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I ended a recent post about my back problems with the following thought:
The fact is, being God-centered is the only way to have a good answer for the people who ask me, "Aren't you so angry with the people who failed you? If people had recognized the seriousness of the situation sooner and gotten you help earlier, you could have been spared a lifetime of pain and disfigurement! And what about the people who said those cruel things? How could you not be bitter against them?"
On a personal note, I struggle a lot with bitterness. The whole thing with my back doesn’t cause me any bitterness, and perhaps that’s why I feel safe talking about it here. But please don’t read this entry with the idea that I’ve mastered the truths here. I believe them with all my head, but they’re still working their way into my heart. And sometimes that’s a dreadfully slow process.
How does God-centeredness help us avoid bitterness?
First, God-centeredness sinks its roots deeply into God’s sovereignty, or His total control. When others injure us, either unintentionally (as with what happened with my back), or even intentionally, a God-centered faith accepts the trial as something lovingly appointed by God for our ultimate good (Rom. 8:28). The biblical patriarch Joseph understood this truth very well. His brothers tricked him, betrayed him, sold him into slavery, and deceived his father into believing him dead, causing many years of anguish. After being reunited with his family, and after their father’s death, Joseph’s brothers became terrified that he would seek revenge against them. But Joseph had this to say to them:
Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God? You meant evil against me; but God meant it for good. Gen 50:19-20
We could avoid a great deal of inner turmoil if we clearly understood Who is in the place of God. Human nature being what it is, we don’t naturally assign God’s place to Him. We imagine ourselves there, and/or the idols we prefer. And, when something happens to us that’s beyond our control, it’s easy to believe that the responsibility all lies with another human being (against whom we’ll now feel bitter). It takes a transformed, God-centered heart to acknowledge and take comfort in Jehovah God’s sovereign control, and to be freed to forgive because of it.
Listen to Joseph’s faith. God meant it for good, so I feel no need for revenge. God’s goodness more than compensated for man’s evil.
Sounds like the Gospel, doesn’t it?
We who claim the Gospel for our own salvation must always remember to apply its power in the way we forgive others. Is God enough? Does His forgiveness cover the sins of others who are willing to receive it, or does it just cover our own? Do His justice and wrath sufficiently punish those who do not receive His forgiveness, or do we need to add our own? Who is in God’s place?
And if we say we believe that God is in charge, then how can we refuse His command to forgive?
It’s a powerful perspective. But somehow, though, it’s easier to apply the comforting balm of truth to past offenses than to ongoing ones. Childhood tormenters who no longer hurt us are much easier to forgive than those who rub us the wrong way now. When the pain is ongoing, and there’s no end in sight, the truth of God’s sovereignty can begin to feel like dry theology, more meaningful in a dusty tome than in the gristmill of our lives.
The preciousness of God’s sovereignty never really deteriorates, but our ability to appreciate it certainly can.
Is there something more from God that can comfort us, that can keep us from gnawing ourselves alive with bitter thoughts?
We certainly think we know what we need. First, relief…but if that’s not coming, then at the very least (we believe), God owes us an explanation.
Like Job, we begin to demand answers for our suffering...answers from the God we know could give us relief any time He wanted to.
Heaven remains silent in the face of our cries. No neon signs drop down from the clouds to explain it all. No new chapters appear in the Bible just for our benefit. Without answers, we begin to grow angry and dissatisfied, subtly or openly accusing God of doing wrong.
Surely if He actually had a good reason, He’d let me know what it was!
Our bitterness against God only compounds our bitterness against others, making forgiveness impossible.
If God won’t give us answers, then what’s left? What can He possibly give us to soothe our pain?
Years ago there was a popular song on Christian radio called, “When Answers Aren’t Enough.” I never really learned the lyrics, but one line stood out for me.
“When answers aren’t enough, there’s Jesus.”
I didn’t like that song very much.
What’s that supposed to mean, anyway?
I wouldn’t have dared to put it into words, but in my heart of hearts I believed, “I don’t need Jesus, I need answers!”
We feeble humans get everything backwards, don’t we?
Perhaps God will bless you with an answer to your woes, but what if He doesn’t? What if, instead of telling you anything, He shrouds your suffering in secrecy for the sole reason of bringing you closer to Himself, in a richer and more intimate way than a mere “answer” could ever do?
The song had it right. When answers aren’t enough, there is Jesus…and He really is all that we need!
Do you believe that?
If you have been pounding on the gates of Heaven demanding answers, please know that I empathize with your desire…but I also know that at worst you’ll only get bruised knuckles, and at best you’ll only get an answer. Don’t settle for either of those. Unclench those angry fists and hold your empty hands up in prayer, asking God to give you more of Himself, through His son Jesus, by His Holy Spirit. Ask Him to help you hunger and thirst for Him. Dig into His word. Seek Him, suffering one.
As one who knows suffering…and who, by God’s incredible grace, is coming to know my Lord Jesus more…I can promise you that there is more to Him than you know. There is more to Him than I know. And what little I know of Him is sweet, rich, deep, majestic, awe-inspiring, and holy.
What mere “answer” can be all of those things?
And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope.
Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
Take a moment to relish the thought of how easily you and I can forgive one another, bear with one another, even love one another, if we allow God to use our sorrows to produce hopeful hearts that overflow with the love of God.
A truly God-centered heart finds all that it needs in Him. It does not attach itself like a leech to other mere mortals, so it can’t be left hungry by their inadequate supply. Feasting on the all-sufficient Savior, the heart does not detach itself from other humans. Instead, it is free to forgive others for failing, free to love without demanding, free to give without fear of being drained dry.
Can I really be angry with you for failing to bring me a bucket of sand when I stand on the shore of the ocean? Of course not! In fact, I can gladly give you all the sand you lack.
In the same way, the God-centered Christian can forgive as he is forgiven, can love because of the endless supply given to him, can be at peace in the Savior even when others cause him real grief.
I don’t live on that ocean shore all the time. In fact, I’ve spent most of my life in a self-centered wasteland. But I’ve visited God’s abundant storehouse enough to know that I want to live there every moment. I want to dig into its endless supplies so that I have an abundance to give to others. Because underneath all of that “sand” is The Solid Rock, and He’s the one I’m learning to build my life upon.
How have you dealt with bitterness? Have you considered the need for God-centeredness in the struggle to forgive? How has He helped you? I’d love to hear from you on this subject.