I used to think it was my job to fix people.
Years ago, I would meet weekly with a friend and we would talk about God and her decaying marriage. I would pray that God would fix their marriage and fix my friend, but I left her house every week feeling the futility of my vain attempts to talk her into a relationship with God. Eventually, they divorced. Our friendship has lasted, but it now has a much different context.
I used to pray in a similar way for Max, even before his transition to atheism. I couldn’t put my finger on what exactly was wrong, but I begged God to fix him, to heal him, to make him into a mighty man of God. My prayers were stale and full of fear and I could sense their futility, but I didn’t know what else to do.
I still don’t understand exactly what happened to Max. As his wife of many years, I am convinced that he was a believer. He would say he used to be one too. I used to make myself sick trying to figure out what the exact catalyst was for his demise. For me, the situation came to a head one December evening when Max started telling me about the doom the Bible speaks of apostasy and how someone renounces God can never return because they’ve crucified Christ twice. He looked at me from across the kitchen and asked, “Do you know how worried I am about that?” With a smarmy look, he held up his hand and curled his fingertips to meet his thumb. “Zero.” As I replayed the scene when I had a moment alone, my sobs doubled me over. How could I have hope or peace if he’s condemned?
I didn’t read my Bible for a while after that because I was terrified of what I would find. When I finally picked it up again, it first seemed my worst fears were confirmed.
And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls—she was told, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. Romans 9:10-18
The implications of these verses were startling.
The hard truth is, God is GOD. He can do as he pleases. I don’t have to understand it. I don’t have to like it. He can save someone. Or not. He can harden someone or he can bring them to conviction. I believe this is the very truth that sent Max packing—that God is the One calling the shots and what he decides/allows is sometimes unfair/awful/horrible, etc.
I considered being mad at God. After all, he’s the reason Max and I married in the first place. We felt it was his will and, even looking back, it seemed his hand was involved in every aspect of our union. Why would God knowingly allow me to marry a future atheist?
Why did God allow Joseph’s brothers to come to hate him and sell him into slavery? That seems pretty harsh. But when the dust settled, Joseph’s take on what his brothers did to him is thought-provoking.
But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” Genesis 50:19-20
God saw the entire picture. He knew the heart condition of Joseph’s brothers at the beginning, and after what they did, all hope for redemption seemed lost. But God also knew what their heart condition would be at the end, and that their hearts would one day be open to conviction and repentance. God knew reconciliation would happen.
Years ago, when Max was still on staff at a church and all seemed well, a woman at church came and spoke words to me I did not understand. She talked about Max being on the verge of bursting forth with true worship on stage. She said God deliberately put Max and me together and said I am like Max’s heart—what will enable him to transform into the man God created him to be. She related my spirit to Mary’s and told me to read about her in Luke 1. Verse 45 stood out to me, when Elizabeth speaks to Mary. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.
I did not ask for this turn of events. I do not like it. It hurts in ways I’ll never be able to put into words. It causes more horrific conflict in our marriage than any other issue we’ve faced. Did God cause it or did he allow it? I refuse to waste any more time wondering. The real question is, will God use it for his good?
Yes. Unequivocally. I believe that there will be a fulfillment of what was spoken to me from the Lord.
Fear used to drive me to pray against Max developing any sort of relationships with other atheists. Now, trust drives me to pray that God will allow the relationships and developments he has in mind; all of them, no matter how awful they seem to me. The place to which Max has wandered isn’t exclusive to him. One day, when God draws Max back to himself, it is certainly possible that God can use him to reach a formerly unreachable people group. “…but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”
Trust in the LORD, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act. He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday. Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices! Psalm 37:3-7