Jesus did not eliminate evil; he revealed a God willing, at immense cost, to forgive it and to heal its damage. — Philip Yancey, The Question That Never Goes Away
I have a family member that I’m not speaking to. I am in no way, shape, or form proud of that statement. In fact, I’m crushed by it. And no, that’s neither an overreaction nor hyperbole. There are actually times when my entire body struggles to move under the weight of the sadness I feel about this one dysfunctional relationship. Questions of fault are pointless, although I estimate that there’s plenty to go around. I know that I possess a good deal of it.
Sometimes, I can put it out of my mind for long stretches of time because… well… life keeps going and responsibilities push other things to the back of my brain. But then I see other family or friends and they ask about the person, or—worse yet—they tell me what the person is up to. Experiences that I would’ve shared in if our relationship was different. We can’t go back to the way things were, though, and I’m not sure what a new relationship would look like. Also, I don’t know about her but I’ve got my defenses up and locked into place. For me, it’s been death by a thousand cuts and detaching is the only way I know how to survive right now.
So, where is God in all this?
There are too many people who mistakenly believe that Christians never have any problems. Once you’re baptized, or confess belief, or accept that Jesus loves you, there won’t be any bad things in your life ever again. You’ll walk about with a perpetual smile and always see the bright side of everything. That’s not how life works, though, and when struggles invariably come to visit—illness, financial strain, broken relationships—Christians will often give up on Christ because they can’t feel or see evidence of his presence in the midst of all the hurt.
My faith in God didn’t prevent me from getting sideways with a relative, it doesn’t answer all (or any) of my questions about why this even happened, and oftentimes it does nothing for the overwhelming sadness I feel. Then again, I don’t believe in God as some kind of talisman, protecting me from evil. I don’t believe in God as a benevolent parent, doling out rewards in return for good behavior, or as a harsh parent who punishes me when I’m “bad.” I don’t believe in a God who gives me a full range of emotions and then expects me not to use them.
What I believe is this: God created the world and all that is in it and endowed free will within the creatures made in his image so that they may freely choose one of the closest relationships of love they will ever know. I believe Jesus, as part of the Trinitarian God, came and walked among us in order to experience just what free will truly means—the good and the bad—and because of that, God laughs with us and cries with us and never leaves us because he knows we can’t do life alone.
I believe God shares in the hurt of everyone affected by this lost relationship in my life. But just as the heartbreak of Jesus’ death was redeemed by his ascension, I believe that pain, suffering, and even heartache can be redeemed by the love of God. I believe this broken relationship of mine will be redeemed. Maybe not in the way I want or in the way I expect or in the timeline I’d like, but I believe God will redeem it. And because of that belief, I will pray for his direction and listen for his response so that I may do my part in exchanging crushing sadness for something good.
That is where God is in all this.
Out of my distress I called on the Lord;
the Lord answered me and set me in a broad place. (Psalm 118:5)