So, What Is God Saying?
A year and a half ago, when we were looking for a puppy to fill the hole in our hearts left by Moose’s departure, we felt blocked at every turn. First, we thought no one would allow us to even adopt a puppy (we feared they would think badly of us because of Moose). Then, every dog we were interested in got adopted by some jerk before we could even get to see the dog. Once we called in the morning and arranged a visit for that evening, but when we called back to say we were coming, we were told the puppy we wanted had been swooped up by someone else that afternoon (probably a Nazi). This happened several times, and we were beginning to wonder if God was with us or against us (Jo said, “with”; I said, “against”). Then we found the perfect dog. We filled out our application form, arranged for a visit at a large adoption event that Saturday and got set to become dog parents once again. But when we called the adoption agency on Thursday to confirm, we were told that the dog we had our heart set on, had been adopted (now, both of us thought God was against us). We debated if we should even bother to attend the adoption event that Saturday or not and finally decided we would. We are glad we did. The puppy we were interested in (a boxer mix named “Goose”) had, in fact, not been adopted and was very much available. And as soon as we saw him, we fell in love. He was everything we wanted and more, and Ragna (his new name) has been a delight since day one. But here’s the question: what was God saying to us in all those dark days leading up to the day we met Ragna? What is God saying to us in the midst of pandemics and heartaches and suffering and pain?
In one sense, what God says to you depends on how you view God.
- If God is causing the disaster (an Authoritative God, to use the term in America’s Four Gods), then he is judging sin. And if God is judging sin, then he is either calling you to repent or to grieve over the sinfulness surrounding you.
- If God is not directly causing the disaster, but is only allowing it, he must be calling us to take an inventory of our lives to see where we are weak and what we need to do to bolster our spiritual lives.
- If God is working in and through the calamity (what America’s Four Gods names as a Benevolent God), then God is reminding you that he loves you and is calling you to see where he is even now working to bring mercy and grace and redemption in the midst of the trial.
- If disasters come and go, not because of God’s hands, but because of the consequences of Adam’s sin and living in a fallen, broken world, then God is saying that we need to trust in his promises, to rest in his goodness and love and to persevere.
Which of these four is the correct answer? What is God saying to us when we suffer? If I had to answer, I would say the correct answer is, “E,” all of the above. I’ll say it way too strongly and even more unsatisfyingly: generally speaking, whatever you hear in the four statements above, is what God is saying to you, even if your view of God is totally misguided. Now, that sounds both wrong and wacky, but bear with me. I believe that God is so humble that he is willing to condescend to us so that we can hear his voice. Now, we have to be careful here and make sure (once, twice, three times and more) that it is God we are hearing and not our own imagination or over-wrought conscience; and we have to remember I can only hear what God is saying to me, not what he is saying to you; but I think it is always wise to be open to hear what God may be saying to us even in the midst of a pandemic.
So, what is God saying to us these days? I think he may be calling us to think about our sin and the sin all around us. I have found that when things get scary, people usually get serious about their sin, both in confessing it and in refraining from it. Maybe God is speaking to you during these days of Covid-19 about your sin and is using this to call you to repent.
I also think God may be trying to get our attention so that we may turn to him. Before death was walking down our streets, I prayed; but now, I am far more serious about praying. Could it be that God is speaking to all of us to get serious about our faith, to invest more energy into prayer, into reading his Word, into speaking into the lives of those around us, about giving to others and a host of other things, like getting rid of things we were doing that were mere time wasters and investing, instead, in things we could be doing to bolster our spiritual lives. Maybe God is speaking to you in the quarantine about how you can grow in your faith.
And I think God may be reminding us of his love and grace. When I lead a mission team, I always like to debrief at the end of each day by asking everyone where they saw God in that day. That’s a great question all of us need to be asking now. God is here in the midst of our struggles, but we often fail to see him. Where is God at work in your day to show you his love and his longing for you?
Another thing God may be saying is that life in a fallen, broken world is hard and that we need to be people who live in the hope that one day God will put all things to rights and will establish his kingdom on earth. In the meantime, however, we need to be people who walk by faith, who live in love and who persevere, knowing that regardless of how things look, God is with us and eternity awaits.
Now, God could be saying all sorts of other things, too. I don’t want to presume I know everything that God is saying here. But I do want to encourage you to be open to hear what God is saying to you right now. And let me add three caveats to that. First, God has spoken loud and clear in his Word (you will find everything I said above on the lips of God in the Bible). Second, God never speaks contrary to the Bible (so if you are hearing that God hates you and is out to get you, you can be assured that’s not God speaking). And third, no matter what God is saying to you, he is saying it because he loves you. Even if he is calling you to repent of some specific sin (for instance, an addiction you feel you can’t live without), he is not doing it to harm you, but to heal you.
And here is the kicker: I believe that God calls us to do all of these things and has been doing so even in our good times, even in our best of times; but when times are good, his voice often gets shoved aside by other more “pressing” concerns. But in times of suffering and stress, we can often hear God’s voice. Think of it this way. When I am running late and the perfect parking spot opens up right in front of where I need to be, I am very aware of God’s presence; and as a result, I give thanks. But if I have plenty of time and that same parking space is available, I barely give it a second thought (or worse, I may brag about the great parking space I found!). See, sometimes (most of the time?), I need difficulties in my life so I can be aware of God’s presence in my life. And while I can do the hard work to grow in my faith in good times, I know that usually it takes some hardship before I get serious about becoming disciplined in my spiritual walk. CS Lewis said it this way: “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
Bottom line, what is God saying to you during these days of hardship and anxiety and isolation? When God took away all the other puppies we wanted, we thought he was keeping us from something good; but it turns out he was saving us so that he could give us just the right dog for us. His plan looked bad, but it was actually for our eventual good. And that is a hard lesson to learn in the moment, but it is very true. God may look like he has abandoned us and left us to suffer alone, but don’t you believe it. God always has something good to say to us; and if we can’t hear it now, hold on, because one day we will hear it loud and clear. That’s God’s sure promise to you in these trying times.