Saturday, June 21, 2014

A Letter of Love

The details of a loved one's life are never tedious.

That's what I found myself thinking as I read a real, handwritten letter from my dad earlier this week.

Letters are so rare, so to find one in my mailbox was a real treat. I remember the days when checking the mail used to be exciting--there might be something in there from a real person. Now, it's mostly advertising junk and the occasional bill that doesn't come electronically. So a real letter from a real person--it almost feels surreal.

I love my dad's handwriting. It implies that he is in a great hurry. The letters slant so far to the right they appear to be running across the page. I feel like I must read quickly before they tumble off the righthand margin. I imagine that he is trying to write as quickly as he thinks. When I handwrite, as I do in my prayer journals, it is in part because I intentionally want to slow down my thoughts and let them take full shape. Handwriting lets me process outside of my own head, often a very good place to be. But I don't sense a slowing in his letter, which is interesting, because his life has very much slowed down from what it used to be.

I hear his voice in the words he uses too. He grew up in a fairly rural area of West Virginia. There are colloquialisms and word choices he uses that are common to no one else I know. ("Kindly," for instance, shows up in unexpected ways.) It's his voice there on that page. When I read it a second time, it's even more his voice.

The content is not anything someone will find in my attic decades from now and use to rebuild important events in human history. He tells me about his day and his health. His breathing was good enough and the temperature cool enough that he sat on the porch for an hour. A simple pleasure he can't always enjoy. The day he made two trips to the grocery, and the friend he saw there. "She looks beautiful," he says. "I always worried she was too tired and thin, but today she looked rested and healthy. I'm glad. I was kindly worried about her." He tells me what he made for dinner, and why--a superfluous bounty of squash had arrived at his door when he was out at the store. He doesn't know who the giver was, but "that was nice of them."

And as I read, I realize these everyday details that I'm not there to live through with him seem so much more valuable because of our distance. And that the details of a loved one's life are never tedious. I want to know.

I don't mean to suggest a litmus test for love. If you grow weary of the same old, same old from someone in your life, I don't mean to suggest that you don't love that person. (Something in the fact that you are there hearing those details, even if you are weary, still suggests love, doesn't it?) But yet, when I notice how precious they are to me, I realize the affection I have for him. It is a gift. I shouldn't take it for granted. So I will keep this rare letter, and maybe one day my daughters will try to decipher the racing letters, and envision an ordinary day in their grandfather's later life, and want to know him more, and actually, by reading it, they will know him more.

I have a friend at church who is often reminding those of us who will listen that God's writings to us are love letters. I love that. A letter of his love from Father God. In the details of my own life, which are many and at times tyrannical in their urgency, I far too often find myself reading that Father's love letters to me with all the affection I might feel reading an instruction manual for changing a lightbulb in the microwave. Looking for the instructions. Trying to meet my grown-up responsibility and check off that one thing for the day. Ugh. Forgetting that these words are what I need, for my good, to know him more, to hear his voice in the pages, to delight in his view of this life and this world and all his great purpose in it.

His fingerprints are all over my life. I know it. He's writing my story into this greater one, and when I shake myself awake from the tyranny of the urgent, there it is: His voice. It's not in the whirlwind of all the requirements of the day. It's not in the fire of other people's expectations and judgments. It's in that still, small, quiet voice, aware of the other turmoil, but holding steady beneath it and above it and speaking to me, like my earthly dad--come into my story, be comforted, be held, know that it's all for a purpose, I have taken care of it, and I'll never let you go. The book isn't a burden. It's a love letter.

And the ember of affection ignites.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

What Makes a Handful?

"You sure have your hands full!" said the older woman in Target, watching me try to corral four independent-thinking and adventurous girls all under the age of 12 a few years ago.

When Miriam turned five, my dear Uncle Sammy spoke truth by declaring, "Now you're officially a HANDFUL!" She always has been. Birthday #5 just made it official.

It's rarely quiet around here. Right now, we have multiple cooking projects going on for a church feast tomorrow. The music blares. If no one is hurt or angry right this moment, just wait a bit. In every room, something is broken, missing, or stained (or all of the above). The socks never match. The Tooth Fairy never comes on time. Bedtimes observed? Ha! Not in the last few years. I've lost about as much of the good silverware as I have left from that registry years ago. I can't name one possession intact that I would call an heirloom, and the bank account is already all committed before even the first of the month has arrived.

Are my hands full?

You bet.

Full of kindness.

What's God's eternal purpose in redemption? Why did he do it, make you and me and all these hand-filling people and then hang with us, pour out himself for us, mess and all?

Ephesians 2: 7 " that in the coming ages (that's all the coming ages, folks, forever) he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus."

His whole plan is to be KIND to us for all eternity. To pour kindness out, immeasurably.

I once did a word study on Kindness, and about the same time heard a sermon which dealt with God's pouring out that kindness from "the hollow of his hand." Kindness has to do with usefulness--the needed things. And God's active hand is meeting all our needs, so if you have it, you must have needed it, and in his kindness, his hands opened up and poured out to you that which is most needed. That's kindness.

By design, I'm a "glass half-full" person. Optimism and positive expectation were my default position for the first two-thirds of my life for sure. But the reality of living broken in such a broken world does eventually have an effect. There has been much reason for grief and mourning, internally, externally, at my own hand and from the hands of others. My own demeanor has changed from one of bouncy, energetic, arms wide open toward heaven in gleeful expectation to one of a more somber mood--my own empty palm extended in the midst of tears and uncertainty, from the knees, or even lower.

But that doesn't change the Source of kindness, or the availability of it.

"Comfort, comfort my people. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended and that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord's hand double for all her sins."

Double from his hands, to my open palm.

Let the crazy rule in this home. Joy runs like a current beneath it all.

Are my hands full?

You bet.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Gospel Coalition, Keller, and Tullian Tchividjian

I'm a little heavy hearted the last couple of days learning about what might be another schism occurring among some of our more respected Christian leaders and a pretty well-trusted organization.

I have a lot of respect for Tim Keller and every Tchividjian I've had the opportunity to meet, read, learn from. Tullian's focus on grace is like cool streams of water in the desert to me. Tim Keller's straight talk has unpacked a lot of gospel for me as well.

I have to admit, I am not knowledgeable enough about the differences being debated to have much of an opinion regarding the reasons for the decision to part ways. I'm a bit saddened by it. But at the same time, I have to remember that nothing is lost in God's economy. He magnifies his name and his purpose in this creation. Even this will work to that end.

Another such separation stands in history as an eventual positive for church growth.

It's at the end of Acts chapter 15.

There came a point when Paul and Barnabas had to go separate ways. Barnabas--the "son of encouragement"--the one who was brave enough to go to Paul in the first place to see if his transformation from persecutor to believer was real. Barnabas brought Paul to the other apostles and presented him as the real deal, threw his optimism and support behind Paul when no one else would. Later, though, a "sharp disagreement" is recorded and the two went separate ways. But the church grew stronger in more places because of their eventual separation than it would have if they had continued to travel and preach together.

Nothing is wasted in God's economy. He will use it. Maybe Keller's crowd NEEDS to hear more about performance and obedience, and Tullian's crowd needs the refreshment of freedom from oppression. Both have a place in this journey of working out our salvation. God knows what he's doing. He will meet all the needs of his communities. But I do hope these two men, and all those working with and supporting them, can just do this well, without slander or hardship or sweeping anything under the rug.

We will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Even when there are disputes and disagreements between brothers. I pray for these men, that their instrumentality won't be lessened because of this, but magnified in spite of it.

After I posted the above, Tullian Tchividjian made some remarks on his own website which are worth reading. I think his comments reflect the "sweet spirit" we all hope to see in one another and in our leaders who are in the public eye. Read Pastor Tullian's letter here: Reflections on My "Break Up" with The Gospel Coalition. 

Friday, May 9, 2014

Who's the Mother?

I wonder when Mother's Day will begin to feel like my day instead of my own mother's day.

I've been a mom almost 15 years now. Fifteen times around the sun. Fifteen times this Sunday in May has come up on the calendar. And 15 times I haven't felt like it's for me, but for her.

She's not here. I bought no Mother's Day cards this year. No minutes turning into hours reading and re-reading and rejecting and re-visting all the super-sentimental poetry and fake memories someone who doesn't know either of us crafted in a cubicle somewhere and passed on to a designer who laid the words out in a swirly script and sent it on for embossing and production. Mass production of heartfelt emotion.

I didn't even visit a store with a card rack this year.

I guess 15 years of parenthood just doesn't ever replace the previous however many decades of being in relationship with a parent, especially a mother. She's the first thing I ever knew.

It's still her day. It's not mine.

And I miss her.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Can a Christian Know True Despair?

Some things should be used rarely and with great discretion. I would say both cilantro and the word "despair" fall into that category.

The Bible seems to agree. Cilantro isn't mentioned even once. (Though its seed, coriander--a vast improvement over the soapy herb--gets two mentions.) And despair--only four times: Twice in the Old Testament and twice in the New.

I was once told by a Christian church leader that "real" believers should never know the condition called despair. (I didn't ask his opinion on cilantro.) The Hebrew word is yaash (pronounced yaw-ASH). It means desperation without any hope. It's as low as you can go. The Greek, which we find in those two New Testament mentions, is exaporeomai (ex-ap-or-EH-om-ahee, if you're brave enough to try it; I just can NOT get the emphasis in the right place). It means the same thing, essentially, though qualified as "utterly at a loss without a way through." No way out.

I think of the Israelites out of Egypt, with their backs up against the impassable Red Sea and the Egyptians bearing down on them. No way out, or so it seems. But is that one of the places in the Old Testament in which we are told someone experienced despair? No. It isn't. Because really, they were not in despair. God was already making a way. He directed them to move forward even though they couldn't see where to go: move toward the sea. That body of water, in his hands, became their deliverance, though they could never have imagined it or done it themselves. Scripture does not record that they felt despair in that situation, even though I expected it might. Perhaps it isn't recorded because in that case, it was not a truthful desciptor.

Three of the four biblical mentions of despair do indeed seem to support my former advisor's position--that those who really believe do not have a personal relationship with utter hopelessness. Let's look at them.

The first occurrence is in 1 Samuel 27:1. David, in the Psalms, certainly shows us that he knows despondency, but what about despair? In this passage, we find him relentlessly pursued by Saul, to the point that he knows Saul will never, never give up until he has David's life. It may seem David is out of options and despair is nipping at his heels, but that's not how the word is applied. David does something that seems pretty unthinkable. He flees Saul, and where does he go? Straight into the camp of his enemies, the Philistines. Remember Goliath, whom the boy David slew? PHIL-IS-TINE. David took out the Lord's enemies' hero, and now, in his desperation to escape his own enemy, he finds the Philistines a safer bet. After all, it was in the killing of their giant that King Saul's heart was turned against David, filled with uncontrollable jealousy and rage that would not relent. David recognizes the full-tilt passion with which Saul desires to destroy him. Saul is nothing short of consumed with intent to annihilate David, and it is Saul who will then know despair as David slips away to the lesser enemy. David's state of persecution is not, to him, a cause for despair. Instead, he says that when Saul can't find him to kill him, it is Saul who will spiral into that state of utter hopelessness. His unsated bloodthirstiness will send him into desperate emptiness, hopelessness.

Score one for my advisor. Under extreme duress, David did not despair. (And by implication, neither should I, right?)

Next we find the word in Ecclesiastes 2:20. Qoheleth is lamenting the ongoing toil of this life and recognizing its futility and frustration. We work and we work and we work, but we can make for ourselves no guarantee that our profits--if any--will move forward in the wisdom and purpose we desire. With his hope set on the work of his own hands, Qoheleth gives his heart over to despair--utter hopelessness. Not even those who work with wisdom, knowledge, and skill can save themselves or redeem their own efforts well, not even one of them, in this life. Outside of the hand of God (9:1) is nothing but despair. But in the hand of God, the only truly wise place to be--a different story altogether. Score two for my advisor.

The third and fourth usages are found in 2 Corinthians, and for the structure of the argument, I'm going to jump ahead to number four first. 2 Corinthians 4:8, Paul, in writing to the troubled church, states that his current state (and possibly theirs as well) is one of perplexity, "but not driven to despair." Things are bad, but still, his hope is in the "surpassing power of God." Sounds like a third point for the argument that real believers persist in faith so that they do not know the actual condition of despair first-hand.

But I would say, because of the last one, that the scriptural evidence is that they do not know despair in these particular circumstances. Because 2 Corinthians 1:8-9 pushes back against that claim that never will a Christian be so deep in the pit that knowledge of despair moves from gnosis (conceptual head-knowledge) to epignosis (personal, relational, intimate knowledge).

"For we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death."

Been there? Paul has. I have. I was told I couldn't. I was told I didn't have enough faith. I was told that no physical circumstance could be bad enough to make a "real believer" feel "utterly burdened beyond [his/her] strength" and "despair of life itself." And here is Paul, the very one chosen by God in a blinding flash of light to take the gospel to the world outside of Judea, an eye-witness to the resurrected Christ, one given a vision in the Spirit of all that is to come, one who knew utter transformation in himself now stating quite specifically that he has also, even in going about the very work assigned directly by God to him, known utter affliction to the point of despair. No way out. None. Death upon him.

And there is validation in that moment. I thought I was a vessel of God's wrath. I thought he had to have abandoned me if I could feel so completely hopeless and trapped and anguished. I thought it meant my faith had not been real if I couldn't hold on to peace and contentment in the midst of suffering. Why do we sunshiny believers feel like we have to push this "happiness doctrine" on one another with such force when here, Paul wants us to know that he, too, has been there? Not only ready to give up, but actually doing so. He was done. Beyond his strength. That was reality.

We don't get to know the specifics of the circumstances Paul experienced but it seems from the text that the cause was conditions outside his own heart. This is not just a spiritual struggle. It was something physical, material, that happened in Asia. Persecution? Betrayal? Illness? All of the above, and then some? It isn't just that he got a little case of spiritual influenza and had to pep-talk himself back into the zeal and fervor he's known for. No, something attacked him, and perhaps his angels were delayed in coming to fight on his behalf, but whatever happened, it broke him. Paul too could break. I did.

But praise be to God, who overcomes. He didn't leave Paul there. He didn't leave me there either. Paul came out of Asia. And in looking back, he can see that God had purpose, and going forward, he can tell the troubled Corinthians that they can take comfort and find peace in his experience for their own. "But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead."

He raises the dead. He reaches those in despair. He gives a way out where there is no way out.

The fact that he does so is not evidence that there was no real reason for despair. On the contrary, the reality of despair is the evidence that we need a GOD outside ourselves to reach into our helpless estate and do what we cannot do for ourselves. "On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us AGAIN."

Beloved, it may not be completely over yet. The sea has parted. The clouds have lifted. The blows have stopped. The path out of Asia has been traveled. But what comes next?

All I know is that "On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again."

For now, may I say that Paul was afflicted so that I, and you, could share in his comfort and salvation? Perhaps I was afflicted so that you can share in my comfort and salvation. And if it comes again, remind me of your own story, and that despair is real. But we rely not on ourselves but on the God who raises the dead.

He is faithful.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Why Ascension Matters

It's Good Friday, and last year, the day hit me with just the reassurance and comfort and grace that I seem to stay hungry for all the time. You can read about that here.

While I have reflected again, especially with the morning's anxieties, on the proof of God's love, this year, I can't stop talking to the girls about the Ascension. I guess it's a new understanding for me, so much more rich and personal than I had realized before, and so I want to talk about it, want them (and you, if you're interested) to glory in it with me.

If you've been reading these Contents for a long time, then you know I've struggled with the physicality of my existence and the spirituality of our faith experience. (Some examples of that ongoing wrestling with longing for the physical, walking by sight: Knowing Face to Face; Crying "Abba! Daddy!"; Waiting for God)

That background about my longing to "have a God with skin on" is important for me in understanding why Jesus had to go away. Why couldn't he stay here, eternally, walking with us on this planet? Wouldn't that be better for us, to be able to find him somewhere, even if it meant we had to use Delta to track him down while he was doing some serious Kingdom Building on another part of this little rock?

That time will come. But for now, for me to know, really know, that I am secure, he had to go away. He had to leave so that I could know my future is sealed.

As a kid and even an adult believer, I typically just thought of the Ascension as the event that marked the reality of Jesus' words on the cross: "It is finished." It's done. He went home. Yes, John tells us that he said he was going to "prepare a place for us," and I believe it. That's cool. I'd like a place prepared. A house with many mansions in it, the shade of my own fig tree. Sounds good. Whatever he's got in mind, I'm sure I'll be content with it. But it is so much more than that--the reason he had to leave us!

Think about what happened just last night, all those years ago, in Gethsemane. He wrestled and writhed under the knowledge of what he was about to take on. We can't even imagine it, because we've been steeped in sin and its damages all our existence. But it had not touched him. Not one inkling of it lived inside him, and he dropped to his knees in a garden--harkening back to the place he first put his beloveds, where they were safe and pure and with him in the beginning--and said, "I'll take it, Father. ALL of it, onto myself." Every lie. Every murder. Every act of adultery. Every short word. Every broken promise. Every theft. Every manipulation. Every violation of justice. Every single time his own honor was rejected, discounted, diminished. Every word of slander. Even every stroke of the hammer that would drive the nails into his own flesh hours later. And all that pain that comes from all those things.

I see it like a never-ending thunderhead, rolling black and violent and oppressive, from all four corners of the Earth and being funneled onto this one beautiful, humble man. I know what it is to be as innocent as I can be, and to be blindsided by a kind of unexpected violence that cut me to my soul--but this is me, a sinful woman already, who has caused hurt and damage. And by comparison, the affliction I have experienced is just momentary. It cannot compare to the volume of evil he took onto himself--the words say "he became"--for us. How did he even bear that moment of taking the sin of the world? How did that in itself not kill him?

While on the cross, having become our sin, his Father had to turn away. He had to. It's who God is. It's how bad sin is. It's what he would have had to do to us if Christ had not been willing to be that man who took it all. It's what we deserve. It's NOT what God left it to be, though. But sin is that bad. A God who is perfect in righteousness cannot be where sin is, and certainly cannot be joined to it in unity. It had to go. On the cross, Jesus was our sin, and God had to turn away or else cease to be God. And he did.

He turned away. Forsook his only Son, whom he loved. For you. For me. For us.
But the story's not over.

After he died, he was taken down and placed in a tomb and it was sealed. Why do we bury people? And why are there rules about that burying? It's about purification. Death breeds impurity--disease, corruption. The dead must be dealt with, and burial allows the process to take care of the impurities. The surface is not made impure by a buried corpse, as it would be if the corpse were left exposed. And that's what Christ's burial is--the purification of all that sin. It is taken into the ground and dealt with. With finality.

But the story's not over. The power comes. The very power of the God who creates. It's the same power to resurrect. He who gives life gives life AGAIN, and he does it for Jesus and he does it for you and he does it for me. Resurrection power, after the grave. I've glimpsed it here. A child almost dead, expected to die, returned not only to life but to vigorous life. It's a shadow of what we're talking about here and what is to come for all who believe. Life. I don't think we even truly know it yet, but there it is before our eyes to consider: Life after the grave.

But the story's still not over yet. Because after he appeared to many, and they believed to carry forward the Kingdom work he had for them, then he left. He was lifted up, he Ascended to heaven. And that's so much more than just going away. It's not a "So long and thanks for everything" kind of goodbye. It's not even just a closure on the "It is finished" statement.

Get this: It is our PROOF that his work is sufficient. It's good enough. It's a done deal. The bargain is sealed. Your sins are gone. They are removed from as far as the east is from the west and they are never coming back and because of that you can and will be with the God who cannot be in the presence of sin. You will be united with him. Because the Father accepted Christ, who had become sin for us, back into his presence.

If even any residue of that sin remained with him, unpurified, hanging on to haunt us all later and sprout again in the new Earth, then God the Father could not have received the Christ back into heaven. The Ascension could not have happened. But it did. And the future is written, and we're in it, with him, perfectly, forever.

The fact that Jesus is not here any longer is our proof. His work was good enough. It is settled. I am his.


Happy Easter, beloveds. He Is RISEN and ASCENDED!

Friday, March 21, 2014

What Was Meant for Evil

Did you ever experience something that you know has to be evil, but yet you cannot deny the good that came from it?

Think of Joseph, youngest of 11 sons of Israel, the favorite. His jealous brothers could not bear the favoritism nor Joseph's superior attitude. They did the unbrotherly thing--tossed him into a hole, sold him into slavery, told the father the boy was dead. I can pretty comfortably call that evil.

Joseph found himself in a foreign country, where he is seduced by a married woman. When he flees from her, she lies to save face for herself, claiming he didn't reject her--instead, he molested her! He gets thrown into prison. Deep, dark, dank prison, for YEARS. Years of his life evaporate in that darkness, foreshadowed, perhaps, by the dry well that held him at his brothers' hands. I can pretty comfortably call that evil.

But what was intended for evil, God worked for good. God brought good for Joseph and even for Joseph's brothers out of that sequence of evil events. Joseph became a leader--second in command of all of Egypt. And in that position, Joseph also was used to kind of do a number on the people of Egypt too. He knew severe famine was coming, so he had to plan ahead. He "taxed" the people's produce at outrageous rates to store up for the seven years of starvation. I wonder how they might have groaned over this foreigner--Pharaoh's Yes-Man--taking so much from them now to hold for later, when he would sell it back to them. And so he did. He sold it back to them until they had no money left. He then traded grain for livestock until they had no livestock left. He then traded grain for land until they had no land left. And finally, he traded grain for human service, until everyone except the priests in Egypt were bound to work Pharaoh's land for no pay; only the right to keep some of the produce again to feed themselves. Meanwhile, in Goshen, set apart from the Egyptians geographically, the sons of Israel and their families thrived and multiplied and had enough to eat.

What they had meant for evil, God had used for their own good.

I need to remember this. There is evil all around. It touches everything--even those areas of existence that we still hold up as good. That is what total depravity means: not that everything is completely rotten, but everything is altered by corruption. Evil is everywhere. God does not stop it the way I might want him to. But the testimony is that he uses it for good. All things work for 1) his own glory (Proverbs 16:4), and 2) the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28). All things? Even those that are so easy to call evil? That is the challenge to believe.

I had a great privilege this month to interview a bold Christian athlete who completed a grueling and extremely dangerous physical trial at the end of February. The ten-day event afforded him a lifetime's worth of spiritual lessons. Several have stuck with me, but one in particular keeps coming back: the blessing he now sees in darkness.

At one point on his journey, he had to pass through a treacherous Alaska gorge, hauling behind him a heavy sled with all his survival needs on it. Frigid, running glacier water--deep enough to submerge a man, especially one tethered to a sled bearing scores of pounds of weight--flowed below him as he had to creep along narrow, winding, rocky, uncharted, ice bridges and catwalks. And he did it at night, in the dark.

I do not like navigating in the dark. I do not like darkness, as a general rule. I am not talking about the quiet of the evening, under a starlit sky. I am talking about debilitating darkness. Darkness that hinders. Darkness that does not allow one to see the needed steps, the goals ahead. Darkness that oppresses and renders one helpless and even depressed. I want light. I want vision. I want knowledge. When met with darkness, most of us seek to change it. We turn on lights. We use flashlights, headlights, street lights, candles, torches, runway lights, lighthouses. Human history clearly depicts the need to push back against the darkness, to try to set it right. The very opening chapter of Genesis proclaims that this is good and necessary: In the beginning... God separated the light from the darkness. He contained the darkness even then. Let that which God has seen fit to separate, no man again put together.

And here, in that type of debilitating darkness, my new friend had to navigate for his very life in order to achieve the goal of finishing the race. He is on the other side now. The race is over. And looking back into it, he says he can be thankful for the darkness. If he had taken that route in the daylight, he believes he almost certainly would have been overwhelmed by all the deadly obstacles in his path. He would have turned back. He would have given up. The journey truly was too great for him. The darkness hid that truth. But one small, uncertain step at a time, he depended on his Jesus to take him through, without any vision for where he was going. And when daylight came, the terror of the darkness was in the past.

Daylight did come.

And darkness was used for good.

What else might we label blatantly evil, and reject outright in our own unwillingness to let God use it for good?

I have a new counselor. A human one. I think, finally, I have found a good fit. When I mentioned to him that something I have always labeled blatantly evil might, possibly, in God's hand, actually be a gift God uses for good, he did not disagree. He did not shove me backward into my former thinking. Instead, he said I might be on the verge of a liberating breakthrough that will not only be used for my good, but for others' good, and for letting the omnipotent and incorruptible God out of a tiny box I have held him in, so that his glory too may be seen. God is bigger than the evil that is in and around us. That is the point of the gospel. None of it is outside his ability to use for his purposes.