The Messy Truth About God Being With Us!
Immanuel God is WITH us! If you are like me, and you have never been able to pull off the perfect Christian family image because your life is always a hot mess, you might like today’s post. When Jesus came to earth, the Bible says that he was/is to be called “Immanuel” God is with us. Many people think this means, that he fixes your life and makes you look like the poster child for having it all together. Turns out it is something way cooler and a whole lot messier!
The beauty of the Christmas story is that GOD came to us. He limited himself and somehow became a human being, was born into a poor family, lived a humble life, and came to show us what God is like and how to have a relationship with him.
It is the most amazing truth that is so completely hard to wrap our minds around that we lose it and misuse it almost the second we hear it.
One of the ways that I repeatedly misuse this truth is that I think because God is WITH me that he is going to fix everything. I know in my head that this makes no logical sense. When I counsel other people and they say to me, “I’m a Christian and I tried to do everything right, why is this happening to me?” I want to fix it. I want to give amazing advice that will make everything nice and neat but I know that life doesn't work that way!
I know that God didn’t give us a secret formula to follow so that everything will just be easy and comfortable for us. (Follow the 10 commandments, read 1 chapter of the Bible a day, give 10% of your money to church… and you won’t have any problems…)
I think most of us know, deep, deep down, that God isn’t that easily manipulated or impressed with us but it sure feels nice to pretend that this is the way life works, until it doesn't...
Our search for “reasons” why tragedies occur leads to some really terrible theology that often makes God seem like a really big %$*#, jerk and his followers come off as judgmental @#$% jerks too.
I once had a friend call me from NC almost a year after I had moved to Rhode Island. Her husband had cheated on her and she had already started the divorce process. She had quit going to church because she was tired of people telling her to “just pray”or “have faith” and everything would work out.
She said, “I can’t even imagine a scenario where I’d take him back. I’m hurting and I’m tired of everyone telling me, I just need to do this or that…
It is quite a sad statement about religion, that my friend was actually shocked that I didn't condemn her. I actually knew the struggles that she had been through early in her marriage. She had handled some of them quite awfully, but that didn't mean that she was abandoned by God til she got her act together. It also didn't mean that her situation was easily fixable if she just got her act together and prayed a lot. She was in a big mess: a lot from her own stubbornness; a lot because she married a really immature man who still wanted to be a player; and none of it was a result of God abandoning her. He was still right there with her loving her in the middle of the mess she was in.
Her story really stuck with me, though. I knew the people who were giving her such awful advice. They were good people who really cared. They genuinely wanted to honor God and help this woman. Where was the disconnect?
I think the disconnect comes from a fundamental misunderstanding of what “God is with us” means:
In the book,With, Skye Jethani explains this misunderstanding like this:
All religion starts with our desire to control the chaos of our world. (We want a formula) This desire explains why when someone is hurting, people gather round and say stupid things: because we are all trying to figure out why it happened. And deep down, we hate the truthful uncertainty that it could happen to us. So, we just spew out stupid, illogical attempts to control the chaos and say things like “Your child died because God needed another angel.”
(I’ve seriously heard that said several times. And if I were the mom I’d probably slap whoever said it. Seriously! How is that supposed to help? God sent you the most devastating tragedy a human can endure, cause he just wanted someone else to hang out with?...pretty sure that’s not right!) /rant
But we all do it. We all say stupid stuff because we are trying to make sense of whatever the latest tragedy is.
Like when some idiots said that Hurricane Katrina was God’s judgment on New Orleans. Which would seem to make a little sense, unless you actually knew something about New Orleans and realized that the people profiting from all of the “sinfulness” in New Orleans were not really hurt by the hurricane. The workers in the bars, the victims of human trafficking, the immigrants, and many others stuck in the cycle of poverty, they lost everything. The owners of the bars and hotels, they had insurance and rebuilt quickly and perhaps made even more money as the nation poured into New Orleans to help...
Then what does “God is with us” mean?
I’m actually struggling to do justice to all that I am learning about this. I feel like nothing I say really relates how absolutely amazing and truly different God being WITH us is. In my feeble attempt, here are two things that I absolutely know for sure amongst a lot of other stuff that I’m wrestling with.
- God absolutely loves us and if we will allow him to be a part of our lives, he wants to be with us and help us in all of the messiness and wonderfulness that we are involved in. He isn’t sitting on a throne waiting for us to get our act together so he can bless us.
The absolute best picture of how God wants to relate to us is found in the story of the prodigal son click here to read this story.. God is the father in this story. He isn’t a king sitting in a throne room waiting for us to crawl in begging for forgiveness so he can lash out judgment. He is a loving father, longing for his child to come home. He looks down the road waiting for just a glimpse of us, and when we make the first hopeful decision to return to him, he comes running to welcome us home!
He doesn’t want to come into your life and judge and condemn. He wants to be with you, to love, help, guide, transform, to hang out, and to let you get to know him, which is pretty freaking amazing!
- God’s work doesn’t look like what we expect and we can't manipulate him or impress him. God isn’t going to change human nature. He isn’t going to “fix” all of the problems in the world, because they mostly come from human nature. He can’t be manipulated and when you follow him, all of your problems aren’t going to go away.
There will still be disease, death, sorrow, relationship problems, and general messiness. But God will be with you and you will have a new perspective on the good in the world. And you will start to see him and recognize him at work. It is absolutely the coolest thing there is on this planet...
So what should we say to people who are struggling? I believe that we should follow God’s example and go through the struggle with them. Grieve with the mom who lost her child. Reassure her that God loves her and wants to love her in the middle of her pain. Let her vent and be hurt: these things don’t mean God is absent. They mean life is sometimes extremely devastatingly messy, but God is still good.
In the case of New Orleans, I believe the Christians who understood, Immanuel, God is with us, helped. They volunteered, they sent donations, they comforted and they prayed. They grieved with the victims and they offered new lives to people that wanted to leave and they helped rebuild for those that wanted to stay. God was there: giving hope to survivors, grieving with people over their losses, encouraging workers and loving people.
Hurricanes happen because of some complicated scientific stuff that I don’t understand. My hubby says, they actually serve a purpose in keeping nature in balance. What isn’t happening is God swirling his finger around looking for people he wants to wipe out. For some reason, beyond my understanding, God allows hurricanes to happen and he didn’t give us a formula to follow to keep them or any other tragedy from happening to us.
He did give us the opportunity to invite him into all of the mess; the tragedies, the struggles, the pain, the mistakes, and the failures and he promises to be WITH us and give us peace, joy, purpose and love in the middle of all the mess.
So…if your Christmas season isn’t shaping up like a Hallmark movie, don’t despair. God can be with you in the middle of it all. You will be amazed at how simply awesome he can make this messy thing called life that we are all struggling through!