The Dark Side of God’s Love

The Dark Side of God’s Love

Just ten minutes into hearing the doctor’s explanations, I could take it no longer. We were already numb from the events of the day, but hearing Carson scream in the background pushed me over the edge. While I was signing waivers just outside his newly inhabited hospital room, nurses on the second floor of St. Jude began the painful process of drawing blood for initial testing, sending Carson into a panic unlike anything before or since.

Despite the frustration of the young doctor needing to follow his protocol, I turned my back to him and darted into the tiny room. On the bed in front of me, four nurses were nearly prostrate as they tried to hold each of Carson’s limbs down. His screams were rivaled only by his newfound strength as he resisted the necessary IV needle. To the left of the bed, Heather was crying as I made my way to the opposite side. Unable to speak fluently because of his violent trembling, Carson shouted broken words to me as he gasped for air. “Make them stop, Daddy!” “Please take me home!” “Don’t do this to me!”

Everything inside me wanted to pick him up in my arms and end this unwanted interruption of our lives. I fought back tears, knowing that retreat wasn’t an option. Rubbing his arm for comfort, I tried to explain to Carson that the pain would only last a moment. Tears welled up in his big blue eyes, making it clear that I could not alleviate his anxieties. For the first time in his brief life, my son was unable to trust my protection. This realization was deeper than any needle for me. Reasoning with a three-year-old about something so traumatic, however, is an impossible battle to win. I knew what I had to do, and I knew Carson was not going to like it.

I stretched my body over his, grabbing both wrists, pinning him to the bed. Instinctively, Carson realized the force I exerted made me an accomplice to those in the room rather than the hero he so desperately wanted. The nurses moved quickly, recognizing their opportunity. Unfortunately, our positioning left us nose to nose and eye to eye. I pressed my forehead against his to offer reassurance. “This will only take a second, son,” I whispered. The words didn’t help. “No, Daddy! Don’t do this! I can’t take this! Get away from me! Leave me alone!”

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These words stung my heart even as the needles pierced Carson’s arms. I felt tears dripping off the end of my nose and knew I had to pull it together. My only reassurance was that the one thing Carson least wanted was also the single thing he most needed at that moment. It was right for me to force him because I knew better than he did what was best.

He will understand one day, I thought, that I’m only doing this because I love him so much.

Then in a moment of clarity it dawned on me: this is exactly what God does for me. Immediately, God spoke to my heart and said, “I love you more than you could ever love Carson. Will you trust Me to give you what you need instead of what you want? You need this trial too.”

HARD PROVIDENCE

Providence is a word describing God’s interaction with and supervision over the events of the world generally and people specifically. Simply put, God guides and directs every step we take according to His purposes and design. Understanding this reality raises questions about suffering, but it also provides great comfort when we discover the eternal benefits of our hardships. Admittedly, no one can understand the mind of God (Romans 11:33-36), and most of us earnestly ask God why when life begins to unravel. Often, our questions remain unanswered and our frustrations loom on the horizon as a weapon against faith in God.

Why did my spouse die?
Why did I lose my job?
Why is my family in disarray?
Why is my health declining?

Trusting God’s providence, however, can liberate us from the nuisance of doubt and anxiety over what we do not understand. Realizing that God is working, even when we cannot fully comprehend how, enables us to face trials with the certainty of winning, regardless of the outcome. This requires confidence that God is trustworthy to give us what we need even when what we want is different.

We can live knowing that though God’s providence is sometimes hard, it is always good.

Consider the strange encouragement of Philippians 1:29:

For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.

Really? God “grants” us the opportunity to suffer for His sake? The idea is that we suffer not because we deserve it but because God graces us with the privilege. Perhaps we could live with the fact that He requires it, plans it, or even forces it on us. But who celebrates the notion that God grants us the improbable blessing of suffering? Why should we consider this a gracious invitation? After observing the weight that so many people carry, it seems insensitive and crude to hint that trials might be a privilege.

These words remind us that God allows Christians to represent Him to others through the witness that adversities provide. Even greater, however, is the indication that earthly difficulties are a unique means to know God better than we could otherwise. The apostle Paul spoke of his difficulties as a unique invitation to a deeper relationship with the Lord in Philippians 3:10:

that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death.

While the power of Christ’s resurrection is something all people desire in their lives, few are eager to embrace the fellowship of His suffering in order to know Him better. Yet experiencing the power of Christ’s resurrection begins on the road of heartache. Don’t forget that Jesus had to weather the agony of Golgotha before He reveled in the glory of an empty tomb. Likewise, a prerequisite to walking in the power of Jesus’ resurrection is the willingness to have fellowship with Him through suffering. Thus, for Paul:

  • everything gained is counted loss for Christ (Philippians 3:7).
  • everything is loss compared to knowing Jesus personally (Philippians 3:8).

The ultimate goal is “that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:11).

Far from casting doubt on Paul’s confidence in the future resurrection, these words highlight the resurrected reality that those who suffer for Christ enjoy. When we die
to sin, selfishness, pettiness, dreams, aspirations, and goals, we are free to know Christ and live the resurrected life with Him today. Paul’s progression teaches us that all of life’s difficulties are:

  • for the sake of Christ (Philippians 3:7).
  • that I may gain Christ (Philippians 3:8).
    • that I may be found in Him (Philippians 3:9).
    • that I may know Him (Philippians 3:10).

Furthermore, the old apostle concedes that:

  • he hasn’t already obtained this level of fellowship with Christ (Philippians 3:12).
  • he willingly forgets anything in the past that would hinder him (Philippians 3:13).

Experiencing the power of Christ’s resurrection begins on the road of heartache.

  • he reaches forward to what lies ahead in order to know Christ better (Philippians 3:13-14).

The implications here are profound. God providentially allows hardships in our lives that are the opposite of what we desire because He knows they will meet our greatest need of knowing Him more intimately. Ironically, when God seems most distant because of what we face, He is often most active in our lives. When we least understand what God is doing, we are better positioned to know Him at a more personal level because of the faith we need to exercise. God’s goal is not our comprehending Him more completely, but our trusting Him more deeply.

Excerpted with permission from Hope When Life Unravels by Adam B. Dooley, copyright Adam B. Dooley.

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Your Turn

Have you experienced the dark side of God’s love? Or maybe are you now? Will you trust Him to give you what you need instead of what you want? Come share your thoughts on the trial you do not want, but somehow God knows you need. We want to hear from you! ~ Devotionals Daily

Adam B. Dooley

Adam Dooley and his wife, Heather, along with three sons and two daughters, live in Jackson, TN. He is the pastor of Englewood Baptist Church (ebcjackson.org) and the founder of A Better Way Ministries (adamdooley.org). His greatest passion is helping others apply the timeless truths of Scripture to our contemporary culture. Adam has degrees from Clear Creek Baptist Bible College (BA) and The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (MDiv; Ph.D). Follow him @adambdooley.

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