God, Don't Make Me


I made it through about three episodes of 1883, and I watched every one of them in complete horror. If you're not familiar with the show, it's the precursor to the show Yellowstone and follows the perilous journey of a family traveling West in 1883 to start a new life. Gruesome stuff, people. I'm talking smallpox and scalpings and arrows through intestines and I won't go on because my stomach is rising even as I type this.


For days after each episode, I walked around, haunted. I couldn't get the images out of my head. The people's faces! I knew they were just actors, that the blood was just stage makeup, that the agony was just pretend, but I couldn't shake the uncomfortable reality that those terrible things actually did happen to real, flesh and blood people, just like you and me.


Thinking about it makes me ache for the soft creatures that we are (so mortal and feeling!) who live in this gritty world. Sure, we'll probably never have an actual arrow shot through our guts, but there do come moments and days and years when we find ourselves in places we never wanted to be, living in situations we desperately want to get out of, and feeling, in ways, that we really have been shot through the middle. In those moments, the world can feel so cold, so uncaring, so - existential. Our suffering feels pointless and unbearable.


How can we (mere mortals who feel) not collapse beneath the weight of that?


I think a lot about Jesus in garden, the night before he was going to be crucified. He found himself in an agonizing position: he was overcome with dread about the suffering he was about to endure and pleading with his Father to change the plan, but, being predestined for crucifixion, the answer remained No, child.


And this world had its way with Jesus. It forced a crown of thorns on his head, it pierced his side, and it hammered nails through the soft flesh of his hands and feet. It's hard to look at, even now in my imagination. I want to look away, just like I did during 1883. I want to shake my head and say, But no. That kind of suffering isn't real.


Because a piece of me knows that if God could say no to Jesus, to allow him to remain so unbearably trapped until he saw the thing through to the end, he could say no to me, too. I could beg until blood dripped from my brow for the cup to be taken from me, and God could respond with, No, child. This is the plan. We've got to see this through.


Because a piece of me knows that if God could say no to Jesus, to allow him to remain so unbearably trapped until he saw the thing through to the end, he could say no to me, too.

Our very natures repel suffering, like two magnets with the same poles being pushed together. I suspect that if given the choice between an impactful life full of suffering and an ineffective life full of comfort, I'd choose the latter. I wouldn't mind being a coward, if it was allowed of me. [When watching 1883, I always think to myself, I'd stay East. Forget the promise of prosperity! A mediocre life with my scalp intact would be just fine for me.]


But Jesus was no coward. In the same breath that he asked God to rescue him from certain agony, he also uttered the bravest words in human history: "Not my will, but your will, be done" (Mark 14:6).

But Jesus was no coward. In the same breath that he asked God to rescue him from certain agony, he also uttered the bravest words in human history: "Not my will, but your will, be done" (Mark 14:6).

And something powerful happened then, as those words passed from Earth to Heaven. Jesus' suffering changed into something new: sacrifice. What looked like just asphyxiation on a beam of wood (meaningless suffering) turned into the very thing God used to save the world from sin and death (grave-rattling sacrifice).


I've wrestled with God and my keyboard all morning, trying to get to this point in the post where I can write something that is helpful and true. Something that will keep us from being crushed when we are stuck in the unthinkable and feeling so soft that it all hurts too much to bear.


What I have to offer is this: when we are facing suffering that we feel powerless to escape, and we hear the No, child that we so desperately dread, we still have one choice, and that choice is to echo Jesus' words and say, "Not my will, but yours, God." Those words are not giving up power; rather, they embody it. Because somewhere in their journey between our lips and God's ears, our suffering has the opportunity to become a sacrifice. And heart-felt sacrifice has a promise about it - a promise that it will be received and honored and, dare I say, used for something?


And heart-felt sacrifice has a promise about it - a promise that it will be received and honored and, dare I say, used for something?

What bothered me most about 1883 was that all the suffering that seemed like it was for nothing. I asked before how we can keep from collapsing beneath that harsh burden of meaningless, and the truth is, we can't. But when we give our suffering to God as a sacrifice, a holy mystery transpires. It transforms into something of significance. Glory, somehow, is set into motion.


I will never minimize this life's suffering. Jesus didn't. But Jesus also didn't crumble under the weight of it. How? He sacrificed his suffering to God and allowed him to transform it into something of great value. We know the Resurrection story. We know what kind of thing God can do with a sacrifice. We've seen the way he uses gritty things (torture, blood, cruelty) to give birth to glory (victory over death, eternal life for all who believe). We've seen how he takes what seems like a losing hand and turns it into victory.


So when we hear that holy No, we don't have to succumb to despair, even in our deepest agony. We still have one play: we can turn our seemingly losing hand over to God and say, "Here. I trust you to turn my pain into something holy."





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