I sat in a room packed with volunteers for a nonprofit agency that helps children who have been abused and neglected. The guest speaker was talking about Adverse Childhood Experiences scores (ACE) and how understanding these scores can help us in our volunteer work. Each of us was given an ACE sheet to calculate our scores, and the speaker asked us to take a few minutes to complete it. I quickly read through the list of ten questions, which included: “Did a parent or other adult in the household swear at you, insult you, put you down, or humiliate you?” And, “Did a parent or other adult in the household push, grab, slap, or throw something at you?” A score of 1 was assigned to every question answered “yes.”
I could feel my face burning as I tallied up my score and wrote “7” in the blank, which I immediately covered with my hand. We didn’t have to share our scores, but the speaker explained how the scoring works and how it correlates to the way we live our lives and the choices we make. The higher the score, the greater the risk of being an addict, marrying an addict, being exposed to domestic violence, experiencing depression, having health complications, and the list went on. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention drew these conclusions after extensive research and multiple studies. The speaker explained that if your score is four, compared to zero, you have a 40% greater chance of experiencing everything on that list.
Four compared to zero. What about seven compared to zero? I glanced over at the woman sitting next to me. She was tapping her pencil and trying not to yawn. Her score sheet sat proudly in the open with a big “1” circled at the top of it. I flipped my paper over and felt sick to my stomach. This was not a standardized test. A high score was not, in this case, a good thing. Have you ever felt like you were on the outside of normal, looking in?
A Little Thing Called Trust
Someone asked me once if I ever wondered why God allowed me to be adopted into a family of abuse and mental illness. Families were designed by God to create a refuge of safety and love, but the Bible shows us that families can also be places of deep hurt and brokenness. Children may be abandoned, orphaned, or neglected. How can we trust a God who allows children to suffer? In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Mr. Beaver says, “Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King I tell you.”
He’s talking about Aslan the Great Lion, a parallel to Christ. Reading these words can be upsetting to some Christians. How can such a thing be said, that God isn’t safe? He’s supposed to be our strong tower, our rock, our refuge—how can God not be safe?
Then I think of Jonah, thrown over the side of a boat while a fierce storm raged and waves piled over. What terror he must have felt when he saw the great whale coming for him. Job: the devastation and extent of his losses, all in life ripped from him as God and Satan looked on. The disciples: eleven out of twelve killed for their beliefs. John the Baptist, Christ’s forerunner and cousin, sat in a dark dungeon knowing that Jesus had the power to save the world but wouldn’t lift one finger to save him. And Jesus: he was rejected by all He came to save and forsaken and denied by His closest circle of friends and God himself.
Beginnings and Endings
It’s painfully clear to me that Mr. Beaver was right: God’s character is good, but He is not safe. The end is certain—eternal life—but the suffering that comes before the end is just as certain. It’s for this reason that God gives us seasons in life, and each has a beginning and an end.
The time I spent directing anger and questions toward a God I wasn’t sure I wanted to believe in had a beginning and an end. He let me come to the end of myself so I could make room for Him. The more I tried to disprove Him, the bigger He showed up and the more He loved. I’ve learned that to trust in Him doesn’t mean I believe I’ll be protected from any harm; it means I believe He stands in it with me and allows it for a reason.
What a relief to know that the whale gave up Jonah in a big, smelly burp—that Job experienced restoration by the same divine hand that allowed all to be taken —that the disciples went to their deaths willingly and were immediately in the presence of the Lord they died for— that John the Baptist’s heart, though heavy with the truth, was not broken; Herod’s sword released him from his earthly duties into the Kingdom he spoke so passionately about—that suffering and death had no hold on Christ and they have no hold over us. These truths, these beginnings and endings, show us the heart and intentions of God.
God’s Unchanging Love
His divine plan works its way through the story of our lives and transforms what others intended as harm into something good that grows and strengthens us, so we can in turn breathe hope into others. He has granted us the power of choice and the ability to believe in what we can’t see and sometimes don’t understand. As we learn the character of our Creator and begin to embrace the mystery of Him, our faith calls us out of the rolling waves of doubt to rest on the shore of the One who isn’t always safe, but whose love and presence are as sure and unchanging as His promises.
You intended to harm me but God intended it all for good. Genesis 50: 20 (NLT)
You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book. Psalm 56:8 (NLT)
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever. Psalm 107:1 (NIV)