I have a confession to make. I have been binge watching The X-Files. Not the new ones, the old ones…or should I say, the “classic ones.” Not that I have anything against the new seasons. In fact, I thought the best way to get all ready to watch the new ones was to start from the beginning. Right now I’m in season 2…
Soooo much has already happened! Both Mulder and Scully (the main characters in the show… i.e., FBI agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, who investigate weird and unexplained cases dubbed “x-files.”) have already been through more traumatic events than I can remember. Both have been kidnapped. Both of them almost died by being attacked by a swarm of spiders in the woods. Scully was abducted by aliens…or by the government pretending to be aliens. “Deep Throat,” a shadowy government person who was helping Mulder and Scully in their investigations was shot and killed saving Mulder. The X-Files were closed and Mulder and Scully were separated to work in different divisions of the FBI because they were getting too close to the truth about government secrets. And there are 7 more seasons to go! And—spoiler alert—things are about to get worse!
We love stories about people who undergo serious crap. We binge watch the stuff! We pay to see it and pay outrageous prices for popcorn and drinks. In the awesome movie, Thor Ragnarok, Thor loses his father, sees his home world of Asgard destroyed, and loses an eye. Yet in the end, he is an even greater hero and has a better understanding of what it means to be a king.
And what about the huge box-office success The Avengers: Infinity War, which after 39 days has grossed over $1.9 billion worldwide? Spoiler alert, lots of heroes don’t make it. Far from being depressed fans are pumped and can’t wait to see the conclusion next May to see how those who remain are able to overcome Thanos and his Infinity Gauntlet.
We love this stuff! We eat it up! We love seeing our heroes grow and become better, stronger, and wiser because of their struggles.
This isn’t just something see in comic books and TV dramas. We see this all through the Scriptures too. Joseph. Job. David. Jeremiah. Paul. Jesus too. The Bible is full of stories from one end to the other of people who found themselves, their families, and even their world falling apart. And in the end we see how God works to overcome, save, and redeem when—from a human perspective—it looked like all was lost.
We love seeing these kind of stories, we love reading them, but we hate living them. We love seeing people grow in character courage and hope through the struggle of overcoming their enemies and demons. But we often find ourselves wondering what good could ever come of our own suffering and struggles. Why is that? Why are we so ready to believe it in movies but so slow to believe it in real life?
I have been learning that it is very difficult to think about the idea that there might be or even will be good things that come from our pain and struggles, even the ones that we can’t seem to get out from under no matter how much we try or how hard we pray. My daughter Anna is teaching me this lesson right now. Of course her autism and bi-polar diagnosis create extra wrinkles that make thinking through this idea even more challenging. I have talked about some of this before in my post Lessons from The Dark Knight Rises.
I have been learning that sometimes the answers to prayers for relief or rescue from particular struggles are—well—painful. Why? Because sometimes a problem or ailment or enemy we have is not because we did something wrong or because we need to have more faith, but because (in some sense) we need it. Rather we need the lesson that it teaches, that we are not enough. This is the lesson of 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 (NIV),
Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
What this thorn was, no one knows for sure. But whatever it was or whoever it was, it was bad enough for Paul to pray for God to rescue him from it, to remove it, to take the pain away. Paul prayed and nothing happened. Paul prayed a second time, and nothing happened. He prayed a third time and God essentially told him “No. I am enough.” Prayer did not make his problem go away. But it did make him see his problem look much different. It made him realize that God’s power was not dependent on Paul being free of suffering; rather to the contrary, his power was “made perfect in weakness.” It led him to realize that while he was not enough, Jesus was enough, and because Jesus had him, he would always have enough. The bad news is that’s not a lesson you can get without such serious crap in your life. The good news is that God can be working in us through it to learn some very powerful things.
We say, “What have I done that God has taken away the things that I love!” What God is asking is, “Is your love for Me only as deep as the blessings I give you? Or do you love Me because I am your Heavenly Father?”
We say things like, “I just don’t feel like God is with me throughout the day like I did in years past. He seems so distant,” when the reality is that God is teaching us that He wants us to love Him, not the feelings He brings. When you are ready to grow to the next level in maturity, He will take that comforting feeling of His favor and presence from you in order to teach you that your love for Him is for Him and not for the pleas-ant feelings He often brings with His presence.
We get frustrated when God hides His plans for us. We say, “God, I have prayed for insight and wisdom about this decision but there is no clear answer from You. What am I to do? Why are You not making Your plan clear to me? Why are You silent?” But God is saying “I want to know that your love and obedience is founded on your love for Me and not in liking My plan for you.”
When God doesn’t remove our pain, or pulls back His presence, or holds back from revealing His plans to us, He is refining our love for Him, making it pure by assuring that our love is for Him and in Him and not in anything else.