A disruptive God

I love stability. In fact, as I write this I’m sitting in a brand-name coffee shop in Chippenham, England, sipping coffee from a white mug with its round lady-in-the-middle logo. It’s the same mug I’m familiar with from my regular coffee house near Russell Square in London, and the same mug I’m familiar with from my favorite coffee shop in Vancouver, Washington. It’s not that I’m fascinated with their coffee: I’m not. Instead it’s that I always know what to expect and I can use the same swipe-card in each place. I love stability and the coffee just plays a supporting role.

So here’s the question of the week: why is God so disruptive?

What I mean is this: if I love stability and God loves me, why won’t he let me live in an ongoing, comfortable stasis? For some reason he always seems to be stirring the pot of life. And it’s not just me. God regularly allows cancers to kill, cars to crash, floods to ravage, quakes to shatter, wars to spread, relations to break, and businesses to die. In sum God is all too ready to allow tragedies and totally unexpected events to force us out of our cozy nests into the unhappy downpour of change. But why?

Some of my friends have solved this problem of painful change by claiming that all these disruptions are outside God’s control. But that’s nonsense. God claims to have every hair on each of our heads counted, and to be the one who rules everything from alpha to omega. I accept that in full. If anything might be said about our collective view of God and human circumstances, it’s that our grasp is all too small! In the Bible God takes full ownership of every event that has ever occurred, even when they involve evil, whether we’re speaking of wars or tsunamis. It’s all part of his turf.

Let me add, though, that he is never the source of evil. That comes from us, from the fallen angels, and from the curse on the cosmos that Adam got started. Rather, as in Job’s case, God owns such tragedies and even uses them to bring about his ultimate good purposes. But it’s all terribly disruptive in the meantime.

So here are some thoughts; and I welcome others to comment, too, in the space below.

First, it was God himself who created a longing for stability in our hearts. So he’s tender to the discomfort that any death or profound instability brings to us. I can think, for instance, of how Jesus—the triune Son—wept in the face of death just before he raised his beloved friend Lazarus from the grave. And how God offered Israel their own land where they could grow crops, build homes, and live with all sorts of blessings from God. And even now Jesus has gone ahead of us into heaven to prepare a place for us to live with him in the eternal security he offers us in days to come. So he not only made us long for stability and secure relationships—he promises us that it’s coming.

Second, and crucially: he won’t let us find rest if that rest is not with and in him. He loves us too much for that. Our appetite, in sin, is to serve and worship the creature rather than the Creator—and God refuses to support that addiction [Romans 1:25].

To that end, one Bible metaphor is especially shocking. God is like a dangerous lion ready to tear his unfaithful people in judgment “until they acknowledge their guilt and seek my face, and in their distress earnestly seek me” [Hosea 5:15]. The prophet then calls his audience to a proper response while also highlighting God’s motive: “Come, let us return to the LORD, for he has torn us that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up” [6:1].

If we put this in temporal terms, God is saying that our immediate disruption is a price he’s ready to have us pay in order for us to start asking much bigger questions about life and meaning if our present comforts are keeping us from an authentic love for him and for others.

There are other reasons for God’s disruptions, of course. In again noticing Lazarus, for instance, his two sisters both expressed a belief in Jesus but their faith seems to have been limited to his ability to heal those who are still alive—and not a faith in his power over death. So Jesus let their brother die before raising him to life. This was a real disruption to them, yet one that certainly extended the range of their faith.

So I have some answers to offer those whose lives are disrupted. But I still love to sit here and sip my secure coffee. So, to all like me, let’s use our coffee breaks as times to enjoy God’s love while maintaining a loose grip and tender hearts.

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6 Comments

  1. Terry

    I drove by the brand-name coffee shop in Vienna this past weekend. Chalk one up for “a loose grip.” The tender heart challenge is much more intimidating…and needed. I find that living in a close community is one of the experiences that God uses in my life to keep me in a state of disequilibrium. My self-love is quickly uncovered and is very, uh, “disruptive.”

  2. Tony Thomas

    I never managed to master the Rubik cube but I do remember that when I tried to I would often manage to get one side to be all the same colour and I would feel that I had achieved a step on the road to completion. I would get comfort from this sense of achievement and want to somehow keep that side intact as I moved on. But in order to move towards completion I had to disrupt the ‘stability’ and ‘comfort’ of a completed side to move towards the goal of a completed cube (a goal yet to be achieved by me).

    To stretch this analogy to breaking point, are we not each like a microscopic coloured square in a creation sized rubik cube in which our current relationship with our near neighbours (i.e. our current circumstances) no matter how right it appears to us at the moment, needs to be disturbed in order for the whole thing to move towards completion.

    I am very good at viewing the world from the perspective of ‘me’ and thereby trying to make sense of it from my current position in creation, and as a result I misinterpret or fail to understand elements of God’s mater plan.

    Job too, had a Job centred view of the world and God eventually asked him had he ever managed a universe with all of its complexities.

    “Where is God in disasters and tragedies” has to be one of the most difficult questions for us to wrestle with. If I couldn’t work out a simple rubik cube – what chance have I of understanding such an infinite puzzle (in this life anyway).

    Seeing on the news last night the full churches in New Zealand perhaps gives a clue to one small element of the complex answer.

    So Ron, thank you for this post which reminds us of some of the tensions we have to grapple with when trying to get some understanding, and I look forward to reading views of others

  3. Gretchen

    I recently heard a well-known Christian author preach on the topic of evil and suffering. At the end of his sermon, he asked each of us to fold a piece of paper in half. On one half we were to the write the worst things that had ever happened in our lives, and on the other half, the best things that had ever happened in our lives. He then suggested that we look carefully at the two lists and ponder how many of the best things would not have happened were it not for the worst things. Certainly in my own life, I could not have imagined in the midst of the “disruptions” what God would fashion out of them. Looking back, I wouldn’t trade those disruptions for anything! I’m grateful that the Lord loves us so much that He works in our lives so intimately. Finding our rest in Him, growing our faith, exposing our self-love, getting the squares of the Rubik’s cube lined up in our lives and in the lives of others….all of those things and more result from the the loving disruptions of a loving God.

  4. Ron Frost

    Karen, a friend, sent me the following by direct email & I received permission to post it here:

    Thank you for your thought-provoking article. On Nov. 27, 2010, Randy Alcorn preached a sermon about Romans 8:28 at Good Shepherd Community Church that addressed how this disruptive God works all things together for good. The exercise at the end of the sermon that he challenged people to do speaks to the reasons you gave for why God disrupts our lives. Here is the link to that sermon: http://www.goodshepherdcc.org/content.cfm?id=213&content_id=155
    My thoughts? I’ve always said that the stage is bigger than we think. What we see is not the whole picture. We have to trust our disruptive God who sees the whole stage. Thanks, again.

  5. Gretchen

    This is the sermon to which I referred in my previous comment. I would definitely encourage people to listen to it.

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