Over eight years later I can still pout about it. Giving up our water garden. I was pretty put out with God for asking me to give up something so good and so beautiful. I was also considerably hesitant to follow through when I knew He was telling me to fill it in. Aren’t we like that when we’re asked to let go of something we love? Hesitant at best, and sometimes downright defiant.
Sure, I see His reasons now. As a matter of fact, I wrote a previous post about it. But at the time I saw no reason for His request. No reason to take away something that brought joy and didn’t hurt anyone. All I saw was a God who wanted to take away.
There’s a verse in Job that comes to mind when I think of a God who takes away. It doesn’t really paint Him in a good light… at least not in my mind.
…”Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart: the Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” (Job 1:21, NIV)
Not one of the uplifting verses we’re drawn to when we need a word of encouragement, is it?
My water garden was uplifting. Its plants and fish and frogs all made me smile. It’s no fun having things taken from us. No fun at all.
Even more unfair is having someone taken from us. Having someone move thousands of miles away. Having someone incarcerated. Having someone disappear. Having someone die. Taking away hurts, God. Why do you do it?
There’s a song by Casting Crowns called “Praise You in this Storm”. Based on the lyrics I’m guessing that the writers have experienced some “taking away” in their lives.
I was sure by now
God, You would have reached down
and wiped our tears away, stepped in and saved the day.
but once again, I say, “Amen” and it’s still raining.
But as the thunder rolls
I barely hear You whisper through the rain, “I’m with you.”
And as Your mercy falls I’ll raise my hands
and praise the God who gives, and takes away.
The God who takes away. He can seem pretty cold and uncaring if we look at Him in that light. It’s not always easy for me to raise my hands and praise Him during those times. The God who takes away. Who wants to serve a God who takes away?
Then I heard the song again, and I heard its lyrics in light of someone I was praying for. I was asking for emotional healing for a friend struggling with something unbearable. I asked God to take away the source of the pain; praying to the God who takes away. I was relying on God to do something only He could do… something I had been angry with Him for doing earlier. Taking away.
I thought more about that verse and its wording; about what Job said about God. He’s the God who takes away, but He’s also the God who gives. God is all about making exchanges. That’s really what redemption is. He takes something away, something that isn’t worth much, and He exchanges it for something precious. The exchange requires taking away first, before the giving can take place.
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion – to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor. (Isaiah 61:1-3, NIV)
Those are some pretty impressive exchanges. Beauty for ashes. Joy for mourning. Praise for despair. I’ll take those trades any day.
Why all the talk about a God who takes away? Last year God seemed to be in full-blown take-away mode. Our community lost so many wonderful people, many of whom left this earth at awfully young ages. I also experienced a couple of “take-away” anniversaries recently. In January, 1996, God took my dad. In January, 2011, God took a very dear friend from me and all her former co-workers at KXJK-KBFC radio. Sometimes on those dates in January I want to shake my fist in the face of the God who takes away.
How selfish of me. How utterly selfish.
God took away, alright. He took pain and suffering from my dad and my friends. He removed the awful effects that cancer, heart disease, and other illnesses had wracked their bodies with. He took emotional pain and suffering, too. And He made some beautiful exchanges. He exchanged suffering for praising. He exchanged pain for joy. Forgive my selfish soul for ever having begrudged that.
The sadness of missing a water garden can’t begin to compare with the sorrow that still sometimes comes from not having my dad and my friends here anymore. But I’ll always have my memories. I’ll always be thankful for that. And I’ll forever be grateful for a God who takes away.