“How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I treat you like Zeboiim? My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender. I will not execute my burning anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and not a man, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath.” Hosea 11:8-9
“But you shall taste the true solitude of my anguish and my poverty and I shall lead you into the high places of my joy and you shall die in Me and find all things in My mercy which has created you for this end and brought you…That you may become the brother of God and learn to know the Christ of the burnt men.” -Thomas Merton, The Seven Storey Mountain
“He who loves men loves their joy!” – Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov
Dear Christian, Jesus loves you. So he’s going to kill you.
That has been the story of this summer. Easily the hardest, and the most transformative, of my life.
In the span of a few short months I have graduated college, begun working for a ministry I highly respect and cherish, become financially independent, met an amazing woman, had a hard breakup (understatement), and prepared to move from my lifelong home. In short: I’ve lost control.
None of us ever really have control. But we all have a variety of ways to prop up the illusion. A successful businessman or doctor can point to great education, being personable, and a high degree of specialization and consider themselves indispensable to their family or office. But they can’t control whether their car makes it to work the next morning. Or whether a pulmonary embolism suddenly strikes them or a loved one. And even Donald Trump would *probably* concede that his ego can’t hold up earthquakes or hurricanes. Control is an illusion. But, ever since the fall, it has become our default setting. When Satan whispered “Has God really said?” he began a violent process that rages on to this very day. The process of small, sentient creatures called humans, endowed with God’s image and meant to be the foremost of his creation, seeking to subvert that creative order by asserting their own autonomy. By taking his throne. The process of pride- the sin that St. Augustine said begets all others.
This summer, God has, more than ever before, begun to break me of my lust for the final say. And to be clear, by “break” I mean absolutely shatter. For those who don’t know, my new job as an intern with RUF (the aforementioned campus ministry) requires me to fundraise my living on a yearly basis. That’s $33,781. Of other people’s money. How do you get it? Simple! You ask! …not an overabundance of control in that, is there? And once you raise 85% you get cleared to move (11 hours away to Lynchburg, Virginia in my case). But not a day sooner. 85 or bust. So, as you let your lease go up and move back in with your parents before you have that 85 you start to get why that Abraham guy was such a big deal to everybody…
And right in the midst of it you meet someone and start dating. And then you break up. Because of the distance. Apparently, it wasn’t enough for God to strip all of your pride of self-earning away professionally, he also felt the need to get in on your romantic sphere. So you fume and pray and watch Friends and fight the urge to tweet every single pang until a realization hits you and all the church cliches suddenly ring true: You can’t fix this, all you can do is pray for them, and yourself. You have a whole bunch of words and plans but the only real, redemptive thing you can offer them is your own growth in grace and personal love for Jesus. You said you were open-handed before. Now God is nudging you with the reminder that “giving it up” means allowing him the option of not returning it to you.
This is Christian death. And make no mistake, death hurts! But it is the kind of death that will bring you new life! As Jesus says in the Gospel, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” (Matthew 16:25-26) In a culture that deems all actions equal and ranks personal autonomy as supreme, Jesus Christ, the God-man, shouts a counterintuitive truth, “You don’t have to hide from your place in the created world, you should embrace it! You aren’t God, I am. This culture tells you that you’re doing fine and your heart knows it’s a coverup. I offer you the chance to die!” This is authenticity! Being truly known and truly loved anyway. The God who loves you enough to annoy you and remake you. A God who cannot be sated till you’re perfect.
So despite great friends, many laughs, and countless blessings, this summer has been a season of death for me. Death to my expectations, death to my delusions of autonomy, and, above all, to my notion of being in control. And the simple message of the gospel is that there is a God in heaven who loves me. All hardships, past, present, and future, are ultimately from His hand and for my good. He is not the author of evil, but he is adept at folding heartbreak and horrible decisions into his greater work of recreating me-along with the entire universe. He is making all things new. So if you are in a season of more pronounced death, take heart that God is more than the sum of your feelings. He will purify you still more, and one day you’ll be able to kiss the hand you thought was hitting you.
As we study theology (or are students of circumstance), we inevitably see more and more of the gap between him and us. But we also paradoxically find that, through his work in our hearts, we are more able than yesterday to trust his heart even when we can’t see his hands. Amen, let it be so.
Lord, I am for what you’re for.
I am for what you’re for.