I recently went on a silent retreat at a monastery where I stumbled upon an unfamiliar bible passage referenced in Dean Merrill’s book, “The God Who Never Lets Go.” It reads: “Like water spilled on the ground which cannot be recovered, so we must die. But God does not take away life; instead, he devises ways so that a banished person may not remain estranged from him.” 2 Samuel 14:14
No doubt some of us feel banished – by family, certain friends or the church. Some of us, however, possess an inherent and continual knack for banishing ourselves. We struggle to trust other people – or to accept how valuable we are. We retreat as a preemptive effort to avoid rejection. Others are convinced that God has banished them. Have you ever felt this way? I understand: me too.
Parents sometimes say to their children: “you need to accept your discipline.” How often do children lose heart or give up trying? We have to go to them, comfort them and encourage them to give it another try. If we do not reassure them, they are prone to withdraw and internalize a sense that they are banished. Parents have a delicate task to ensure that discipline does not break a child’s heart.
I counsel hundreds of teens and young adults who experience same-sex attraction or identify as LGBT+ every year. Many of them have been hanging out in our evangelical churches since they were young. Some have shared their sexual orientation with parents and pastors, but many have carried that secret as “to-be-banished” people fearing rejection one day when everyone finds out. Some of them carry a huge emotional weight of fear and depression. We interpret them as quiet or shy and miss their pain.
We know the plight of so many LGBT+ teens who are vulnerable to bullying and suicidality. They too are like banished persons, who consider the ultimate act of vanquishing their lives in an attempt to escape pain. So often, parents are unaware of just how much bullying their child has endured. Some parents make the horrific mistake of blaming their child for being bullied.
Religious people are good at “knowing” right behaviors. The two things we are not good at? Actually turning all that talk into a sustainable walk of good behavior. Second, maintaining humility before God and mercy toward others when we are maintaining all the right behaviors. We either fall into sin ourselves or else we note how sinful others are. Or both! These blind spots cause us to miss our own sin; and excuse our judgmentalism. Under the influence of this spiritual superiority, we overlook others’ pain and miss opportunities to reach out to people where they are.
In comes Jesus. He says disturbing things like “unless your righteousness exceeds the goodness of the teachers of religion, you will not inherit the kingdom of God.” The Pharisees miss his point thinking “sinners never have a chance to be better than us.” Yet Jesus will not be mocked – he keeps going at the Pharisees about their own sins; and he angers them by reaching out continually to the people they have permanently banished. Jesus always reaches out to the one we would least imagine worthy.
For those of us who know we are sinners, Jesus does not water down truth with his compassion. He calls to us, “repent for the kingdom of heaven is near.” He says we must “lose our life in order to save it.” He convicts us with “go and sin no more” even as he rescues us from the hands of Pharisees. Like the scripture says: we must die like spilled water that cannot be recovered, but God does NOT take away life. He devises ways to bring banished people back into intimate relationship with Him.
Do you feel banished? My friend, God never banishes. He does discipline. He does correct. He does guide and direct. He does bring our wandering lives to unexpected dead ends where life no longer seems to work. He does allow pain to reach into our emotions to draw us toward a different path. Yet I think we need a different image than the one of an angry father in heaven with furrowed brows holding a hammer over our heads at every wrong turn we take.
I imagine a father who is helping his toddler to learn to walk. You hear him say with a smile “no, no sweetie.” At times, if the child darts toward the street, he may at times have to shout “No!” He may forcibly scoop up his child if she is in imminent danger. Imagine how it feels to be quickly pulled off the ground to six feet in the air by an arm coming up from behind you. Toddlers may begin to cry. Some suggest they are crying because they did not get their way. Maybe so. But maybe they are just plain frightened. The interaction of a loving and protective father with a wandering toddler teaches us that there is love and protection in discipline and boundaries.
Another image we have is the scriptural story of a sheep wandering away from the flock and getting caught in barbed wire. The shepherd comes to rescue the sheep but unfortunately this kind of rescue will require digging metal out of flesh. It’s going to hurt.
Does dealing with a God who disciplines hurt? Yes, it can. But remember: God is always about the work of bringing banished souls back into communion with him. His rescue is not pain free, but it is for nothing less than salvation that He comes to bring his children back home. Of course, if we hear his voice, we can simply walk home today. Banished one, come home. All who are weary and burdened, come home. “Come to me,” Jesus says, “and I will give you rest for your soul.” He encourages, “I have plans to prosper you; not to harm you.”
Post Note: Dedicated to a special child of God named Marshall. You are HIS. He loves you…
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