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Is God's Purpose Worth Your Pain?
By Karen Rabbitt
Wouldn’t you just like God to tell you what he thinks about your suffering? I mean, who wouldn’t? Maybe in a personal letter. Where he spells out what he sees in all your pain.
For many years, I wrestled with him about where he was when my father took me, his four-year-old daughter, out to the cornfield behind our house to take his pleasure at the expense of my pain. How could God let that happen?
And where is he in the bitterness of broken romances, the anguish of jobs lost, the struggles of all the refugees in the world, the hunger of millions of people who don’t even have enough food?
After thirty years of prayer, thought, and study, I sat down one day and these words flowed. In the form of a letter to a semi-autobiographical “Annie,” this is how I see God’s perspective on our distress.
The Father of Jesus
1 Golden Way
My Dearest Annie:
I know you are unsure of me these days, particularly wondering whether you really are dear to me. Your twenties have been such painful years, haven’t they? I know you’ve wondered whether you would ever stop crying.
And those breakdowns that landed you in the hospital—such terror—thinking you were going to be rolled up in a little ball and thrown out into the empty universe. I’m so sorry you had to go through all that. My heart has bled for you.
You’ve been wrestling with me these days. You don’t know how important that struggling is to me. I will always rather fight with you than to watch you walk away. Please keep telling me how you feel. You seem to understand that you have to keep wrestling if you ever want to make sense of these difficult years.
You’ve particularly been wrestling with me about free will. I wanted to write to you today because you’ve begun to see it differently. Up until now you’ve always said, “Free will isn’t worth what it costs! It was a human choice in the garden that led to all this pain, and it was my father’s choices that have provoked so much terror in my life.”
You’ve blamed me for creating such a system. You admitted to me two weeks ago Saturday that you actually hated me. (I was so glad to hear you confess that!) And now, in these last two weeks, it has begun to dawn on you that there’s no real goodness on earth without real evil. The same ability to choose that creates evil also yields goodness.
Do you get it, really? I want people who will love me freely, without coercion or manipulation. That means you all need to have a choice to walk with me or to walk away from me. I know it’s confusing, too, because it’s hard for you to evaluate who’s with me and who’s not.
Like your father, who looked like he was walking with me but sure walked away from me that day in the cornfield when he molested you. Have you ever thought about what I felt that day?
I know you’ve been angry with me about how I’ve set up the system, but think about it from my point of view: I want a family to love. So I made Adam and Eve with the ability to be my children. But they walked away from me and unleashed such evil and suffering.
How I grieved! I was sorry I’d made them. Every violent thought broke my heart. And that’s how I felt that day in the cornfield. I wept over you both, knowing what your father’s sin would cost in your life, and in his. And, do you see that I could not intervene?
If I stopped your father, it would only be fair to stop all the evil choices and then where would human choice be and then how would I get my family? I want a family! I want an enormous, extended family. I want people who want to come to family reunions.
Well, it’s not that I couldn’t intervene in the most literal sense—I could, of course. What I mean is, if I did routinely stop bad choices, that would be the end of choice. Real choices require real consequences. Maybe you think I could just make you love me, but I want a family who really loves me.
But let me tell you, it was excruciating for me to restrain myself. It would have been much easier to stop your father. It is the thought of that glorious family reunion that sustains me.
I mean, imagine what it would be like for you to hold your three-year-old daughter while she had a bone marrow tap. You could hardly stand it, could you? You’d be able to stand it only if you believed that procedure was the only way to cure her disease.
You could hold your screaming daughter only if you understood the purpose; and, even then, you could barely endure not intervening. Well, I can barely stand not stopping human choice, either, but it is the only way to accomplish my purpose.
So, I wanted to write this letter now because you are beginning to understand the value of free will. I want you to understand the next piece, too, that human choice costs me more than it costs any of you.
You’ve understood Jesus’ cross, somewhat—that I had to lose a part of myself so that we could gain a new life together. You’ve grasped that I had to suffer for you; I don’t think you’ve quite understood that I also suffer with you.
And you just have to trust me about whether the purpose is worth the pain.
But try to understand, I’m neither a masochist nor a sadist. I don’t allow such evil because I find pleasure in pain, either mine or yours. I suffer, and I ask you to suffer with me, for a life together that I know will be worth what it costs both of us.
Bless you, dear one.
I love you,
We can trust a God who suffers with us:
One of God’s first words to describe himself in Exodus 34:6 is “compassionate.” That means “to suffer with.”
Isaiah 63:9 says, “In all their (Israel’s) distress he (God) too was distressed.”
When Lazarus died, recounted in John 11:35, Jesus wept with the mourners.
And Jesus says in Matthew 25:40, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” He is so close to those who suffer that he says we relieve his pain when we relieve their pain. And sometimes we are “the least of these.”
How can God truly love us and not suffer with us? Love means identification with the beloved, to the extent of tender empathy.
The Biblical God is a purpose-driven God. He means to create a family who loves him. In order to fulfill that purpose, he gives us a choice to walk with him or walk away. That choice costs both us and him. And his purpose is worth the pain. Writing to the Romans, (8:18) Paul asserts “our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”
That cornfield abuse from my father led to much depression and anxiety. And yet, God has healed and redeemed that pain. He has held my hand as we’ve walked together into a rich and satisfying life.
If we wrestle with him until he blesses us, know there is always more to learn, and believe he means to give us an abundant life, we can find the joy that Papa-God desires for us.
Excerpted and adapted from Trading Fathers: Forgiving Dad, Embracing God
by Karen Rabbitt, M.S.W.
Scriptures taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version. © 1973, 1978 by the International Bible Society. Used by permission.
Karen Rabbitt, M.S.W., a seasoned psychotherapist, has written for Marriage Partnership and Today’s Christian Woman, in addition to writing her own story, Trading Fathers: Forgiving Dad, Embracing God (WinePress, 2009).
Raised on an Illinois farm in a difficult family, Karen experienced traumatic sexual abuse as a child at the hand of her father. The devastation of this abuse eventually led to depression and serious mental illness in her twenties. After she recovered, Karen earned her Masters of Social Work degree and provided psychotherapy to Christian women from 1986 to 2005.
A Christian Leaders, Authors, and Speakers Seminar (CLASS) graduate, Karen now speaks and leads retreats as a way to encourage others; her deepest desire is to feed your hunger for Papa-God’s love. Now a grandmother, Karen still lives in Illinois and has been married to Jerry since 1972. She attends The Vineyard Church. Learn more about Karen at www.tradingfathers.com
© Karen Rabbitt. Used with permission.
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