When Love Doesn’t Look the Way We Expect


It’s been a long day. Towards the end of it, when the sun shone bright and slanted across the rooftops, Lucy and I went outside with her new bubble wand. She chased breathlessly after each small flock of bubbles, and we watched as one spectacular little sphere rose high above the houses, so high that we could only see it by the double glint in its walls. When the two tiny points disappeared, we knew it was gone.

Tonight I am settled deep in the couch, curled, having just read about one magnificent soul whose time here is almost done. I know little about Kara Tippetts, but I do know that many are watching her life-light fade into the high distance, and that when the last flicker goes out here it will be indomitably ignited in the presence of the Lord of all. [Edited to note: Kara passed away yesterday afternoon.]

I was thinking of something else when I read that news. I was looking over an old draft about Mary, the mother of Jesus, and how she was greeted by Gabriel with these words:

Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you! (Lk. 1:28, ESV)

And again, so that there might be no mistake:

Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. (1:30)

So much stretches out in front of Mary in that moment. When that greeting reached her ears, she did not yet know that Joseph would not live to see Jesus begin his ministry. Joseph — whose first instinct was to protect her from shame, even when all evidence seemed to point to her unfaithfulness (Mt. 1:19). Her husband would not be with her as she saw what happened to the son they raised. And she did not see then how the sword would pierce her soul (Lk. 2:35) when her firstborn was brutally beaten and flung on a cross naked, to suffer completely out of her reach. But she was greeted as one who had found favor with God.

She found favor with God, but he did not spare her these things.

She found favor with God, and he did not spare her these things.

How can there be no discord between those two facts? My fingers tighten with the anguish of knowing wives who have lost their husbands without warning and parents who were made to watch the suffering of their children before they died.

If God is sovereign over all that happens, and he is perfect Love personified (I John 4:8), then either the love he shows toward his favored ones is something completely foreign to our notion of it, or —

Or in these moments of deep suffering, he sees beyond what we see.

I once read an article, published shortly after The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother was released, about parents of terminally ill children: “Dragon parents.” It is still a wrenchingly difficult read. But I remember what Emily Rapp wrote about her son: “He can watch television if he wants to; he can have pudding and cheesecake for every meal. …The only task here is to love, and we tell him we love him, not caring that he doesn’t understand the words.” Reading this makes me want to scoop my children up and cuddle them over spontaneous cups of cocoa and surprise cookies. (And I do.)

I would likely do what Rapp did, every day, if I knew my children’s lives were as brief as hers — but so far, it seems I am to plan for their adulthood. And so we do things that limit the present joys of our children: we take them to the dentist, we interrupt play time and decree a nap, and we discipline them for unkind actions toward others.

What we do changes so much based on our projected scope of their lives: 3 years, 93 years. God’s scope is eternity.

Can it be so inconceivable, then, that the outworking of his love in my life would include things of which I can now see no point but pain and in which I can see no tenderness?

And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. (Heb. 11:32-38)

No, the favor of God is no guarantee of bodily safety. What happens to those who earn it is senseless — but only if this is the end of the story, and nothing at all beyond.

If those favored by him receive the things we now dread, then someday even their bleakest battlegrounds will come to light as something more than they seemed. Some of it can be seen here; all of it will be made plain when Time is no more.

In that day, we will see that Love never failed them, never contradicted Himself; we will see instead what Love allowed because he planned for them a far greater joy.

And of death — the fear and sorrow of which now shadows our living — even death:

“If you knew what he knows about death you would clap your listless hands.”
– George Macdonald, Unspoken Sermons.