Ralph, a family friend since before I was born, sent me an excerpt from a book he’s reading called The Art of Pastoring by David Hansen. He knows a lot of my story, particularly the part of the story that we’ve been living for the past six months or so. Between Zeke’s epilepsy/autism, losing our church, and then losing my job, our family has really been through the meat grinder. I have often been left scratching my head, wondering where, exactly, God has gone to. Had I done something wrong? Had I veered off course while he kept going? Had I unknowingly broken his will and sinned? I didn’t think so. But I still had no explanation for why I felt so Godforsaken.

Then Ralph sent me this excerpt. It has been a long time since I have so deeply resonated with something.

To understand Godforsakenness we must rehearse briefly what has been said [earlier in the chapter] about call. Initially we hear God calling us to ministry, and we make covenant with him to follow the trail toward pastoral ministry. We undergo a process of preparation, sometimes rigorous and difficult. In it we learn to listen to Scripture, to listen to a person and to listen to God. At ordination the church formally recognizes our call and blesses us with the power of the Holy Spirit through the laying on of hands. We begin our ministry, and we encounter many things. We work hard and have some successes and some failures. We find through difficult experiences that we have been made for this work. Our hearts are filled with compassion for people, love for the gospel and endurance for the painful parts of the job. We feel God at work in us.

Then one day, for unknown reasons, God just isn’t there anymore. The Presence that has guided and strengthened is gone. Our covenant with God feels broken and void. The Scriptures stop comforting. Every page condemns! We continue to read out of obedience, but the Word becomes the letter that kills.

Pastoral skills become worthless.

The church is no longer a warm, nurturing environment where friends gather. The church expels us from the secure womb. Evil rages against us. The boundaries of the church are not walls keeping evil out but a boxing ring keeping evil in, so that it can come back and strike us again and again and again. We can’t run.

I’m up a tree. High, far out on a fragile limb I cling. I climbed out there because God said that he wanted me there and that he would be with me. Now the limb is cracking off the trunk. God isn’t there anymore.

The picture changes like a dream. I am not out on a limb, but strapped to a tree. I am hanging from a tree. I am dying on a tree.

Pinched in God’s vise [an image he used while discussing how to make flies for fly-fishing], dangling helpless, I am made into the bait of God. But for whom?

Nobody pretty wants me now. The world wants winners. Nothing succeeds like success. Look good to attract the good-looking. Die to attract the dying. Suffer to know the being of suffering. Cry out to know Jesus’ crying out. Hear the blood of the innocents screaming; searing pain rises from blood-soaked dirt.

Only now am I a parable of Jesus Christ. [He said earlier that Jesus is a parable of God–that just as parables describe something visible so that we can understand something invisible, so Jesus becomes a parable of God. But then we become parables of Jesus, showing others what’s invisible (Jesus) in our own visible lives/stories.]

Jesus cried out, on the cross, “Eli! Eli! lema sabachthani!” This means, “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me,” and is a direct quote of Psalm 22. I don’t think he was just quoting Scripture for fun, or to fulfill prophecy. I believe that Jesus cried out in guttural anguish, and the first words that came to his mind were the first words of this dark psalm. The Son of God was Godforsaken in his most desperate hour.

If I am to become like Jesus, then doesn’t it follow that I must also become Godforsaken? If Jesus was the visible description of the invisible God (a living parable), and now is invisible himself, then that leaves it to us to become parables of Jesus. We must become the visible descriptions of the invisible Lord, and in order to fully incarnate this reality, we must suffer. We must, like Jesus, become Godforsaken.

God forsakes us, not because we’ve sinned or left his will, but precisely as an act of his will, in order to bring us into fuller empathy for and identification with his son. It is for this reason that we must learn to embrace our exile, to press into the Godforsaken present in which we find ourselves in these dark days. There is no use in trying to get things back to where they were before. The important thing is to face the current reality with courage and faithfulness, so that we can say to Jesus on that day, insofar as such a thing is possible, “I understand.”

For more thoughts on this topic, check out the post A Suffering Participation.

Wednesday night I was out with my 2-year-old son Zeke trying to take care of some work-related stuff. I love this little guy! He’s curious, relentless, and fearless. He also has a speech delay, as well as some other developmental delays, that have prevented him from talking and doing other age-appropriate activities. On top of that, he’s started having seizures in the past few months, which means he’s been diagnosed with epilepsy. It’s a terrifying thing to watch your young child seize up, lose control of his body, and struggle to take breaths. Zeke disappears deep into himself during his seizures. I look into his eyes and I don’t see anyone there.

Before Wednesday night, he’d had four seizures, two of which I have seen in person. As we were walking into the store together, I noticed that he wasn’t acting like himself. He was quiet, tired, and cranky. He seemed to have trouble focusing, like his head kept moving, involuntarily, over his left shoulder. His left eye began to twitch, and I saw the emptiness in those big brown eyes. This was a seizure, mild in comparison to his other ones, but the first one without mommy around.

YogurtFor the third time in ten days, we wound up in the ER at Children’s Hospital. The seizure had ended by the time we arrived, and his energy and vitality slowly came back to him. He was himself again in about an hour.

I don’t know why this seizure happened. He had his regular dose of medication. It started in a familiar environment – our van. I have no explanation, which means, I guess, that a seizure could grip him at any time. This reality fills me, as it would any parent, with deep anxiety. What if it happens again and no one’s around to help him? Why didn’t the medicine work? Are the seizures related to his developmental delays? Will he ever be “typical”?

On the other hand, as Breena and I were driving Zeke home from the ER that night, we were both filled with tremendous faith. Despite the seizure, we both were seeing signs of progress with his speech and overall development. We believe that God will heal Zeke. We believe that God is healing Zeke. We don’t know when this healing process will be done. We don’t know how it’s all going to shake out. But we hope and believe that God is working, and will continue to work, a miracle in Zeke’s life.

Believing this, and saying it publicly, fills me with a sense of vulnerability. I can’t control whether or not Zeke has another seizure. There is no surgical procedure, that I know of, that will fix his developmental delay. He’s either going to grow out of it, or he’s not. God will either heal him in this life, or we’ll all have to wait, as so many people do, for the resurrection. Obviously, my wife and I are believing God for the former.

NbG3vWGQO-The nakedness of faith is that we put everything on the line for Jesus and let him decide how he’ll come through for us in the end. Faith demands that we let go of control, that we throw ourselves onto the person of Jesus Christ in complete desperation of soul. It’s him, and nothing else. (Of course we’re still giving Zeke his medicine, but we understand that the medicine isn’t actually healing his brain or aiding the developmental process, it’s just keeping his seizures at bay. Sometimes.)This kind of faith makes me feel exposed, like in those dreams when I show up to school naked. (Yes, I still have those dreams, it’s just that the context is different now.) To trust God for something, whether it’s your son’s healing or your own salvation, requires you to take a stand. This faith demands that you forsake all other avenues of rescue, and lean solely into the object of your faith – to believe, as it were, without the aid of a safety net.

I can’t control whether or not Zeke has another seizure or choose the day he’ll start speaking clearly. Neither can I manipulate God into making his seizures and developmental delays go away. All I can do is trust that Jesus is King, and that no matter what happens, he loves me, he loves Zeke, and in the end we’re going to be a part of his eternal and infinite reign. This has a strange way of making me feel both vulnerable and secure. I have nowhere to hide, and yet I can hide myself in Christ. I have no other clothes to wear, and yet I can put on faith like a garment. I believe, and I believe nakedly.


I had an epiphany a while back. Some of the leaders of Ember Church were gathered in our backyard, praying for one another, and it came to me: One of the reasons that Ember Church exists is so that people can learn to find Jesus in the shit of life. While I won’t claim that as a “word from the Lord” (for obvious reasons), it immediately struck me as true. That’s not going to become our mission statement, nor will you see it on any t-shirts, but it has really resonated with me and the leaders of our community.

Life isn’t fair. Sometimes life doesn’t simply hand you lemons, it hands you big, steaming pile of shit and says, in its best Ron Burgundy voice, “Deal with it.” The authors of the Bible, especially of Job, Ecclesiastes, and many of the psalms, understood this reality well.

Of course, it’s human nature to lament the injustice of life. I’m a good person, so why did I wind up with [cancer] [a cheating spouse] [a child with autism]? And there’s never an answer to this question. It’s almost as though the heavens are mocking us, replying in a booming baritone, “Deal with it.”

So we live through these difficult circumstances with a sense of God-forsakenness. We throw up our arms in exasperation and cry out, “God left me! I don’t know what I did to drive him away, but clearly he’s not going to bless me now. He must not want me anymore!” We instinctually believe that God and the shit cannot coexist. We are wrong.


Ask yourself a question: What is the essence of my prayers? For many of us, myself included, our basic prayer is this: Lord, please take this away. Whether it’s a sickness, a trial, or some other kind of obstacle, our basic message to God is essentially, “Make this stop.” We want our lives to be shit-free, and we look to God to be the one to clean it all up.

If that’s your most common prayer, you shouldn’t feel guilty. You’re not alone. The apostle Paul prayed that same prayer to God. Three times he cried out to God for some affliction (unknown to us now) to be removed. Heck, even Jesus prayed the night before his crucifixion, “If it’s possible, let this cup be taken from me.”

Unfortunately, God’s answer to both Paul and his Son was a resounding, “No.” But it was a “No” with a reason. For Paul it was so that God’s power could be made perfect in that man’s weakness. For Jesus it was so that all the world could be saved from sin, death, and the powers of hell.

Now back to our prayers. What if, when we ask God to take our trials away, he is saying back to us, “No, I’m not going to take this away or make it stop, because this is where you’ll find me.” What if what God really wants us to learn in this life is that he can be found in the shit? Where else would we expect to find the God who was homeless, broke, and sentenced to die as a criminal but in the muck and mire – the total shit – of our lives?

You don’t have to get all fixed up to find God; God got completely broken in order to find you. Nobody knows rejection and suffering better than Jesus. Nobody bore the weight of evil, sin, and death more heavily than Jesus. His life was harder than yours. His death was more excruciating than yours will be. Jesus didn’t step out of heaven and into some Roman palace in order to live the most opulent lifestyle available at the time. He came out of a woman’s womb, grew up as a blue-collar handyman in a tiny corner of the world that lived under oppressive, foreign rule. In his hour of greatest need, all his closest friends either betrayed him or abandoned him. And as he died on the cross, he suffered the judgment of God the Father, the one with whom he had had perfect, harmonious communion from eternity past.

Jesus knows what the shit looks like, smells like, and feels like. Jesus is in the shit.


Your trials and diseases and crappy circumstances are not a sign of your God-forsakenness. Instead, they’re the signal that God is near at hand, that he can be found here, and that he understands. Your circumstances don’t need to change in order for you to draw close to God, just your attitude.

Whatever it is that you’re going through, Jesus is with you. You can turn to him, right now, and he will be by your side. I would even go so far as to say that it’s easier to find him when life sucks than when everything is going great, if only we would humble ourselves enough to speak his name.

God’s not looking down from heaven, arms folded and brow furrowed, watching while you wallow in the crap of life, exclaiming with divine self-satisfaction, “Deal with it!” No, he’s down here with us, feet and clothes covered in shit, his hand on our shoulder and a look of infinite empathy and reassurance on his face, speaking tenderly, “I’m here, too.”

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