One of the less appealing things Christ-followers have always done is divide into sects. We love doing that. I’m sure it starts with noble purposes, but inevitably, factions draw as much identity from “what they are against” as much as “what they are for,” setting themselves against differing tribes under the Christian banner.

Denominations, coalitions (i.e. groups who graduated from the looser “movement” status), networks, associations – usually with strong, charismatic (white) (male) leaders – generate copious amounts of followers, parroting theological positions and sweeping Biblical conclusions about what God definitively meant in His Word.

These have never set well with me, much to the chagrin of the various splinters. It’s probably the same reason I’m registered as an independent voter rather than siding with a party; once I sign my allegiance over, I feel like I lose the freedom to call my party to reform. I’m more likely to defend bad policy and bad practices, because as a partisan supporter, it’s too sticky to admit my group has a dark underbelly worthy of dissent. We live in an “all bad” and “all good” society, readily attaching those labels to the groups we like (ours) and the groups we’re against (everyone else’s).

Just like there is both great good and heinous abuses on each side of the political divide, factions of the church get some parts right and others wrong. This is because we are human people, attempting to reconcile the ways of Jesus with this broken life; the ways God said would be higher than our own, born from His thoughts which always exist in the stratosphere above our heads.

We do our best. We try to handle God’s Word with integrity and flesh out what the Christian life is supposed to look like. We do. I daresay we mean ever so well. But anytime a human decides he and his group have cornered the market on our mysterious God, including exactly how He is handling salvation, eternity, and redemption, my alarm bells start clanging. Especially when he is conveniently on the right side of favor. (Concerning the eternal damnation of her family members, a local church leader told my friend: “We will one day see them in hell and say AMEN.” Sweet merciful heavens.)

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Take God’s sovereignty, for instance, a polarizing, emotionally charged concept within the Bride. I am uncomfortable laying evil, perversion, and darkness at God’s feet, casting Him as a petrifying, arbitrary ruler. I haven’t the slightest idea how His sovereignty works in us, around us, through us, in spite of us. I don’t know where sin ends and God’s will begins. I can’t even suss out what “He allowed it” means. Is Satan a real force on this earth or isn’t he? Do our sinful choices belie the heart of God or do they simply execute His providence? If God is sovereign over injustice, what does that actually mean? The mysterious cocktail of ultimate good and evil, sin and self, Spirit and power somehow equal the truth of God I cannot comprehend.

Mind you, this is not for lack of reading or discussion. I’ve pressed and obsessed and grieved, worried that God was actually horrible and untrustworthy. I’ve gone cold, calculated, fatalistic: “What is the point? It is what it is no matter what anyone does.” I’ve been angry, then defensive, then arrogant, then hopeless. I dragged people off the cliff with me, leading the witness toward my current position, hoping someone could help reconcile the God I knew with such a broken, devastated world. Is God really in charge of this mess? Because if so, it seems like He might be terrible at being God.

Deep in the throes of confusion, thrashing and lashing out, God rescued me from my own despair with one simple word:

“Jen, I am love and I am just.”

And with that, all the wind left my manic sails. God could not possibly orchestrate injustice. That is incompatible with his character. He would never stoically endorse abuse, hatred, evil. How could He? God couldn’t possibly be unfair. He could never act unlovingly. In His heart, in His hand, He is love and justice and embarrassing mercy. God doesn’t simply act that way; it is the nature of His very being. However God moves, it is always just. It is always fair. It is always loving. It always moves toward redemption.

That is all I need to know.

How this fleshes out amid the complicated mix of humanity and decay and sovereignty, I haven’t the foggiest idea. Circumstantially, the entire concept can fold in on itself, for it all seems so subjective. But my soul rests in the security that my God is good. I needn’t feel compelled to lay evil at His feet, because dark forces exist on our earth as well, if you believe the Bible. As long as rebellion is still possible, then parts of life will unfold outside of God’s goodness. Somehow, He will set this all right one day.

If that isn’t as certain or positive or crystal clear as you’d like, I get it. There is comfort in following believers with iron-clad confidence. Sometimes I envy them. But I am unprepared to put too much confidence in my understanding of something as mysterious as God’s sovereignty. I’ve been wrong too many times before, and about lesser concepts. Rather, my confidence has finally found rest in God’s goodness, which somehow transcends theology and circumstances and doubt. I am comfortable loving Jesus with questions in play, because the one thing I am sure of is His nature.

The older I get, the less I know, the more mysterious salvation becomes. I no longer feel compelled to nail it all down to reproducible soundbytes, Twitter-worthy missives. I am comfortable letting my mind suffer, yet letting my spirit rest. My God is good and worthy of all praise, and that is enough.

“When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”

Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”

Jesus, indeed, I will not stumble on account of you.

 

45 comments

  1. Perhaps the best and truest thing I’ve ever read on A Deeper Story. This hit the soul. Thank you. “I am comfortable letting my mind suffer, yet letting my spirit rest.” thank you again.

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  2. nanci

    I have been a Christian all my life, but have evolved through many phases and stages. Last January I read Rachel Held Evans’ blog, “They were right (and wrong) about the Slippery Slope.” From there I embarked on a year-long intensive search of scripture, looking for the solutions to all my faith questions. I have now come to the exact same place you describe in this blog. I don’t understand everything, but I. trust. God. Whatever the answers are, I rest in his unchanging love. God is love, and love never fails. His judgements are righteous and just. And there is no systematic theology created in the mind of mortal man that embraces all the complexity of our great God.

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    • It is such a relief to discover that you can ask hard questions and faith can not only stay intact, but emerge stronger, truer. I was afraid of questions for so long, too.

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  3. oh yes, Jen. ‘the older I get the less I know, the more mysterious salvation becomes.’ and that’s when real faith comes to call in all its strength. wonder. and awesomeness.

    and peace does come.

    thank you for going deep this morning.

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  4. Well said. I’m part of a denomination that makes most sense to me, but I think all of us will be surprised and humbled by what we learn in heaven!

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    • JennNY

      I soooooooooooooo agree with that! I think we will be dumbfounded when we get to heaven.

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  5. And right there, you have made a better conclusion than most of us ever really get to – that we don’t need to know all of the answers, we just need to know God, and He’ll take care of things in the end. Great words, Jen.

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  6. Elizabeth

    So, so good. Thank you Jen. I’ve arrived at a similar point of resting in “He will make all things right” and “He is good.” I don’t understand but hanging on to these 2 things is vastly comforting.

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  7. I LOVE this statement. Thank you!
    “I am comfortable letting my mind suffer, yet letting my spirit rest. ”
    (um, I’m not yet comfortable with it yet myself…but I’m getting there! Too often it’s my spirit that is suffer while my mind rests, or languishes. Thank you for the encouragement and perspective)

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    • I totally understand the reverse conundrum. My spirit suffered too until I switched the tension to my mind and settled into God’s basic nature and found relief.

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  8. Thanks for the honesty, vulnerability, and reality in this writing. I needed to hear it as I wrestle through the questions. “I am good and I am just” are such perfect truths to rest on.

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  9. I love this!

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  10. Angie Miller

    This is wonderful. In the interest of full disclosure, I am a free will kind of girl, but either way, you are right. We cannot begin to fathom it all, but we know that God is good and loving. I find comfort in that. I, too, came to realize that cornering the market on truth is a more slippery endeavor than we want to believe. I am so glad that I stumbled on your blog when a facebook friend shared the hilarious “Worst End of School Mom” entry. God bless.

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  11. Thomas

    I think the biggest mistake we ALL make is attempting as created and finite beings to comprehend and quantify God. The issue of the simultaneous existence of God’s sovereignty and sin is mainly where people stumble in this regard. We try to reconcile and UNDERSTAND within OUR MINDS the simultaneous existence of these. The fact is God IS sovereign and scripture bears this out throughout but also the fact is that we exist in a CURSED, temporal and finite realm as Mankind but God is INFINTE and exists BOTH inside and OUTSIDE of space and time as we perceive and comprehend. God created SPACE and TIME but He IS the Great I AM and is NOT constrained by these physical properties. We however are. Who are we to think we are supposed to be able to figure out God and have every question answered about Him? It is simply an impossibility this side of Heaven. The word tells us though that someday when we exit this temporal, cursed and sin tainted realm that we will one day see GOD face to face! Can you imagine!? Remember that even Moses was not allowed to see God’s face (read Exodus 33:18-23). All of this speaks of God’s holiness and causes our hearts to overflow with thankfulness for the Savior! At THAT time, when we depart this realm and are in God’s presence all questions will be answered! Until then we live by FAITH in Christ and we learn to be comfortable with the fact that we cannot comprehend or exhaustively define GOD.

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    • Cheryl B

      Amen Thomas! Amen!

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  12. This was wonderful. I have, and am, working through so many of these questions. Not to get clear, hard and fast answers; i don’t know if that’s possible or if it is even what I want. But he is carrying me toward the same place you finally arrived: I am good and I am just. It begins and ends there, doesn’t it?

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  13. Peggy Coons

    Anytime people are comfortable using their faith to condemn others, it makes me uncomfortable. It doesn’t *feel* like Christianity. When people use the Bible like a club, it doesn’t *feel* like faith. The divisions, the hate, even with the “biblical” backup, don’t seem right. I fall upon the main messages of ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul’ and ‘Love your neighbors as yourself’ I too have struggled with faith and the bigger and deeper issues and sometimes they leave you twisting philosophical issues and discussing things with the Lord without resolution. I, too, have come to realize that the Lord is okay with my struggling as long as keep talking to him about it.

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    • I agree. It seems my faith gets simpler the older I get. Love God, love my neighbors. If that’s all I have when I stand before God one day, I suspect it will be enough.

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  14. Beautifully written!

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  15. Tim

    This reminds me of something Hugh Halter said. In response to people who say he needs to tackle more theology, he says, “Let’s figure out to really live out Jesus’ Great Commandment, to ‘Love God with all your heart, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as you do yourself,’ THEN we’ll tackle some of the other stuff.”(Not the exact quote, but it gets the idea).

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  16. Amen.

    I am far more content to live with the Mystery than to make attempts at knowing all the answers. “Lord I believe, please help my unbelief” is my favorite prayer.

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  17. I am sitting at my desk, and I am weeping. You have no idea how much I needed this today. How much your words resonated in my hollow heart. Just…thank you.

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  18. Ro elliott

    Oh my….amen and amen…the gospel in a word is Love. Because He is the gospel and He is love….I am a recovering arrogant ,know it all…my world had no color ….black and white makes for an ugly landscape…but He has wooed me….and now I know how deeply,deeply loved I am by Him… This changes everything…my world is full of color and beauty…I no longer need to have all the answers to feel safe…because my safety is in Him…I love this line ” I am comfortable letting my mind suffer, but letting my spirit rest” And yes…the older I get…and I am a good bit older than you….the less I know…and the less I need to know…we do live in an upside down kingdom…the “higher ” the education….the lower we go…I think I might be in preschool now…travel all the way back to becoming like a child. Thanks for this…I love reading your heart.

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    • “We do live in an upside down kingdom… the “higher” the education…the lower we go…I think I might be in preschool now…travel all the way back to becoming like a child.” This is such a wonderful metaphor.

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  19. Lori

    Thanks. You are ever putting so many of my own thoughts into words. Things used to be so black and white and it was more comfortable then. As I get older I keep having more questions. I want to get to this place where I can just accept and not have to know.

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  20. Oh, well done, Jen!! I read somewhere this phrase and it has been so helpful to me, even though it is a bit zen sounding and maybe even a tautology – here it is: God is sovereign over sovereignty. It’s not up to me to ‘get’ this and I find the arguments over this question frustrating and exhausting. But this? These words right here? SO refreshing and honest and helpful. Thank you!

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    • God is sovereign over sovereignty. LOVE. It is such an immense relief to know I don’t have to understand this; God has it and I am safe to trust Him.

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  21. Mm. Mm. Mm. This was SO beautiful to read, Jen! I couldn’t agree with you more!! I feel like more Christians need to be okay with following Jesus with a bag of questions in toe. We DON’T have it all figured out. He does.

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  22. I’m in a similar place right now and really needed this. THANK YOU.

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  23. Gary Ware

    “But my soul rests in the security that my God is good.”
    Amen and Amen.

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  24. You have no idea how timely this is for me. Well played, Jen Hatmaker, well played.

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  25. So, we moved to this little, tiny town far, far away from all we knew before. We’d been just having church as a family for awhile. After sitting alone, again, watching a conference on community, I decided I must dive in.
    So, I started going to church. And it is hard. Harder than I would have thought.
    I’ve changed a lot since the last time I was part of a church. I question so much. Not of Christ, that’s more solid than ever. But of the American church as I’ve known it.
    I am going. And sitting and listening and wondering.
    I’ve even started going to the Community Ladies Prayer Group. It’s a gathering of women from three of the churches in town. It’s hard, too. But I keep going because I think it’s important and I love that the churches are all so different. And I’m a bit saddened that there were only six of us again this week.
    But…I am praying for the unity of the believers in CHRIST, no matter the church we sit in. And I think it’s pretty great that these ladies have met every week for the last two years in hopes of unity and revival for our town.

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    • Proud of you and that band of women, reaching across lines. That matters. That counts. That is how the kingdom comes in our little towns and communities and ultimately the world.

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  26. Noelle

    Such a great post. This was so comforting to me:

    “I am comfortable letting my mind suffer, yet letting my spirit rest. My God is good and worthy of all praise, and that is enough.”

    Just a wonderful reminder that although our minds may often question, we need to let our spirit rest in assurance that God IS love and he IS just in all he does.

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  27. Amen and a deep sigh Jen. It has taken me more years than you’re lived to come to this understanding. Thank you for saying it so well. I am so weary of all the in-fighting and endless debate. I’m resting in the truth of His word.

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  28. Thank you!!! DITTO me too! I’m over “churchy people” with concrete between their ears and blinders on their eyes and I mean that lovingly. Because instead of following them I am waking up and following Jesus and you can always trust him– the red letters– and his goodness, his example and do what he asked us to. Love our neighbor…
    I have a group of women and we are doing 7, thank you. I thank the Lord that he led you to share those revelations.

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  29. Mindy

    This good. I have felt myself coming to this place in my life a well. Thanks
    So glad you are able to put all this into wprds

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  30. Mindy

    One more thing, I wa struggling so bad with this very thing, and then a friend
    sent me this. I believe god must be trying to through to all of
    us;) kinda like when I tell my kids to be still and obey me
    even when I can’t explain “why” to them. They have to trust
    I know best, even when they don’t understand

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  31. Terri Steiner

    Good… great timing. Thankful for your insight. Am going to quote you… with credit :o)

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  32. Oh my mercy. Yes. I have never been able to stomach much in the way of hard-lined, one-sided theology, although I tried for many years to find a camp to fall into. No one wants to be in the lukewarm grey area, right? But something always pulled me out of the black and white. The Lord showed me a couple years ago this same thing: that He is love and He is good. And that He cannot act apart from that goodness. The area which I thought was grey is actually full of rich, amazing colors fueled by His grace. And thankfully, that is enough.

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  33. Amanda

    Crying. Needed this SO MUCH. I can EASILY get trapped in an intellectual search for answers that often leaves me confused and a bit sick if I’m honest. The Lord BLESSED me with this. I shall join you in letting my spirit rest in His goodness. THANK YOU!!!!

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    • Mary C.

      I needed to see this. This week, of all weeks, I needed to read this. You are an incredible woman, Hatmaker. Thank you doesn’t do justice for what this very post did for me.

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