COURTNEY DOCTOR | CONTRIBUTOR
9-1-1- and I are almost the same age. I was exactly three months old when it was created and established as the national emergency phone number. 9-1-1 is a phone number that, in theory, anyone, from anywhere in the United States, at any time, can call and immediately be connected with a dispatcher—someone who will send you the help you need. If you have a fire, the fire department is sent. If you have a medical emergency, an ambulance comes your way. Robbery? It’s the police who are dispatched. Thankfully, in our overlapping 48 years of existence, I have dialed the number less than ten times. And every time, sure enough, someone answered and immediately responded by sending the appropriate help. In many ways, I am grateful that I have not known life without the comforting existence of 9-1-1 . . . but I think it may have skewed my theology a bit.
God and 9-1-1
I have been struggling recently with many things—sin, cynicism, anger, bitterness, sadness, and even brief moments of despair. My heart has been overwhelmed. The thing is, I know what to do when these things come at me. I cry out to God. I know this. I do this. I was doing this. But I seemed to be getting no answer. God did not appear to be answering my cries. My sin was ever before me—and no deliverance seemed to be coming my way. My anger and bitterness seemed to be growing and my sadness was consuming me. Why wasn’t God “answering” my cries? Why wasn’t help being sent my way?
Then it hit me—I was treating God like a 9-1-1 dispatcher. Oh, there are some similarities. For instance, anyone can call out, at anytime, from anywhere and he will hear. But God doesn’t hear our cries and send us a prearranged or prescribed method of rescue. I was expecting it to work like this—I call out, God answers, God sends help, and I am relieved of my struggle. Crisis over. But it rarely works like that.
God is relationally redemptive. He has never promised complete deliverance from suffering this side of glory. What he has promised is that he will never leave us or forsake us in the midst of our suffering. And, one thing I am learning is that the promise of his presence trumps the promise of his deliverance—now and in eternity. Meaning, rescue from my trials is not the greatest offer on the table—nor is it my greatest need. The greatest thing God offers me is himself.
How God Answers
So, as I have called out, he has answered! But his answers haven’t been to dispatch the rescue that I was asking for. His answers have been to draw even closer. His answers have been similar to how he answered the Israelites in exile, “when you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you” (emphasis mine; Isaiah 43:2) He has met me in his Word in real and personal ways. He has reminded me that I dwell in his shadow and I abide in his presence—that I am safe because I am under his protective wings (Psalm 91). A few Sundays ago, he met me in Psalm 139 and reminded me that he knows me intimately; he knows my thoughts, my paths, and even my words before I speak them. Like the psalmist, such knowledge is too wonderful for me. And, as I have called out to him, his call back to me is to rest more in our relationship than in his rescue.
There is a day coming when my rescue will be complete—when every one of my tears (and yours, too) will be wiped away; a day when death, suffering, pain and sadness will be gone forever. But, as great as that is going to be, even that rescue will be trumped by the fact that the greatest gain you and I will have is that we will be forever, finally, and fully in the presence of our great God.