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  • Writer's pictureMary Nolte

The Death of Gods

Updated: Apr 28, 2023

Steady Rain, Surging Storm

Part 2

Tragedy has a way of casting us into a world of contradiction.

In the months that followed Shiloh’s death, I wrote pages and pages in my journal that spoke of this contradiction. The months and years stretched before us, and the hope I had felt at her grave gave way to doubt at times. We walked along a precipice of grief, stumbling, while the warmth of the sun continued to shine all around us. Life went on whether we wanted it to or not.

I could feel the hollow of it. I could hear the sucking vacuum of life continuing on past my grief, and it felt as if we were the only ones who remembered.

Christmas came just two short months after our daughter died, and as we mucked our way through the festivities, our seven year old broke down and cried. Our two year old searched for his sister, his playmate, the one who had been his constant companion, and eventually acquiesced to playing by himself. Our oldest daughter would barely eat. We blamed ourselves, replaying that day over and over in our minds. My husband returned to work, and we fought about it. Grief was like a shadow over our lives. Even in moments when we attempted to laugh, it was there, constantly reminding us that she was missing, gone, never to return to this earth. My mind could not comprehend the whole of it. How many times a day did I think of her? How often did I glance at her picture? There was not a place I could go to escape grief. But there was a place I could go to escape hopelessness. It was not a physical place, but a spiritual one. I longed to dwell there continually, but the flesh was weak. It doggedly dragged me back to the shadow of existence, and I had to constantly take my thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ in order to survive (2 Cor. 10:5).

Reading my journal is like reading a war story- missions failed, strongholds breached, battles won and lost.

I was in a battle with the beliefs I had held my entire life. I had thought in my obedience that I would be spared the worst of the pain that this world could dish out. Wasn’t that a promise somewhere in God’s word? Wasn’t that one of the things that brought people into this faith, the promise of living in peace and joy? But I had experienced something horrible, and I wondered, “ How is God going to keep His promises to me now?” He had allowed something that would surely strip me of peace and joy, and it felt like an utter contradiction, a contradiction that God could not come back from.

And it was in this world of contradiction that I found myself wrestling with God, for I did not understand how to reconcile the God of love I knew with the pain I was in.

I had a pastor and good friend ask me why I was afraid to ask God the hard questions. I didn’t think I should question God. I thought that obedience was only acceptable without questions. Then the picture of Christ’s night in the Garden of Gethsemane came to mind, and I realized that Jesus Himself had wrestled with God. In tears and great agony, He had asked that the cross pass from him, that he not be asked to bear it. And after that wrestling He was strengthened to take up what God had given him, and he willingly took on a most cruel and violent death for me. The Christ of God was not spared from the worst pain this world could dish out. Why did I, as His follower, think I would be? So I wrestled and I asked, not in an accusatory way, as if God were not good and kind, but in an attempt to understand. Like Martha at the death of her brother, Lazarus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Isn’t this so? Jesus then reminds Martha that He is the resurrection. He is life. And as the God of all comfort comforts her and as the Lord of love draws near, Martha can exclaim, in the midst of her sorrow, “I believe.”

For it is in those times of wrestling that another death happens.

When great sorrow comes to your life, you either run towards God, or you walk away from Him, because you come to see that some of the expectations you had of God are not God at all. The picture you hold up of God in your mind’s eye is distorted by mere humanity and sinful desire. In asking God the hard questions, He answered with more of Himself- more patience, more goodness, more comfort, more love. And as that happened, I realized God is not the fairy god-mother, turning my rags to riches. He was not a genie, granting my every wish. He was all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good, eternal.

And He would not stand idly by as I replaced Him with a lesser version, a god who somehow did not have the power to save the dying, a god who did not have the goodness to care.

What I found was a God who had created a world exactly like the one I was longing for, a perfect creation without suffering and death. But sin had corrupted that world when, in rebellion to God, humanity had turned to its first idols and attempted to make gods of themselves. And amazingly, even after that rebellion, that treachery, God had sent the cure for sin and given the promise of one day restoring that perfect world that I longed for. But we live in the in-between time of those two perfect worlds, the already- not yet, as theologians like to call it. God has already given the cure and told us the end that we might look forward to that hope, but we are not yet there. Both His goodness and His power were evident in the cross. Goodness that took on death for me. Power that overcame that death. And as I meditated on these truths, God became more glorious than ever before. As I basked in the glory of God, the things I thought I had to have, the things I thought were necessary for peace and joy, faded in the brilliance, and on the battlefield lay the idols I no longer needed.

God used my suffering as a sword to slay the idols of my heart.

And it was a good thing, because your idols will not survive the storms of affliction. They will not outlast the dark night of sorrow. If you hold onto an idol you thought was god in the midst of your deep pain, you will walk away from it and declare as Nietzsche did that, “God is dead.” But God is not dead! We have replaced Him with an idol that is impotent in the face of our suffering (Ps. 115:4-8). And as we cling to this idol, we cannot conceive of the true God. When you are in the valley, the idol shadows Him. You cannot see the light of His presence or feel the warmth of His goodness, and so many come to the conclusion that a good and holy and powerful God cannot exist in the same realm as my pain.

This sorrow and His love do not coincide in my mind, and it is an equation that seems to have no solution except Nietzsche’s most popular notion that God doesn’t exist.

I am telling you to ask the hard questions, just as my pastor told me to. But you better be ready for the answer, for just as He never told Job the “why” but instead gave Job more of Himself (Job 38-41), so you will probably never know the why. “Why did I go through this great sorrow?” But He will give you a depth of Himself that you did not have before. God answered Job out of a whirlwind and questioned him about the foundations of the earth, the boundaries of the ocean, the source of light, the mysteries of the clustering of the stars. “Job, this is the God you serve. And before this crushing grief you could not conceive of Me.” But now? Now you will be able to say with Job, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you” (Job 42:5). God is not afraid of your questions, just as He was not afraid of mine.

And in answer, I received a comfort that knew no end and a love that went deeper than my sorrow, for it was in the gospel that the answer came, as it always does.

For at the cross both sorrow and love spilled from the lifeblood of Christ. Sorrow that sin had corrupted His beautiful creation and that we would be subject to the curse of it, that the pain of it would crush us at times. Love that engulfed the curse, leaving in ruins the enemy’s plans and flooding the heart with hope in a future of eternal joy. As Isaac Watts wrote,

See from His head, His hands, His feet, Sorrow and love flow mingled down! Did e’er such love and sorrow meet, Or thorns compose so rich a crown?

At the cross is where sorrow met absolute, perfect love. And it was enough. For even though I didn’t know all the “why’s”, I didn’t have to know, because I knew the One who knew all things, and it was enough.

He is enough.


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