“Dark times are allowed and come to us through the sovereignty of God. Are we prepared to let God do what He wants with us? Are we prepared to be separated from the outward, evident blessings of God? . . . . Until we have been through that experience, our faith is sustained by feelings and by blessings. But once we get there, no matter where God may place us or inner emptiness we experience, we can praise God that all is well.”
(Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, April 4)
My daughter reminded me when walking on the beach last week that the shells that crunched under our feet are the remains of dead animals: snails, coral, and the like. And I know that the sand itself is what’s left of quartz rocks that made their way to sea and via wave and water are now honed down to their rock hearts. Today, children play on this burial mound under a blue-white sky, moving the remains around with brightly colored buckets and shovels while parents talk or read. Sun wash blinds to what is really happening; the seen masks the unseen.
We are often unaware of where we are, of what we live atop, of even who we are-that our lives are built atop the lives of those who have gone before us, whose names are lost to the depths and ebb and flow of time.
But God sees.
Amid death and decay, there are beautiful certainties that the prophet Jeremiah (Chap. 31) reminds me of: grace in the wilderness, everlasting love, life like a watered garden, mourning turned into joy, gladness traded for sorrow, satisfaction for the weary soul, replenishment for the languishing soul, and then this: “And it shall come to pass that as I have watched over them to pluck up and break down, to overthrow, destroy, and bring harm, so I will watch over them to build and to plant, declares the Lord” (Jer. 31:28).
Pruning. Creative destruction. God plucks out waywardness, dependence on anything but him; overthrows self-regard; destroys the lust of eye and flesh-all towards the end of rebuilding and replanting us in new patterns, in tilled rows of earth and sky.
“I love watching the waves, the tides,” says my wife as we walk, “because it reminds me of the constant love of God for me.” I think about the violence of the love, the constant wearing away of the shells and grains of sand, the smoothing of the line where land meets sea.
God’s love is no sentimental love, no pandering love, but one that strips away the old to make me new, that sometimes takes me through darkness so that I will cling to Him all the more and know a love that will not let me go, a relentless love that breaks down even as it builds up, that tills and plants.
Farther down the beach, two women walked toward us, heads cast down, examining shells. As we neared my wife dropped a translucent green piece of sea glass behind her, a gift for the observant. We passed. Turning back, we saw one woman stop, exclaim, as she spied and scooped up the sea glass.
We walked on, smiling. That’s how it is: even in death, glory; even in worn-down remains, beauty. And surprise at what treasure God brings.