When God Takes Away: Fear vs. Truth

“When are you going to get this fixed?” my husband asked as he picked up my cell phone and started at the three spider web cracks in the screen protector, framed by two oblong bubbles. “I guess I am just so used to them that don’t even notice them anymore,” I replied with a shrug.

            From broken screens to smudges on my eyeglasses to made up stories in my head, I can become accustomed to a wide range of perspectives that are not ideal. As with the fiberglass cover on my phone, I eventually stop noticing at all. This is why I am excited about Lent this year. The story of Zechariah reacquaints me a with few, old cracks in my perception of God, and challenges me to get curious about them.  

            One way of reading Zechariah’s story is that God hands an innocent, elderly priest a big, unfair consequence because he did not have enough faith. When the angel Gabriel tells Zechariah, he will be unable to speak because he doubted the angel’s wild message, I am tempted to speed read to another part of the story. I want to continue on as normal like I do with my cell phone, because the truth is that this part of the story makes me angry. It feeds one of my beliefs about God that is deeply ingrained but not helpful: God expects us to have perfect faith.  

            But what if there is another way to read this story?

            For me, Lent is about giving up the box I build around God. The limitations I place on Him. The ways I make God fit into my understanding of how the world works. Beliefs about him that are not really true. So, I come to the story of Zechariah with a shift in perspective: “How can I find what I know to be true about God, instead of what I fear is true about Him, in this story?” I fear God expects my faith to be flawless, but I know God loves our honest questions. After all, why would God want me to pretend I believe something when He knows my heart better than I do?

            When I get caught up in the vision in my head of Gabriel pointing a shaming finger at Zechariah, I miss the game-changing statement Gabriel makes next: “but my words will be fulfilled at their proper time.” Here lies the truth about God. He accepts Zechariah’s doubt, and nothing changes about the way he sees Zechariah or what He is going to do for him. God could move on to the next guy. He could go search for a Yes-man who won’t ask his angels any questions. He could also say something like, “Maybe after you suffer in silence, you’ll believe in me. Then we can talk again.” But he does none of these.

            When I cling to the truth of a God who loves our honest questions, I like to imagine a quick conversation between Gabriel and God that goes something like this:

            Gabriel (freaking out): What do I do now? He doesn’t believe me!

            God (lovingly reassuring): It’s ok, we can work with this. Zechariah’s my guy, no matter what. I know who he is and I chose him. Nothing in my plan changes just because he asked an honest question. In fact, I will use his doubt to help him and others.

            Maybe God really does not expect our faith to be flawless after all.

If you are still stuck on the fact that Zechariah’s voice is taken away just because he asks a question, me too. In next week’s post, we will dive into that one.

 

When God Takes Away: A Lenten Wilderness Journey

All the elderly man did was ask a reasonable question: “How can I be sure?”

            It is a question deeply embedded in my heart too. As the rule-following, planning type who is afraid to make mistakes, I crave certainty. Sometimes, like Zechariah, I ask God how I can know for sure.  More often, I set out to look for signs to confirm what has already been spoken to my soul. I make up my own criteria to test God. If the plane tickets are that price, then God wants me to take the trip. If the puppy that becomes available is a boy, then he is meant for our family. If that verse pops up in my life again soon, then I will know God is really speaking.

            Zechariah was a married, childless priest near the end of his life when the angel Gabriel visited him to give him the message that he would become a father in his old age. Who can blame him for wanting more assurance about something that seemed impossible? 

            Yet Gabriel responds to Zechariah’s inquiry with a biblical phrase that makes me cringe. He says, “Since you didn’t believe, you will be silent and unable to speak until the child is born.” Since you didn’t believe. I hate this. I really do. The thought of God taking away an old priest’s voice just because he wanted more proof wrecks my heart. Everything in me screams in defense of poor Zechariah; I am inclined to label God as angry, unfair and completely unrealistic. I want to protest the punishment and throw up my hands in defeat under the premise that I will never have the amount of faith God expects.

            But, when I let these feelings move through me, and stay with the story, they clear the way for new questions.

·      How can I find what I know to be true about God, instead of what I fear to be true about Him, in this story?

·      What if stories like these are less about God’s punishment and more about God’s promises?

·      What do we do with the uncomfortable reality that God both gives and takes away?

            These three questions inspire me during this Lenten season. They nudge me to fast from my inclination to put God in a familiar box. They challenge me to give up allowing my fears about the way He responds to our doubts and mistakes color the way I interpret hard stories like Zechariah’s and the events of my own life. Over the next 40 days, I will set out into the wilderness with these three questions in this group of posts titled When God Takes Away.

            Will you join me? You can read posts here on the blog, sign up to receive email posts here or follow along on Instagram @hollybpennington.

How I Am Learning to Listen to Myself

Hi friends,

 

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Hi friends!

Welcome to my new space! 

It's been ready for a while but it's been, well, waiting. Hanging in the waiting, hovering with questions of when and how and why. 

But today seems like the day. Over at one of my favorite online spots, The Art of Simple, I'm sharing my story of "stopping with the experts" and it's a fitting launchpad for my new website. Welcome to hollypennington.com where I'll share words and art about learning to trust your true self - the divine, mysterious part of you that is God's design but gets buried in worldly stuff like busyness and "shoulds" and, well, books, podcasts and experts like I write about in, "How I am Learning to Listen to Myself" over at The Art of Simple.

I hope you enjoy it and welcome to the journey!