A friend once asked me where God was during his turmoil. He was going through a large upheaval in his life; he couldn’t see anything beyond the obstacles he faced. He felt physically, emotionally, and spiritually exhausted. “Is God even near me in all of this?” he grieved.
“No.” I responded.
My friend eyes widened at this response. He stood motionless; this was not the answer he expected from a clergyman. Before he could respond I continued, “God’s not near you; God is with you. There is a difference.”
This may seem like splitting hairs, but the difference is substantial. To help my friend grasp this difference I referred to his favourite show: Survivor. In the game of Survivor, I explained, the contestants undergo gruelling challenges every three days. What first appears fun and exciting quickly turns brutal and agonizing. The challenges push them to their limits. The players battle through mud pits, tangled webs, and ocean currents; they must make their way through elaborate obstacles and solve complex puzzles. They are left battered and bruised with cuts and scars adorning their bodies. And, in the end, after having their physical, social, or emotional weaknesses exposed, they stand depleted, frustrated, and disappointed.
But not Jeff Probst.
Jeff, as host of the show, is involved in every challenge. He stands near the contestants, in the vicinity of the obstacles, but he never engages in them. Jeff knows the ins and outs of each challenge, but he never tackles them. This gives him the freedom to comment on what he sees unfolding before him. Often, his rallying cries contain a not-so-subtle tinge of condemnation. As the contestants struggle within the obstacles before them, Jeff yells from the safety of the sideline; “Try harder!”, “Do more!”, “You got to dig deep if you want to win!” Jeff even criticizes those who are struggling more than others.
Jeff is never left marked or bruised by the obstacles of the day. His blue shirt is always impeccably ironed, and each hair of his head is neat and in place. During every challenge, Jeff stands a safe distance away, perpetually untouched. Jeff is never with the contestants, only near them.
When the unfairness of life falls upon us, we often feel laid bare. We stand confronted with our truest thoughts about who God is, and where God can be found in our lives. If we picture God merely as a being that stands near us, but not with us, then God is removed from the challenges we face. God remain safe on some celestial cloud, watching us from afar.
Has this been your vision of God? Perhaps you have pictured God as standing on the sidelines of your life, barking orders at you as you muddle your way through life’s challenges. “Try harder!” “Do More!”, or maybe the ever helpful, “You got to dig deep if you want to be saved!” There’s not much room for grace in such statements is there?
The good news is this is not who God is. Jesus shows us the profound “withness” of God. In fact, so integral is this “withness” to Jesus’ identity that the prophesy spoken over him at his birth declares “You will call him Emmanuel, which means God with us.” No challenge, struggle, or obstacle will betray his loving presence.
Jesus does not just come near us; he stands with us. Time and again, Jesus stands with people in their turmoil. Scripture is filled with a multitude of examples. Jesus reaches into the raging waters to save Peter as he sinks in the ocean (Matthew 14:22-33); he enters the house of Zacchaeus (Luke 9:1-10) and Matthew (Matthew 9:10-12), people left demeaned and discarded; Jesus turns to one hanging in physical and spiritual condemnation and offers him life (Luke 23:43).
Which of these events is closest to your situation? Do you feel like Peter, sinking under the weight of all you face? Do you feel like Matthew or Zacchaeus, alone, ridiculed, or pushed to the side? Or you feel like the thief on the cross, without a hope of grace or redemption. Take a moment to read the event that most closely resembles your situation and see yourself in the story. Assume the character that speaks to you, and then dare to hear Christ’s grace-filled words as spoken to you.
Jesus isn’t like Jeff Probst. He stands with you, not just near you.
One thought on “Jeff Probst is not God”
This is GOLD and very true.
All too easily, we forget Jesus & God are WITH us in times of trial, not disconnected.
As the Footprints poem says, ‘When you see only one set of footprints, I am carrying you’.