Last night, I woke at 2 AM, which is fairly typical. Last night was a bit different, though, because I was also attacked with an unrelenting darkness that buried me in a dense cloud of shame and worthlessness. That is more infrequent, but that particular dark cloud is not a stranger to my room.
The black cloud that envelopes me seems to whisper at me that I don’t deserve God’s compassion. It is for other people, not for me. I am outside of it looking in the window at God’s mercy to others, but it will never be for me. I’m too…useless, worthless. It’s hard to describe, but I would imagine that I am not the only one who gets attacked by this particular cloud.
The trigger for this particular cloud is that I had fairly intense pain for the last 5 days that there was no relief for. I couldn’t sit. I couldn’t stand. I couldn’t lie down. It wears on you.
I’m telling you this because one thing that chronic pain does is isolate you and make you feel like you are alone – hence, the black cloud. So I am telling you, if you struggle with chronic pain as well, you are not alone. And these thoughts you have are also not unique, nor do they put you outside of God’s compassion.
But let me go on.
I have learned that simply lying there in the dark staring at the ceiling is not an effective solution. So after trying for 30 minutes or so to sleep, I got up and opened my kindle paperwhite to a wonderful book by Dane C. Ortlund called “Gentle and Lowly.” (If you don’t have it, get it now).
He wrote something that stuck on me like a burr and won’t shake off. I want to share it with you so you can think about it with me. He wrote,
“Unlike us, who are often emotional dams ready to break, God can put up with a lot. This is why the Old Testament speaks of God being “provoked to anger” by his people dozens of times….But not once are we told that God is “provoked to love” or “provoked to mercy.” His anger requires provocation. His mercy is pent up, ready to gush forth. We tend to think: divine anger is pent up, springloaded; divine mercy is slow to build. But it is just the opposite.
And I thought about that. It occurred to me that this is a difference between the gods of the pagans and the God of the Bible. The settled state of the gods of the pagans is either anger or indifference. They have to be provoked out of it. This is why they had to eventually offer their children as sacrifices – to try to convince the gods to pay attention to them. It is why Cain offered the sacrifice that he offered. It is why so many churches are full of so many people trying to get God to listen to them, to pay attention. “If only we worked harder, did more, loved more, gave more money, purged ourselves from sin, did better….”
But the settled state of the true God is love. Mercy. Compassion. He must be provoked to anger. And that takes a long, long time. In fact, he is reserving his wrath for the day of judgment. The reason that he delays is that he is not willing that any should perish, but that all should repent and believe the gospel. The goodness of God should lead us to repentance. He is so good to us that he did not come in judgment as soon as mankind deserved it. He first sent his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish but have everlasting life.
I had everything backwards under my 2 am cloud. I still tend to view God as my earthly father. If I accomplished enough, did enough, made no mistakes, worked hard enough, and found the right formula, then perhaps I can get him to at least notice that I am here.
But God is not my earthly father. He is my Heavenly Father. His settled state is compassion. I don’t have to provoke him to love. His love is already there. It was his love that provoked him to provide a sacrifice for our sins, to speak in human terms. It was his love that caused him to send his only begotten Son into the world, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
My Christian walk is not about trying to appease God’s anger or indifference. It is about resting in his love through faith in His Son, who gave himself for me. In that rest, I can turn outside of myself and my accomplishments and simply love and serve those whom God has placed around me.
It is God’s anger that is provoked, not his love. And that changes everything.
Think about it.
A pagan god – indifferent or angry. Must be provoked to pay attention.
The Covenant God of Abraham – full of compassion and mercy, slow to anger, plenteous in covenant faithfulness and love.
OH – and get Dane Ortlund’s book.
8 But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
9 Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.
10 For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.