I began this week by talking about monsters. Monsters are real. They are real under the bed; they are real under my bed. But I also said that they dwell in the places that monsters most often do, in the imagination, because in the presence of God, things aren't nearly as bad as they seem.
The question, then, is whether faith is enough for the monsters. In the dark of night when monsters strike, is it enough to believe in God?
We ask this question when tragedy strikes, when we see someone succumbing to their monsters. When we see someone defeated by their darkness. Didn't they believe? Maybe we even know they believed, which makes it harder to reconcile faith and monsters. That a man believes in God, we say, should necessarily mean he cannot be eaten by his monsters.
Which is really nice in theory, but irresponsibly blind to the realities of this world. There are monsters in this world that are bigger than God.
We're people of faith. We don't say such things out loud! If your monsters are bigger than your God, you say, then your God is clearly not big enough. And if your God is not big enough, then maybe you don't believe in God at all. Maybe you have no faith.
There's no other word for it. That's complete and utter crap. I am very happy for you if you have found that believing in God enough is the answer to your monsters. I do not discount your experience. But for so many of us, we wrestle with the monsters so long in the night that they do not simply go away when dawn breaks. The light cannot chase them away. Stop telling us that it can.
Because here's the truth: if I'm up against my biggest monsters, I may clearly see that they are monsters. I may see their very form. I may not necessarily be afraid of them any more, but I may still see them every moment. I may choose, by faith in God, that now is the time for monster-slaying. I may decide that today is the day I stand. God may give me the strength to do just that.
And in the very same moment, I may find that though I have seen my monsters, and though I know my God, I have severely underestimated the power of both. My monster may have within it the power of a full-force gale, strong enough to knock me down and keep me there. Even in its fully-exposed, known form, it may still take me by surprise. And my God? My God may not be enough to keep me from going down.
Sorry, but that's how it is. That's how it is in the pages of the Bible; that's how it is in the words of my heart. I suspect I'm not alone. I can know exactly what I'm up against, know exactly, in complete fullness, who God is, and still find myself in a position to say, "I can't do this."
You know? That's okay. It's okay if you can't do this. It's okay if, with God right by your side, you still can't do this. It's okay if you look at Him and admit it's time to back down. I have run from a few fights in my life, pulling God along with me by the hand as I'm screaming, "Let's get out of here before this kills us both!" Because my monsters cannot destroy God, but they can destroy my God. They can destroy my image of Him and disconnect me from whatever faith I still have, and I'd rather have my God than fight my monsters. And sometimes, God will let you run.
There are times, though, when He won't. There are times when He knows, and you do, too, that you're in too deep. That the only way out now is to win or die. We grieve when those we love decide they cannot win and take their own death. We wonder how such a thing could happen. Didn't they believe?
Maybe. But faith is so rarely enough. Even an active faith - a faith that both believes and trusts - is not enough. It takes something more. It takes...I wish I could tell you what it takes. I wish I could tell you what that missing piece is. It's not hope, I don't think; in the middle of the battle, hope seems empty. It's not love; this is a moment when it feels almost impossible to love. If you've ever fought monsters and won, you know what I'm talking about. If you're fighting monsters right now and losing, you really want me to be right about this.
I'm right about this. There is something else. I'm just not sure what it is for you. And I'm not one of those people who is going to tell you some bogus magic formula for winning; it's not helpful to seek after this or that thing, this or that seeming advantage.
So what I tell you today if you're fighting monsters is this: keep fighting. Have faith, even when that faith is not enough. Keep fighting. If you can't fight any more, pull away. If you have full sight of your monsters and full glimpse of your God and you're still saying, "I can't do this," pull away. Step back. If you can't step back, if this is win or die, keep fighting. Your monsters will never kill you. They can't. And they know they can't.
Now you know it, too. If you don't believe me just yet, hold on and trust one more day. Tomorrow, to the best of my ability, I will try to tell you what it actually looks like when the monsters "win."