Never in my life had I imagined it was possible to feel so shattered. No doubt there are people who have suffered far worse but I was reeling as if I had been emotionally brutalized and traumatized beyond description.|
It had all been academic but my university studies on the subject had rammed home how ridiculous most movies are in portraying someone finally being rescued as the happy ending of a grisly ordeal. For the police and an entertainment-crazed audience it might be the end, but for the victim it is merely the opening scene in a grievously prolonged saga that might, years later, eventually end in something akin to recovery. Maybe you would have coped better but, for me, what I had just endured was an emotional bloodbath so harrowing that I felt I had every right to expect nightmares about this ordeal to plague my sleep for the rest of my life.
I’m embarrassed about being in worse shape since this latest demonic encounter than after witnessing my Lord’s humiliation and torment. Perhaps it flashes in neon lights how self-obsessed I am, but to doctor the truth to make me look better would make me an infinitely greater failure. All of heaven would see me as a liar. The alternative to being ruthlessly honest in this account is to humiliate myself not before a few thousand readers but before my eternal Judge. I do not have to be Einstein to know that is incomparably worse.
I am even clueless as to why this latest attack floored me even more than previous attacks. Was it the cumulative effect of it all? I have heard ordinary folks speak of a “delayed reaction” in reference to experiences that send one’s emotions convulsing in shock. I had no idea as to whether that was relevant. All I knew was that right now it seemed that my ability to cope with life was dangling by a thread.
Feeling so stupefied and helpless was disturbing enough but having no idea if my mental stability would ever return to normality teetered between worrying and terrifying. And to complete the ruination, finding myself reduced to nothing but a hollowed-out shell of a person convinced me that I was not only useless but a total failure. Aren’t Christians meant to always feel on top and in control, with a zest for life? If they are, I was a failure not just because I had withered to a state where the simplest task seemed beyond me, but I was the worst kind of failure – a spiritual failure. I had sunk too low to see the gaping holes in that fallacy.
You might yet again be disappointed with me; thinking I should be exalting in my triumph instead of languishing in exhausted despair. Perhaps I should be reading your book, not vice versa, or perhaps you would less cocky had you been forced into my shoes. Anyhow, I’ll press on with this account.
I recalled how, beyond anything I had ever known, that amazing spider bite had perked me up. My need was far greater now. Certain that this was what I so desperately needed, I ensured that I truly believed God would provide one. With this faith now coursing through my spiritual veins, I passionately prayed for a spider like the one God had graciously sent me in the forest.
None appeared. I waited. Nothing happened. I vaguely recalled some of the many Scriptures about waiting upon the Lord. Minutes crawled as if on broken glass. I waited and waited.
Where was God? “This is no time to play hide and seek!” I told him defiantly. Still nothing.
So I decided to pray a second time. Not a spider in sight, despite my great need.
I recalled that when desperate, both Jesus and the apostle Paul, prayed three times. Mustering even more faith, I prayed again. Nothing happened. Then I remembered that when Jesus prayed three times in the garden and when Paul prayed three times for the removal of the thorn, neither of them had their prayers answered. My annoyance grew.
Eventually, I recalled Elijah on Mount Carmel after his phenomenal contest with the prophets of Baal. Though hopelessly outnumbered (I have since confirmed that the exact number was an astonishing four hundred and fifty to one), and after all the false prophets’ frantic efforts had failed abysmally, Elijah’s prayer had been spectacularly answered with lightning out of a blue sky landing on the exact spot and bursting into flames the water-soaked carcasses. With faith that must now have been as high as the moon, Elijah immediately prayed for the breaking of the drought. Nothing happened. Undeterred, he prayed again. Still nothing. He prayed a third time. Still nothing. This, perhaps greatest of all prophets other than our Lord, had to pray not three, not four, not five but seven times before a speck of a cloud appeared on the horizon.
So I kept on and on, praying for a spider. Still no spider. Where is God when you need him? Of all the times for God to let me down! Just when I needed help more than ever before, he’s gone on vacation!
Of course, I was not even close to pushing God out of my life but, as you might have gathered, I was not in the best of moods. I had started off feeling as low as I thought I could ever get and now I was even lower.
When I had grown too exhausted to be quite so peeved, the thought came, What if God has beaten me to it and has already provided what I need in this garden?
I instantly rejected the ridiculous notion. I had every right to be mad at God. There was no denying that I had done all that praying and believing and despite my great need, God had turned a deaf ear. Any fool knows that! I told myself.
Out of nowhere came the thought, Only a fool knows that, but that was just my smartass brain messing with me – wasn’t it?
I reverted to languishing on the ground, not bothering even to open my eyes. Time dragged on; every torturous moment compounding by despair.
Eventually I recalled that this garden had seemed to have curative qualities. If ever I’ve needed healing from shock, it’s now. Forcing open my eyes, I looked in dazed despair at the once-glorious garden. Not a thing about it had changed and yet everything had changed.
Having nothing better to do, I staggered to my feet and laboriously trudged, as if what had once been a carpet fit for the grandest king had degenerated into deep sewerage. I tried to absorb the beauty around me. With a toxic cocktail of anger and depression clouding into a noxious smog smothering my senses, it was quite a battle. I breathed deeply, trying to savor the fragrances. I let my mind float with the melodic calls of the birds. I still felt gutted but maybe slightly better.
As I plodded on I looked at my hand and made the surprise discovery that despite all I had gone through I was still clutching that cup. I peered inside. It looked as if I had not spilt a drop. How weird!
I suddenly felt famished. What an outrageous time to feel hungry! I sniffed the thick, nectar-like contents and was seized by a peculiar compulsion to fling caution to the wind and scoff down the contents. I had only just commenced when, noting how rich it tasted, I quickly modified my plan and settled for a sip. I immediately felt myself physically reviving, although my spirits remained abysmally low.
Almost oblivious to my surroundings, I slunk past a bush and sensed something peculiar. I was so down that almost all curiosity had drained from me but there turned out to be just enough of it sloshing in the bottom of my tank for me to move a couple of paces and then slump onto the carpet. In just that short distance, leaves that had previously seemed to be reaching out to me were now facing away from me. As I languished there, my suspicions that had first begun with other bushes were slowly confirmed. Were the leaves moving at a barely discernible rate? After about ninety seconds, they ended up pointing towards me. It was preposterous but I seemed to feel something radiating from the leaves that somehow lifted my spirits. In a place of stunning beauty there was nothing about the leaves visually that would account for it.
It had been incremental but by now there was no denying that I was feeling markedly better through the accumulative effect of this garden. I began to marvel at how I had somehow managed to conclude that the infinite Lord had no other option than a spider. As I pondered it, I found myself in awe of my own stupidity.
Despite knowing that God declares in his Word (several times, in fact) that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, I had railed against the Perfect One; exposing myself as a fool who had not so much as begun the steep road to the wisdom that Scripture insists is so important.
The gist of parts of Isaiah pierced my mind. I’ve looked it up so that I can cite them more precisely but my recollection at the time was close enough to stab me: “All who are incensed against you will surely be ashamed and disgraced,” (Isaiah 41:11) and “all who rage against him [God] shall be put to shame,” (Isaiah 45:24).
I had long been well aware that it is appallingly common for today’s Christians to abuse God’s extraordinary patience by treating the Supreme Lord of the universe flippantly; acting as though the one who judges our eternal destiny is worthy of little more fearful respect than the most formidable human authority. And yet here was I, having shamed myself with an impertinent outburst against the incomprehensibly powerful, terrifyingly holy God.
By disrespecting the Almighty, I who had prided myself on being so smart and having way above average Bible knowledge had, by the Bible’s own definition, not so much as begun the long journey to wisdom.
I plunged into an analysis of what had led me to show such disrespect. I emerged with the conclusion that behind my foolishness was doubting God’s loving wisdom. When the chips were down, I had failed God by failing to maintain the belief that the good Lord always has our best interest at heart – infinitely more than we do – and that he ceaselessly devotes all of his infinite intellect to bringing this about. I had disgraced myself by forgetting that God is not only my all-powerful Judge (which should have been enough to temper my outburst) but is always good and always right and so always worthy of my highest respect.
Have you ever felt driven to scratch an itch that keeps getting itchier every time it is scratched? I’ve already used this analogy but I cannot come up with a better way to describe how I was beginning to feel about this topic. On and on I went.
I saw with chilling clarity that anyone unafraid of showing disrespect for the Almighty’s wisdom ends up showing all of heaven the depth of his own folly. “Before they call, I will answer,” says Isaiah 65:24. I cringed in shame that the one who is “able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20) truly had beaten me to it and provided in this garden all I needed, even at the very time he was not answering my pitifully short-sighted prayers for a spider.
I was coming almost to enjoy beating myself up over my failure. It was pushing me to meditate on profound spiritual truth and I was even making new discoveries. And I deserved to be severely chastised. And perhaps succumbing to morbid lamentations would impress on my mind the gravity of my blunder so that I never do it again. It all felt so right.
But I had followed similar paths far too often not to know where they lead. If I kept on being hard on myself, instead of it making me more determined never again to make similar mistakes, I would sink into depression and then despair and finally defeatism. What chance of victory does anyone have who keeps seeing himself as a hopeless loser? With, as Scripture says, the supernatural enemy of our souls on the prowl like a lion stalking its prey, it is too dangerous to let oneself be vulnerable even for a moment.
We instinctively shrink from anyone we suspect might be mad at us or disappointed with us. So letting myself think God might feel this way about me is that I would inevitably, though perhaps unconsciously, drive me to keep at least slightly distant from my Shepherd and only protector. That would be a huge mistake, when God warns in his Word that a superhuman beast of prey is lurking ready to pounce when least expected. To counter this, I desperately needed to embrace both my Lord’s forgiveness and his victory. That would do more than flood me with joy. Being certain of his loving forgiveness would remind me that he feels warmly towards me. This would safeguard me by keeping me feeling drawn to my Protector. And awareness of his victory on my behalf on the cross would keep me realizing how empowered I am by him.
Thankfully, driven by bitter past experience, I had preemptively memorized certain pertinent Scriptures. Having found them to be powerful antidotes to the deceiver’s attempts to infect me with one of his deadly strains of condemnation and/or defeatism, I was determined not to lose them again. Before slumping any further, I needed to dose myself up immediately. Here’s what I keep in my spiritual medicine cabinet, as I remembered them (I wasn’t too good at recalling the exact chapter and verse, but it was truth, not numbers that I most needed):
Micah 7:8 Rejoice not against me, O my enemy: when I fall, I shall arise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord shall be a light unto me.
Somewhere in Proverbs: for though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again . . .
From Psalms: Many are the afflictions of the righteous: but the Lord delivers him out of them all.
Again from Psalms: The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD: and he delights in his way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the LORD upholds him with his hand. (Emphasis mine.)
To this I added two other snippets, not quite as well memorized:
From somewhere in Psalms: “those whose strength is in you . . . go from strength to strength”.
And from one of Paul’s epistles, something about being more than conquerors through him who loved us.
I needed to dwell on those Scripture for a while but that re-focus pulled me back from the cliff edge.
Have you seen a movie where someone is alone and wounded and his survival hinges on the hero performing surgery on himself without anesthetic? Sometimes, praising God can almost seem that hard, and (though we too rarely think of it in these terms) that heroic.
I began thanking God for delivering me from those evil beings. I recoiled in horror at the thought of ever again having to face anything remotely like what I had just suffered. Nevertheless, I had escaped. Even when I was too numb and terrified to hear God’s whispers, he must still have been giving me wisdom despite me feeling unforgivable and it seeming he had left me. If he could save me when things seemed so hopeless, he can save anyone in any situation. All it takes is to keep clinging to him. So I praised him for that.
Despite praise being such a hard slog and initially seeming useless, I kept forcing myself. I praised my wonderful Lord that he had been with me and given me revelation and tactics for spiritual warfare, even when I had been too torn up to feel his presence. I thanked him for what he taught me with those ‘sparklers.’ That experience had proved critical in this latest victory. My praise was not nearly as eloquent as in that forest but I kept persisting anyhow. Eventually, I began to notice it lifting me until, to my surprise, praise turned out in some ways still more healing than anything in this garden had been.
I marveled to realize that not only had I not needed that spider bite, my greatest need was miracles accessed not by special plants but through praise. Despite sometimes seeming perplexingly irksome, praise remains within our grasp anytime, anywhere. It felt strangely satisfying to know that even in this medicinal garden, the most powerful means of recovery was something available to every earthbound human.
Suddenly, I welled up with shame over having left praise until now. Anyone can praise after deliverance. That takes no faith and achieves little. How much easier would my battle have been had I kept praising God while it seemed he had left me?
I concluded that magnifying God in my mind needs to be top priority. And no more so than when fiendishly clever beings are trying to shrink my view of God until I even begin to doubt the Almighty’s ability to save. I had needed, like never before, to build up my faith in my Savior; expanding my awareness of the greatness of his faithfulness, his eagerness to forgive, his power to save and his love for even his enemies, by continually praising him for having these attributes. I had previously learned in this very garden that praise sensitizes us to spiritual reality and builds our faith and is the too-often neglected element in successful spiritual warfare. I was appalled to realize that never had I so much needed the spiritual benefits of praising God and yet in the confusion of the battle I had lost all awareness of its critical importance.
I decided that it is when we least feel like praising that we most need to praise. We particularly need the power of praise during hard times but unless we work on entrenching praise as a habit during easy times, this powerful weapon will probably slip from our grasp when we most need it.
In my latest battle I had praised so little but escaped anyhow. Once again, my gracious Lord had rescued me despite me failing to do what he had taught me. I sensed he had been merciful because I was still learning but that there is a strict limit to how much laziness God will allow without dire consequences. Our Lord loves us too much to let us squander our spiritual potential. If we do not learn the easy way, there is a more memorable way to learn.
I was now certain that faith is not about feeling positive or feeling God’s presence. Faith is not about feelings but simply holding on to Christ when doubts rage like tsunamis, and everything within us screams that God has abandoned us and that all is lost forever.
I didn’t feel fully restored but forcing myself to praise God had done so much. It even revived my curiosity and ability to appreciate this garden. I walked with a new spring in my step. In a while, as I glided past a quite different type of bush, the sweetest perfume caressed my senses, so captivating me that I seemed almost to lose the ability to think. I stopped, closed my eyes and breathed deeply through my nostrils, savoring the fragrance. I felt transported. Never, have I known a scent to have such an effect. In fact, nothing else has ever touched me this way.
The aroma seemed to permeate every cell of my body; calming, refreshing and invigorating me beyond my sweetest fantasies. Time seemed to vanish as I stood there entranced. It was as if every care – even cares I had no idea I had – drifted away like stains lazily dissolving in warm, soapy water, leaving everything pristine. My mind floated to a place of calm it had never known. Even my hyperactive curiosity that had once been ramped to the max by the incessant stimulation of exotic worlds, stilled to a deathlike quiet that was strangely comforting.
Even as I write, I not only flood with a special peace as I re-live the moment, I’m inspired to lift my faith. I wince as I wonder how much we miss out on, just because we settle for the mundane rather than look in faith to God for the extraordinary when we need it. We don’t have to leave our planet for the Unstoppable Lord’s to become the one who “is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us.”
It hit me with new force that divine miracles happen because God is omnipotent, not because the people performing, receiving or witnessing them are omnipotent. Likewise, what matters with miracles is not whether we are special but only that God is special. As our frailties do not undermine the Unstoppable Lord’s power, neither does our being ordinary nullify his ability to do the extraordinary in and through us. He does not even need our faith, though he pines for it, just like he aches for our love, despite him being able to survive without it. I cannot speak for you, but I know I need to lift my game when it comes to expecting great things from the great God who has made our very bodies his home.
I have no idea how long I was lost in this exquisitely refreshing sensation of peace, but eventually, like someone who had feasted on the finest cuisine until he could eat no more, I again became aware of my surroundings.
There can be no denying that I cannot find words sufficiently vast, reverent, otherworldly and superior to describe what that bush did to me. Nevertheless, the truth remains that as priceless and staggering and spectacular as that experience was, combined with all the other healing wonders in this special place, it was still my labored attempt at praise that delivered the greatest healing.
My trial, however, was far too short for me to be any kind of role model. If people I admire, and whom all of heaven cheers had, as it were, to endure interminable years climbing terrifying mountains in blizzards, all I have faced is a lump in my mattress. No matter how much we praise and how powerful and critical it is for a breakthrough, trials are often agonizingly prolonged. Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” refused to budge, not only despite the great man of faith praying three times, but despite him loving and praising God, affirming that his Lord’s grace is sufficient. There was no miraculous deliverance. The oppressive trial dragged on and on. The proof of great faith is revealed not by the deliverance, nor the shortness of the trial, but by how long we keep holding on despite all the misery.
While continuing to throw open every one of my senses to all the healing properties this garden seemed to ooze, I resumed my walk and my contemplations.
On thinking back to those insidiously deceptive angels, I noted how although with other angels there had been a hint of femininity, with these it was ever so slightly accentuated. It was also barely detectable but there seemed a degree of sensuality about them that was not present with other angels. My blood pressure rose at the realization that their elevated femininity and sensuality seemed carefully calculated to be subtle enough to slip under my defenses without triggering an alarm.
My mind slumped into wondering if I really had accepted worship and lusted after those evil beings. I was deeply grieved over that possibility but were all those accusations merely bluff? At the time I had thought I was still dazed and working out what I should do. Did those beings reveal their true identity so quickly because they sensed I was about to reject it all? I truly do not know.
On thinking back, it seemed that the very presence of those insidiously deceptive beings somehow affected my thinking. Never having taken alcohol or illicit drugs, I can only guess their effect. Mentally, however, I had felt a bit akin to what I would imagine it might be like being a little high on dope.
I sighed in contentment, however, that I do not have to waste my life agonizing over trying to ascertain the extent of my guilt. Like every believer, I had no need to try to justify myself because Christ justifies me. He treats me as innocent, not because my sins are somehow excusable, but because the scope of his forgiveness is inexhaustible.
I was not for a moment slipping into the delusion that sin does not matter. I recalled once hearing of a pirate who killed a man. It upset him so much that he could not sleep for days. He kept killing, however, and reached the point where he could murder someone, use the corpse as a pillow and sleep soundly all night. That, I feared, is how numb to sin we humans have become through having been continually surrounded by sin and committing countless thousands of them since before we even knew the difference between right and wrong. Our sin-hardened hearts are in total contrast to the holiness of God. He is absolute moral perfection and has lost none of his acute sensitivity to sin. Though kicking and screaming all the way, I felt compelled to the conclusion that any sin that to me seems so inconsequential that I dismiss it as nothing must shock and appall and devastate and infuriate him.
Not only is God’s holiness terrifying, I mused, so is his love. If a teen I cared little about, ruined his future by not studying, I would be unconcerned, but I surmised that if that teen had been my child, it would stir me profoundly. The extent of our love for someone determines how much that person’s actions affect us. Surely the infinity of God’s love drives him to see the ‘least’ of us as a priceless, living, feeling masterpiece that he has emotionally invested his entire being into creating and sustaining. The ‘least’ of us is the darling of his heart, the irreplaceable work of art whose perfection and astounding potential is ruined when we commit the ‘tiniest’ sin. (I feel the compulsion to use quotes because the Infinite Lord sees none of us, nor any of our sins, as being of lesser significance.) Moreover, almost always, our sin not only ruins us, but hurts another human – someone who means more to our Savior than his own life. If, as hardened as ‘earthlings’ are, the most sensitive, love-filled mother could be unmoved while a sadist tortures her darling child, there might be the remotest possibility that the God of love could tolerate the ‘smallest’ sin.
Still recovering from the most vicious spiritual attack I had ever known, I needed no reminding that sin matters. It grieves my Lord. It tormented my Savior to the extreme of death. Upon analyzing the horrendous guilt I had so recently felt, I realized that the ghastly feeling was manipulated by evil in a monstrous attempt to seduce me into doubting God’s forgiveness. Nonetheless, I concluded that it was a mere shadow of the real magnitude of the ‘smallest’ sin. Like never before, I found myself rejoicing that no sin, no matter how gross or repeated, need keep anyone from God. All that it takes is to regret our misdeeds enough to be willing to be freed from them and to ask Jesus to save us from our sin.
But do I actually want him to save me? No matter how strongly I am attracted to sin, that attraction is merely temptation. Nevertheless, no matter how much I love a particular sin or try to sugarcoat or excuse it, the wages of any sin is death. Regardless of how ‘small’ I fool myself into thinking it is, any sin I do not want God to save me from has the power to banish me eternally from God’s presence.
A chill ripped through me at the realization that the sins each of us love are just as spiritually deadly as the sins we hate. Did I want Jesus to rescue me from my favorite sin or did I prefer to stay in my sin? Did I have the audacity to expect the Holy One to have suffered on the cross so that I could keep on sinning with impunity? Did I really think he was tortured to death so that I could willfully continue my suicidal commitment to keep on sinning and suffer the eternal consequences?
Regardless of how much I might kid myself otherwise, to not want Jesus to rescue me from the pet sin I want to hold on to, is to not want Jesus to be my Savior. As I pondered the terrifying implications, not even my exquisite surroundings stopped my heart from thumping.
Although I would have expected this entire subject to be depressing, it felt liberating, even exhilarating. It was like shining a light on a dark, hauntingly scary corridor and the mere presence of the light suddenly banished all fear. It was like no longer having to skulk through life hiding from the truth; no longer being burdened by an oppressive guilty secret; no longer having to pretend to be someone I wasn’t. It was like confessing something horrific, and instead of the expected condemnation, finding warm acceptance. I could not have felt more liberated if I had finally stared down a bully that had hounded me all my life and saw him flee.
My academic knowledge of trauma now seemed far too shallow. My studies had been enough, however, to make it clear it was ridiculously too soon to know the long-term effects of my recent trauma. Symptoms could take weeks or longer to manifest themselves. Additionally, other than pathetically superficial possibilities, such as being a temporary distraction, I could think of no reason why trying to gain God’s perspective on sin should aid healing. Nevertheless, it seemed to me as if it were speeding my recovery. In fact, my mind (or was it my spiritual discernment?) seemed unusually sharp.
So, while continuing to do all I could to draw upon all the healing benefits of my glorious surroundings, I prayerfully let my mind play with this matter. My nagging fear of boring you compels me to maim this by pruning it to a bare outline, but at the time it seemed the most fascinating and important subject in all creation.
Suppose I were in a burning building that is about to explode. If I were foolish enough to love being there so much that I refuse to be dragged to safety, obviously I would go up in flames when it explodes. The thought emerged that this must be how it is with the God who longs to save each of us from the sin that will destroy us. If we love our sin so much that we refuse to let God save us from it, then we are in the gravest of all dangers. God loves and respects us so much that he will abide by our decision, even though our refusal to let him drag us from our sin will break his heart, as well as destroy us when it all explodes.
I tussled with such questions as: if the Lord offered me a life in which temptation remains as agonizingly strong as ever but I could never again have access to sin to satisfy my craving for it, would I choose such a life or would I choose to continue having access to sin? If I would choose sin rather than my Holy Savior, then no matter how much I deceive myself into telling myself I am godly, wouldn’t I be rejecting his salvation and serving sin rather than God? Would it mean God is not my God; sin is? To genuinely want the holy Lord as my Savior, must I be willing to let God save me not just from the sins I hate, but from the sins I love; not just from the nasty aspects of sin but from the seemingly desirable aspects of sin?
I decided that no matter how attractive and ‘necessary’ the deceiver might make sin seem, I genuinely want God to rip it out of my life, and I am willing to endure whatever temporary pain and feeling of loss that entails. For divine forgiveness, I don’t have to prove myself by doing anything – that would be works. All that the God who knows my heart asks is for my permission. That way, God saving me from my favorite sins is an act of love, not some form of abuse in which he forces himself on me against my will. God is love, not an abuser of his unlimited power.
Then, erupting from the depths of my being, a song I had never before known bubbled out of my mouth expressing the wonder of my holy union with God.
I need the Lord, my Maker,
I need the Lord, my Maker,
I need the Lord, my Maker,
The words moved me so deeply that I sang them over and over with ever-increasing awe. How the song came to me was a mystery, let alone why I can still recall it word perfect after all these months.
While I was singing I had such a revelation of the wonder of a union with the divine that, on the one hand, it seemed forbidden, audacious, almost unthinkable, and yet at the same time it felt so right, so mysterious, so transcendent and so sacred.