Recently, a confluence of circumstances came together at once to create some rather dark days. Last week, an explosion at a local corn mill killed four people and injured many more. Spending time with employees, family members of maimed and lost loved ones, and a shocked community has caused me more than once see that I am staring in the face of unimaginable darkness. Post-traumatic stress and survivor guilt are just a few of the more mild responses I’ve encountered.
In addition, my seven-year old grandson is looking at a brain surgery within the next month. His literally hundreds of seizures a day with generalized epilepsy has caught up with him. In the last six months he has digressed in several capacities. Radical intervention is now required. Spending time with my daughter and family is at times gut-wrenching with the decisions she must make. Although she is a wonderful Mom, the unimaginable darkness she must stare into every day I believe would crumple most parents to lifeless mush. Not to mention that her husband was an employee of the business that exploded – and now he has no work.
If you throw into the mix that there has been an above normal strain of ministry wear-and-tear in the past few months with church matters, and now you have a volatile mix of faith-testing. That is, at least, what I choose to label it. Way back in the first book of the Bible, Genesis, God tested Abraham’s faith. He told Abraham to take his only son, go to a certain mountain, and there sacrifice him as a burnt offering. If you read the story for the first time, and don’t know the ending, you might wonder if Abraham heard God right. “Huh, God, you want me to what!?” But we don’t get any reticence on Abraham’s part. In fact, we get the opposite. Early the very next day, Abraham is up and at it. Even a three-day journey to the mountain doesn’t dissuade him from resolutely following through with God’s instructions (Genesis 22).
When real genuine faith is put into action, it oftentimes just seems like sheer stupidity to others. Abraham’s incomprehensible submission to God in this matter of sacrificing his son is unthinkable to most people. The fact that Abraham has to do the deed himself shows the utterly extreme nature of what was being asked of him by God. But I believe Abraham understood something that so many people nowadays cannot possibly comprehend unless they have endured extreme spiritual testing: God can be trusted even in unimaginable darkness.
Yes, the story concludes with Abraham being called upon at the last minute to withdraw his hand. A ram caught in a thicket becomes the burnt offering instead of Abraham’s son Isaac. But Abraham had no idea this was coming. He simply plodded forward with his mind set on doing exactly what God had for him to do. To have faith in God, to authentically worship Him as Abraham did, means to trust God totally and to put oneself and all of one’s life into God’s hands completely, even when we don’t know what the outcome will be.
Even the Lord Jesus himself once cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Whether we like it or not, the Holy Scripture reflects an important life-truth that there must be suffering before glory. Jesus himself became the substitute, the ram in the thicket. He is our sacrifice, the once-for-all offering to end all offerings.
Unimaginable darkness exists – but so does crazy unthinkable unimaginable grace. Unfathomable and bottomless mercy from God is available for every situation and each hard circumstance we face. We are not always promised the outcomes we desire; yet, we are promised that God is with us, and that the Lord will provide. “Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea…. The LORD Almighty is with us” (Psalm 46). May the grace of the Lord Jesus, the love of God, and the encouragement of the Holy Spirit be with you, today and always. Amen.