So, I thought I might give whatever reader base I have left a little glimpse into the mundane thought life of MVG. This is a good example of the kind of stuff I ponder throughout the day, particularly when I’m waiting for my roomate to get out of the shower so I can use it.

clock.jpgWhy is it that 12 o’clock noon is “p.m.” and 12 o’clock midnight is “a.m.”? It would seem to me that it should be the exact opposite. If 1-11 are all members of a.m., for example, why is it that 12 jumps to p.m.? It seems clear to me that 12 isn’t the beginning of anything new, but rather a continuation of the old, which would imply that 12 noon should remain with the a.m. crowd. Even though it is still the 12th hour of the day, if we call it p.m., in actuality it is the 1st hour of the afternoon, so it really should be called “0 noon” (unless we go by those misfits who use military time). So I propose that we start a revolution, that we rid ourselves of all our misleading and fact-distorting clocks and watches to replace them with timepieces that tell the truth. I propose one of two possibilities: 1 – we start calling 12 noon “a.m.” and 12 midnight “p.m.”, or 2 – we get rid of the number 12 on our clocks altogether and replace it with “0 hour” (“half past 0”, “0:15”, “I’ll meet you at 5 of 0”, etc). If you ask me, it is time for a change (get it?).

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What does it say about me that I’m a more fruitful blogger during finals than any other time of the year? I’d like to say it’s because right now my mind is super fertile soil for knowledge and learning, but you’d probably all see right through that. The real factor, I think, is an unparalleled committment to avoiding the inevitable. It’s what allows me to squander 7.5 hours of potential study time in any given day. So this post is yet another attempt at convincing myself that AP213 doesn’t really exist, that the readings for Theology and Secular Psych were given in jest, and that two weeks from now all the professors will stand in front of us and yell, “GOTCHA!”

But anyway, I saw this news story on foxnews.com (see the story on its original page here), and have posted it below for your amusement –
Diana Duyser will never forget the day the Virgin Mary appeared before her on a grilled cheese sandwich … because she now has a tattoo of the scene. The Florida woman sold the sandwich in 2004 for $28,000, but on Friday, she had her Virgin Mary of the Grilled Cheese tattooed on her chest, WPLG-TV reports.

virgin-mary-grilled-cheese.gif“We all believe in certain things, OK, and this is what I believe in and this is what I want near and close to my heart and she’ll be there — forever,” Duyser told the station. The holy image appeared on a sandwich that Duyser whipped up nearly 13 years ago.

“It’s Publix bread and Land O’Lakes cheese — yellow, American — so you cook that without any butter or oil and that’s what happened,” she said. “I went to take a bite and she’s looking back at me.”

She kept it for a decade in a clear plastic box, where miraculously, it didn’t mold. Then, in 2004, she sold it in an eBay auction to a gambling Web site, Goldenpalace.com. The site paid for Duyser’s new $1,000 tattoo. They even trotted out the sandwich, in a bullet resistant box, to Miami Ink Tattoo Studio in South Beach, Fla.

Not everybody was so convinced that the still-mold-free image on the toasted bread was that of the Mother of God.

“I think it looks a little like Janet Jackson, a little like Michelle Pfieffer,” said Luis Hernandez, adding “I don’t see the Virgin Mary in there, no.”

Now certain grasps at faith I can at least comprehend. But why, WHY, do people find it so easy to believe in that which is exceedingly more absurd than the actual truth!? (and yes, I was intimating that the Truth can seem a little absurd sometimes!). Short answer would be that this kind of faith requires no personal responsibility, no change on the part of the individual. They can go on holding their grilled cheese close to their heart, getting grease stains all over their shirt in the name of God.  I mean, do we even know if Mary liked cheese???  Kudos, good saint, you have a greater “faith” than I!

WOW! I didn’t mean to delay this long in posting this 2nd part! Sorry ’bout that y’all. I actually wrote this a time ago, I don’t even remember what it says. I trust I still agree, but if it’s heresy, it’s just because of the errors of my youth…a month ago.

Due to the abnormally lengthy exegesis of the original post (at least abnormally lengthy for me!), I decided to split this into two; the first being the heady exegetical crap, and the second being my personal reflections on it. I do realize that I’ve titled this post “Me, Myself, and I-saiah 48″: scroll down to see the first post). So here’s where the Me part comes in.

This passage forces me to ask myself What happens when afflictions come? Do I remember that God has said, “Don’t be surprised when the fiery trial comes upon you, as if something strange were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12)? Hmmm…now I don’t burn sacrifices to other gods or clothe myself in sackcloth or do any kind of strange dance rituals…at least not literally (my roommates might tell you I do dance, but there is nothing religious in this exercise…and nobody is supposed to see; I just can’t resist the hypnotic beats of Bananarama…and Mr. Mister…“κύριε ἐλέησον in the darkness of the niiiiight!”).

But I do find I seek solace in my gods and not in my God. I seek pleasure in the temporary things whether they be food, clothing, movies or anything from Target. I sacrifice money to these gods and I clothe myself in their ritualistic garb (Guess jeans, Polo shirt, etc.). I bitch and moan as if something indeed strange were happening to me, as if I were the only one in the world being afflicted (see my previous post “When the World Shrinks”), as if God had it in for me. In these moments I feel as if I’m being utterly destroyed, but of course I’m not: it’s this furnace of afflictions refining me. Then again, there is a sense of destruction involved in refining. Just as what is refined is never the same afterwards as it was before (having undergone a deconstruction-reconstruction), so it is with sanctification: it is progressive, and lessons build upon lessons, each time requiring that we must die to the self a little more. And I’m convinced that process never gets any less painful, although hopefully we grow in our peace and understanding of the pain.

So each time you go through a period like this, remember Isaiah 48: God is showing you something new, and He knows that you probably won’t understand the new things yet, or the means in which you must learn them…it is precisely that you don’t understand them that you have to go through refining. But don’t forget the prophecies of the past and how they worked out for your deliverance. Those past trials in and of themselves were blessings because through them God will remind you today or 30 years from now of who He is and what love He has for His children that He found it pleasing to enter into an everlasting covenant with us, that His anger might not burn against us.

Just to interject here before I get back to my Isaiah 48 sequel, I was inspired last night by some very fortunate news to post my current favorite people and why they made the list. Stay tuned for future lists…will you be on it???

10.Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant: for continually bringing sunshine and painfully awkward silences into my life.

9.The guy at DSW shoes: for saying my shoes smelled like fire.

8.American News Media: for taking our minds off Iraq for a day by covering ad nauseam a story involving an ignorant radio jockey saying something really stupid.
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7.Will Ferrell: for not being afraid of a volatile backlash from a potentially irate ice dancing community.

6.The guy that invented Sudoku: for giving me something to keep me awake while I sit idly by a pool at 5 in the morning.

5.This guy – Nakamatsu: for being a veritable portrayal of determination in the midst of certain defeat.

4.Sanjaya – For the boldness to rock a hairstyle that can only be described as a cross between a cockatiel, a rooster, and a Roman Centurion’s helmet.

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3.My family: for a much needed relaxing Easter celebration…despite shooting down my paint-egg war idea.

2.Sam Boyd: no explanation required (and only temporarily usurped from his usual #1 position)

1.Karyn Traphagen: for allaying my fears if only for a short time by postponing the OTI reading midterm…but come now, is Brueggemann really necessary?

PART I

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I was doing homework for my hermeneutics class the other day and “stumbled upon” a passage somewhat unrelated to the passage I was studying. I say “somewhat” because, as we learn at Westminster, EVERY passage is related in some way to EVERY other passage in the Bible (yes, even Leviticus)…it’s rather amazing, really. Anyway, the passage I happened upon was Isaiah 48 (specifically 1-11). As I casually glanced over the first few verses my eye caught verse 4:

“Because I know that you are obstinate,
and your neck is an iron sinew
and your forehead brass…”

I found myself chuckling, not just because it sounded like my mom talking to my dad, but also because I realized that God was speaking directly to me, and it was the kind of eureka moment that was just plain humorous. It defined me so well (especially the “forehead of brass” part — I’m really thick-headed sometimes!) that it compelled me to continue on.

Of particular interest to me was the “because…therefore” idea presented between verses 4 and 5. The thrust of verse 5 is that God declared “the former things” (prophecies of what He would do, especially in relation to obstinate Israel) before they happened so that the people would not stray towards other gods (see Jeremiah 44:15-17). God did this, not because He had to (see vs. 9 later on), but because the Israelites were “brass-headed”. Because of their obstinacy, God knew they would run to other gods in the face of adversity. So He told them in advance that this was what He would do.

jewsinexile.jpgNow we see in verse 6 and onward that God is announcing new things through Isaiah and calling Israel to remember the Lord’s ways concerning the “former things”; basically a call to obedience despite not having understanding. These were things previously unknown to the Israelites, prophecies about how God would deal with them, most immediately in their return from exile, but ultimately looking forward to the coming of Christ and redemption through Christ.

One might posit that it seems this passage is saying God had to do all this, otherwise He would’ve lost His creation. As if we needed to be reminded that God owes us nothing and needs us for nothing (He is utterly self-sufficient), we receive some glorious insight in verse 9: Not only does this verse tell us that we deserve the implications of God’s anger, it also tells us that God restrains his anger “for my name’s sake,” “for the sake of my praise,” and “for my sake, for my sake.” Could He make it any clearer?

In Malachi 3:6 the covenantal aspect is added in: “For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.” We are not consumed because God has promised that He will not let His anger burn against His children. He is bound by the covenant only in that he voluntarily entered into a covenant with His people and it is not possible that God should lie (Hebrews 6:17-18). Thus we have encouragement to press onward in our faith, knowing we shall not be deserted nor destroyed. Yet this does not mean we won’t be tried. As the Israelites endured the Exile as their “furnace of affliction” (vs. 10), God has found it necessary and pleasing to refine His people through such trials.

(to keep the length of this post down I’ve broken it up into 2. As such, your comments could very well shape the continuation as it will include my thoughts and reflections on this passage personally…I’d love to make this a corporately reflected post, so leave your thoughts/experiences for all of us to be blessed by…)

To be continued…

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So I’ve been away for a bit, and for that I apologize; some things in life really are more important than blogging! And it didn’t help that I had absolutely nothing to blog about…or should I say I wasn’t particularly inspired to write about anything of significance. But this stuff here is certainly blogworthy — the Gospel and Culture Project of Westminster Theological Seminary is now hosting TalkHouse, a venue for conversations concerning a variety of issues relevant to, you guessed it: the gospel and culture. Recently I had the privilege of attending a conversation on how blogging is affecting church community, how we can be responsible and effective bloggers, and how we can be missional with our blogial endeavors. Check it out at the link provided above.

At the risk of encriminating myself do I write this current post. It is an issue that has occupied the recesses of my mind for months, making it’s way to conscious thought only sporadically. But now I find little else demanding my cognitive energy, so I’ll take that as my cue to discuss the issue of responsiblogity. I should say from the outset, that I am referring quite exclusively to those debates of potentially caustic nature that exist in our theological bubbles.

It occurred to me when I was writing my very first post in the blogosphere last year that a certain pretension was accompanying my words. There was a powerful element to it, and it was sweet. Perhaps it’s because I’m the youngest in my family and always feel my words are never quite taken seriously, perhaps it’s because of simply arrogance and pride; whatever the reason, it made me feel important to know that other people, random people would be reading what I had to say. And when I received recognition from other bloggers, my gosh there’s something seductive about that wine. Now I’m not saying we shouldn’t link to blogs we find interesting, informative, perplexing, etc. But I am confessing this, and likewise charging others to look into themselves concerning what and how they blog.

The experience gave me a sense of authority that I did not deserve. People, most of us are not professionals in our fields, so why do we get recognition as such? Most of us are not professionals, so why do we speak as if we are? There needs to be a humility accompanying our words concerning issues of delicate manner that naturally occur only when speaking face to face with our opponents. Let us remember, blogging is BY FAR THE WORST MEDIUM POSSIBLE for debate. THE ABSOLUTE WORST! We are more apt to write things to nameless, faceless entities that we would not (and should not) otherwise write out of mere respect for our peers and elders.

Again, I am not advocating that we avoid the touchy issues, but rather that we engage in what I’ve termed “responsiblogity”. While the word doesn’t actually exist, I don’t think I really need to go too far into defining it. But some simple guidelines may suffice concerning our theological debates:

  1. Pray before you write.
  2. Pretend the person (your opponent) is sitting right next to you.
  3. Don’t say anything that would prevent you from later being able to say, “I love you brother (or sister) and may God bless you and our discussion.”
  4. Remember the possibility that when we get to heaven, there’s a great possibility that ALL of us will say, “Oh, crap! I was way off!”
  5. Consider others better than yourself (sound familiar?).
  6. If your intent isn’t for the edification of the kingdom, it isn’t worth writing.
  7. Guess what: most of this stuff only enters the conscious thought of about .000001% of the world’s population.
  8. Ask yourself, “Is this issue worth dividing between me and a brother (or sister)?” Your answer to that question better be “No.” the majority of the time. Write with that in mind.
  9. Write what you want, show it to someone who you trust to deal honestly with you and discuss it, sleep on it, then re-write it.
  10. Be slow to speak, slow to anger; be quick to love and serve.

Now surely there are others, much of which can be categorized under “common sense”, but others perhaps not so much. I guess what I’m trying to say is we must constantly seek to keep peace if at all possible amongst ourselves and make sure our love for each other shines through even more in the midst of our disagreements, lest the world look at us and say, “They’re just like us.”

“…but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.” I Peter 3:15

“We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ…” II Cor. 10:5

I was sitting in the Barnes and Noble café today, sipping on my imposter coffee (I brought my own; it’s not Starbucks ‘cause I don’t work there anymore and only now realize the ridiculousness of their prices), whilst nibbling on a grotesquely overpriced chocolate cupcake and reading Donald Miller’s Searching For God Knows What. My attention was drawn to a conversation the employees were having behind the counter concerning a customer who was looking for the section containing the Bibles.

Guy – Hey, how come you knew the exact location of the Bibles?

Gal – Please, I’m a good Catholic girl, of course I knew where the Bibles were. What about you, aren’t you Jewish?

Guy – Yeah, but only by descent. I’m definitely not religious in any way at all.

Gal – Aww, that’s sad.

Guy – Is it?

Gal – Yeah, you should believe in something. I mean, you don’t have to believe in Judaism, but you really should believe in something…not even necessarily God, but maybe in, like, the animals or trees…something!

My mind was flooded with all sorts of thoughts and feelings at that moment. It was obvious that by “believing in something” they meant “live for something.” One thought of mine was, “Mike, say something. Tell them everyone believes in something whether they realize it or not. Tell him that if nothing else, people live for themselves (which I’d say is at least better than living for trees!).” And then, of course, after saying this, I’d whip out my Van Tillian lightsaber and completely shatter the world as they knew it by exposing their foundational presuppositions (note sarcasm).

I found it interesting how that short conversation defined “religion.” Basically, religion was relegated to whatever it is that drives you in life. And apparently, to this girl, trees could be a sufficient reason for living. Maybe she was referring to nature in general, that Baha’I idea of our connectedness with it and, therefore, our responsibility to it. I dunno, I didn’t spend too much time thinking about it.

Another thought was just how sad it was that a self-proclaimed Catholic woman would endorse such malarkey (that may be the first time I’ve ever used that word). Then I figured that this is probably the approach the majority of secular America would take towards Truth, at least functionally, and that I was surrounded by that very same secular America. And then a thought entered my mind that saddened me more than all the others put together: I had sat there, and said nothing, content to yet again remain an anonymous Christian, fearful of the waves an absolute assertion for Biblical Truth would make in this relativistic post-modern world.

But it goes deeper. Why hadn’t I said anything? Was it really because I feared their response? Was I afraid I wouldn’t have the answers to their questions? Was it because I wanted them to think well of me (or at least not think anything of me at all)? I came to this conclusion: I was afraid they’d see that I didn’t really buy the product I was selling. Or perhaps more accurately, I was afraid they might actually be convinced of my position, when I myself wasn’t even sure of what that position was. Now just a disclaimer here, I’m not doubting my faith, but rather echoing Miller’s words, “… I am only saying I think I know who [God] is, then I figure out I don’t know very much at all.” So it’s not that the product is bad or in any way faulty, but I’m starting to realize (again) that it doesn’t quite work the way I thought.

If you read my previous couple blogs, you’ll get a glimpse at the workout my faith has been getting as of late. And I’m confident (and thankful) that I will not be the same on the other side of this valley as I was before entering it. I guess that’s the whole point. Yet these valleys do not excuse us from the mandate spelled out in I Peter and II Corinthians. According to I Peter, sharing our faith is not an expression of how well we feel spiritually at that moment, but rather an expression of honor towards the Lord who is holy. It is God’s holiness that demands we share our faith, which precludes any spiritual temperament we might have at any given time. And even if we are experiencing confusion or dryness in our faith, we trust that our words will still go forth and be blessed according to God’s unfailing power and sovereignty.

Perhaps one of the most frustrating aspects of being a stranger in a strange land is dealing with these awkward and problematic earthly vehicles our souls have taken on. On the one hand, we see in their infinitely genius design the very hand of God. But in a sin-broken world, the details of that genius tend to go awry. And so we’re left with inconveniences such as headaches, acne, hangnails, receeding hairlines, gastrointestinal discomfort (hehe), and the list goes on. We’re also left with diseases of a more tragic nature: cancer, AIDS, strokes, infertility, bullet and stab wounds, etc. As believers, we’re called to view even the worst of these things in light of God’s Word, and more specifically, in light of His progressive plan of redemption, re-creation, and sanctification. Easier said than done.

But at the risk of simplifying the issue, I’d like to at least broach the subject, and I hope people have more to say in commentary. This issue has come to the fore for me in recent days as I’ve been suffering from seeminly endless shin splints (I think I may have actually fractured my shin, but the result is the same). Unlike many people, I run because I enjoy it. I enjoy the creation around me, the mechanics of the human body, the rush from having beaten a previous time, and for some reason, life seems clearer and my path less obstructed after a nice long run. Recently I’ve been training to take part in the NYC Marathon in November, with several shorter races between now and then.

So, to be stricken with shin splints (or fracture) has become not only a frustration, but also a profoundly spiritual struggle. I question why God would allow me to be laid up when I’m just trying to keep my body in shape (I realize I’m deluding myself here, certainly there are elements of self-righteousness involved). My frustration is not unlike a child whose parent has just taken away his favorite toy because he’s been naughty. Yet my temper tantrum continues.

The other day, in my Hermeneutics class, Dr. Poythress was going on about steps in the hermeneutical process, yet in the context he interjected this bit of wisdom: “Our bodies experience decay so that we might not put our hope in this world, but rather in God.” Bam, right in my stomach. My immediate thought was, “Ok, I’ll put my hope in you, God…BUT PLEASE FIX MY SHIN!!!” I don’t think that was quite the response God was searching for. I’ve always been a tough nut to crack, but I can feel myself cracking now. My shin probably will get better with time…but it may not. And to be ok with that, I need to first detach myself from the hope I have in this world and my own selfish pursuits, replacing them with a hope in what can not be destroyed. Not that I shouldn’t have any hope that my shin will get better or that I’ll someday have a stable job etc., all those hopes in and of themselves are quite honorable. But they must not supplant our desires for allowing God to mold us and shape us in his own perfect way. In another class that same week (I forget which), the professor made the observation that of the hundreds of prayers in the Bible, a relative few are of the “Gimme this…I need that” sort. Now Christ did teach us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread…” but at the same time, it seems that today’s Christian world (or at least mine) is more likely to concentrate on this type of prayer rather than laud and honor, and simply basking in the sovereignty of God even in the midst of desperate struggle (e.g., Psalm 40).

So where do we derive our hope?

I think of my mom’s fibromyalsia and the seeming nonsense of it. Does she have this debilitating ailment because she refuses to find her hope in God? Not necessarily, but if there must be a reason, certainly one is for her to be an example to me of great perseverance in placing her hope in Him who will one day redeem that disease as His own and she will no longer suffer in it. I don’t think my mom has given up hope of being relieved of her pain this side of heaven, but I do think she’s come to the peaceful resignation of being able to say, “God, even if you never take this from me, my hope will still be in you.” She may be able to find meaning in her suffering by virtue of being an example to her son, but that only goes so far: it is virtuous enough, but our suffering has profound meaning completely apart from anything we might be able to see in this life, simply because we are sharing in Christ’s sufferings.

I must include this final thought, which could be the topic of a whole new post, but considering all that has happened this week, this post would be incomplete without it. For years, I thought (perhaps subconsciously) that assurance meant being sure of your faith. This is completely backwards and will never hold water in the face of struggle or adversity. Our assurance comes from the fact that even when we struggle so much or find ourselves in such a pit of despair that we can’t even see our own faith, God’s hand is still around us.  Our assurance doesn’t come from us holding on to God.  It comes from HIM holding on to US.

Amen?

I long for the days when it didn’t feel like my faith was contingent upon exhaustively understanding the deep intricacies of presuppositional apologetics or reformed systematic theology. I long for the days when I was content to read my Bible IN ENGLISH (including the parts I didn’t understand) and not worry about who the real author of Exodus was or when it was written, or how evidence should be used as an apologetic tool (if at all), or what the hell happened to the Septuagint and why anyone would ever want to base a translation on it, or…I could go on for hours. I guess in a nutshell, I’m saying I long for the days when ignorance was bliss, but my faith was bliss too.

Yet, I can recall days back then when I knew there was so much behind what I was reading that could and should be explored, and it was such a compelling force to begin that adventure. But now I feel my faith has been relegated to an academic exercise, something that might only be worth a ‘C’ if that’s what I happen to get on my next paper or exam. I can honestly only blame myself for allowing this situation to occur. On the one hand Westminster is an academic institution and has made no secret of that. But on the other hand attempts are made daily to remind me, the student, of the proper, God-glorifying end which we pursue. But for me, there is currently a disconnect between the wealth of information I receive in my ears and the amount of spiritual sustenance it delivers to my soul. When done correctly the two should inform and sustain each other. But as it is, my head is filling up with knowledge while my soul withers in the sun.

I have felt this to a certain degree for some time. Yet today marked a culmination of feelings of helplessness, homelessness, emptiness, waywardness, and a whole host of other “nesses” that I find to be more than coincidental. Let me explain: I try not to chalk too much up to spiritual warfare, because it can easily become a copout: I don’t like to shift responsibility from myself. But the timing of this “crisis” leads me to at least consider the possibility that part of what I’m experiencing is from the enemy. This past Saturday afternoon was the memorial service of a beloved professor at Westminster, Dr. Al Groves. During the service, as I listened to various people reflect upon the servant-heart of this man, I realized I despised who I had become. Later that evening I confessed to a dear friend of mine that I had allowed myself to become very self-centered in recent months, and I felt my faith was suffering because of it. That night I felt a turning of the tide, an opportunity to rediscover the joys of Christian service. But just over 24 hours later, I could hear whispers of discouragement and malice, doubt and fear, rage…it was all so tangible this morning.

On the one hand, it could be Satan trying to thwart God’s plan to call me back to repentance. On the other hand, it could be that in order for me to truly repent, I need to be absolutely torn down to nothing, and that the pain I’m feeling is akin to the pain one might feel after having a cancerous tumor removed. Or, I guess it could be both, Satan intending it for one purpose and God for His own. And finally, to be fair, it could just be me…sinful, wretched me trying desperately to hold on to the sin I love so much.

Reading back through this post, I’m tempted to see two distinct issues at work here. No doubt there are several others, but these are prevalent: my disenchantment with theological education, and the spiritual pain I’m experiencing in the deepest parts of my soul. But perhaps they aren’t as distinct as they appear. Since they inform and sustain each other (as I mentioned above), it would follow that a detriment in one would lead to a detriment in the other, which is exactly what I feel at the moment. Do I, then, actually long for the days of ignorance? I suppose not. I just wish my “education” didn’t come at the expense of my joy. It shouldn’t, and it doesn’t have to, but as it is related to a deeply spiritual issue of mine, I imagine it will require some deep spiritual pain for me to once again see those two in harmony.

For those of you who read this who are believers, I write this so that you might pray for me: that God would be faithful in tearing me to pieces with the end that my faith might be stronger and my commitment to service to Him and death to self might persevere. For anyone who reads this who is not a believer, I hope you do not understand this struggle as an indicator of a lack of God’s faithfulness, but rather mine. And as such, this process is a greater indication of God’s faithfulness, because no matter how much I writhe and scream, He refuses to let me, His child, go.