The overcoming kingdom {guest post}

Seth Haines is a true Renaissance man: formerly in Christian ministry, now lawyer, poet, editor, writer, musician, husband, father. I read his perspective on doubt and suffering voraciously. He’s not one for easy answers and his words always lead me to better theological reflection and that deep comfort that I know to be true. (I do so like those Haineses.) I write with Amber each Monday, and it’s an honour to have Seth in this space today:

Titus – photo by Amber Haines (used with permission from Seth)

In the summer of 2012, our eight-month old Titus stopped growing. Feeding him had become a great chore, and when we could cajole him to eat, his body quickly rejected it. The local doctors realizing that this was a case that required additional expertise, we admitted to Arkansas Children’s Hospital where a team of specialists poked, prodded, and scanned my wasting son in an effort to determine the precise cause of his illness. I watched as he suffered through daily blood draws and the placement of a feeding tube through his nose. I helped force-feed him barium contrast, held him down for the x-rays. He endured CT scans, endoscopic procedures, internal biopsies. Titus had become a flesh-and-blood laboratory experiment.

It was a grueling process, and over our two week stay, the specialists reached no definitive answers. As I watched him to waste away, watched his ribs become exposed, watch his cheeks sink, and his frame skeletonize, I began to flounder in desperation. If God was so good, why wouldn’t he merely say the word and heal my son?

When life upends you, it’s tricky to balance human suffering and the goodness of God. It’s tempting to default to cliché tautologies–God is good because he is God–but these kinds of pat answers seem unsatisfying in the moment, and the starkness of our personal suffering seems to heighten awareness of the plight of all humanity. There are wars, famines, diseases, injustices, and where, pray tell, is God?

In the wee hours of the morning, I’d often pace the hospital floor. The hustle and bustle of the day gone by, the halls were quiet, filled only with the whir of hospital machines and the occasional beep at the nurses station. There, in the dimmed lights, I’d walk and ask God where he was, why he wouldn’t simply heal Titus. Time after time, my questions were answered with nothing more than my small recollection of Jesus’ words on suffering,
“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33).

I meditated on his words, and the quality of his promise sank deep, brought an otherworldly peace. In these moments, I realized that it is not the quality of the here-and-now that is to shape our view of God’s goodness; rather, it is the quality of his overcoming, the promise of the coming kingdom of perfection.

Titus is on the mend these days, slowly gaining weight and heading back toward health. For this we are thankful. But neither his sickness nor his health are the measure of God’s goodness, nor is God’s goodness measured in trite tautological statements. Instead, God’s goodness finds its richness in the act of his overcoming, in the depth of his peace, and in the quality of the kingdom come.

For that, I wait expectantly. Because, as the Psalmist says, I believe that I shall see the goodness of God in the land of the living.

Seth Haines: I am a working stiff who enjoys good sentences, good music, good food, and fishing the running rivers of Arkansas. I am blessed to be the husband of Amber Haines and the father of four boys. I have been trying to shake the haunting of Rich Mullins’ lyric “nobody tells you when you get born here how much you’ll come to love it but how you’ll never belong.” (To no avail, mind you.) It’s a privilege to scratch out words when the opportunity arises. I blog. I tweet. I Facebook. Thanks for reading.

Over to you:

  • “it is not the quality of the here-and-now that is to shape our view of God’s goodness; rather, it is the quality of his overcoming” – how easy do you find it to hang onto this?

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15 Responses to The overcoming kingdom {guest post}

  1. Diana Trautwein 6th February, 2013 at 6:57 am #

    Save me from the trite, the pat, the quick answer and the misapplied scripture. Oh, please. Thanks for helping to do that with this piece, Seth, and with your whole life. I have such deep admiration for both you and Amber and how you’re wrestling your way through this hard, hard time with your beautiful littlest boy. I think this may be the hardest, hardest thing of all – finding our way to God when our children are struggling. It can be very, very lonely. I am grateful the Word you’ve carried since your youth rose to the surface and helped you keep walking through this valley.

    • Seth 6th February, 2013 at 2:26 pm #

      D, whenever you comment, I sort of want to be really really quiet and just take in what you have to say. Thank you for your words. There are few people on the web I trust more than… well… you know.

  2. Mark Allman 5th February, 2013 at 8:24 pm #

    At these times in my life that I run to the rooms in my soul that harbor no life I am desperately hoping God will come find me there; and pour some light over the darkness.

    • Seth 5th February, 2013 at 11:51 pm #

      Here’s to the desperate hope, Mark. He keeps coming through for me. I hope he does you, too.

  3. Sarah Bessey 5th February, 2013 at 7:56 pm #

    Absolutely stunningly true.

    • Seth 5th February, 2013 at 11:50 pm #

      Thank you, SB.

  4. Alice 5th February, 2013 at 7:06 pm #

    It’s very tempting to expect the here and now to offer us happy endings isn’t it? Thanks for the reminder that God is the one who overcomes and he HAS done it – even though life is often riddled with that sense of having lost.

    Babies in hospital is just horrid though. I’m sorry your family have experienced this and for those memories of having to help and yet watch your child experience pain. I remember Tanya asking us to pray for you and I’m very glad that there is progress for Titus.

    • Seth 5th February, 2013 at 11:49 pm #

      The here and now… oh, that tempter!
      Thank you for the prayers.

  5. HisFireFly 5th February, 2013 at 4:29 pm #

    In those moments, those long moments when silence shouts louder than any noise you’ve ever heard, that promise is all I can cling to

    thanks for the reminder!

    • Seth 5th February, 2013 at 11:49 pm #

      Thanks for popping in here. FYI… I read a bit today. 🙂

  6. Ashley @ Draw Near 5th February, 2013 at 12:48 pm #

    This is so good, Seth. Thank you for sharing from that place of deep pain and wrestling with God. I don’t think I can imagine a greater suffering than witnessing that kind of pain (along with all the unknowns) in the very life of your child. I’m grateful for yours and Amber’s vulnerability and wisdom and for your meditation that day on John 16. It is not about the quality of the here and now, but the quality of his overcoming, the promise of the coming kingdom of perfection. Yes, and Amen! I will be carrying that with me.

    • Seth 5th February, 2013 at 11:48 pm #

      It’s hard, Ash. John 16 has sort of been my passage since I was a kid. It always seems to be the one that comes and finds me, if you know what I mean.

      Thanks for the words.


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