|Sifted: God's Response to Satan's Outrageous Demand|
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Have you ever been so shaken, beaten, and agitated by life that you feel like you're falling apart? Why does God allow us to be sifted like wheat? Drawing on Luke 22:31--32, Lawrence explores the agonizing trials that devastate us, the good God who allows them, and the beauty they ultimately reveal in us.
Q: Many books have been written on the topic of pain and suffering. How does your book differ from the others?
A: Well, you can find the “scandal” in Jesus’ response to Peter right here: “Satan has demanded to sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you...” Like a violent assault that’s too hard to watch, we turn our attention from Jesus’ “but” because the impact of it is hard to swallow. Satan asks permission to sift, and the Trinity gives it. If God is a co-conspirator in our pain, then what hope do we have? In the end, Sifted is a bait-and-switch sort of book—it’s a book about the pain we experience in life, but it’s really a book about the glory of God and His “beyond category” love for us. There are many mysteries about God and His movement in our life, but sometimes we use “mystery” as an excuse to not drill down into His beauty more deeply until our understanding of Him compels us to worship Him. The story of Sifted is not an answer to our pain—it is moving the blockage of our pain away from our lips so we can drink deeply the Living Water.
Q: What was it about these verses in Luke 22 that jumped out to you? Why did you decide to make them a focus of your study?
A: The older I get, the slower I read the Bible. Most of us miss who Jesus really is because, simply, we read too fast. We assume we understand what He says, what He does, and how others react to Him. But mostly, we’re functionally skipping over His essence in our impatient commute through the stories that chronicle His life. So I read the Bible very slowly now. And one day, while reading slowly, I rammed right into this little vignette that happens at the end of the Last Supper—it’s so short and odd that it’s easy to skip over. But when I stopped to ask myself if I understood what was really happening here, the story seemed like a grenade with its pin pulled. I saw something of God’s glory, and my own story, in this little interchange. God’s goodness surpasses our definitions because we’re hampered by our own limitations—but when we “taste and see” that God is good we’re forever longing to live in that taste.
Q: Do you believe that all Christians will go through a sifting process?
A: Sifting comes in many forms, and from many sources. Simply because we’re alive, we will be sifted—whether from our own choices, or from living in a fallen and broken world, or from Satan demanding permission to mess with our life. Sifting is a reality for everyone, everywhere. But sifting—it means we are beaten, separated, and revealed—is a process that’s, in a way, neutral. I mean, the outcome of the experience can either destroy us or strengthen us. Satan intends to destroy when he sifts, and God (who makes beauty out of ugly) intends to reveal His glory in us. If God is merely the god of “good outcomes,” then our faith in Him is purely circumstantial. But if God is merely good, then our faith in Him is like Job’s—“Though He slay me, I will love Him.” This is the kind of love that leaves no leverage—no ledge to stand on—for the Enemy. And this is the kind of love that is our chief end in life.
Q: Why do other Christians so easily judge those who are experiencing hardships?
A: In the end, the reason we judge others who are in the throes of sifting is the same reason why Job’s friends hammered away at him—we believe that bad things ultimately happen to people who deserve them. In our heads, that’s our insurance policy against tragedy and crisis and disappointment in life—as long as we assess ourselves as basically “good people” we should not be a viable target for suffering, or at least unjust suffering. We would never say that repeated experiences of suffering are a marker for hidden sin in a person’s life, or for God’s vote of un-confidence, but that’s how we act when we encounter people who have more than their fair share of suffering. We make assumptions about people who suffer because, we believe, we are judging them the way God judges them. We are wrong about this, just as Job’s friends were wrong about what was happening to him.
Q: Peter did not make the right choice when he was first tempted, yet his experience still brought a change in his life. Does the process itself bring about change even when our initial reactions are wrong?
A: The short answer to this is embedded in God’s habitual behavior: “[He] causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). No matter what we give Him to work with, He is always using our “raw material” like a master sculptor would—making something beautiful out of something ugly. And, as Paul reminds us in Romans, we do not use this character trait against Him. No one who truly loves another takes their beloved for granted or abuses their grace. But it’s the grace and artistry of the Sculptor that draws out of us our only rational response—worship.
Q: How can we be better prepared for the pain and suffering that will come?
A: Understanding the depth and breadth and height of God’s love for us is the only rampart against the destructive power of pain. The way we “better prepare” ourselves for pain and suffering is to orient our whole life toward “tasting and seeing that God is good.” And His goodness is better than we can dream—we know this because Jesus is a perfect reflection of that goodness, and Jesus is good beyond measure.