond with Him. The purpose of life is not to go around trying to perfect ourselves. We’re not supposed to be perfect. We’re not supposed to have smooth, pain free lives. We’re each on a unique journey through a series of experiences which God has specifically designed to help us grow closer to Him. God always has positive reasons for putting us through negative experiences. The negative experiences are a vital part of our spiritual development—this is why He brings them into our lives in the first place, and this is why He doesn’t rush to remove them.
When we tire of our issues, it’s only natural that we start pleading with God to free us up. But what is the greater gift: to have the problem simply evaporate, or to have it permanently change us is some positive way? God brings burdens into your life for the purpose of changing you. You are supposed to be altered by them. Healing is not about learning to act as if the past never happened. It’s about God taking all of that warping and pain and perversity and weaving it into something beautiful—something that pushes you forward in your development as a creature who was designed to engage in rich, personal communion with your Creator. As maddening as it can be to feel stalled in our maturation process, we need to recognize that when God doesn’t instantly free us up from our anchors in life, it’s because those same anchors have not yet finished laying the groundwork for the great changes God wants to bring about.
When a diamond cutter begins his work, he takes a large chunk of diamond and begins chipping off pieces of it in a careful and strategic manner. His goal is to enhance beauty. It is by forcibly damaging the original structure of the stone and breaking off whole sections of it that he ends up with something far more attractive than the original. Was the original flawed? No, but its full potential was not being realized. The diamond cutter attempts to assess the potential for beauty in each piece he works with, and then he sets about trying to cut the thing in a way that its potential beauty will become visible to everyone who looks at it. There are similar processes at work with you and God. You are His diamond: His unique creation who is packed with great potential. The experiences He puts you through in life are how He chips away at your original design to bring out the beauty that He can see in you. Abuse, bullying, loneliness, perversity, heartache—we view these things as dangerous evils which warp and mar us, but to God they are the tools which help unleash our great potential for good. The heart that has been shattered ends up loving far more deeply than the heart which has never known loss. The man who has done horrible things to others ends up with a hundred times the compassion and mercy than those who pride themselves on never stumbling into any great sin. As the Pharisees of Jesus’ time demonstrated, no one is more merciless and coldhearted than the fellow who thinks he is perfect in God’s sight.
We complain so much about the presence of sin and suffering in this world, yet it is the people who have really wallowed in these things that we find most comforting to be around. If you want to know about the mercy of God, the hated criminal who has learned how to embrace God’s acceptance of him will be able to give you a far better education than the fellow who feels his sins weren’t all that bad. It is by suffering ourselves that we learn to love more purely and to relate to a God who delights in being merciful.
God uses evil and carnality to build identity between Himself and us and to enrich our communion with Him. So should we be begging for Him to instantly free us from our chains? No, we should be honest about how tiring they are, but then we need to recognize that God bound us up for our own benefit and we should ask Him to help us fully absorb all of the lessons He wants to teach us. To recover from our issues without moving closer to God—what would be the point? If the pedophile were to be instantly healed of his perversity without being changed into a more compassionate person because of it, then what a waste that would be. And if being a pedophile will cause a man to become more merciful and gracious towards his fellow human beings, how is that a loss?
The day comes when we need to set our sights on higher goals. Sure, we’d all love to have a break from the ongoing mental strain of dealing with tough issues, but if the struggle is buying us a closer walk with God, then how can we say it isn’t worth it? We need to recognize that every trial, temptation, wound, and perversity is an invitation to get closer to God—to be changed in some positive way. Then we want to decide to be receptive to everything that He wants to teach us. If He says we need to sit with some burden for a while longer, are we going to trust His wisdom? Do we really know how to mature ourselves? Not hardly, but God does, and He says that we can trust in His love for us because He is good. Yes, He is the One who breaks us, but He breaks us to make us even better than we were before.
The day comes when we need to stop viewing life as an endless battle to try and preserve good in the midst of pointless evil. The reality is that God is in charge of it all and He intentionally weaves evil and good together to enhance the good. In the end, the good always far outweighs the evil, but only if we’ve been willing to fully submit to God’s will in our lives. He isn’t going to fix us according to our schedule. He isn’t going to give us everything we want. We might long to become some pure-hearted God worshiper who goes around thinking nothing but holy thoughts all day long. But God has a much higher purpose for us, and we will always find that His choices are far better than ours. So when we’re frustrated with how long things are taking to improve, we need to remember that God is in the process of shaping us, and we need to practice submission to His program. When we’re repulsed by how screwed up we are, we need to remember that this low point is only one stop along the journey. We can all end up in fabulous places if we are willing to surrender ourselves into God’s hands and ask Him to have His total way in our lives. But we have to be willing to let go of trying to choose His priorities for us and control His methodology.
Surrender is submission, and submission only comes up when there is a conflict of wills. It’s no fun being the creep or the addict or the dysfunctional trauma case who is taking forever to improve. But if we have put ourselves into God’s hands, then we can know that He is moving us forward, even when we feel like we’re stalled in some frustratingly crippled state. God is a Master at bringing out the great potential He has built into each and every one of us. We need to trust. We need to wait. And while we’re waiting, we need to try to relax, because whether it feels like it or not, we really are in the best possible hands.
Why did God create sin?
Recovering from Abuse: Forgiveness vs. Reconciliation
Pleasing God When You Can’t Control Your Flesh
Understanding How Easy it is to Succeed with God
Why God Isn’t Fixing You