What do we learn of God in the darkest experiences of our lives?
Is it true that we only really come to understand faith through the darkest moments of our life? That our knowledge of God is made real precisely when we are in the disaster of a marriage on the rocks, a bereavement that was unexpected or the shattering news of an illness that is here to stay?
That appears to be the view of pastor Eric Elnes in his new book http://www.giftsofthedarkwood.com/. I have not read his book and I am not sure if I want to – so I may be doing him an injustice. I have only read reviews, including this one by controversial church founder and author Christian Piatt. Here is an extract:
Sometimes it takes a journey into darkness, even deep darkness, to finally awaken to the smallness of our success-based world. Sometimes you need to lose your way in order to discover the grandeur, mystery, and freedom of the world that awaits you. Sometimes, even, you need to step away from the security of your boat onto the stormy sea of your own awakening to discover that a sinking stone is a far firmer foundation than you have imagined. There’s no firmer foundation than the awareness of being grasped and upheld by a strong hand at the very moment when you thought all was lost.
I agree with this. In fact If it wasn’t for the most difficult and hurtful life experiences we could never TRULY understand courage, valour, sacrificial love, true persistence, our own lack of faith, and God’s ability to hold on to us. What I find difficult is the author’s apparent argument that we should openly embrace these experiences; that failure, loss, emptiness, uncertainty are “gifts from God” to help us discover true insight, awakening, and God himself.
I also believe that we can learn much about God in the joyful arrival of a child or a simple walk in the hills, and the intricacies of this created world. Life brings us both types of experiences. Both have value in helping us form a true image of our God.
Let me turn to a classic book (and one I actually have read and heartily recommend) – the late Gerard Hughes; God of Surprises. Hughes deals with similar topics but in a balanced manner. Commenting on life’s adversities Hughes states:
Our God is the God of surprises who, in the darkness and tears of things breaks down our false images and securities. This in-breaking can feel to us like disintegration but it is the disintegration of the ear of wheat. If it does not die to bring new life, it will shrivel away on its own.
Let me know what you think.
Chris Goswami is Director of Marketing for a Silicon Valley based company and a Minister In Training in the UK Baptist Church. His personal site is www.7minutes.net.