Because I was tired of struggling and living in fear, I began to read Biblical stories that revealed how God related to people and soon realized I had developed faulty theology and misunderstood what God desires for His people. Looking back, I think Satan had me right where he wanted me--struggling with sin and believing God condemned me because of sin, doubt, mistrust, and abiding shame. As I read story after story, I began to understand the trials I faced, struggles I had with besetting sin, and doubts I had about God's presence were the very things God uses to grow faith and develop intimacy with Him. I soon realized most of my life I had been trying to earn God's love. But the harder I tried, the more I failed and the more alone I felt. I began to understand that it is in my struggle that God makes Himself the most available to me. All I had to do was cry out to Him and He would walk through it with me.
From the beginning God has continuously reached out to people. He communed freely with Adam and Eve and met their every need. The Enemy came and used words carefully crafted to stir up doubts about God's goodness. He also stirred up dissatisfaction with the perfect life they lived and the perfect fellowship they enjoyed with God and each other. In that state they chose to eat forbidden fruit, allowing darkness to pervade the light in which they lived. After they ate, God's goodness was overshadowed by Satan's evil, their innocence was drowned out by burning hot shame, and their relationship with their God was shattered by broken trust. Adam and Eve blew it big and yet, God pursued them and set out to heal the chasm their sin had caused. He didn't desert them in their rebellion or leave them stuck in shame. He met them in the ugliness of it all, slaying animals to provide covering for shame, securing their relationship with the promise of a Savior. Because of their story I can trust God to be present even when I blow it big.
Then there was Abraham and Sarah's story. They were an infertile couple living in the midst of a culture that worshipped fertility gods. Theirs was an ugly harsh religion as young virgins were offered to temple priests to win the affection of stone-cold gods. It was also a religion in which babies were sacrificed to celebrate the favor they believed stone gods had shown when they conceived. It was against the backdrop of that ugliness God initiated a relationship with Abraham and Sarah, calling them to a new land and promising them an heir of their own. They believed God and left for a new land. But, years went by and no heir came. There were times of doubt in which Abraham lied in big ways to protect himself, placing Sarah at risk and God intervened, protecting her. Then Sarah doubted and tried to help God out by giving Abraham her handmaiden to bear a son for them. Even in her doubt and their sinful choices, God didn’t turn away. Instead, He came to them and established the Abrahamic Covenant, resulting in a child of their own.
Covenants are contracts that outline the rights and responsibilities between people. In Abraham's day they didn't sign written contracts, they sealed them with animal sacrifices cut into two parts and laid out on the ground. Both people participated in the contract by walking between the pieces, essentially saying, “This is what you can do to me if I fail to keep my promises." The amazing thing is that when God established His covenant with Abraham, He alone walked through the pieces, saying He alone would bear the responsibility to uphold the covenant. Walking the aisle of sacrifice alone was God's response to Abraham and Sarah’s doubts, sin, mistrust, and missteps. God did what He did to protect the relationship He had with His people flawed, broken, and inconsistent as they were. That is hard for me to wrap my mind around! But, because of their story I can trust God to protect my relationship with Him even when I doubt, sin, mistrust, and misstep.
Another story that captured my attention was Jacob's story. He came into this world holding onto his brother’s foot. From then on he and Esau developed an ugly sibling rivalry that was fueled by living with parents who played favorites. Jacob was one to want what he wanted when he wanted it and he would used deceit to get it if need be. The final straw was when he deceived his dad into giving him Esau's birthright. He had to flee to escape Esau's rage and as he lay down to sleep the restless sleep theives on the run sleep, he had a dream. He saw a stairway extending from heaven to earth with angels ascending and descending, revealing that God was with him even in the aftermath of his deception and running. He gave him the land on which he lay, promising him that all people on earth would be blessed through him. I take comfort in the fact that God didn’t leave him alone in the mess he had created, but met him right in the middle of it all. And, as far as I could tell, he didn't even require him to reform before He made His promises known. He simply extended to him a relationship based on His covenantal love.
Jacob went on to marry two sisters, one of which he favored. He had children with them both as well as their handmaidens. Still a greedy soul, he manipulated his uncle’s herds to gain wealth. And, when he got caught, he fled with his family in tow. With an angry brother ahead and an angry father-in-law behind, he had another late-night encounter with God, which turned into a long, hard wrestling match that ended when God wrenched Jacob's hip out of socket and told him his name would be changed to Israel. I love that God refused to give up on Jacob. Instead, he came to him and let him wrestle long and hard. I even love that He left Jacob with a limp that would forever remind him of God’s presence in the darkest parts of his story. Because of his story I can trust God won't leave me in the messes of my own doing, but will meet me as often as it takes to make me willing to hold on to Him so He can lead me out of the darkness.
Let’s look at the Israelites who lived in Egypt. The first Israelite to get there was Joseph, whose brothers had sold him into slavery. While God blessed Joseph in Egypt, his father and his brothers were starving back home. God graciously used Joseph's blessing to save his brothers. Four hundred years later the Egyptians became afraid of the Israelites because they had grown in numbers. They enslaved them, treated them ruthlessly, increased their work load, and ordered midwives to kill their babies to stop their population growth. The desperate Israelites cried out to God and He heard, sending Moses to lead them home. After many negotiations intertwined with catastrophic plagues a stubborn Pharaoh let Israel go. God went with them, becoming a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. Pharaoh quickly changed his mind and chased them, flanking the Israelites from behind with the Red Sea directly in front of them. They became terrified and cried out to God, questioning His love, His motives, and His plans. It was in the face of their doubt that God delivered them through the sea. In response to their deliverance they worshiped God, praising His unfailing love and strength.
However, they soon became thirsty and grew dissatisfied with God's provisions and leading. In their state of dissatisfaction they failed to enjoy God's continual presence. But, God never left. He knew that trust is hard for those wounded by trauma, abuse, and infanticide. He was patient, understanding that in an imperfect, sinful world people carry wounds that impact their ability to trust Him. From their story, I can know that God understands wounding and is patient with me even when my faith is harder to grow.
There are so many more stories that spoke to me--a whole Bible full! But I'll stop with Peter because I can so relate to him. He was quick to follow Jesus, quick to acknowledge Him as the Son of God, and quick to proclaim what he could do for Him. Yet, in Jesus darkest hours he vehemently denied Jesus--not once but three times. And, in the shame of that he withdrew to his former life. I am sure he thought He had blown it too big to be of use, but Jesus sought him out and reinstated him to His calling, promising the Holy Spirit would enable Him to live out that calling. From his story I know I can trust God who forgives denial and failure by leaning in closer still, filling me with His Spirit. I can trust God who provides a Helper to indwell, empower, and comfort to not give up on me even when I struggle.
The more stories I read, the more I realize the story God is penning for me (and you) to live is a story of redemption, not perfection. And, no matter how big or how frequently I blow it, my God is there in the midst of it all. The victories I have sought have became more of a reality as I have invited Jesus into the dark places where sin was pervasive and pain ran deep. When I chose to be real about my weaknesses I learned experientially His truth that His power is made perfect in weaknesses. No matter how big the struggle, my God is bigger still and now matter how weak I am, God's strength is sufficient.