Who Is Your God When Things Suck?

Not long ago, there were all kinds of articles whether Christians, Jews and Muslims worship the same God.  The recent General Conference of the United Methodist Church raised questions regarding how Christians read the Bible differently.  I guess I am not living in the same world with the rest of ya’ll. Walking through my local Wal-Mart  preparing some things for my wife’s memorial service, I was thinking something entirely different: are Christians even worshipping the same God anymore?

You may not like my recent focus on walking through the valley of suck but I need you to understand an important reality: a whole lot of people are living in the valley of suck and it is real.  I have two teenagers trying to figure out their life plans in the valley of suck.  Not everyone in the valley of suck is here because of terminal illness.  Some are here because of war, divorce, abuse, rape, eating disorders, depression, and a whole host of other things.  Some are even reading this and are dealing with a teaching of God which makes them wonder if God even cares about how much things suck right now.  Does God have ANYTHING to offer to me in the valley of the shadow of suck?  Me?  I say yes...BUT…

It may not be the same God we’re talking about. I say this because I know a lot of people feel a need to defend God from me.  Why me?  Because I have been wrestling with God. I have been angry with God.  I have cried out to God.  You know what? My wife is still dying.  And that is only one (of many) reasons why I feel I am walking in the valley of suck.

But here is what I want to say in particular in regards to God: I am really tired of people describing to me a God who cannot stand up for Himself.  Pick any of the platitudes people who suffer hear.  Pick any of the phrases thrown to us caregivers.  When death is a real reality, you are in the valley of suck!  If you are going to tell people to pray about it then give them the space to get mad at God about the situation because if you believe God is big enough to heal the disease or situation then that God should have been big enough to prevent it and end the suffering we are facing!  In most of our cases though, we just need to vent to God.

One of my favorite stories of the Old Testament is Elijah facing off against the priests of Baal (1 Kings 18).  Go read it, and then come right back, I’ll wait…

So here is what I read here.  I read about two different deities.  The first “god” is the one we worship still today I think.  We may call him “God” and not Baal but it is still the same.  We try to control this god of our own making.  We rewrite our beliefs about this god.  We then act like this god is over us and we dance about, sing and yell and yes, even abuse ourselves and others in the name of this “god” we’ve made.  

In the Valley of Suck, this god is of no comfort or use.  I think this is the god most people give up on.  This god only makes the valley worse.

But Elijah worships a different god.  Elijah worships the God.  Elijah knows it.  Read all of the story of Elijah and you find the prophet is not so great in truth but the God of Elijah? That is a God to get behind!  Elijah says, in his challenge, to pour water all over his offering on the altar.  He says basically, “dump a swimming pools worth of water, it won’t matter!”  And we cries out to God, Elijah’s God answers.  That is a God worth following.  That is a God I want to know.

But if you keep reading, you find just few short verses later, Elijah is all depressed and mopey about the threat of the king and queen on his life.  They’re mad because he killed their “god.”  But God comes to Elijah and speaks with him.  God walks with him.  God guides him.  Elijah is human, very much like you and me.  And God is God and is NOT like us.

I am sick of hearing about “Baal.”  You can call him “god” all you want, but that isn’t my God, or at least I don’t WANT to worship that “god.”  But I think I’ve finally put two & two together and recognize this “god” offers nothing of hope in the valley of suck.  Why?  Because if I can make a “god” then why do I need “god” at all?  What good will a “god” of my making; do for me that I cannot do for myself?

Yes, there is a “political” side to this too so go ahead and read it in there.  I am tired of all “sides” who have to defend the “god” they have created in their image.  What is mysterious about God IS one of the major aspects which makes God worthy of our worship and worth following.  This God knows things I do not.  This God CAN do SOMETHING in the valley of suck even if it is just to walk beside me.  God can leave the valley of suck anytime God wants.  The “god” I create cannot.  My “god” cannot change the course of events or the minds and hearts of people.

My “god” cannot change me.  What good is that “god?”  Baal is cheap, single ply toilet paper in the valley of suck.  In other words, Baal only makes things worse.

God put up with Elijah.  When Elijah questioned, God answered.  I keep saying it, God still does, but I don’t think we are often praying to God.  We’re talking to Baal.  A lot of good that does...not.

You may not think it is any good to have God in the valley of suck if he isn’t going to rescue you.  Okay, but be sure you get this:  God doesn’t promise to do that.  God doesn’t just come to us and do things our way.  If he did, then God wouldn’t be God.  God would be Baal.  Baal makes those promises because we want Baal to do whatever we want.  When Baal doesn’t?  Then we blame God.  That is what King Ahab and Queen Jezebel did and it is what we still do.  

I have come to a theory about the connection with the OT and NT.  While Jesus is a great story teller and could talk theology and sheep in the same sentence, Paul always seems to come off dry.  His stories aren’t so good.  But his theology is great.  My theory is Paul never expected for us to count on him to tell stories because the parables Paul used were the stories of the Old Testament.  People will promise you Baal.  Paul doesn’t say God is going to get you out of the valley of suck!  Paul says God is still God over the valley of suck even if God doesn’t make it stop.  What does Paul say?

“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:18)”

And again…

“I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and  hunger, abundance and  need. (Philippians 4:12)”

It is stupid to say it but we often get high and mighty about our “god” just like Baal’s priests and king did.  We need more God and less Baal.  That means we have to stop being so offended when people talk about our “god.”  God doesn’t need you or I to come running to create a defense.  God says to be still and KNOW God is God.  Jesus says, “If you know me you know the Father.  The Spirit speaks to our spirit that we are a child of God.  

So, if I get mad at God or have a pity party, know this, it is because I cannot control God.  These are reminders to me of the truth of the mystery of God.  You can use the cheap, 1 ply if you want but don’t tell me my God can’t handle my anger, fear, and tears.  Only God can do that and God doesn’t need me to defend him.  God wants me to follow, even throught the valley of suck.

May I Ask: When was the last time you really thought about the character of your God? Not the God of the Bible - but the "god" you really worship (or maybe don't)? May I Suggest: Nope, not gonna say read the Bible. You can but I want to suggest looking into a couple of books from people who have been through the valley of suck and written about AND who still sought God:
A Grief Observed by C.S.Lewis (free pdf download)
Shattered Dreams by Larry Crabb
Where Is God When It Hurts by Philip Yancey


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