Sometime around 2005, the “everything happens for a reason,” feel-good faith of my college years shattered. I had had two miscarriages and health complications that accompanied those losses, and to tell you the truth, God did not feel real close, or real good, or real loving. In fact, I didn’t feel anything for God except grief and anger. You promised me the desires of my heart! I wailed. What kind of a God are you?
I wrote a poem at the time (below) in response to something Jesus said to Peter in Luke 22:31-32:
“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”Luke 22:31-32
What does it look like to be sifted as wheat?
Wheat is sifted to remove the inedible chaff. It gets in the way of the edible grain. Here is what threshing and sifting wheat looks like:
This does not look fun to me.
Simon, Satan has asked to beat you with a whip until the useless parts of who you are fall away, and then Satan’s going to toss you around a while in a big basket to let loose the remaining chaff. Jesus might as well have said, Simon, this is going to hurt like hell.
There are lots of these metaphors in Scripture. God is the vine, and we are the branches. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit… (John 15:2). He will sit as a refiner and smelt the priests like gold and silver to remove any impurities and sediment from them (Malachi 3:3). On and on, God does the work of disciplining and cleaning, purifying and preparing his people. And then he restores them.
That kind of sifting takes its toll. There have been multiple seasons since 2005 when I have felt raw, as if I’ve spent that time scrubbing my skin with abrasive soap. Or how about refinishing a piece of wooden furniture? (The metaphors are endless.) As God strips away each layer of varnish, I have heard, You are not this. I am not this. I am not that. You are not that. We are not this. This is not of me. This is not who we are. That rawness brings a certain tenderness and sensitivity. Things that are not of God rub me the wrong way. Misappropriations of Jesus evoke a visceral reaction in me.
It takes energy to keep declaring what God is not like, refuting platitudes, mythbusting the junk we pick up and carry around with us as if it’s from God but it isn’t, it’s actually just chaff, loads and loads of chaff clinging to our socks and irritating our necks. Have you ever loaded hay bales onto a wagon and felt the powder of chaff on your skin? It’s awful, trying to pick away all of those small pieces.
It’s far easier to just strip down. Take a shower. Rinse clean. Start fresh.
But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail.
So much sifting has been happening in the church over the last decade (or more). God is very busy separating the wheat from the chaff. He does it in our individual lives and he does it on a grand scale, an apocalyptic peeling back to reveal the true nature of things. We watch the train wrecks and rightfully lament, Is there anyone righteous left?
Has your faith endured through all this sifting? Has your faith endured the fallout of pastoral moral failures, of political strife, of pandemic pain and disagreement and death, of personal crises and losses and so much damage, so much trauma, so much brokenness?
I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail.
And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.
Here we are. We are here. We have spent so much time defining God by what God is not. As the chaff lifts on the wind, and we are stripped bare, and the clear fresh water rushes over our skin, the voice in the wind whispers, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
What are you doing here, Peter? Peter, do you love me?
When you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.
The threshing floor is clear. It’s time to stop carrying around the chaff that God has stripped away as evidence for what he is not and start being the wheat that is, being the branch that bears fruit. It’s time to put away the remaining chaff of cynicism, apply the balm of Gilead that is Jesus, and return. Turn back to a faith that is sincere, a faith that is sifted, strengthened, and renewed.
“There I will give her back her vineyards, and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. There she will respond as in the days of her youth, as in the day she came up out of Egypt.”Hosea 2:15 NIV
As I was writing this, a friend sent the following encouragement from Reverend Dr. Glenn Packiam.
Return to sincerity. Strengthen your brothers. Start with Jesus.
“Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good…Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”Romans 12:9,21 (NIV)