The Problem of Comfort

written by Nathan Parker

I am four months from finishing graduate school, and that means that I am poor, tired, spiritually and emotionally drained, and about to become unemployed in the worst U.S. economy since the Great Depression. I have a rubbery lump in the right side of my face that I am terrified will turn out to be cancer, and my wife and I live above a man who is dangerously bipolar and verbally violent both to us and his young wife and daughter. And every morning I wake up at 6:30 and I am faced with the question: how does one commune with God in such times? I don’t often know. And I’m flailing like a drowning man most of the time; desperate like the bleeding woman in the Bible who reached for the barest corner of Jesus.

Sometimes I feel His presence. Many times I don’t. And I wonder, during those lonely times, why I keep trying so hard to seek and follow God if he doesn’t seem to show up for me? Could it be that our struggle to find God in the worst of times, ultimately defines not only who we are, but who we believe God to be? I am desperate to believe that God is big enough, not only to save my soul, but to repair it; to protect my family, and to patch-up my frail body in the here-and-now.

So often, I believe this great effort to believe in Christ is regarded as failure in the deepest areas of our hearts. Belief in a big God, one that is omniscient, omnipotent, gracious, loving, and good isn’t as easy as we feel it should be – and that’s discouraging. Pastor and theologian A.W. Tozer thought that the quest for an unfathomable God would be the greatest challenge facing the modern church, and in turn, the modern Christian. Yet when we reach disappointment, we need to look toward the Gospels for understanding, advice, and camaraderie. In Mark 9, Jesus addresses “an unbelieving generation” saying to them, “―how long will I stay with you? How long will I put up with you?” He is talking to the disciples, because they are unable to drive out an evil spirit. But when Jesus confronts an afflicted boy’s father with his unbelief, the man gives this simple, honest answer: “―I do believe, help my “unbelief.” Jesus does. He even heals the boy. But I wonder if perhaps he heals the father too, not of the affliction of having a sick son, but of a crisis of faith. I think perhaps the lesson to be learned here is a simple one: that in our anguish, in our darkest times, in those early hours of the morning when we are left conversing only with our pain and our doubt, we often forget that Jesus is waiting to show us just how big he really is.

Ultimately, I believe it is when we are helpless that we are best able to draw close to the magnitude of God, and to see the clues in the quest for the unfathomable. That is why I say I believe the force of our desire during such times is so crucial to our understanding of God. If I fail to seek God’s face in my torment, (either through fear or shame), then that’s worse, because when deliverance does come, I am all too likely to rationalize change, to humanize miracles.

I also struggle with giving Him the ability to come through for me, because I keep attributing His power to other things. The result is a god that stays very small, and valleys that continually get more excruciating. This is because I trust less and less in a God that works: one who is omnipotent, omniscient, gracious, loving, and good. But if we just realize that sometimes the only act of faith we’re capable of is to cry out for help and and assistance with our unbelief, I think we’ll see God do just that. And He’ll do so by showing us an image of Himself so big that we’ll be awestruck. Maybe then I’ll realize that the darkness of poor health or a flailing economy, uncertain political times or just plain weariness is part of God’s way of getting us to notice His shadow is actually quite large.

”God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world” — C.S. Lewis

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