“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” ~ Jesus
Thieves steal. Sometimes the impact is NOW; you know it immediately and you feel it deeply. Other times, it takes some time; the bomb’s on a delay. And then it blows and you begin to realize all that was taken. All the time lost, the lives shattered, the relationships fractured. It feels like the wind gets knocked right out of you and you can’t even tell if the crater in your soul feels like anger or sadness or some other concoction of pain. But it’s definitely pain.
Sometimes the thief steals stuff, but often it’s more. Much more.
Maybe the thief looked like a robber on the back of a moto, or a home invader. Maybe the thief was a corrupt government, stealing freedom, opportunities, and futures. Maybe the thief was a cruel family member, or someone from your church or mission, a “friend.”
Whoever they were, they stole, they destroyed, and they killed. Or at least they tried.
Where was God?
Where was God when innocence was taken, when the thief came? It’s a valid question that burns hot, and it must be asked. Jesus asked it. Yes, I know God brings life and he brings it abundantly. But sometimes I wonder why he can’t just kill the thief and be done with it!
Theft involves loss, so grieving is certainly important here. But there’s so much more than sadness or grief. Theft is also an attack, with fear and insecurity its bloody aftermath. It is a terrible unsettling.
It’s even more unsettling and isolating if others don’t recognize the theft. Perhaps the thief looked perfect. Thieves often look not like thieves.
Have we not yet learned that looks can be deceiving? Have we not yet learned that the most malicious thieves are also skilled at masquerading as angels of light? They’ve learned from the best.
So where was God? Where is God?
The Justice of God
There are no easy answers. I know that. There are no golden tickets or magic bullets here: but there is the justice of God.
“Now, Lord, let your anger arise against the anger of my enemies. Awaken your fury and stand up for me! Decree that justice be done against my foes. Once and for all, end the evil tactics of the wicked!” Psalm 7: 6, 9
In the end, can we throw ourselves not only on the mercy of God, but also on the justice of God? Can we trust him with this? I know the right answer, but I still have to wrestle with the right question. Do you? I know the Bible verses, but I still find myself wrestling with God in the crushing darkness of night. It is an ancient tradition, this grappling with God. Maybe I’ll leave this match with a limp, but maybe I’ll also leave with a new name.
“I look up to the mountains—does my help come from there? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth!” Psalm 121:1
The Shepherd knows what it’s like to lose, so when he speaks of the thief, it’s not hypothetical. It’s real and he knows it. The thief has flesh and bone; the thief has a face. But so does the Judge.
I don’t know you, and I don’t know your story, but I’m guessing you’ve known a thief too; a thief who mimicked the dark one, a thief who stole and destroyed. So please remember this, dear one: The thief who destroyed will be destroyed in turn, by Love. Our God is justice and he burns with fire against the thief who would hurt a little one.
He is a warrior with all the advantage. It’s true that our God is gentle and meek. It is also true that our God is consuming. It is also true that our God commands an army, the likes of which has never been seen.
This is our King.
I believe there’s a Man who’s seated on a throne
And He’s coming back to bring forth justice.
~ Laura Hackett Park
He does not allow abuse to go unanswered. He does not deny or blameshift or dismiss injury. He pursues the thief to the end, demanding reparations. He sees what was done. He knows the truth.
And in a great turning, he actually helps us get revenge. Because the best revenge is a life well-lived. A life enjoyed.
And life is what he gives. A life free of the thief and the thief’s thievery.
He brings life and life to the full, rich and satisfying. He brings life and life abundantly, more than you expect. He brings life until you overflow.
After walking down into the depths of hell itself, the Poet in Inferno leads Dante up and out. They descended into hell together, but they did not stay there. In the end, they returned to the land of the living, where Dante speaks words that shake me to my core. At the end of the journey, at their surfacing, he simply says,
“Thence we came forth to rebehold the stars.”
The stars! Life! With crisp air and a clear line of sight!
If you’ve known the thief, then you’ve walked through hell. My prayer for you, then, is that you would someday soon, “rebehold the stars.” The Poet is with you, descending and then ascending again, reminding you of the reality of a billion astronomical wonders. So may you live!
His justice does roll down like a flood. So may you feel washed and protected in the torrent, while evil itself is swept away.
And when your path lies in shadow, may you remember that even the shadow is under his wings. And his arms are everlasting.
With much yearning for the stars and the One who breathed them,
~ Jonathan Trotter
Be merciful to me, O God
I trust in Your help
You are my refuge, my defense
And into Your hands
I commit my way to You
Come fulfill Your will in me
Stretch out Your strong and mighty arm
Let Your mercy lead me on all my days
Cover me, cover me, cover me
Under the shadow of Your wings
God, cover me, cover me, cover me
Under the shadow of Your wings
~ Laura Hackett Park