Revue: Into the Shadows…

“Into the Shadows,” © 2013 Lynn Abbott Studios. Used with Permission.

© 2017 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.

Yeah, 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.

Of course, the tipping point varies from person to person.  But most of us eventually face more than we can handle on our own.

For me, one such shadowy journey began two days before Thanksgiving in 2012. But I reached my breaking point on a late afternoon the following June. I watched in silent agony as my mom suffered through her final, 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.

I broke.

One by one over a period of several years, I had watched beloved family members suffer and die: my grandparents, my dad, my firstborn, and my uncle.

In fact, at the time, my Jamie Lee Curtis “do” clearly advertised my own journey through the “valley of the shadow of death.”

Eventually, we all face more than we can handle on our own.

In addition, starting a new business during the economic downturn of 2007 had left our personal finances in peril.  After several major and concurrent geographical moves I had little by way of a local support system.

And I felt lost; I begged Abba to heal Mom.  Yet, she 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…”

And while that’s an encouraging thought,  it isn’t quite accurate.

After all, God can and often does give us more than we can manage.

But He never gives us more than He can handle.

And that’s the point.

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

Talk about having a bad day… In one 24-hour period, Job lost everything: his crops, children, financial security, and health.

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

He could bitterly blame God or run to his sovereign Savior.

When I think about it, much–if not 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.

When I think about it, much of life boils down to this: do I follow God or do I strike out on my own?

Thus, in the midst of heartache, like Job, I must choose between depending on my 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 (Genesis 22:14).  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.

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

I can certainly relate to that.

For this reason, he stumbled.  His pride got the better of him and he bitterly defended himself.  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.

In order to fully understand Job’s life, you and I need to compare it to Christ’s.

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.'”

In fact, Christ’s response to deepest sorrow, dread, pain, and suffering in Gethsemane demonstrated both honesty and trust.  Suffering drove Him to Abba, (Matthew 26:39).

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 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.

At the end of the book of suffering, God justified Job.  God rejected the often skewed theology of Job’s friends; yet, through Job, simultaneously offered mercy (Job 42:10).

Indeed, when God spoke, Job not only fully understood God’s power and sovereignty, but Job also experienced God’s incredible grace.

Scripture also notes that when Job prayed on behalf of his friends, God restored Job’s life (Job 42:10).  With the restoration of his grace-filled perspective, Job experienced greater blessing than he had ever known.

Job’s experience, then, teaches me that because I am deeply loved, God intends my life circumstances–even the shadows–to drive me closer to Him.

In losing our “lives”–our pride, our self-sufficiency, our self-justification and our self-direction–we gain so much more.

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

Thus, when life hurdles us headlong, His grace breaks through the shadows. 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