Sinners In The Hands Of A Loving God

Sinners in the hands of a loving God

Scares us far more than Jonathan Edwards’ angry God

God’s complete, unrelenting, unconditional, extravagent love

Intimidating us so, melting our shame-based defenses

Shrinking back, we invent rules to narrow the flow, conditions for controlling

This complete, unrelenting, unconditional, over-the-top love

So terribly wonderful, overwhelming our senses, flooding our souls

Sinners in the hands of a loving God we are

Thanks be to God


FaithSights #2 The Past DOES Change

Croce di luce - bagliore

“You can’t change the past.”

Well, perhaps this is true when it comes to literal events. But working as a therapist and coach the last 24 years has taught me otherwise.

Couples who engage in marital therapy provide obvious evidence that the past really does change. As therapy begins, I typically do one session alone with each client. We explore their background, family of origin, and concerns. Since each client is in my office due to concern about their marriage, I explore these concerns. I can’t tell you how many times clients have described a particular moment on their wedding day. They say something like this. “I woke up on my wedding day and I had this bad feeling in the pit of my stomach, sort of like dread. I heard this little voice in the back of my mind warning me not to follow through with it. I just dismissed this as the typical cold feet people have just before their weddings. But now I know, I should have paid attention.” If I had five dollars for every time I’ve heard this idea expressed, I would buy Costa Rica.

What’s fascinating is what happens from there. Depending on how the relationship repair goes determines the client’s evolving relationship with the past; how he or she interprets that past moment on the wedding day. When their marriage improves, then the client will interpret the moment before the wedding one way. “That moment before my wedding….that was just typical cold feet. Everyone feels that way. It didn’t mean anything.” When the marriage declines, then another interpretation is given to the moment. “That moment before my wedding, the one I told you about when we first met….it was real and I should have listened. Then I would have avoided all this pain.”

In reality, who knows what that moment meant at the time. It was a significant moment, since the clients remember it so well many years later. But their relationships to those moments change, depending on their present experience. We largely interpret past events in light of our current life experience. So the past does not literally change, yet our relationship to the past changes depending on our current life circumstances, changing the meaning of the past in our present.

And this is a healthy dynamic. Engaging the present, living in this very moment…this is the essence of living. Healthy and adaptive people are able to change their relationships with the past in order to serve them well in the present.

Maybe this is part of redemption. When we change our relationship to past events, the painful, hurtful, debilitating events…then they are redeemed. No longer do they have power over us.

It turns out that the past DOES change. May we actively engage in changing the past for the good.

FaithSights #1 Everyone Needs A Faith Crisis Now And Then

Croce di luce - bagliore

Now and then, everyone needs a faith crisis.

Without them, our faith remains undeveloped, leaving us like perpetual spiritual toddlers. With them, we grow up into the maturity God calls us toward.

Now and then, everyone needs a faith crisis.

Here is how faith crises work. We carry around with us a mental picture of God, a cognitive understanding of who God is and what God does. Obviously our understandings are flawed and incomplete, yet we human being types need working models of God in order to relate to God. We are relational beings who need to know others, including God. This is how we relate with God…through relationship.

Faith crises come when our understanding of God cannot explain our experience. It’s like we draw a circle around God, telling ourselves that God’s activity is what God does within this circle, within our understanding of God. This gives us guidance for relating to God. We believe we “know” God and can relate with God.

But then something happens. An experience, event, thought, or something else happens which has to do with God or life as we know it, but does not fit within this God-circle. Our perception of who God is and what God does cannot accommodate this experience. Our life experience is outside the circle. This creates a faith crisis for us.

Those who are clergy will remember plenty of faith crises in their Clinical Pastoral Education experience. I encountered many situations in the hospital where I served which were beyond my understanding of God. They were outside the circle, forcing me to re-evaluate my theology and spirituality. Some fellow students just numbed-out; putting their heads down, moving through it without much thinking at all. Most engaged the struggle, allowing their theology and faith to expand.

A few years ago, our doctor reminded us of the need for a good faith crisis now and then. Our middle daughter struggled with illness from age six to thirteen. Finding a diagnosis was very difficult, leading to much stress, concern, and prayer. Part way into that difficult journey, Melanie (my wife) was in a consultation with the pediatrician. This doctor is a faithful caring Christian person who integrates his faith with his practice. We appreciated his consistent care with our daughter. But this consultation was not so helpful.

As Melanie described our great concern as parents, wondering how serious this illness was and what we could do to help, the doctor made this statement. “God is either testing you as her parents or is testing me as her doctor.”

Reflecting on this doctor’s statement, we can see how a person’s working theology informs one’s interpretation of life experience. This doctor sees most everything which happens as God’s will. Thus, he believes God gave our innocent nine-year old daughter a serious illness in order to teach us (her parents) a lesson.

Now, I’m certain that we have many lessons to learn. I’m certain we are flawed and fail often. Yet, I think our level of sin is about the same as most people we know. Why would God go out of God’s way to do such a cruel thing to get us straightened out? Is our sin so agregious that striking a nine-year old child with serious illness is warranted? And, even before that, what kind of God would make a child so miserable in order to teach her parents a lesson? Does God use people this way? Is this how a loving heavenly parent behaves? Does this understanding of God resonate the picture of God revealed by Jesus in the New Testament? Would you worship this kind of deity?

And then, to believe that perhaps God is testing him as a doctor by bringing our sick child to him for treatment….well, we can fix that right away. We can fire him as our doctor, then God won’t need to strike our child who will then test his physician skills. We can find another physician who doesn’t need testing, and then poof, our child will be well. Let God improve this doctor’s skills some other way than making our child sick.

Sometimes, when we are on the other side of faith crises, we can be thankful for the growth in our understandings of God. This experience made us glad we had come to some semblance of peace with theodicy (the presence of pain in a world along with a loving God). I was never so proud of Melanie as when she had the presence of mind to reply to our doctor, “That doesn’t fit my understanding of who God is.” The doctor quickly moved on to another subject.

So, when a faith crisis comes along, perhaps it’s not such a bad thing. I’m grateful for those numerous faith crises earlier wherein we had to “work out our salvation” and refine our understandings of God. They readied us for living with the reality of a sick child and continuing to be in relationship with God. I wouldn’t wish a faith crisis on anyone, since they tend toward the painful. And, I suspect I will encounter more faith crises before this journey is done. But I’m also grateful for the growth which results from engaging life and God.

So, dare we say it?

Everyone needs a faith crisis, now and then.