Anguish comes in the quiet following the eruption of sorrow, after the loud outcry of mourning, in that moment when we know the separation from one loved is insurmountable–when they have not just walked away, but slammed the door and refused to even tell you where they are going. No word. No call. Unanswered texts.
Moments of anguish mark the heart of God—anguish began in the Garden of Eden as His children began the long walk away from relationship with Him, leaving the Garden He created just for them; anguish over separation from His Son in order to end separation from His adopted children; anguish in another garden where His child wept; anguish that ripped a curtain and shook the world; anguish as He waited for His Son’s return; anguish as he waits for us, His adopted sons and daughters, to return to Him, to reclaim, renew, and revel in relationship with Him.
As my family and I wait for someone we deeply love to come home, I am only beginning to realize the anguish I’ve caused the Father and my brother and Savior, Jesus. As I witness someone we have loved so deeply move further out of our lives, I see how this pattern mirrors our own spiritual movement in and out of relationship with God. The anguish we feel when distance separates us and the joy we feel when the one we love seeks us out—those moments only shadow the Father’s desire for relationship—the anguish of separation from the child He loves and the eager hope of a joy-filled reunion:
His anguish over separation from us–Gen 6:5-6:
The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain.
His joy when we seek Him out—Zephaniah 3:17:
The Lord your God is with you,
He is mighty to save.
He will take great delight in you,
He will quiet you with his love,
He will rejoice over you with singing.
In His omniscience and through divine inspiration, God placed words in Zephaniah’s heart so that we can find both parent and lover in Zeph 3:17. In my mind, I can envision a scene where Matthew McConaughey rushes in to save Penelope Cruz and draws her into his arms as the chaos fades.
We can also imagine the protection of a parent as we read the words. In the wee hours of a morning that seems just a few days ago, my then-11-year-old woke me with walrus-like coughs. Running a slight fever, he climbed into our bed between my husband and me. After an hour or so, a few teaspoons of cough medicine, some Vicks vapor rub, and a popsicle, I climbed back into bed beside him. I stroked his hair and hummed “Amazing Grace” until he fell asleep. In that moment of knowing he felt better and was safely resting, I found delight.
I am amazed and fascinated by the concept that our mighty God would rejoice over and sing to me. Even in my finest moment, I’m unworthy of such treatment from Him. But the scene in Zeph. 3:17 isn’t Matthew McConaughey rushing in to save and charm the beautiful and sweet Penelope Cruz, and it’s not a mother consoling a sweet, sick child. We need to look at the context and review the chronology. God’s heart was broken in the verses in which He inspired Zephaniah to write of His deep love. Israel had turned away from God and built idols and joined in pagan worship. The chosen children had pitched selfish, destructive tantrums, and run away from home; the beloved had betrayed her first love and prostituted herself with His enemies.
Several times, God likens His love for us to a man that rescues a woman from prostitution, filth, and poverty. Hosea lived this metaphor for us. He redeemed and married a prostitute named Gomer. Despite Hosea’s love and the blessing of three children, Gomer returned to prostitution. For just a moment, stop and really think that one through. Imagine, your spouse leaves you and your children to become a prostitute. She sells herself to men and becomes indebted to her pimp. She is owned by the very men who benefit from her sexual betrayal of you. Can you imagine going through that?
Imagine her coming back to you and begging your forgiveness. Could you forgive her and take her back? My guess is that most of us could not. Gomer did not come back and beg forgiveness. Even though she had abandoned his children and betrayed him, Hosea went out and searched for Gomer. He paid off her pimps. He returned her to a place of honor. God showed Hosea how to treat his unfaithful wife:
“Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her. And there I will give her vineyards and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. And there she shall answer as in the days of her youth, as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt. “And in that day,” declares the Lord, “you will call me ‘My Husband,’ and no longer will you call me ‘My Baal.’ For I will remove the names of the Baals from her mouth, and they shall be remembered by name no more. And I will make for them a covenant on that day with the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the creeping things of the ground. And I will abolish the bow, the sword, and war from the land, and I will make you lie down in safety. And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the Lord.”
In a parable, the Prodigal Son, demonstrates God’s love as a father deals with a rebellious, demanding son. Imagine, your youngest child comes and says, “Hey, I’m tired of waiting for you to die. I want my share of the inheritance now so I can go and live my own life.” You divide your estate between your children, giving the youngest his share knowing he plans to leave as soon as the cash is in hand. He doesn’t so much as hesitate as he loads the car and disappears out of the neighborhood. You watch for him each day. You check the mailbox and find nothing. You linger at the end of the drive. Each night, you go to bed worrying for his safety, praying for his return. You hear rumors that he is living a wild and sinful life, spending money like water. You are heartbroken. Then you hear rumors that his money has run out and his “friends” have abandoned him. No one seems to know where exactly he is living. You are consumed with worry.
Each day, you keep an eye down the road, hoping. Then, just as you are about to head inside, you see someone walking toward the house. At first, you aren’t sure and you try to not let your hopes get too high. Then, you see it in his stride—that gait you would recognize anywhere. He is coming home!
As the prodigal child, we wallow in the mess we’ve made. We justify our rebellion. We start and stop and start again to turn toward home–our shame and loss completely earned; our right to return destroyed by our own selfish rage. As a broken parent, we would hesitate. Even before she has stepped back into the yard again, we begin to worry about what happens when she runs away again.
Father doesn’t. His love is perfect, His forgiveness without limit. He sees us in the distance and He runs to us, gathering us as we stumble into His arms and kissing us, covering our shame and filth with his robes of righteousness and restoring our place in the family with his rings of belonging! Before we can choke out the words we have rehearsed, He calls out for the celebration to begin, “My son was dead and is alive again! He was lost and now is found!”
He is waiting, in anguish, watching for your return: “Then I will give them a heart to know Me, that I am the LORD; and they shall be My people, and I will be their God, for they shall return to Me with their whole heart.”
Make His joy complete. An anguished Father is waiting.