It has been just over a week since my friend Davin died, but that time has been filled with quite the range and quantity of emotion, thought, and blurring pain. Sometimes there are moments of clarity and truth; at other points I am beside myself, completely unsure what to think and incapable of processing what’s going on in the world or in me. And at times my inability to see what God’s doing or teaching me right now is frustrating, the pain-without-an-answer gap in life.
I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that we live in a short blurb, podcast, Tweeting, Facebooking, instant-news instant-everything culture in which all we need to know is delivered to us immediately, succinctly, and with considerable ease. We don’t read books so much as we read one line tweets or Facebook statuses. We have become a fast food, fast-you-name-it, microwavable culture.
But grief changes all that. Or I might say God working through our grief changes all that. He forces us to slow down, take the long way, digress, and stay awhile. He doesn’t teach us in our trials in any quick, easy way. If we would gain the pearls of insight and wisdom in our suffering that Christ forms in us, then we must be willing to stay awhile in what the Puritans used to call the “School of Christ.”
How does God’s grace engage your sufferings? We may know the right answer. And yet we don’t know it. It is a hard answer. But we make it sound like a pat answer.
God sets about a long slow answering. But we try to make it a quick fix. His answer insists on being lived out over time and into the particulars. We act as if just saying the right words makes it so. God’s answer insists on changing you into a different kind of person (Suffering and the Sovereignty of God, 145).
That’s the point—whereas we would have a simple solution that alleviates our pain but doesn’t really change the fabric of who we are, God is rather in the business of changing our character so that we embody virtues like patience, endurance, longsuffering, and humility. And instead of being a bag of two-minute instant rice, it’s more like the 14 hour preparation for smoked ribs. It takes a long time to bring out the best flavors.
So as I linger in the wilderness of answerless days and nights, there are some things to hold on to. Or better put, there is Someone to hold on to even as he holds on to me. In Psalm 119:25-31, the psalmist says he clings—first to the dust in his sorrow (v. 25), and then second to God’s word (v. 31). There’s no picture of deliverance in the immediate context of the passage; there is only the soul melted away in the flame of affliction because of his great sorrow (v. 28). But there’s also the soul that clings day and night to God’s word.
What do we cling to—hold on to for dear life—in the midst of our hurt? Anything besides the Lord is ultimately sinking sand, a crumbling precipice we’re grasping that won’t hold firm. “It is better to take refuge in the LORD that to trust in _________ ” (Ps 118:8). Whatever it is, man’s approval, food, or anything in all creation, it’s a worthless refuge.
The psalmist’s cry in suffering is “give me life according to your word… make me understand… strengthen me according to your word… teach me” (Ps 119:25-31). He has to earnestly ply himself to God’s word through meditation, prayer, and study, bringing his sorrow and agony along with him, in order to gain the fruit of his trial. It is a long, painstaking process, not a single moment of discovery. Seek and you shall find.
God sets about a long slow answering. God really does have some life changing things to teach us through Davin’s life and death, but they aren’t quick and they aren’t easy. There’s no phrase, no thought, no truth that will simply wipe away every tear and all pain in a microwavable instant. As silver is refined and diamonds are formed and pearls come to be, so God isn’t merely teaching truths to us as he is forming them in us. Through this long slow process he is changing who we are.
So let Davin’s story and all the pain involved with it be kneaded into you like yeast into bread. It’s long and slow. But it’s also more gracious, more beautiful, more joyful, and more satisfying than we can even presently imagine (Ephesians 3:20).
“And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” (1 Peter 5:10).