You give and take away,
You give and take away,
My heart will choose to say,
Lord, blessed be your name.
Because this was not the first time God had taken away. When I was five, my dad was hit by a car while jogging. He was in a coma for several days and when he finally woke up, my mom sent my brother and I to Grandma's house so that we wouldn't have to see how he didn't know who we were. He had suffered a traumatic brain injury, and while he would regain many of his faculties, he would never be the same. He woke up a different person.
When I think about how to answer the question of how I came to know Jesus as my Lord, I could tell about that one night when I was four years old and I prayed with my mom to receive Jesus into my heart. But this whole business of giving him actual lordship over my life, well...that's a sloppier story.
Until my friend Phil died. He was also hit by a car while jogging, and I couldn't ignore this ugly, nagging question that had been there all along beneath the pain and confusion that I had buried throughout my childhood: if God loved me so much, why did he allow the people I loved to be run over by vehicles? Why did he take away?
"The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away;"
"Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised."
I didn't understand how Job could adopt this attitude, but otherwise I couldn't get enough of his story. Here I was, a young, healthy twenty-something with a huge scholarship to a private Christian university, and the person I identified with most in the Bible was Job. But his questioning echoed my questioning. I looked fine on the outside, but on the inside, my spirit was naked, covered in ashes and sores. He became my hero, refusing to chalk this all up to his own moral failings, refusing to let God off the hook. There are 33 chapters of this tortured discourse before God says anything. But when I finally got there, I so identified with Job, that God's words seemed to speak directly to me:
2 “Who is this that obscures my plans
with words without knowledge?
3 Brace yourself like a man;
I will question you,
and you shall answer me.
4 “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
Tell me, if you understand.
5 Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
Who stretched a measuring line across it?
6 On what were its footings set,
or who laid its cornerstone--
7 while the morning stars sang together
and all the angels shouted for joy?
My ears had heard of you
but now my eyes have seen you.
Therefore I despise myself
and repent in dust and ashes.
Whether he is giving or taking, weather I am for him or against him, God is determined to be glorified in my life. By the time I graduated college, I had learned that lesson. I was on God's side now. Or so I thought.
I married Courtney, my wife, the summer after we graduated college and we moved out to California so that I could go to seminary. While we were out there, we had two big surprises, both of which were growing inside my wife: Norah, our daughter, who is (at the time of this writing) a very precocious four-year-old, and the brain tumor. We had known about this tumor's existence, but it had sat benign (not growing) for 10 years like an undetonated bomb. It was deep in the brain, near the stem, in an area that controls motor function. Several neurosurgeons had said over the years that it was inoperable, that any attempt to remove it would likely yield a permanent and severely debilitating outcome.
But it was growing now and the whole situation seemed fatalistic: there was innate danger both in removing and not removing the tumor. I could feel the resentment building up inside of me again. We spent thousands of dollars enlisting one of the top neurosurgeons in the country and we asked our church to pray for us when we were too numb and cynical or pray.
When the day of the surgery came, we went to the hospital, I kissed my wife and told her I would see her in a few hours. Then I paced in the waiting room with our sleeping infant daughter and wondered if I would soon become a single father. And I couldn't pray. I knew that the only thing I could trust God to do was to glorify himself through whatever happened, and that was going to have to be enough for me.
On that day, God chose to glorify himself by giving Courtney back to us.
I wish I could tell you that I learned to completely trust God through this experience. Some days I do and some days I don't. Intellectually, academically, theoretically...I believe that God is good and deserves my worship. But my relationship with God, just like any other relationship I have, doesn't really exist in this realm. It's personal. It's contentious. I love the Lord, but I often don't like him. Following Jesus is not something I simply decided upon long ago. It's a daily decision.
That's where I'm at today. But, of course, it's not where this story ends. I look forward to the day when my doubts and disputes will be dwarfed by the glory of his presence. After all, how ferociously glorious must God be to make the devastation of Job's entire life seem petty by comparison? That's the hope that I hold on to.