Like all preachers I sometimes wonder if people are really listening when I preach. Sometimes it's hard to tell. Especially with a bunch of white, reformed people. Most just look at you. Sometimes they frown. But that's what I do when I listen to a preacher, and I am intensely listening (and frowning). This past Sunday I preached on Habakkuk 1:5-11 and focused on the relevancy of God's sovereignty over sin. That afternoon I received an email from a brother that demonstrated he was obviously listening, and wrestling. It also shows what I am happy to say is becoming the norm at Redeemer. People are real; honest with where they are spiritually. He has given me permission to share his email (I edited it to keep his name out of it). I want to share this because it is a beautiful example of how a believer wrestles with God, theology, and difficulty.
I was having a pretty decent morning today. I was up late last night, so I woke up around 9:30 and got ready for church. I was singing in my car on the way there, and I wasn't even angry. All things said, I was having a pretty good morning.
Then you preached a sermon out of Habakkuk--otherwise known as that book I read once five years ago and have never revisited, probably because I had similar feelings when I read it as I had this morning hearing it preached.
There was a time when I struggled with the sovereignty of God. Then I thought I had worked through it. I became a Calvinist and experienced the "third birth," as one of my disciplers in college jokingly referred to it. I argued it's goodness, helpfulness and biblical coherency as a theological position. I cried tears of joy listening to reformed preachers like John Piper unwrap the mysteries of God's power over all situations, even over evil. And those scriptures declaring the glorious "I wills" of God became a source of unparalleled delight and comfort.
Then I moved to [a new city]. Something happened to me here. Life became harder, somehow more isolating. I was a miserable excuse for a grad student. I figured I would rather shear sheep than be a teacher. I forgot about God in my daily life, and drifted away from his word to anchor me, though I held onto my theology and made some pathetic attempt at living a moral life. Two years ago I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown, and I tried even more fiercely to make sure I survived on my own. In August before my second semester [of graduate school] began, I was lying in my childhood bed in the often overlooked security of my hometown, and I cried bitter tears while begging God not to make me come back to the place I had grown to hate so much. I felt like a kid who couldn't bear the thought of leaving mama on the first day of kindergarten. But the semester came, and I had responsibilities that I felt could not be put on hold. I tried my best to pretend as if I could get through it on my own. At this point, God had become the silent observer of my suffering. The theology that used to bring life was now just an excuse to blame God for the disappointing wreck I felt my life was.
But this morning was pretty good. And then I heard a message from Habakkuk about how God sometimes afflicts his people. It opened up fresh wounds barely scabbed over from the past few years, and I felt angry, frustrated and indignant. My suspicions about the "cosmic vivisector," a derisive nickname that C.S. Lewis once used in the pain of A Grief Observed, seemed vindicated.
And then you talked about Joseph and God "meaning" evil for good, and Joseph's response to his brothers always softens my heart. But that doesn't mean that the wrestling ended. During your sermon, I vacillated from anger to peace, grief to hope, and a slew of emotions between. This double-minded struggling characterizes my current situation. I can't seem to come to peace with anything, and as a result I can't rest in God.
I left the service during the last worship song because I didn't feel like singing praise. The drive home seemed much longer than it actually was. It was filled with the same struggling, and I wondered what God would take from me next. Would it be my mother, my voice, what health I have? How much would it take to get me to turn back to God out of my bitterness and self-centered despair?
When I got home, I resolved to stop wrestling and just chill. A little food (OK, a lot of food), a little Netflix, maybe a nap. God uses Netflix sometimes, just like he used a secular song on my ride home to speak to me. I was watching Lost, and I apologize if you haven't seen it, but Charlie dies. I didn't even like Charlie that much, but I started to cry. I don't cry that much, at least I don't cry that much any more. And I definitely don't cry about stupid things like TV show characters dying. But I did cry. And then the tears didn't stop, and I confessed to God that I couldn't do it anymore. I couldn't seethe with bitterness anymore. I couldn't run from his unrelenting pursuit anymore. I couldn't continue in sin and expect things to somehow improve. I realize that there are still many things to work through. Please pray that I would let go of my bitterness more each day and trust God's sovereign, good and trustworthy hands.
So thanks, Joe. Thanks for investing in a lost cause like me. Thanks for preaching the difficult parts of the Bible and being true to God's calling in your life.
Thanks for ruining my morning.
Somehow in Christ,
[a brother from Redeemer Fellowship]
Theology is often difficult if we are going to take it seriously. But those who learn it from the Scripture in the midst of real life learn it well. Preacher, keep on preaching--even the hard stuff. Hearers, listen carefully and actively. Maybe God will ruin your morning, and start a new work in you.
photo credit: chris erdos;