Last night on my way to Bible study with Sam and Maria, the subway car I was in ran over someone. They either slipped or jumped onto the tracks. The conductor, who delivered the news to the seemingly unfazed passengers, was unsure as to the cause. I couldn’t do anything. I was shocked. I almost got sick.
All later on, through Bible study, during the ride home from Bible study, in the shower, and while sitting at my computer, working on a character profile for Creative Nonfiction, it kept hitting me again and again that someone had died and the world just kept moving, as if it didn’t matter.
I looked across the dorm room at Bree and got her attention to talk to her about it. We went back and forth, contemplating the numbness of the world, if everyone, or the majority of everyone in the City, maybe even in the world was like this, and what would happen if we ended up like it. I was distressed.
Almost at the same moment, (I was talking to Jacob about this as well), Bree asked me if I’d talked to God about this, and Jacob told me I could pray for the family of the person who’d died. Part of me, the prideful part, reacting to Bree’s suggestion, was angry at myself for not having responded with talking to God about it in the first place. Another part of me, the selfish part, reacting to Jacob’s suggestion, felt just ridiculous for not having put the person and their family and all those affected by their death before my own insecurities. And the last part, my heart, which God owns, felt relieved, remembering that I could talk to Him.
Turns out this event, my recent habitual intake of morning coffee, my sleep cycle, and myriad other things all piled up into one big ball of emotions and triggered a very, very, very long upset that drained me and drove me pleading with God and crying out to Him. I felt as if I were going completely insane. I couldn’t remember who God was, couldn’t distinguish between friend and foe, and everything I wanted and didn’t want became blurred together and I just wanted all of it to stop. This hasn’t happened since last semester.
This morning, when I woke up, the effects lingered, and I still felt like I was absolutely crazy, like the struggle of knowing truth and seeing people for who they really are, of not drowning in despair when looking at the numbness of the world and fearing that I’d become the same way somehow, like this struggle was unique to me and no one else in the world had ever gone up against it, much less conquered it.
“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” (1 Peter 5:6-10, emphasis mine)
In this passage taken from 1 Peter, Peter is addressing the elders presumably of a body of Gentiles become Christians. While this chapter is primarily about elders shepherding the flock of God, those with spiritual authority helping others grow in Christ and exercising humility in their leadership, this can be applied, I think, to all Christians, particularly in the realms of spiritual warfare and mental and physical suffering. “Knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.” Whatever you’re struggling with, there is someone out there in the world who is going through the same kind of suffering that you are going through right now, or someone who has gone through it. It’s not unique to you. You are not alone. You have a God who empathizes with you and cares about your heart, and who loves you too much to leave you where you are.
I remembered that God is greater than my heart, and He’s outside of my emotions. He’s the constant. God is a God of peace and not of confusion. When things don’t make sense and when things of the past try to grab hold of the future, all the while suffocating the present, God never moves. I can cling to Him in the middle of a tornado and be confident that He won’t be uprooted or whisked away.
Things (all areas of life) are becoming considerably more difficult and presenting more challenges than I thought they would. I’m learning that not becoming weary of doing good is much more than being determined to be kind or do nice things for people. And I’ve talked about this before. It’s having the endurance to be consistent in prayer (all prayer), consistent in the studying of God’s Word (including applying it and meditating on it and memorizing it), and consistent in reaching out to others, all on the basis of your relationship with Christ and growing in His grace and truth and being transformed by that. Do not grow weary of doing good.
For the past couple of days I’ve been reading Jonah, and was surprisingly comforted by a passage there I’d never dug into before.
Before Jonah finally goes to Nineveh, he hops on a boat to Tarshish, which is in the opposite direction of where God commanded him to go in the first place. While Jonah is on this course, “the Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up.” (1:4)
And then in verse 5, it shows the mariners reacting; “then the mariners were afraid, and each cried out to his god.”
Eventually Jonah comes into the mix (he’d been asleep in the inner part of the ship until the captain came and woke him up) and they cast lots to figure out who is responsible for this nonsense. The lot falls on Jonah. The mariners interrogate him until he confesses who he is, “a Hebrew, and I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” (v.9)
Reluctantly, but upon Jonah’s instructions, the mariners cast Jonah into the sea, saying “O Lord, let us not perish for this man’s life, and lay not on us innocent blood, for you, O Lord, have done as it pleased you.”
The reason why this whole passage stuck out to me is because Jonah was disobeying God. He was deliberately running away from what God commanded him to do. And yet we see a change of heart and a change of mind in the mariners with whom Jonah sails, going from “each crying out to his god” to “therefore, they called out to the Lord.” From many gods to One, from being afraid of the wrath of their gods to revering the One true God. Even in the disobedience of God’s children, God’s sovereignty wins out over all, and His will cannot be thwarted.
Things now are not perfect, and my head and heart are still tired and a bit shaken, and things still don’t quite make sense; all of the puzzle pieces don’t fit together. And I don’t know how things are going to happen or what’s going to come out of all of this, this life stuff, this time at Pratt, my family, my relationships with others, their relationships. But I know that God isn’t going anywhere, even when I don’t feel like He’s enough or when my emotions tell me otherwise.
Part of me feels like I’m not a legitimate Christian if I struggle this much, if I’m this emotional. I still entertain and consider that thought of “If I’m a Christian, I should just be happy all the time and never experience fear or pain or hurt.” But I’m living in a world that’s not my home, around people who don’t love my God, in a society that claims the God who saved me and loves me and whose Word is true is nothing more than a body in the sky created by man, claiming everything I believe to be true as being a lie. Of course this is hard. But then again, He never promised me it would be easy.
As for the man or woman who’d died in the subway last night, I don’t know if he knew God, who his family is, what was going on in his life, how things were playing out for him…but God knew. God knows. But then of course the question is “Well, if God was there, then why didn’t He do anything about it?”
Let’s go back to Jonah. All of the people in Nineveh were in deep sin and blasphemy against the One true God. God was going to smite them. Was that His desire? No. Did it fit with His just character? Yes. So to save these people, He sent Jonah, and when Jonah finally went, proclaiming God’s message, everyone in Nineveh, including the king, repented and God didn’t smite them. They turned to God because Jonah did what he was supposed to do. That’s why God chose man as His method, to harken back to the Master Plan of Evangelism by Robert E. Coleman. God uses us, His kids, to bring hope to a world without hope. I told my classmates at Bible study the other night that we are hope in an environment where hope doesn’t exist. This is also why in Matthew, Christ turns to His disciples to pray earnestly for God to send laborers out into the harvest; there are so many people. There are sooooo many people, a plentiful harvest, but the laborers are so few (9:37-38).
So this of course means that I’m going to drop everything I’m doing in college, forsake homework, and devote myself to traveling the world proclaiming the Gospel and saving and evangelizing souls, right? Wrong. God has put me here at Pratt, and brought me people to disciple and to reach out to. Meanwhile, in everything I do, I’m called to glorify Him as a testimony of His love for those around me. He’s placed authority over me and put me in a position where work in the world is required of me. Where God has placed me now is where He needs me to be. This is the harvest, and I and some of my classmates are the laborers.
So this of course means I’m going to start every single class with “Hey, do you know Jesus?” and stand on a soap box in the middle of campus calling for repentance. No. While, yes, some people do things like that and it’s totally effective, the environment I’m in right now is not suited for that, and God asks me to take a different approach. To be consistent. To be committed. To be genuine. To be His girl and all that that entails, from depending on Him and trusting in Him, to writing about Him and reflecting Him in my work to the best of my ability, to handling failure and criticism, to how I treat my professors and my classmates and my teammates. To not be afraid to ask the hard questions. To share the gospel here, individually, with those around me, as I live.
“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.” —2 Peter 1:3-4