By Dan Stanford
A fast food restaurant aired a commercial for their slushy soda. The camera panned over an arctic cold drink while the baritone announcer said, “it’s not a liquid,
it’s not a solid, it’s a paradox of deliciousness.” I find that the Bible is a lot like that slushy. Some verses are sweet. Some verses are refreshing. And some verses can give a person brain freeze. Have you ever read the Apostle Paul?
This past year I read through the entire Bible in two months looking for verses of tension. My goal was to show that while tension is uncomfortable, it is normal. While many people treat the Bible like a buffet, devouring the verses they like and ignoring the verses they don’t, spiritual maturity demands that we eat the whole meal, including the following difficult passages:
“Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both calamities and good things come?” (Lamentations 3:38)
“I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the Lord, do all these things.” (Isaiah 45:7)
This is what Job is getting at when he says to his wife, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” (Job 2:10)
Job already demonstrated what it looks like to accept good and trouble when he fell to his knees in worship after the worse day of his life. Job 1:20-22, “At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.’ In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.”
The phrase “in all this Job did not sin” is the authors way of saying that Job was right. We should accept good from God as well as trouble. That ultimately it is God who gives and takes away. We can try to blame Satan but according to the story of Job the advisory could only do what God gave him permission to do.
We can blame Murphys law.
We can blame bad luck.
We can blame spiritual warfare.
But ultimately nothing happens without God allowing it.
I love the words of Joni Eareckson Tada in the book, When God Weeps, “God permits what He hates to achieve what He loves.” As a follower of Christ I am asked to trust the shadow side of God’s sovereignty.
My wife and I both wrestle with disabilities. She calls me her “seeing eye Dan” because she is losing her eyesight starting with the peripheral and moving towards the center. It’s like curtains on a Broadway play that are slowly closing until she can no longer see the show.
The other day we were both walking through the kitchen when she accidentally punched me in the swimsuit area. Because she has no peripheral she didn’t see me walking past her. I don’t know why she was swinging her arm like a marching Russian soldier. I doubled over in pain and found I could hit the same octave as Justin Bieber for a minute or two. I was able to walk it off, but her emotional pain stung longer with the knowledge that her blindness not only hurts her but the people around her.
The day before I had just read Deuteronomy 28:13, “The Lord will make you the head, not the tail.” I thought about the Chinese dragons in parades. They are often multiple people in a costume bringing the dragon to life. I have often wondered what the person did wrong to get stuck playing the tail. No one begs for that job. They must have lost at “rock, paper, scissors, butt.” According to Deuteronomy, it’s God’s desire for us to be the head and not the tail of life’s jokes.
How can we hold the tension of God wanting us to be the head when life often smells like cat litter?
Everyday my wife and I are reminded that life isn’t getting any easier. Life isn’t fair. My wife has run into more walls than a crash test dummy. The difference is that she feels every bruise, every sprain, every gasp from the people around her who feel secondhand embarrassment.
I find tension is easier to accept when we trust in sovereignty, mystery, and eternity.
If God is sovereign then that means he is not only in control of our blessings but also our bruisings; there’s purpose behind the pain. In the words of R.C. Sproul, there is not a single maverick molecule. If God can use the injustice of the cross to bring about life, peace, hope, and healing then maybe he can use our injustice as well.
The world is full of mystery. Scientist still don’t know what most of the universe is made of. The unknown in the universe is referred to as dark matter and dark energy. Just like we don’t understand everything about the universe, so we don’t understand everything about life. We have to approach tension with humility. Maybe there’s a third way of seeing our circumstances. Maybe suffering and blessing walk hand in hand. Maybe being the tail really is being the head in the upside down perspective of the kingdom of God.
When I’m focused on the pain of being punched, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that life on earth is a microdot of what God is up to. While tension is uncomfortable, it can be beautiful and eternally beneficial. One day, we will see how all the jagged puzzle pieces fit together. In eternity, God will heal my wife’s eyes and she will see our story from God’s perspective. In eternity, my wife and I will be able to walk side by side without one of us getting sucker punched.
Dan is the senior pastor of The Well church in Kenosha, WI. The church started more than 10 years ago as an independent church plant in his living room with 12 people and now holds 2 services in their own church building. Dan married his best friend, Suzanne, in 2002. They enjoy raising 3 fantastic boys Caleb, Connor and Colton as well as a garbage loving (but sweet) dog, Chloe. They live in Kenosha, WI.
Dan is the author of Losing The Cape: The Power of Ordinary in a World of Superheroes (Moody Publishers). You can learn more about his ministry at danstandford.net.
Cover photo by Anna Samoylova on Unsplash
Thank you for your witness of faith, Dan, living in the shadow side’s tension with your sense of humor intact.
Thank you Carole.
“While tension is uncomfortable, it can be beautiful and eternally beneficial.” Seeing tension as beautiful instead of struggle brings us God’s peace within. Thank you for this perspective!
Thank you Lynn
Dan, thank you for expressing what it means to have a faith worth having. I very much appreciated reading your deep, resonant words
Thank you Rachel