I've written about Betty Williams, the bible teacher whose teaching and life so influenced mine. I used to inquire in my skeptical mind, just who is God to be healing some people and leaving others bereft, lame, deaf, dumb and blind..?
She replied with questions. Karen if you were God, would you ask permission of your subjects before you acted in their lives?
This was an effective way of getting my attention, and, the longer I knew her, she spoke with authority as it concerned suffering. Her physical sufferings were, at least visibly, few. But she aged rapidly as my adolescence unfolded at the same pace. One hindrance I noticed was a violent cough to which she was subject. When she gathered herself after coughing, she would use a linen handkerchief of her husband's to wipe her leaking eyes and collect spittle. Her countenance was beet-red, she was internally agitated and, it seemed to me, outdone with God for bestowing upon her this trifling cough.
I think my incessant questions, or demands for answers were deeply troubling to her-she saw my limitations physically- she intuited the scope of my rage at God, long before I did, and subversively steered me toward the truth in the scripture about suffering. She offered no pat answers, or formula prayers to assist me in getting what I wanted. She doggedly persisted that God alone was faithful- she boldly reminded me of how desperate I was, how urgent was all our need for a God to come and rescue us, not so much physically, though physical deliverance was part of the biblical narrative. That was squarely where I fought her tooth and nail, and, it must have been, on my behalf, squarely the specific thing for which she prayed.
For my sake and edification, the two scriptures to which she referred again and again were the man born blind in John 9 which I mentioned in that prior post and the story of Moses' hard-headedness his unbelief, his feet-dragging, aw-shucks, why me dear Lord in Exodus 4:11. Even though I recall the hard sayings of Betty Williams, she never called me down in class and told me outright I was stubborn or overly doubtful. She did not have to- she used her own life, much akin to mine to illustrate her points over and over. She told us regularly to be circumspect about prayer for patience. In fact, she counselled against it.
If you ask for patience, rest assured, God will be kind to provide a way for you to exercise it.
She had earnest intention that we appreciate struggle with suffering. As the days waned in sitting under her teaching, it became apparent that she was going blind. She loathed, (in fact she used the word, loathe) the notion of losing her sight, of becoming more and more dependent; yet, and I mean yet, she introduced the vitality of paradox to a group of western thinking teenagers. We were spot on taught that while we lived, we were simultaneously dying. That in our wasting away, we were approaching eternity, and being at home with the Lord. Her longing for heaven increased exponentially, and mine with hers.
Moses was exasperated that God had the audacity to even consider appointing him for the task of leading the Israelites from captivity in Egypt. Moses whined what if they do not listen to me, what if what if what if. Then what do I do? God instructed Moses in a litany of things Moses could do to garner the attention of the unbelieving Israelites. At first God is not even asking Moses to speak, but to do. Even as I clenched my teeth with Moses and interrupted, eager to tell God that could not possibly work because I am slow [of speech] and have no [speaking] ability. Basically Moses was saying, I'm a low-down [verbal] cripple, you can't use me. And, like my friend Betty Williams, and many inquisitors who followed her, God asked more questions:
The Lord said to him, Who gave man his mouth, Who makes him deaf or mute, who gives him sight or makes him blind, is it not I, the Lord? Now go; I will help you speak and teach you what to say.
God had sweet mercy on stubborn brother Moses, because after all that assurance, Moses STILL asked for someone else to speak on his behalf. Moses did not believe, or could not believe, but God did not depart from him. It looked as though Moses was manipulating God, but, in fact, God orchestrated everything, from the calling of him at the bush, to Moses telling Aaron what to say, to Aaron saying it, to the people hearing Aaron and you know the rest...
It will be as if he were your mouth, and as if you were God to him.
God centered himself in the story, but creatively employed the work of his chosen to reveal his own glory through them. A small foreshadowing of the the greatest glory to come.
How grateful I am to recall the woman Betty Williams who invited me to ponder suffering at such a critical time. She, like Moses, would deliver the Word to a wandering crew. I've not been the same since; grappling with loss here but assured God enters into ALL things.