Wrestling in the Dark (Refiner’s Fire, Pt 29)

NOTE: This is part 29 of the “Refiner’s Fire” series, now available as a book from Amazon and other retailers. To read it on the blog, go to the Matthew series and scroll down for the “Refiner’s Fire” section at the bottom.

I was a strange child, given to deep thoughts and existential insomnia. I remember one night on my grandparents’ farm when I was trying to sleep, but my mind had been gripped with a question so disturbing I couldn’t damp it down or move past it.

I think I was about eight years old. I got up and went to sit on the side of the bathtub in the bathroom, because it helps to turn lights on when you’re wrestling through an existential crisis, and I couldn’t turn the lights on in my room because my sisters were asleep. And besides, if the adults saw the lights on in there late at night I would probably get in trouble.

My question was this: If God knew that Adam was going to sin, and he created him anyway, didn’t that mean God had created sin?

This disturbed me deeply because somehow, even at that age and despite being raised in a loving and protected home, I knew that sin was dark and devastating and that it hurt people. If God had created sin, it seemed to make him responsible for all of that. And if God is responsible for darkness and devastation and hurting people, how can we possibly trust him?

I wanted to trust God. I wanted to know him and follow him. But in that hour sitting on the side of the bathtub in the middle of the night in rural Ontario, I just didn’t know if I could.

To skip to the point, I didn’t manage to figure out the question of God and sin and Adam. But I did wrestle back to the point of trust, and now, looking back, I’m sure it was the Holy Spirit who spoke to me and got me through. Here’s what I saw that night:

I don’t know the answer to this question, but I do know that if God’s answer to sin was to become a man and suffer through all of our pain with us, then he can be trusted. Anyone who would respond to sin by seeking us out and allowing sin to hurt him too is someone whose heart I can trust.

I figured I would understand the rest someday. (I still hope that I will.) But I’ve never moved past that answer. I don’t know how it all works. I don’t know why God made the choices he did. But if God really did take on human flesh, if he really did make himself vulnerable and cold and poor, if he really did allow himself to be rejected and constantly misunderstood and slandered, if he really did volunteer to be stripped and beaten and crucified—and if he really did do all of this in order to suffer with us and love us and ultimately rescue us—then I can trust him.

Someone whose heart looks like Jesus has demonstrated love enough for me to trust him, even if I don’t have every other piece of the puzzle yet.

The resurrection is important, of course, for many other reasons that I don’t fully understand either. (There is a lot I don’t fully understand.) But one of the reasons it’s most important is what it says about Jesus’s heart and all the things he did before the resurrection.

If the resurrection really happened, as every bit of historical evidence insists it did, it vindicates everything Jesus said about himself. It means God really was with him. It means his teachings and his claims really were true. And it means his death really meant what he said it meant.

Religious teachers can make a lot of claims. They can do a lot of good works, they can be convincing and persuasive and inspiring, they can sometimes do things we can’t explain, and unfortunately, they can fake a lot if they are that kind of leader. But they can’t raise themselves from the dead. If Jesus truly did come back from the grave, alive, healthy, healed, and full of the Holy Spirit, then we can and we must take everything he said seriously.

Perhaps most of all, we must take the cross seriously. In a very real sense, the answers are all in the cross. Just as the resurrection answers our philosophical and scientific questions through its occurrence in real history, so it is the cross that gives answers to our personal, relational, and theological questions.

The cross was the answer for John the Baptist. It was the missing piece that made sense of all the prophecy and caused everything to fit, in a way that was completely unexpected and ran counter to all the best theories of biblical scholars. And in the same way, as we look back on the cross, we can see—if not the answers to our questions, at least the promise that the answer exists and that in time, it too will come.

The cross means we can trust Jesus, that if we suffer, he is in our sufferings. It means that he meets us in our weakness and brokenness and yes, even in our doubts. It is here, in the darkness, that he defeats the darkness. In the cross, Jesus fulfilled and expanded every promise made to the human race—subversively and counterintuitively, he defeated death, forgave sin, and redeemed the captives through the freely given sacrifice of himself.

Many have said that Jesus died to appease the Father somehow, as though the Father was vindictive and angry and had to be satisfied by blood. That view sees Jesus as offering himself as a sacrifice to the Father—and there is some truth to that.

But even more, Jesus offered himself to us. In the ancient Hebrew sacrificial system, the people who bought the sacrifices also ate of those sacrifices. The sacrifices expressed worship to God but also fed and sanctified the people and brought them into fellowship with God.

So it is with Jesus. He entered our pain and hunger and gave himself freely to meet our needs, not because of anger or vindication but because “God so loved the world.” This is my body, broken for you, Jesus said. Take, eat.

To be continued …


This is Part 186 in a series on the Gospel of Matthew, which you can access here. Unless otherwise marked, quotes are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible.


Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash




One response to “Wrestling in the Dark (Refiner’s Fire, Pt 29)”

  1. […] Part 187: Wrestling in the Dark (Refiner’s Fire, Pt 29) (Matthew 11:1-19) […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *