I recently overheard my 20-year-old daughter talking on the phone to a friend who was struggling. She said, “Sometimes I think God is low-key savage. It seems like he wants to take away the things that we don’t even realize we rely on…”
God? Low-key savage? I just heard one sentence of the conversation, but I couldn’t get those words out of my head. They seemed sacrilegious.
My daughter had used that expression “low-key savage” before, but never in relation to God. She had mentioned “low-key savage” in connection with events like the Titanic. The Titanic, a huge extravagant ocean liner, branded the “unsinkable ship,” was destroyed on its very first voyage by an iceberg; repeated warnings about the ice were ignored by this seemingly invincible ship. My daughter had said that low-key savage was hard to define but it could mean subtly ruthless, with a touch of irony.
I considered her words again and immediately remembered Joseph, who had everything taken from him. His own family sold him into slavery. He was trying to evade his boss’s wife’s advances when she accused him of rape and had him thrown in jail. And then his former fellow inmate, the cupbearer, forgot about Joseph, right after promising to mention him to Pharaoh. God kept taking away what Joseph was relying on. Of course, everything turned around in the end, but in the middle, God seemed low-key savage.
Then I thought about my own life and the things that have been meaningful to me. I enjoy helping people. I love art and was once preoccupied with doing anything artistic with my hands, including painting, scrapbooking and making jewelry. I always wanted to be a Proverbs 31 woman – serving others, making our home welcoming, “working with willing hands.” But 15 years ago, my diagnosis of post-polio syndrome changed everything. I no longer have the luxury of serving and being needed; I need others more than they ever need me. To outsiders, this looks savage too.
This secret suspicion that God is actually low key savage is pretty common. A friend recently shared in a study on prayer, “I have a lot of fears, particularly about my family’s safety. I’m afraid to ask God to help me get over them because I don’t know what he’ll do.” We all laughed and then she added “Did I mention my son in the military likes to jump out of planes without an automatic parachute?” Talk about low-key savage.
Remembering those examples, I understood what my daughter meant. But at the same time, I also knew that God wasn’t savage. How could I explain that? Lamentations 3:33 came to mind: “He does not willingly afflict or grieve the children of men.” I needed that reminder.
We cannot look at our circumstances to determine God’s goodness or motivation. We need to look at Scripture. Moses tells the children of Israel in Deuteronomy 8, “Take care lest you forget the Lord your God … who led you through the great and terrifying wilderness… to do you good in the end.” Everything that God brings into our life is to do us good in the end. Everything. When he brings trials, they are always for our good.
When I was two, I had my first surgery. Before that I had been a happy little toddler who loved being carried around on people’s shoulders; it never bothered me that I couldn’t walk. Waking up with both my legs in a cast after my operation, I wondered what had happened. Why was I in so much pain? Why couldn’t I move my legs? When my mother came into my room, I was furious at her. I wouldn’t even make eye contact. Then I began to bargain with her, telling her that I wouldn’t be naughty again if she would take away the horrible white pajamas.
I thought I was being punished. And even after my mother tried to explain it to me, I didn’t understand. How could I grasp that this surgery could one day help me walk? I couldn’t. In my two-year-old mind, I just wanted to go back to the way things were. My mother bravely watched me suffer, knowing that I blamed her for it. She hated seeing me in pain, and if there was another way to help me walk, she would have done it. In the same way, God does not enjoy seeing us suffer. He loves us more than an earthly parent ever could.
I asked my daughter about her conversation, armed with arguments about why God is not low-key savage. She laughed when I mentioned it and said, “I know that God isn’t savage. But sometimes it feels like that because he knows what motivates us. I told my friend that it feels like God loves to take away the things we rely on. But I learned that when God takes things away, it makes us rely on him more, which in the end is so much better.”
I was relieved. And then I agreed with her. It can feel like God is being savage. He does sometimes take away the things that we love. But we need to remember God has a purpose to everything he does, a purpose that is greater than anything we can ask or imagine.
God will not let us suffer one second more than necessary. As Charles Spurgeon said, “In all sickness, the Lord says to the waves of pain, "Thus far shall you come and no further.” (Job 38:11) Each pang is decreed, each sleepless hour predestined, each relapse ordained, each moment of depression foreknown, and each purifying result eternally purposed. Affliction does not come haphazardly, the weight of every stroke is accurately measured… the knife of the heavenly Surgeon never cuts deeper than is absolutely necessary. A mother's heart cries, ‘Spare my child’; but no mother is more compassionate than our gracious God.”
When we understand the depth of God’s love, we realize that God is not low-key savage. We can trust him. Everything that happens in our life is ultimately for our good, even if it feels terrible in the moment. When we are tempted to doubt the Lord’s intentions, we must remember that affliction does not come haphazardly, and the knife of the heavenly Surgeon never cuts deeper than absolutely necessary.
As John Newton said, “Everything is needful that he sends; nothing is needful that he withholds.”