When God is Being Withholding and Mean

“I thought you were being mean,” the young ministry worker admitted to me.

“I could see that. But, now you think I’m not?” I asked.

“When you insisted that I talk with the family about what led them to their situation, I thought you were judging them, but the conversation helped them understand things they could try in the future. We got to know them better and understand what they value and how they make decisions. And, it’s the same conversation I have with myself when I am in the midst of a crisis. I don’t know why I didn’t initially see the wisdom of having it with them.”

I nodded.

“When you insisted I ask them about their future goals, I thought it was ridiculous because they were in crisis and needed help not some dream about someday. But, the conversation helped them remember dreams they’d abandoned, and we could tailor the help we gave them today for those goals.”

“Anything else?” I asked.

“When you suggested I have them make some of the calls for support and invite them to make a list of ways they could help others, that just seemed like added work, but they felt better about themselves because they remembered they are givers, even when they need help.”

“And now you don’t think I’m mean?” I smiled.

“No. You wanted to help them with what they asked for, but you wanted to help them in ways beyond the immediate that I wasn’t seeing.”

“Did you ever ask yourself what would motivate me to be mean to people in need? Have I ever demonstrated a spirit of meanness in my character?”

She laughed. “I didn’t really consider any of that. I just thought I knew best and any way other than the one I had in mind couldn’t be as loving. I feel kind of bad now. I thought you were looking down on them, but by having those hard conversations, you were treating them with more respect than I was. I just figured they wouldn’t have insight into how they got there or have dreams about the future or want to find ways to give to others. I thought I was being loving, but now I have an expanded idea of what love looks like. Does that make sense?”

“It really does. Don’t feel badly. I do the same thing to God every day. Often, I’m so sure my idea of what should happen in a person’s life is the most loving idea, I somehow think I’m better and more loving than God if He doesn’t make that thing happen. God is constantly expanding my idea of what love looks like in action!”

This worker is a wonderful person, she just has less experience than I do. I have faith in our process because I’ve seen it in action.

There’s a lot I don’t know about loving people but treating them with respect and as people with the ability to sort through their own crises with support is ground level love. Too often, when we help others, we unintentionally rob them of the opportunity to be the heroes of their own stories.

God doesn’t do that.

The love God offers is so freeing, it doesn’t write all the hard parts out of our life stories. He’s too loving to feed into our answered-prayer-entitlement program. He refuses to addict us to easy answers and prefabricated solutions.

Prayer is an ongoing hard conversation with God about what we think we (and the world) need and what He believes we (and the world) need. Sometimes we’re pleasantly surprised with a ready response that matches our idea, but often, we wrestle with His notion of an answer.

That’s when our enemy tempts us to doubt His love or His goodness, His reality or His ability. Learning to recognize that strategy and defend against it is part of maturing as a follower of Christ. It is the ropes course in developing the muscle of faith.

Hebrews 11:6 cautions us: “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” ESV

God does exist.

God loves so purely He IS love.

God rewards those who seek Him.

However, God’s ways are so foreign to us, we don’t always recognize them as loving. We think He’s mean, when really, we’re just focused on our idea of solutions.

There is a revealing verse we often miss because most Bibles place it in the chapter before 1 Corinthians 13. It is the final verse of 1 Corinthians 12 and it says, “And I will show you a still more excellent way.”

This is what following Jesus is all about: letting go of the way we see, the way we know, the way we think of as right, effective, and loving and learning the “still more excellent way.”

That is the place of adventure, yes? Following His still more excellent way. Even when others misunderstand. Even when it is hard. Even when forces oppose us.

But as we follow Him and trust His nature and receive the grace He freely gives, we enter into a greater story where we are the heroes of our own plotlines that weave seamlessly into His-story to testify to all the world of His expansive love.

We dare not offer the world a lesser love, one of our own design and manufacturing, because it pales beside the greater love that lays down its life for us.

When you do not understand His answers and the way makes you doubt His love, return to what you know of Jesus’ character and nature to address the temptation to judge Him mean rather than trust that He just knows another way to the place you want to go. Then, watch Him work!

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    The Conversation

  1. Rob McCullough says:

    This blog is so good Lori! What you are expressing agrees so well with what He has taught me over the years and he has had me minister to others. Blessings and Life!

  2. Pam Halter says:

    yes – amen – thank you, Lori.

  3. Bruce says: