He was unrecognizable to me after the accident. It was so violent an incident, so raw, I was compelled to avert my eyes.
Before that tragic day, God had been my strength and covering; my strong tower. He was the One who had intervened and rescued me in a time of great danger, later settling me in a safe place. He was always there. Strong. Sure. Predictable.
Now, He was a stranger.
It was not only the brutality of our friend’s death and my father-in-law’s injuries that horrified me, but also the scandal of the guilty going unpunished. Like a tsunami, this one incident propelled our family, and others, into the deep waters of loss and litigation, leaving us floundering under the suffocating waves of emotional, psychological and financial duress.
My faith took a hit that day. Shattered into a million pieces like the shards of glass that lay scattered around the wreckage. Collateral damage.
My soul responded to the tragedy by recoiling from God and hiding. The little child in me who had finally learned to trust now reeled in the grip of apparent betrayal. I retreated to the furthermost part of a dark cave in my soul, back pressed against the cold, damp wall, body curved in a fetal position, eyes averted, far from the light.
Eyes, it’s said, are the window to the soul. I couldn’t bear to lift the eyes of my soul and look into my Savior’s eyes, for now He was unsafe. How could I trust Him if he allowed such distress and destruction? If I chanced a glance into His eyes, would I see indifference or arrogance? I had never before been afraid of God. Now he terrified me.
He had, in a moment, shattered the glass box in which I tried to contain Him. He was free. Wild. Fierce. Terrible.
It’s hard to track time passing when you’re immersed in pain. A mere blur, days meld into each other and survival instincts take over like raw nerves in spastic response to pressure. But some months after the accident, I began to sense an awakening. Faintly at first, a longing surfaced. A longing for something I couldn’t name but it echoed from a deep place where only mystery resides. Had I missed something about God? Would He let us ‘die in the desert’ or reach hand down to rescue? Was there more He wanted me to know?
I knew I couldn’t accept that He had caused the accident for a purpose I would later understand. Many well-meaning people offered me this morsel of comfort when they didn’t know what else to say, but it always tasted bitter and completely unlike any God I wanted to serve. No, He didn’t make it happen, but He allowed it. And I had to come to terms with a God, my Friend, who hadn’t stepped in to shield those I loved when the arrows came.
Slowly, I began to examine my understanding of God. Not what I professed to believe despite my questions, but the real image of Him I had created and found myself worshiping. I dug deep into my expectations and motivations; my demands and my interpretation of His promises. I studied examples of other Christ-followers who faced circumstances more desperate than I could ever fathom, and sought to know how they held on to their faith. I revisited truths I thought I understood and let my heart seek insight from mentors farther along the spiritual path than I.
Without realizing it at the time, my search was causing me to inch closer to the mouth of the cave. In my mind’s eye, I could see God’s shadow partially covering the opening but He remained motionless. Present, but unobtrusive. Waiting.
I don’t remember the day or hour when I gained courage to step back into the light, but it changed me forever. My seeking had somehow strengthened my hope to believe again, but it was different this time. I wanted to know Him.
As I found the courage to slowly lift my eyes to meet His, what I saw was riveting. I was immediately swallowed up with His immensity. There was no limit to His power, no bounds to His love. He was so far above and beyond me, I felt myself crumbling to my knees in response to His majesty, repentant before His greatness. He was omnipotent and I was not. He knew things I could never understand and He was not obligated to explain them to me.
On my knees, head bowed and eyes averted out of honor, I felt what it meant to fear God.
Motionless before Him, I could only see the hem of His garment. Then He shifted and I saw His feet. Scars marked where nails had pierced. Evidence of One familiar with brutal pain, betrayal and searing loss. Tears I had held against Him suddenly burst free from deep wells in my soul. He understood my pain.
Without warning, I sensed His strong arms gently scooping me up in a warm embrace. Out of the folds of His garment He brought forth an object that flashed brightly in the light. As he held it before my questioning eyes, I saw it was a delicately formed sculpture created from carefully fused shards of glass uniquely shaped into prisms of various sizes. Held before His brilliance, it burst forth with color, scattering millions of light fragments like precious gems.
I knew in an instant that He had tenderly taken the pieces of my shattered faith, from the box that had been too confining to hold Him, and reformed them into a work of art that could reflect His light, but never more contain. The Lover of my soul had repurposed, rather than discarded, the remnants of my faith to move me from trying to control Him to revering Him.
It will be 12 years, on May 8, that the accident claimed the life of our friend, Nuno, and everything else from my father-in-law. Both are Home, now, and I miss them. No one can replace them, nor the years of pain and suffering endured by Nuno’s widow, my mother-in-law and all of us who are part of this story. It is still a mystery, and the story has yet to be concluded, but God has been with us through it all, sustaining, providing, teaching, comforting and encouraging.
As I think back on the cave, I realize that even my most desperate attempts to avoid Him never worked. What I thought was running away from God, was really a path straight to Him.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
Tamara Carpenter is part of Newsong’s Board. You can read more of her writing on her blog: tamaracarpenter.com