“NO God!” But He brought me back.

name written“Behold I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.” Isaiah 49:16.  I’m getting a necklace made from Jon’s fingerprint. So of course, last Sunday as this text was preached, God illumined my heart anew and captivated me by the parallels. I was reminded by my pastor that I am God’s fingerprint, or hand print even. How could He then forget me?  I was so thankful because I thought, “This is how I’ll use the necklace to remind myself of the gospel.”  Just as I could not forget Jon, so God has not forgotten me, nor will he forget me.  He chose me and He calls me His own.  Jon’s fingerprint will forever be a part of me. His life and our love have left an indelible imprint on my heart. I’ll always love Him.

But even better than that, I am an indelible imprint on God’s heart. And it is not because of anything I have done, nor who I am. But it is because of who He is, and what He has done.  Because Jesus paid the penalty for sin, I am rightly restored to God. Because of the gospel, I am His child. Because of the gospel, I am engraved on His hand.  There is great hope. And His name is Jesus.

But how quickly do I forget. I’ll be honest. This past week I’ve been in one of the lowest places I’ve ever been, perhaps the lowest.  The deep places of the last seven weeks are new. I’ve never been here before Jon’s death.  I mean, I’ve had sorrow and suffering before, but I’ve never been brought to these depths. Since I’ve been a Christian I never have been in a place where I questioned the very root of faith, that is, hope in Christ, or more accurately Christ Himself.  But I got there this week. I feel like I relate to the psalmist who says, “Out of the depths O Lord I cry to you,” in that place where the only words I can form to pray are, “God I need you.”

I know it is ok to go to the low places. It is ok to grieve, to mourn, to question, to be raw in honesty before God.  It’s ok to not rush grief. It’s kind of where I’m living right now. But God broke my heart during worship service this morning. He showed me that somehow I was no longer just in the low place, but instead captive by it.  You see up to this point, though in the low places, there’s been grace to say, “But God…” In the intense emotions and the questions I could still remember who God was. I was able to remember the gospel. But I couldn’t do that this week. I couldn’t preach truth to myself. I forgot to “Behold the risen Christ” even in the depths.  I chose to forget.  But I suppose though, it wasn’t really so much forgetting as it was fighting. 

Let me be really specific. All week long God reminded me of the hope I have in Christ. He reminded me of the verse that so touched my heart. “Behold I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.”  At the beginning of the week, though I struggled, I tried to listen.  I struggled to believe God was carrying me. I struggled to recognize grace. I told God just to take me home to be with Him. “God I don’t care about being here anymore. Just let me come there.” Yet still, I struggled. I’m reminded of a song “Hallelujah! We are free to struggle. We’re not struggling to be free!  Your blood bought and makes us children. Children drop your chains and sing!” It’s a blessing to know the struggle is not wrong.

 But by Thursday morning, I was shouting, “No God! This truth is no longer for me!”  Here’s the circumstance. Wednesday night I had my first nightmare since Jon’s death. I awoke to my own voice screaming his name. I have no idea what the nightmare was, but I was in a sheer panic. I’ve had plenty of sleepless nights, but not that. And it scared me. It felt again like God had forgotten me.  As I drove to work Thursday morning wrestling with these thoughts, there was a magnificent sunrise, and God brought to mind what I had written the day before Jon died. “Reminded this morning by a gorgeous sunrise that light comes after dark. Spring comes after winter. What mercy and grace the Father gives!”  But this time when the words sprang to mind, I refused the comfort.  Rather I fought them. I fought God’s gracious gift. I fought His mercy. “But God do I still have a right to believe this? Is this even for me?  I mean maybe you intend for it to always be winter in my soul. Is there really going to be light? Is there really going to be spring? Do I still have hope for this life?”  And for the first time, I answered those questions with a resounding no. “This truth isn’t for me. It no longer applies.” Just to clarify though, I wasn’t doubting my eternal hope. I still knew my soul was secure because Jesus purchased my salvation. I can’t take back what has been bought.  But the despondency stemmed from thinking, “Yes there is hope for eternity, but this life is hopeless.” It’s kind of a crazy dichotomy, but that’s where I was. I know it doesn’t make sense.  Yet, to say there was no hope, was to doubt Christ Himself.

“But God rich in mercy…” (Ephesians 2:4)  But my Savior is merciful, lavish, and unfathomably loving. I have a Savior who knows grief.  He understands sorrow. And as I continued to battle these thoughts over the next couple days, God did not answer me with strong rebukes, though I daresay they were deserved.  He didn’t say “You foolish blind sheep! Why can’t you see? You wretch, get up and obey.”  Rather, His tender voice continued to gently say, “Oh my darling child. I remember your frame. I know you are dust. I know you can’t do this.” And He met me with grace upon grace… a note full of truth on facebook, a text from a friend at the right moment, a card, a listening ear who felt no need to respond, a principal who knows I need to step out of the room sometimes, a gift from a student’s parent, a conversation with my sister, a package full of fun girly things…

Yet I still argued. Driving home on Friday, this was my rant, “God you’ve got the wrong person. There is some saint out there way better equipped for this than me. Whatever this task is, I am not the one for it!” However, on the heels of my rant followed these words. “Lord I do want to believe. I want to know that you are enough. I desperately want to be like you. I desperately need you.”

And so I came to worship this morning begging God to meet with me. To make clear in my heart the truths He wanted me to see.  So here it is. As Isaiah leads to his climax in Isaiah 53 where he prophesies Jesus’ death, the theme is “Listen! Awake!” It could be paraphrased this way; God’s saying “Your oppressors are walking all over you, but rise up. I am setting you free.” As my pastor unpacked the beautiful truths from Isaiah 50-51, these are the verses God made leap from the page.

“For the Lord comforts Zion; He comforts all her waste places and makes her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the voice of song.” (51:3)

“And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” (51:11)

And he asked this question, “What has you locked down? What is holding you back from seeing God’s promises in Christ?’  Immediately in my heart was the word, grief.  And it hit me like a ton of bricks. The low places had taken me captive. I was a slave once again. I couldn’t see Christ anymore.

But here’s reality. I do have great hope. His name is Jesus. He is hope not only for eternity, but for this life also. Sorrow and sighing shall flee away because Jesus conquered sin and death! My waste places will be like Eden because Jesus is the true Sacrifice! The comfort God brings to Zion is His own Son! Joy, gladness, thanksgiving, song; all are possible because of Christ rose from the dead!  And in chapter 52 Isaiah exhorts me to behold the glory of my Savior. Behold the risen Christ—This is why light comes after dark. This is why spring comes after winter. This is why joy comes after mourning. The hope is found in resting, looking, gazing, and beholding the beauty of my Savior. When Jon was preaching weekly he would say, “I have only one message to unpack 100 different ways.”  I think I have only one message too– Life and hope and all things are found in Jesus.  Likewise, the only thing in Scripture called the “Power of God” is gospel. This is the power available to me. Because He died and rose again, Jesus is my Great High Priest. He ever lives and pleads for me. Praise God, that when I forget, He brings me back.

So here I am full circle. “Behold I have engraved you upon the palms of my hands.” I’m there because of the wounds He bears. I’m there because He died for me. I’m there because He rose again. And I’m there because He calls me His own. What mercy and grace the Father gives! Oh that I would not forget!

I know I always give you songs, but music is a powerful communicator of God’s truth to me. This is “O My Soul Arise.”  Go listen to it! Seriously. The title is a link. I love the Sovereign Grace arrangement that makes me “aware that the battle to remember the scriptural truths contained in these verses is a battle! But how sweet it is to contend with our souls knowing that the object of our trust is Jesus Christ. He is our unique and perfectly qualified Great High Priest, and our assurance that we do not fight alone.” (Eric McAllister)

O My Soul Arise
Arise, my soul, arise
Shake off your guilty fears
The bleeding sacrifice
On my behalf appears
Before the throne my surety stands
Before the throne my surety stands
My name is written on His hands. He ever lives above
For me to intercede
His all redeeming love
His precious blood to plead
His blood atoned for every race
His blood atoned for every race
And sprinkles now the throne of grace. O my soul, arise
Behold the risen Christ
Your Great High Priest
Your spotless sacrifice
O my soul, arise
God owns you as His child
Shake off your guilty fears
My soul, arise. Five bleeding wounds He bears
Received on Calvary
They pour effectual prayers
They strongly plead for me:
“Forgive him, O forgive,” they cry
“Forgive him, O forgive,” they cry
“Don’t let that ransomed sinner die!” My God is reconciled
His pard’ning voice I hear
He owns me as His child
I can no longer fear
With confidence I now draw nigh
With confidence I now draw nigh
And “Father, Abba, Father,” cry
DSCN2915 jon & ami-10 jon & ami-25

Credits:  Verses by Charles Wesley (1742), music and additional words by Eric McAllister  © 2012 Sovereign Grace Worship (ASCAP)

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