Saturday, January 5, 2013

Trained by losses


An Old Testament story sheds some light on the reasons that God allows adversity. We don’t like trials and troubles. I don’t like trials and troubles, but instead of pleading for their removal, I’m trying a different prayer.
Now Elijah the Tishbite, of Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.” And the word of the Lord came to him: “Depart from here and turn eastward and hide yourself by the brook Cherith, which is east of the Jordan. You shall drink from the brook, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there.” So he went and did according to the word of the Lord. He went and lived by the brook Cherith that is east of the Jordan. And the ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning, and bread and meat in the evening, and he drank from the brook. And after a while the brook dried up, because there was no rain in the land. (1 Kings 17:1–7)
Elijah was a powerful Old Testament prophet. He had accomplished mighty things and instigated miracles. The current king was a godless man who had set up an idol and “did more to provoke the Lord, the God of Israel, to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him” (1 Kings 16:33). God pitted Elijah against this king Ahab, by sending a severe drought. He also sent His prophet to a safe place where he was protected from the severity others would suffer in the drought.

Often I’ve felt like that is what God has done with me. I’m in a safe place, at least right now. I’ve even said that I’m God’s most senior spoiled brat. However, I know comfort may not always be my lot in life. Job was protected and blessed by God, but lost almost everything, suffering greatly in the process. Here, Elijah was protected but eventually the oasis dried up. He also suffered along with the others.

Today’s devotional makes a point of that. Elijah, to be a stronger spokesperson for God and more apt to be heeded, must be ousted from his guarded and protected place. He need to suffer alongside the people if he would be a beacon for them. No one listens to those who live in ivory towers.

Jesus knew that, so He left heaven and came to earth. By doing this, He set an example to those of us who not only feel safe in God’s care but come to expect nothing bad can or should ever happen to us.
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5–8)
Elijah and Job, and certainly Jesus did not do anything to bring disaster into their lives. Elijah suffered so he might be drawn even closer to God and into greater empathy with God’s people. Job was tested to prove that the faith God had given him did not depend on his prosperity and quality of life. Jesus became one of us that He might die in our place, the ultimate sacrifice for sin so that we could be forgiven.

Disasters tend to bring out something good in people that may not have shown itself otherwise. The devotional writer says that many a brook God dries up “so that we may cease from our pride and realize our kinship. There is no sympathy so deep and strong as the sympathy that springs out of a common suffering.” If we are excluded from what others have to bear, we become alienated from humanity.

We’ve seen that in the aftermath of hurricanes and floods. I’ve seen it in my own life, having more sympathy and compassion for those who suffer because I also have suffered.

That sense of protection and safety is lovely, yet I know it is not guaranteed. God does not promise a life without loss. While I might think that some things are hard to lose, in God’s sight it may be good to lose them. If taking away anything will make me more loving, more sympathetic and more kind, my life will be richer and warmer than it is now. If I become superior and exclusive because I’m kept in a place of comfort, then others might have no compassion or sympathy from me. While I may not ask for it to happen, sometimes my brook needs to dry up. When it does, my prayer is that God will make me a better person because of the loss.


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