Into the Shadows

 Into the Shadows © 2015 Lynn Abbott Studios
Into the Shadows © 2015 Lynn Abbott

© 2015 Lynn Abbott

With a belch of steam and a squeal of track, life’s train sometimes hurdles into the shadows.  I lean forward, peering into the growing darkness, anticipating a tunnel or even a sudden drop.

I fear a train wreck. And taking my cues from the old westerns, I long to jump from the caboose and roll like tumble weed to safety.

You’re right. As a child, I watched a tad too many John Wayne movies.

Unfortunately, unlike the heroes of the Wild West, I never seem to ride my horse into the sunset. For whatever reason, I didn’t get that script and I generally have to face another day riding the rail.

Uh, huh. We’ve all been there. We fall out of the saddle.

Our tether frays.

We run out of straws; the balance tips.

Of course, that tipping point varies from person to person.  But eventually, we all face more than we can handle on our own.

For me, that breaking point came one June afternoon. I watched in silent agony as my mom journeyed through those last painful hours.

As her body slowly succumbed to metastasized ovarian, lung and breast cancer, I whispered, “I love you, Mom” again and again.

She breathed …and then, no more.

"Gentle on My Mind," © 2015 Lynn Abbott Studios

I broke.

One by one over a period of several years, I had watched my beloved family members suffer and die. I had even fought my way through Stage III breast cancer, only to face its ghost again and again.

Starting a new business in the wake of the economic downturn of 2007 had left our personal finances in peril.

My dad was gone. My grandparents were gone; my firstborn buried; my uncle died after a long battle with cancer.

Add to this several major and concurrent geographical moves that had separated me from social, support systems.

I felt lost. Even abandoned. After all, I had begged Abba to heal her.  I had cried, “You know I can’t survive without her, Father. It’s too much. Please, no!”

Yet, Mom died despite my desperate pleas.

It could not be. But it was.

Some well-meaning souls said, “God won’t give you more than you can handle…”

Not so.

God can and He often does.  But He never gives more than He can handle.  And that’s the point.

It’s a truth made especially clear in the book of Job.

When I look at Job’s circumstances, I count my blessings.  Job starts off well.  But then, suddenly disaster strikes.  Darkness descends.  Talk about a bad day…

First, thieves carried off his oxen and donkeys. His workers were held up by sword, and ruthlessly murdered.

Then, his wool business went up in flames.  Literally.  More thieves stole his camels.  But that was not the last straw.

Bad news travels fast and the sun had not yet set.  A messenger arrived to tell Job that a desert wind storm had collapsed the house in which his children shared a meal.  All were dead.

At this point, Job had a choice.  In fact, it’s the same choice we all face when the train hurdles into dark places.  Job could abandon his faith or cling more tightly to his Savior.

He could go his own way or follow God’s way. He could bitterly blame God or he could run to his sovereign Savior.

Actually, all of life boils down to this: do I follow God or do I strike out on my own?  Hard times simply define the choice more clearly.

Yet, whenever I read the book of Job, I am amazed by Job’s response to tremendous suffering and heartbreak.  I whinge when I confront circumstances less difficult than Job’s.

But when hurled headlong into grief and loss, Job worshiped God.  Job obviously had not reached his tipping point.

Satan, however, wasn’t finished with piling on the suffering.  Next, Job’s health crumbled.  We’re not given a name for the disease.  Whatever it was, though, it resulted in painful sores all over Job’s body. Chronic pain.

Even so, despite his wife’s caustic suggestion that he curse God and die, Job did not abandon his faith.

Satan then employed a more subversive strategy.

Whereas Job’s wife direct approach failed to turn Job’s heart, his friends religiosity pushed the suffering saint to the limit of his endurance.

They arrived ostensibly to comfort him.  In fact, at first, they appeared truly sensitive.  They sat with him in sympathetic silence for seven days.

I suppose this gave Job confidence, and he poured out his grief.

"Gentle on My Mind," © 2015 Lynn Abbott StudiosYet, reading further, I find his guests’ response inconceivable.

One by one, each of his four friends began to accuse Job of wrong doing.  They suggested that Job had done something to deserve such pain.

They scolded. They reprimanded. They lectured. They presented a skewed picture of God, a God only interested in meting out punishment.  No grace.

Indeed, it was more than Job could handle. He was bleeding emotionally.  His friends harsh words discouraged and disheartened. And Job began to doubt.

That’s the way the enemy works.  He begins by undermining our faith, by raising doubts just as he did in the garden of Eden: “Did God really say?” (Genesis 3:1).

Job’s wife and her blatant challenge failed but this subtler, warped vision of a graceless God created uncertainty.  As a result, Job began to falter.

In the story of Job,  it becomes clear that we face more than we can handle, Satan exploits our weakness.

Through the centuries, his means have changed but his goal has remained the same. Satan consistently seeks to inspire rebellion, to undermine humanity’s relationship with heaven.

In Eden, the enemy actually sabotaged the perfect communion between God and humanity.  Needless to say, Satan’s endgame hasn’t changed.

God, on the other hand, continues to seek a close relationship with His children.

And so great is His love that He not only sent His Son to secure our ultimate salvation but He also daily rescues us from the unseen dangers that surround us.

Yet, in order to promote our welfare and to protect his children from irreversible calamity, He allows circumstances to exercise our faith.

In fact, obstacles too big to humanly handle challenge even the subtlest of our self-righteous sufficiency.

Thus, in the midst of heartache, like Job we must choose between depending on our own good works or upon God’s grace.  And while both options allow for authentic expression of heartache, each finds root in a completely different view of the person and nature of God.

On the one hand, Job’s friends presented a religion of works that defined God as a being that delights in meting out punishment in Karma-like fashion.

However, this view of God contrasts greatly with the reality of Abraham’s God, Jehovah Jireh–the God who not only sees but also provides (Genesis22:14).  Jehovah Jireh, the all-sufficient, all-knowing and all-powerful God of Grace.

Unfortunately, Job got entangled in his friends’ works-based argument.  He fell prey to the temptation to self-justify, to depend upon his personal righteousness and human wit.  In his pain, his self-protective pride got the best of him.

Rather than running to His heavenly Father, Job engaged in futile argument. Instead of depending upon God’s grace, he leaned on his own understanding.

I can certainly relate to that.

For this reason,  he stumbled.  He bitterly defended himself.  Like a rebellious teenager, he challenged His Father’s goodness and grace.

I get that, too.

Yet, God waits for His child to run into His arms in dependency and trust.

When I first read the book of Job, I found God’s answer difficult to understand.  At the close of the book, God simply reminded Job that God is God.

After all that Job had been through, it seemed to me that there had to be something more that God could say.

Yet, I now believe that in order to fully understand Job’s life,  you and I need to compare it to Christ’s.  Christ also faced the temptation to justify himself.

Satan suggested that Christ throw himself down from the temple.  By throwing Himself from the temple,  Christ might prove Himself to be the Messiah.  He would silence His critics, the tempter inferred.

However, Christ knew that if he succumbed to this temptation, he would be acting independently of God, the Father. In fact, had Christ thrown Himself from the temple, He would have been guilty of both self-promotion and self-justification.

But unlike Job, Christ would not challenge God’s plan. Instead, He turned to His Father in authentic dependency and trust.

Recognizing the subtlety of the temptation, Christ answered Satan’s perversion of faith. Christ said, “‘It is also written: Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'”

"Gentle on My Mind," © 2015 Lynn Abbott StudiosWhen I face more than I can handle, I confront the same choice.  I can choose to either challenge God’s sovereignty in my life or to run in authentic dependency toward God.

Sharing my heartbreak honestly with God is the privilege of a beloved child.  If there were any doubt of this, Gethsemane would dispel it.

Again and again, Christ asked that the suffering of the cross be removed.  Yet, Christ also placed Himself squarely in His Father’s care, “Nevertheless, not my will but yours be done,” (Matthew 26:39).

Christ’s response to deepest sorrow, dread, pain, and suffering in Gethsemane demonstrated both honesty and trust.  Suffering drove Him to Abba.

Instead of self-justification, instead of self-promotion in the face of misunderstanding and false accusations, Christ remained silent.

He waited for His Father to lift Him. He turned to Abba for strength.  He humbly obeyed His Father through suffering.

And we are told in Philippians 2:9, “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name…”

In losing our “lives”–our pride, our self-sufficiency, our self-justification and our self-direction–we gain so much more.  When loss threatens me, I find life in Christ.

And Abba longs for His children.  Thus, while Satan tries to use suffering to distance humanity from God, God runs to embrace His beloved.

Job’s experience teaches me that because I am deeply loved, God intends my life circumstances to drive me closer to Him.  Although I don’t like heartbreak or trials, if I turn to Abba, I experience deep communion with Him that cannot be found in any other way.

At the end of the book of suffering, God justified Job.  God rejected the skewed theology of Job’s friends; yet, through Job, simultaneously offered mercy.

And when God spoke, Job not only fully understood God’s power and sovereignty, but Job also experienced God’s incredible grace. With the restoration of Job’s grace-filled perspective came greater blessing than Job had ever known.

You see, Abba’s heart is always for His children (Romans 8:31). He longs to draw us near.

Thus, when life hurdles us headlong into the shadows, His grace breaks through. And with Job, we then can say, “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you…” (Job 42:5).

In my weakness, I learn–over and over again–that He is strong.

And that is exactly the point.

“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds,” Psalm 174:3

“The LORD delights in those who fear Him, who put their hope in His unfailing love,” ~Psalm 174:11