Thursday, March 3, 2016

In the Valley of the Shadow of Death

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

“Mom said that she doesn’t think that dad will make it…” were the words that I heard before my brother broke down crying on the other end of the line. It has been nearly 14 years since the shadow of death loomed so heavy over our family. As I collapsed up against the cold block wall of my office, the raging river of questions flooded my mind with sorrow and despair, and the threatening tide of doubt crashed against my confidence in the goodness and wisdom of God. Is this how it goes? Will I ever hear his voice again? What about all the conversations I want him to have with my sons? I just want to be with mom right now…, the surge of pain flooded over my faith and left me neck deep in uncertainty. How powerful, and how dangerous is news. In an instant, I was crippled. My mind was clouded, my body was shaking. What was I to do?
The thought of, I’m not ready for this, slowly squeezed its way into my mind.
The feeling I had reminds me of a video I once saw of astronauts in training. In the video, NASA placed these aspiring astronauts into human gyroscopes. Perhaps you have seen one of these before, where a rider is strapped into a seat that is suspended in the center of several metal circles. Once started, the metal bands rotate sporadically causing the seat to be sent out of control, spinning and flipping in every direction. It is the task of the astronaut while facing such exhausting mental disorientation to focus and regain control of his own body and the movements of the gyroscope. In this moment of sheer panic, he must find his bearings and regain composure.
Sitting in my office, I was strapped to my own sort of gyroscope. The mental, emotional, and spiritual bands of this situation left me spinning and flipping out of control. I needed to find my bearings and regain composure, but every spiritual surety that my mind could see was being quickly hurled out of grasp by incessant waves of confused emotion. John Owen spoke well when he said “the heart is made up of so many contradictions.” It was like I was plunging down the face of a steep cliff towards a bottomless pit. The fingertips of my mind would barely grasp the ledge of some spiritual truth and would briefly stall my descent, but almost immediately the feeble grip would be torn by the convulsing of my emotions and again I would plunge further into the chasm of fear.
Before I hung up the phone with Matt, my mind caught a glimpse of the truth, God is not surprised. We are surprised. News is a powerful and dangerous force over us, but an all-knowing and all-powerful God is never caught off guard by anything. As one hand grasped the ledge of God’s power, the other clutched securely onto the ledge of God’s goodness. With my body trembling under the strain of my emotions, I finally surrendered my heart to the good and wise Providence of God.

“God, my flesh and my heart fail, but you are my rock!”

I breathed the Psalmist’s words in prayer through the phone, and the Spirit of God did His great work of preaching the truth to my mind. God is good. God is wise. God’s ways are perfect. Gladly will I glory in my infirmities and my heartaches and the convulsions of my soul, because they are not meaningless. The God who has filled the waves of the sea with purpose, has filled the waves of the soul with so much more. My physical body and my emotions fail, but He is the rock that I can fall upon. When I flail and crumble with emotion, it is to Him that I can turn. Like a little lamb, comforted by the rod and staff, I can look tragedy in the face and say, “You are simply an obedient servant of my Father. Your reach will never go beyond His desire, and your power will only extend to His design.” I can rest in His wise, loving, good, and perfect but not-yet understood Providence. The waves will crash around this Rock, but He will not be moved.