Around seven years ago, I plunged headfirst into the depths. I was clinically depressed, dealing with becoming a mom of three boys in sixteen months, and reeling from culture shock after a move to Peru. And those were the easy things. I could feel God ripping through me, seemingly day after day. Every time a layer was peeled away and a lesson was learned, I thought I would have a chance to come up for air. I begged God for mercy, but I only seemed to sink deeper, drowning.
There was a song that discovered me one Sunday, when the artist (JJ Heller) sang in the morning worship service. I remember little else that she sang, but one line of a song hammered me and became my heartbeat for the proceeding years. “Be gentle with me, Jesus, as you tear me apart.”
For the next five years, I sat in this place, in pain but believing that God had a purpose in it. Now, a year and change out of the hole and with a deep gratefulness for the season that tore me apart, I am still contemplating God’s gentleness.
Suffering is inevitable. It has many causes, and it touches every person that breathes (John 16:33). Some suffering is born of our sinful choices—there are inescapable consequences to our actions and inactions. Much of our suffering is caused by the choices of others, like the loss of my friend Andrea’s toddler, gone because of the decision of a driver that should not have been on the road. At other times, God Himself directly chooses to allow us to be sifted. He did it to Job (Job 1:12); He did it to Peter (Luke 22:31-32). He tells us that we too will be given seasons of trials and testing not in spite of our faith but because of it (James 1:2-4). Whether God has placed us in a season of pain or our suffering is a result of our fallen world, we can be assured that nothing can happen to us that has not first gone through His hand.
So where is this “gentleness “of God? The gentleness of God is found in His purposes. He never allows pain without an intention. In fact, when Satan asked to sift Peter, he asked to sift all of the disciples. (In Luke 22:31-32, that first “you” is plural in Greek and refers to all of the disciples, not just to Peter. The second “you” is singular and indicates that Christ prayed for Simon Peter in particular.) God only gave Satan access to one, the one who would become the Rock of the soon-to-be established church, the strong, impulsive leader who needed to understand grace by having an experience of complete failure and subsequent restoration.
Sinclair B. Ferguson wrote in A Heart for God, “We may think that severity (as God leads His children) is inconsistent with what we know of God’s gentleness and compassion. But that is because we do not appreciate how seriously God loves us, and how determined He is that we should have His best, even if it means pain.” We can be certain that God is not into the business of inflicting pain for the sake of causing pain. He wounds so that He may heal (Job 5:18). He cuts away at our pride to replace it with a spirit of humility (Ps 51:10, Heb 12:6). He chisels away at our heart of stone in order to give us a heart of flesh (Ez 36:26). Even in our discipline, it is His kindness that leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4). He only allows as much pain as needed to transform us. I prayed for mercy all those years ago. Now, I realize that the very things I was hoping to be delivered from, in His mercy, God was delivering me to. And I am thankful.