From My Email… Abandoned Fortresses

by Margaret Manning

Have you ever experienced the dissonance that comes from the contradiction of your personal experience and your beliefs? What do you do, for example, when you’ve believed that God always heals, and yet you watch helplessly as your mother dies of cancer? How do you affirm God’s love to a woman who was abused as a young girl? What do you feel when you’ve been told that God has a wonderful plan for your life, and yet you can’t square that wonderful plan with a series of professional and personal failures?

If you’re like me, the fortress of beliefs you thought were impenetrable come crashing down as life experience smashes that fortress like a battering ram. In the aftermath, the alternative shelters of cynical doubt or blind faith beckon you to take your refuge with them. For most of us, we run perilously between both extremes, without the sense of security that the fortress once provided.

The Bible is replete with stories about individuals who faced the difficult conflict between what they held to be the truth and what they experienced in their lives. Think of the patriarch Joseph. He was told by God through a sequence of dreams that he would be great one day–so great, in fact that his own brothers would come and bow down in reverence for him. He had been given a glimpse of his destiny, and perhaps he believed his path to that destiny would be paved with gold. Instead, his gilded trip to glory yielded an attempted murder by his own brothers, his enslavement in a foreign land, and much of his life spent in and out of prison falsely accused of various crimes he did not commit. How could this be the path to glory God promised to provide for Joseph?

Joseph’s beliefs in a God who loved him and had compassion on him were now being challenged by God’s demonstration of his compassionate care. Sitting in his jail cell, I’m sure Joseph wrestled with his ideas about God’s loving care.

Despite the contradiction between his life experience and what he thought he knew about God, Joseph ultimately affirmed that God is good and trustworthy. How did he arrive at this? I would suggest that as Joseph (like his father, Jacob) wrestled with God, God gave him a new perspective and a deeper understanding of his love for him. But that new perspective is not lightly gained. Noted author and pastor Craig Barnes poignantly describes the emergence of new perspectives as the very process of conversion:
"The deep fear behind every loss is that we have been abandoned by the God who should have saved us. The transforming moment in Christian conversion comes when we realize that even God has left us. We then discover it was not God, but our image of God that abandoned us…. Only then is change possible."

Indeed, Joseph eventually reveals his new perspective to his brothers who betrayed him; "As for you, you meant evil against me but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive" (Genesis 50:20). This is no biblical cliché. Joseph did witness God’s intervention and love. But not at all in the way he expected. And neither has God promised to make our lives go as we plan. But instead, God promises to give us the necessary new perspective to see his goodness and grace in the midst of our abandoned expectations.


~ by thoughtcrime2 on September 12, 2008.

2 Responses to “From My Email… Abandoned Fortresses”

  1. Great thoughts. Can I share a thought I found on on Jon Acuff’s “stuff” blog?

    Here is the question I felt like God asked me:

    “Do I have the right to crack the vessel if breaking it is the fastest way to share with the world what I have poured into it?”

    Here is his post:

    Hope you will have a look at my blogs too… similar ideas.


  2. Oh how funny — I just saw where you are already linked to Jon’s “Stuff Christians Like” blog! Great minds think alike, so they say. 🙂
    Happy weekend,

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