Some of us have been dealt a pretty crappy hand of cards in this life. Can I just say that right off the bat?!
So many things in this life feel haphazard, unexpected, lacking purpose, and are often terribly painful. Much of what we experience we didn’t even choose and there’s nothing we can do about it. Living with infertility for the past 4 years has taught me this. This isn’t, however, a blog about infertility, but about the paths we find ourselves on, the hand of cards we hold, and how we are able to continue to trust God despite it.
Story-Formed Theology vs. Theology-Formed Stories
A young woman felt called to live in a certain part of the city with her family. She was certain it was God’s will and so she began to pray and look for homes. The search started out with excitement and wonder, knowing that she was on the right path. After 6 solid months of searching, the excitement quickly turned into frustration, then plummeted into anger. What once felt like a calling from God now felt like a delusion of grandeur and I was angry that God had placed a desire in my heart that He never intended to fulfill. I wrestled with two different views about God during this time: He was either cruel and withholding or loving but lacking the power to do anything. Either way my beliefs felt like they began to fail me.
This is story-formed theology.
This young woman was me a few years back. How bizarre for my beliefs about God to completely unravel over trying to find a rental in the city of Portland. At the same time, my sister had just passed away, my husband and I were in marriage counseling, and we were struggling financially. I think the lack of a home in the city may have been the straw that broke my “theological” camel’s back. God eventually blessed us with a home beyond what we imagined, but the process was painful. I had to do a lot of repenting afterwards.
This situation revealed to me that my view of God was contingent upon the view of myself and the world. My world had gotten much more painful over those last few years before the move. Without even realizing, my understanding of God became overshadowed by my circumstances. I felt very small and completely powerless. So in turn, God became small and powerless. How did I eventually move forward and continue to trust God? I leaned harder into biblical truth. I didn’t ignore my emotions, I just didn’t let them enslave me. Scripture is very clear on who God is and what He is about. When I began to plunge deeper into God’s Word, a few things happened (and didn’t happen).
My heart began to soften. After so much pain, we automatically go into self-protection mode. This mode makes it very hard to receive anything, especially love.
My situation DID NOT change. Let me say that again: it didn’t change one bit. We were still in marriage counseling, struggling financially, and my sister was still with Jesus.
God showed up. He always does. This time in the form of a loving community that supported and encouraged me during this time. Those same people eventually helped us move into our new house!
Why Start With Theology?
Let’s start with a simple definition:
Theology is the study of the nature of God and religious beliefs.
I want to camp on the word “nature” for a bit. “Nature” ultimately means the inherent character of something, or it’s essence. When we study theology, we are studying God’s nature, the way He ultimately functions. We can learn about God’s nature through the study of Scripture and reading great theologians (for example, I highly recommend Knowledge of the Holy by A.W. Tozer). God’s character is not hidden from us. We are able to know and interact with God because of what Jesus did for us on the cross. We have access to Him. That’s pretty amazing! What’s even more amazing is that we can look to Jesus Christ as the greatest revelation of God’s character. This trinitarian God (3-in-one) is willing to give His life for us in order that we might be freed from our sinful nature that leads to death and live eternally in glory with Him. This is why we start with theology: because we get to start with Jesus!
Where Are You?
A few questions to consider to help you discover where you are at on the spectrum of story-formed-theology or theology-formed story:
Who is God?
What has He done?
Who has He made me to be?
What am I to do?
These questions are a great place to recognize how we see our stories: Are my beliefs based more on what I can see and feel or what I believe to be true based on Scripture? And does my story reflect that? It’s important to know where we are starting from. I am guessing that many of us dangle around the middle somewhere. We desire to believe and yet we are constantly feeling the tension of what we are actually experiencing (God, I believe. Help my unbelief!). When we do find our beliefs about God taking precedent over our situations, something beautiful happens:
And I am not talking about some wimpy hope that skips around in a pink tutu picking lilies and laughing joyfully at her problems as if they don’t affect her. No, I am talking about a hope that is suited up for battle, confident in the outcome, high-fiving her comrades in arms. Her eyes are hard-set on the target and there’s no flinching when the battle gets rough. A hope that drives us forward and produces steadfastness. That’s the hope I’m talking about.
“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:1-4)
The hope we have does not put us to shame because God’s plan from the beginning was to claim us and pour out His spirit on us. We are chosen and loved by God and therefore can endure the path we’re on and play the cards we have.
This is theology forming our story.
This is your belief in God dictating the way you see and live your story. So how do we trust in God’s plan even when it hurts? We trust in God first by understanding WHO He is and WHAT He has done for us. This then forms our beliefs about WHO we are and WHAT we are called to do.
We are than able fix our eyes on our beliefs and not on our barriers. I may be entering into our fifth year of battling infertility but I can say with all my heart that God is good and He has plans for me in this life that are good.
Know the Word by Heart
Since knowing and understanding Scripture is what draws us deeper into knowing God and His character, I encourage you to join the Hidden Word Community as we memorize Psalm 145 this fall. This very scripture shows us many facets of God’s character: his good, powerful and loving nature. These beliefs enable us to walk through our stories with resiliency and hope. Scripture memorization can be challenging but but it is part of putting on the armor of God! (Ephesians 6:10-18)