We all know why he came. Kill. Steal. Destroy. And yet somehow when it happens to us, when the thief ruptures our reality, we can’t help but feel surprised. There’s something about it that makes us catch our breath.
Maybe it’s because we associate being children of God so strongly with being protected. If there’s a breach, it seems somehow at odds with God’s character. We ask ourselves questions like, “Where was God?” and “How could He allow this?”
I know God protects us. I’m also convinced we misunderstand God’s protection more often than not.
One of the places I go to understand the tension between tragedy and protection from tragedy is the book of Job. The first thing that strikes me is Satan asking God’s permission to inflict suffering on Job. Depending how you think about it, this could be good news, or really bad news. Good news because God is sovereign, even in a world overtaken by sin. Really bad news because we have to reckon with a loving Father choosing to allow suffering (that He could have prevented) in the life of his beloved son.
We’ve stared down this reality in our own lives. It’s strange to say this, but theology is everything when you’re suffering. What you decide to believe about God (and maybe even more importantly, what you believe without realizing it) is the difference between being refined and being disfigured.
For a while, we let our sorrow disfigure us. I felt myself shriveling, shrinking back.
We kept reading the daily Torah portion during that time. Even on the days I couldn’t fully absorb it, the truth kept bumping up against the contours of our lives. It kept shaping and reshaping us.
Every time we repeated the Torah cycle, we reread the laws governing theft. They address lots of specifics, but basically anyone who steals anything is required to restore the original item (or something of equal or greater value) and give something additional to make full restitution.
Recently we were talking with a friend about how God hadn’t protected us from loss. Some of the losses can be explained by circumstances or human error, and some definitely felt like there was a spiritual power behind them. Our friend pointed out that everyone in the universe is bound by the law of the thief.
If you think about it, it makes sense. Every created being who tries to live apart from God’s law eventually has to answer for their sins. Satan is no different. So when God allows the thief to steal anything, He knows eventually it will be restored and then some. It’s only a matter of time. We see this in Job’s story, and lately, something in me dares to hope we’re about to see it in our own lives.
Because God is restoring what was lost.
It started with a wedding gift we affectionately dubbed the “happy box”. It held our precious mementos: our wedding vows, homemade cards, love letters, pictures, and the hilarious hand drawn French flash cards a friend made for us before we moved to France. When we left the US, we stored it in the safest place we could think of. When we came back broken, it wasn’t there.
We told each other they were just things. And that was true. But after losing so much, it still stung. Then after more than two years and 25 moves, we found the box with all the contents intact, in a friend’s garage. We can’t explain how it got there, or how it didn’t get damaged or thrown out.
Days later a wallet (that was missing for months and had hundreds of dollars in it) turned up unexpectedly. God restored some of our happiest memories and some of our money within a very short time. Which got us thinking: maybe those small recoveries are the first fruits of a bigger restoration. What if God is about to restore and then some?
And what if God allowed those things to be taken away knowing we’d get the last laugh when they’re returned and multiplied? That would be a gutsy move by our bold God, a daring way to bless us in spite of the thief.
Will everything sad come untrue? The answer is yes. And God is using even the thief to make it happen.
What’s been stolen from you? What has God restored and then some?