When God’s Hand Burns

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“Christianity teaches that, contra fatalism, suffering is overwhelming; contra Buddhism, suffering is real; contra karma, suffering is often unfair; but contra secularism, suffering is meaningful. There is a purpose to it, and if faced rightly, it can drive us like a nail deep into the love of God and into more stability and spiritual power than you can imagine.”

– Timothy Keller, Walking with God Through Suffering, p. 30 –

I watched the searing iron come down. The goat kid squirmed and begin to gasp, and yet the iron stayed.

Have you ever been burned? Has the iron stayed so long that you wondered what God was doing, why He was making you suffer?

Why Lord?

We always take our new goat kids to get their horn buds removed, when they are only days old. The process takes only seconds. Held by a firm, practiced hand, the kids are one by one laid across a lap. Then a hot iron, specially made for the purpose, is held to each horn bud for 10 seconds. The heat burns away the forming horns.

The soft hair on their heads singes and smokes. It stinks. They struggle and kick and cry, but no one lets them up.

To them, the pain is purposeless and cruel. All they wanted was a nice pile of straw and a warm bottle. Was that too much to ask?

But I had a purpose in their pain: I dreamed for them — when they were unable to dream for themselves — of a future with no horns. They, had they known what I was taking from them, might have complained. “Hey, those are mine! I need those. They look dashing, I’ll be popular with the lady goats, and I’ll be the king of the pasture.”

When I pulled out of the disbudder’s driveway, I thought about the whole painful process. A friend riding with me asked why their horns had to be removed. I started listing the benefits of hornless goats. They wouldn’t get their heads stuck in fences as easily. They wouldn’t be hurt in the occasional “status” fights that goats use to determine who is boss. They wouldn’t gore another goat. They couldn’t poke people with the sharp tips.

So I pondered this too. It was love, I realized. We loved them enough to give them pain, because there was a purpose beyond it. Even though the kids couldn’t see it, I brought pain into their lives for their ultimate good.

Recently, a friend finally got me to listen to a song she’d been telling me about for over a week. When I finally did, I couldn’t believe the beauty in it.

Singer Elliott Park writes about a young sapling whose trunk is doubled over when a dying Rebel soldier hangs his gun on it. Watered by pain and tinted by blood, this oak grows that way — bent over, ruined in the eyes of most. But…just listen to the song “The Soldier and the Oak.” There was a purpose beyond the pain. The reality became better than the dream. The suffering can transform you into something even lovelier.

In the recent film Cinderella, after she long endures the hatefulness of her stepmother and sisters, Ella finally stands before the Prince, who still doesn’t know her name. “Who are you?” he asks.

“Cinderella,” she replies, using the name of derision that others had used to mock her. But she said it with a smile — a smile that showed that not only had she survived the suffering, but she was stronger for it. Her pain wasn’t a shoved-away corner of her identity. She embraced it, along with the change it wrought in her. Not Ella anymore. No, the pain had made her lovelier. She was Cinderella.

Keller says,

“In the secular view, suffering is never seen as a meaningful part of life but only as an interruption.” (Ibid., 26)

I’ve definitely seen pain that way — an entirely unpleasant interruption to my otherwise-happy existence.

But that night driving back toward the farm, I caught a new vision of suffering. In a strange shifting of roles, I found out what it was to be on the “knowing” end of things, the one that knew it would all be okay and the pain had a point (John 9:3; Rev. 21:1-7).

Every other day, I’m on the “not knowing” end of things. But…the uncertain cries of baby goats taught me a lesson that night.

“I believe that the present suffering is nothing compared to the coming glory that is going to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18, CEB)

Sinful and weak as I am, I know better than my goats. How much more does our Heavenly Father know better than us where a moment of pain might lead (Isa. 55:8-9)? To what heights might it allow us to soar?

Could it be…that after this long enmity, suffering might turn out to be a friend?

Or that when God’s hand burns, we can trust after all?


“Tears are often the telescope by which men see far into heaven.”

– Henry Ward Beecher –

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Hungry and Lost

goats

“Aren’t two sparrows sold for a small coin? But not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father knowing about it already. Even the hairs of your head are all counted. Don’t be afraid. You are worth more than many sparrows.”

– Matthew 10:29-31, CEB –


She was lost.

Standing right in front of me, searching everywhere to be filled, but finding nothing to satisfy her thirst.

She cried, begging for help. “Someone! Anyone!”

I stood right there, holding out everything she needed.

But she walked around me, into me–would have walked through me if she could have–scouring the area for nourishment.

All along, I was there. She just couldn’t see me.

This drama played out last week in the goat pen. Our smallest baby goat wobbled around in the straw and nudged my knees, desperate for a drink. She cried hungrily. But she refused to drink out of the bottle I held out to her. It was full of milk, heated to just the right temperature so it would warm her belly without burning her. I had done everything necessary. But she wouldn’t drink.

I held the bottle closer to her face. She ignored it.

I brushed the red-and-yellow nipple against her lips. She shook her head and ran away.

Watching her run, I grew frustrated. “Just drink!” I told her. “That’s all you have to do.”

Tinier than her brother and cousin, the kid didn’t seem to be growing much. I was concerned that she wasn’t getting enough food.

After several ineffective efforts to get her to drink, I settled on a solution. I grabbed her head in one hand, the bottle in the other, and held her mouth to the nipple. She struggled and tried to back out of my grip, but I held her. It was drink or drown, as the milk slid out of the bottle into her throat.

She drank.

Struggling every so often, she drank the milk I forced her to take. It didn’t kill her. She didn’t like it much, but it gave her the strength she needed to keep going.

As I crouched in the pen with a bottle and a very stubborn baby, I realized that God does this to me.

Suffering, so often, is God holding my head to the nourishment I need. Hard things are often His way of making me get close to Him, when left to myself I’d just walk away. I’m like that little lost kid, wandering around her pen looking for food when the source of it was right there all along.

When God puts me in a headlock, I kick and struggle like that little goat. I squirm and bawl and cry. “Why are you doing this to me? I thought you loved me? Why are you making me go through this?”

And all along, as I throw my tantrum, His truth and strength and love flow into my unwilling body and fill me.

This is how trials make us stronger. They aren’t mistakes. They aren’t blips on the radar that God somehow missed.

Sometimes, when we pray for health or safety or prosperity or a good day, God says no.

Most of the time, we’re no smarter than that baby goat. We don’t know what we really need. We just know that it doesn’t feel nice to have big hands clamp down on you and hold your head still.

But these hands holding us are steady and strong, and the God of these hands sees our true need. He is willing to do what it takes to fill us up, even when we don’t know yet that the pain will turn into a good thing.

She’s learning. When I go to the pen now, she’s already at the fence, crying for milk. She knows. She finally knows that I’m bringing blessing.

Friends, life can be hard. But let’s stop struggling in God’s hands.

He knows exactly what we need.

“But God doesn’t call us to be comfortable. He calls us to trust Him so completely that we are unafraid to put ourselves in situations where we will be in trouble if He doesn’t come through.”
―Francis Chan, Crazy Love―