The Lord Taketh Away and… Giveth?

The other day I saw someone’s status on Facebook, and it read:

God will never take something away from you without the intention of replacing it with something better!

I had to read it twice before I was assured that THAT is what they truly wrote.

Now, far be it from me to judge someone else’s perspective on who God is and how God acts in this world. I’m very aware of my own quirks when it comes to God’s posture towards humankind, and how God acts (or doesn’t act) in accordance. Eyes would roll and pitchforks raise (causing heads to roll) at some of MY thoughts on this issue. So I comment on the above statement carefully, not intending to make the original author feel small or crazy.

But here’s my problem with this line of thinking.

This statement makes the following assumptions:

  • That God is active in the removal of “things” from our life
  • That God not only removes things by God’s own action, but that God does so with a greater purpose
  • That this purpose is noble and good and will lead to the betterment of the person who had this thing removed
  • That we are decent enough judges of what is “better,” so that we can know (or at least say) that “B” is better than what I had, which was “A”
  • That God only removes something with a plan to replace it

While some of these assumptions may have merit, I cannot buy in to all of them, and I don’t think you should either. My fear is that this line of thinking will inevitably end in disappointment or disenfranchisement. I suppose it isn’t overly  harmful to believe that God is active enough in our lives to possibly play a part in “taking something away.” This assumption, while probably needing clarified, is decent enough. God, as the Benevolent One, who knows and loves us like a Father knows and loves their children, surely might work in our lives in such a way as to add OR remove certain things in our lives.

However, does this mean that if something is “taken away” from us (which begs the question: what does this MEAN? A material object? A job? A relationship? An addiction? A temptation? A personality trait? An emotion or feeling? What are we talking about here?), then must we assume it is because God either did it directly or influenced it somehow?  And how can we discern when it’s GOD taking something away, or when it’s a result of some other force? (Or do we embrace some sort of deterministic worldview where everything that ever happens to anybody is already determined and caused and controlled by God? *shudder… No thank you). So then, if perhaps SOMETIMES something is taken away by God, and other times not, then how do we know when we ought wait expectedly for “something better?” And is the counter-point to this line of thinking that when something is taken away by a force OTHER than God, then there ought be no expectation of it being replaced with something better? Again I ask, how do we discern?

Furthermore, let’s say that I have “thing A” in my life, and I am able to clearly and with certainty know that it is gone from my life because God took it away. And let’s say that I have enough objectivity to step back and assess that such a thing has happened (namely, that God has taken “thing A” away from me). Then I ask you this: how will I know WHEN  it has officially been replaced with “thing B?” What if “thing B” is categorically different than “thing A?” Can we adequately judge the goodness of things if they are in different categories altogether? Let me illustrate what I’m getting at…

Todd and his girlfriend Stacey just broke up. Todd, a dedicated follower of Jesus, has prayerfully discerned (and possibly told by his youth pastor) that God must have thought it was better for him to no longer be dating Stacey. God has taken her away from him. Some of his Christian friends tell him the above words of encouragement: “Todd, dude, God will never take something away without the intention of replacing it with something better! So have faith, bro!” As weeks and months go by, Todd starts to get curious about when this promise will come true. Will it be Judy from geometry? Or perhaps Hillary from Home Ec? But what if, in this scenario, God’s entire “plan” was take away Todd’s girlfriend and replace that lack of relationship with an inner sense of peace and security?  Helping Todd to move in to a state where he can know that just being a child of God is enough. That being single will allow him to focus on other (better?) things. And so after a few months, with no new girlfriend, Todd concludes that God doesn’t, in fact, want him to have a girlfriend at all. After sharing this insight with his youth group friends they say back to him, “well there you go, Todd! That’s the “something better” that God was intending to replace Stacey with!” Todd nods in agreement, and they all sing a worship song together. But when Monday comes, and Edith from English class asks Todd out, he then smiles and realizes that THIS is what God was REALLY up to the whole time. Because as everyone in 7th grade knows, Edith is way better than Stacey!

I guess I just think that we would be better off not living in the sort of simplistic formula as described above. It will inevitably lead to disappointment, frustration, and feeling like God owes us something every time a thing that we like gets “taken away.” And life surely doesn’t work that way, so we end up feeling like God has abandoned us. Or another fear I have is that we might miss out on the blessing in our life if we are focused on “thing A” being replaced by something categorically similar. What if (assuming that God has done the taking) God really does have a purpose for the taking and is planning to re-fill that gap with something that is much more beneficial to the one experiencing the loss, but the plan involves something of an entirely different nature? If we don’t broaden or deepen the way we think about such things, we could go on and on in life completely missing the blessings of God.

A final issue I take with this saying, is that if we move from our time of loss straight to an expectation of gain, then we completely miss out on truly grasping with our loss. We skip over experiencing the trauma of such a loss. We lose an opportunity to essentially participate in the crucifixion, and cry out “My God my God, why have you forsaken me?” But since I’m going to be giving a talk on Friday about this exact issue, I’ll say no more about it now. Hopefully I can get the talk recorded, and I’ll upload it here.

Perhaps, in the end, I might amend the original Facebook status as thus:

If we lose something in life that was dear to us, and we are sincerely led to believe that God was involved in the process of initiating or directing this loss, then let us choose to first engage with that loss. Experience it. Know it. Let it stare at us in the depths of our soul and let us not move on to quickly. But when we do, when we begin to move from crucifixion to a time of resurrection, then let us begin to believe that no matter what comes next, whether or not what we initially lost will ever be replaced, that we will be better because we engaged with Christ and participated in his crucifixion and are now living in his resurrection. And that, ultimately, is life.

Kinda long for a pithy FB status, though.