The Road from Broken

attachment“He didn’t show up.”

I listened to the hum of my friend’s tires through the crackle of our phone connection, speechless in response to his overwhelming grief. The crack in his voice tore at my heart.

“My back was to the wall. I kept crying out for God to rescue me. I kept waiting to see what He would do, trusting that He would intervene.

“But He didn’t.”

Images flashed through my mind, memories of the times my spirit has broken under the crushing blow of God’s unresponsiveness. The unborn children that I had pled with Him to save. The violent attacks that I had begged Him to rescue me from. And more recently, the tiny niece whom I had persistently called on Him to heal.

But He didn’t.

When God lets our worst nightmare come true, how can we ever rest in His arms again?

When God allows our worst nightmare to unfold in front of our eyes, what can we say? What comfort is possible after He brings the darkest night of our soul? The sun may still rise, new mornings may come, but how can we raise our eyes to their hope-filled rays without remembering the dashed expectations of this night?

As I prayed through Psalm 89 this morning, God once again walked me through the arduous path from the valley of the shadow back into the land of the living. Ethan’s psalm is one of those conversations which suddenly takes an unexpected left turn, the sort of song that begins with pitch-perfect worship and ends with dissonant lament. But reading the beginning in light of the end shows me the way forward through the valley of despair.

I will sing of the LORD’s great love forever; with my mouth I will make your faithfulness known through all generations. I will declare that your love stands firm forever, that you established your faithfulness in heaven itself.
Psalm 89:1-2

At the moments when I have felt most let down by God, the hardest thing to do is to look Him in the eye. In an effort to preserve my sanity and my faith, I am tempted to look away, to settle for “Well, He is God and I am not. Who am I to expect any better than this?” But on the other side of disappointment, the psalmist undertakes the daring venture of repeating what he had based his world on before it fell apart. God’s unfailing love. His firm faithfulness.

…You are mighty, O LORD, and your faithfulness surrounds you. You rule over the surging sea; when its waves mount up, you still them. You crushed Rahab like one of the slain; with your strong arm you scattered your enemies. The heavens are yours, and yours also the earth; you founded the world and all that is in it. …Your arm is endued with power; your hand is strong, your right hand exalted.
Psalm 89:8-13

And having driven his stake firmly back into that rock, the psalmist faces head on the one excuse that might explain away a loving God who lets nightmares come true. Could it be that God just wasn’t big enough to handle this situation? Was His arm bound or this situation somehow beyond His reach? That would be convenient to believe. It would certainly let God off the hook. But the psalmist refuses to settle for a smaller deity, an emasculated, toned-down version of God. Instead he boldly reiterates God’s history of overcoming much greater forces than the one He just seemingly gave in to.

So God is loving and God is strong. Then why did He stand back and let this happen? How can I reconcile what I have heard Him say about Himself with what I have just seen with my eyes? The evidence seems to mount against Him.

You said, “I have made a covenant with my chosen one, I have sworn to David my servant,’I will establish your line forever and make your throne firm through all generations.’
“No enemy will subject him to tribute; no wicked man will oppress him. I will crush his foes before him and strike down his adversaries. My faithful love will be with him, and through my name his horn will be exalted.

But you have rejected, you have spurned, you have been very angry with your anointed one.
You have exalted the right hand of his foes; you have made all his enemies rejoice. You have turned back the edge of his sword and have not supported him in battle. You have put an end to his splendor and cast his throne to the ground. You have cut short the days of his youth; you have covered him with a mantle of shame.
Psalm 89:3, 22-24 38-39, 42-45

At this point my courage falters. I am tempted to escape the conflict by switching into dissociative worship, gazing on God’s heavenly goodness while blocking out my earthly pain. But the psalmist takes the risky step of bringing the two together in the same room, laying side by side the specific promises God has made and the contradicting realities he has experienced. He refuses to deny, downplay, or excuse either of them until they have somehow been reconciled.

The tension builds until it is almost unbearable. The unspoken question hangs in the air: “Why have you let me down?” But the psalmist won’t say it. He doesn’t want to pass judgment on God prematurely.

How long, O LORD? Will you hide yourself forever? How long will your wrath burn like fire? Remember how fleeting is my life…
Psalm 89:46-47

And that’s when the element of time finally enters the room, allowing us all space to breathe again. The story isn’t over. The worst may have already happened, but God isn’t finished.

The worst may have already happened,
but the story isn’t over.

The babies may have died. The brutal act may have been completed. The contract may have been terminated. The relationship may be over. But that isn’t the end.

In God’s story, death ends in resurrection. Sorrow ends in comfort. Shame ends in glory. Brokenness ends in renewal. And suffering ends in redemption.

And so as I stand in the midst of the valley with my friend, my backward-looking questions of “why” give way to forward-reaching cries of “how long?” Like the “Are we there yet?” conversations that inevitably occur in the backseat of a seemingly eternal road trip, I switch from disappointment to anticipation. God’s “No” compels me to cry out in faith: “Then how much longer?”

He didn’t show up. But He will.

It is only a matter of time.

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12 thoughts on “The Road from Broken”

  1. Timely. It’s a Topic I’ve been pondering on! “In God’s story, death ends in resurrection.” Love that line.

    The fact that Jesus went through literally the worst thing in the universe –separation from the Father– shows that God is more interested in showing glory from the grave, that which overcomes, than in keeping us from the initial pain. Unlike us, God likes uncomfortable tension, because that is the source of our growth and the testing ground of faith as we await His answer. The pain is the prologue to a greater story.

    1. Deeter, this is brilliant. “The pain is the prologue to a greater story.”
      It doesn’t lessen the pain, but it infuses it with hopeful purpose. Psalm 16 represents how Jesus interpreted the suffering that He was about to endure through the grid of that bigger story.

      “8 I have set the LORD always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. 9 Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, 10 because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay. 11 You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.”

      But even grander is the contrast between the agony at the beginning of Psalm 22 and the glory at the end.

      I struggle to grasp the value God has on pain. Really, He can accomplish His purposes any way He chooses. But this is the story He chose to write. And lest I begin to think of Him as a heartless God inflicting involuntary pain on so many others, I realized He wrote Himself into the same story.

      Some day I will get it. But for now, I trust Him.

  2. Tiffany, this was wonderful! How you drew out with your own heart this dynamic of faith and disappointment ending in heavenly victory. You wrote:

    “But the psalmist takes the risky step of bringing the two together in the same room, laying side by side the specific promises God has made and the contradicting realities he has experienced. He refuses to deny, downplay, or excuse either of them until they have somehow been reconciled.”

    There is a verse in Psalm 85 that I have struggled with for years. It so troubled me that I went to an elder brother about it because it had not yet become our Father’s truth in me…

    “Mercy and truth have met together, righteousness and peace have kissed.”

    Oh, how my heart has cried out to God for this to happen since He drew me to it 26 years ago! At that time I told this dear old brother, “John, what am I to do? They do not meet in me!” He said, “Michael, They only meet and kiss in Jesus and only as you are IN Him will you know this reality, too.”

    Our truth says, “God cares not for us in our suffering. Where was He when we needed Him? Why have so many died who trusted in Him to save them?” But His reality, His real Truth says, “Father, I have taken their pain, suffering and sin upon Myself right down into the pit of hell and I have risen again it triumph over sin and death. Forgive and heal them, until your mercy floods their hearts and our righteous and peace is THEIR reality in ever situation as they abide IN Me.”

    “Surely his salvation is near those that fear him; that glory may dwell in our land. Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other. Truth shall spring out of the earth; and righteousness shall look down from heaven. Yea, the LORD shall give that which is good; and our land shall yield its increase. Righteousness shall go before him; and shall set us in the way of his steps.”
    (Psalms 85:9-13 KJ2000)

    1. I love Psalm 85, Michael. It used to feel like a fairy-tale, because as good as it sounds, I couldn’t really expect to ever see that happening here on earth (kind of like a lion hanging out with a lamb and powerful rulers washing people’s feet). But your testimony proves that it does. One soul at a time, God is transforming His people into a community of servant-leaders who will tend His earth in just this way. We are both agents and witnesses of that New Creation, His kingdom coming on earth as it is in heaven. The part we often don’t expect is that the kingdom comes through suffering, both Christ’s and our own. Without having met you, I can see the fruit of your sufferings in the righteousness and peace that God’s Spirit has worked deep into your heart. It manifests itself in your words of compassionate truth, and even more, in your prayers of persistent faith.

      1. Wow! Tiffany, you really have blessed me. This is the most wonderful “foot washing” I have ever had! Yet, I can not see any of these things you speak of in myself. I guess that is God protecting me. Yes, He keeps the suffering close at hand as we mature in Christ. Lately it has been intercession, real empathy, where I feel the pain of others, like you had those four days over the 200 Nigerian girls that were kidnapped. Just this morning it hit me for the husband of a sister in Texas who is suffering from PTSD from the Iraq war. It came crashing down on him when his oldest boy joined the Air Force. This man had seen a lot of dead and maimed children during the that war.

        Father has gone so deep in my heart and been pulling up those bitter roots from the past and filling that space with His love. I seem to spend a lot of time weeping as He let’s me enter into the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings, our Great High Priest who ever lives to make intercession for us before the Father. I am starting to understand what Paul was talking about when he said that he desired to abide in the sufferings of Christ.

        “…I myself have become a servant of this message [the gospel]. I am glad that I can suffer for you. I am pleased also that in my own body I can continue the suffering of Christ for his body, the church.”
        (Colossians 1:23-24 CEV)

        I know, dear sister, that you are very familiar with this. Somebody said recently that REAL love does not run from suffering, but rather runs to it. It would seem to be so and I have seen you do this as well, dear Tiffany. We are allowed to take the sufferings of others into ourselves so we can lay them at our Father’s feet in prayer. What a wonderful privilege to know Jesus and His body this way.

        Truth says, “there are atrocities and suffering in this world,” but Mercy says, “What does Jesus’ love ask me to do to alleviate and to bear some of that suffering up to the Father?”

        Keep sharing your great heart with us, dear sister.
        Agape!

  3. I like that ‘Tell me about it …..’ what can I say when we go, oh so often, through the dark night of the soul, through the valley of the shadow of death …..I am amazed I wake up and I am still here, that God is still here, silent but standing still. I am falling but standing at the same time for I know it is God’s strength and power alone I am standing. I have faced death many times. I have wanted it many times, sometimes I am angry I’m still here but at least now I can say ‘I know that my Redeemer lives’. I know who is my Jesus. I know whom the one I have believed, not because of someone else’s testimony but because of his faithfulness to me, his love for me. yes what can I say …. nothing really except I love my Jesus and he raised me from the dead and I will be with him forever …..

    1. Jacqui, Soul resonates with soul. More beautiful still, our souls are just a few among that mighty throng of the redeemed from all places and times whose hearts have been tuned to the Father’s through their individual suffering.

      I rejoice that He has delivered you from death. I ache that circumstances have been so unbearable that you have longed for it. And I celebrate with you the sweet victory of still standing with Him: having born all, still standing. You have been granted that painful privilege of tasting and seeing His goodness that only comes out of walking with Him through deep, dark valleys.

      May He also grant you the joy of walking with Him in the light of life.

  4. The Faith I am reading here is making me breath rapidly. I am a critter who still tells God not to test me every day as I would surely fail Him and then turn away in anger. I doubt I would have the makings of anything better. Lord, don’t test me!!!!

    1. Collette, your honesty does you credit. You may be a critter who daily prays “lead us not into the time of trial” as our Lord did, but you are also a critter who keeps pursuing greater levels of godliness and faith. As such, I believe that if or when the day comes, God’s Spirit will supply you with what you have asked for. He is, after all, that kind of Father, the one who gives good gifts to His children who ask. I join you in the prayer, “Lord I believe. Help my unbelief!”

  5. Tiff once again, you take something so challenging to understand and weave what we feel and think through the funnel of Truth. Thank you for that. There is so very much I don’t understand about God and His ways, but I come back to Isaiah 55:8-9 often, as well as the wise words a precious friend (you) shared with me long ago…because He is always good and always faithful, we can know that He reigns in all things for His glory and our best. I’m sure you said it way better than that, but I remember the conversation regarding my deep burden for my mom’s salvation.
    I don’t get how and why true, passionate believers are killed, why His children suffer so greatly and hurt so deeply when He has every recourse to change it. But, bottom line is simple…I don’t have to get it. Faith says I will trust Him through the unseen on this adventure and hold to what I know about Him and not what I’m not able to know right now. One of the verses I had the kids memorize a few years ago was Philippians 1:29: For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake. I told them that belief in Him is a gift granted to them on behalf of Christ…we are all ok with that. But the verse also has suffering as a gift granted on behalf of Christ. I long for the day when I don’t reject that in my life and in the lives of those I love dearly. For if God himself permits it, who am I to say otherwise?
    As you continue to live for the Lord, I pray that your great heart of compassion for others will always remain. It, along with MANY other things, is proof of God Himself alive in you.

    1. You always have been an encourager, Maria! Thank you.

      I feel like I vacillate between seeing things from the perspective of God’s sovereign, big-picture purposes and from the perspective of our frail, messy humanity. But maybe that’s the point. Maybe as a royal priesthood of believers our role is to stand between heaven and earth, feeling the fullness of the human struggle while also gladly participating in what God is at work doing in the world. Sometimes these feel like opposing stories, our pain vs. God’s goodness, our frustration vs. His sovereignty. But I think this is exactly the tension that our Lord lived between, and it is one that He gives us the privilege of sharing in (as you so beautifully taught your children). Of course it’s exhausting. Of course it hurts. And of course it is producing in us a greater weight of glory.

      On the front end of things, I doubt I would choose the sufferings that I and those I love have been chosen to endure. But on the back end of the pain, I give thanks for the fruit they bear in our lives. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

      May His Spirit continue to sustain you through the mountains and the valleys. You are beautiful.

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