I’ll admit it. At times I still pout about giving up our water garden. It’s been a few years since we filled it in, but you will continue to see me mention it in a blog post occasionally because I still miss it. Despite the fact that it’s gone, I still hold on to my memories of it.
For a while I was a little put out with God over the fact that He would ask me to give up the water garden that we enjoyed so much, and I was more than a little hesitant to do what I knew He was telling me to do. That’s how we are when we’re asked to give up something we’ve come to love; hesitant at best, and oftentimes downright disobedient.
In hindsight I can see some of His reasons, as I shared in a previous post. But at the time I simply saw no reason for His request. I saw no reason for Him to take away something that brought joy and seemed to bring no harm to anyone. All I saw was a God who wanted to take away.
There’s a verse in the book of 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 came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21, KJV)
Not one of the more uplifting verses that we’re drawn to when we need a word of encouragement, is it?
My water garden was uplifting. The plants it supported and the wildlife it attracted put a smile on my face. It’s just no fun having things taken from us. No fun at all.
What seems even more unfair is having someonetaken 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 take away?
There’s a contemporary Christian 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. The first verse goes like this:
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 like a pretty uncaring God if we choose to see 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?
I heard the Casting Crowns song on my way to work one morning not too long ago, and this time God let me hear the words as they related to a particular person I was praying for. I was asking God to give emotional healing to a friend of mine. This friend was struggling with some things that I couldn’t bear the thought of them struggling with any longer. I was asking God to take those things away. I was praying to the God who takes away. I was depending on God for His ability to do something… something that I previously had been angry with Him about: taking away.
As I thought more about that verse in Job, I thought about the wording… about what Job said about God. Sure, Job said that God takes away. But, he also said that God gives. 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 very much, and He exchanges it for something precious. That exchange requires taking away 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. A crown of beauty for ashes. The oil of joy for mourning. A garment of praise for a spirit of despair. Those are some trades I’ll take.
Why all the talk of a God who takes away? Because it’s a “take-away” anniversary. On January 8, 2011, God took a dear friend from me. He took a dear friend from a lot of us when He took Martha Farrell from this earth to be with Him. In just a few days I’ll face another “take-away” anniversary. On January 13, 1996, God took my daddy from us. On those days it was all I could do not to shake my fist in anger at the God who takes away. How selfish of me. How utterly and completely selfish.
God took away, alright. He took the pain and suffering from my friend and my father. He removed the awful effects that cancer had wracked their bodies with. 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 occasionally comes from not having my friend and my father here with me 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.
[John testifies about Jesus] The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world!” (John 1:29, NIV)
My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. (John 10:27-29, NIV)
The thief comes only in order to kill and steal and destroy, I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance (to the full, til it overflows) . (John 10:10, AMP)