God’s tricky love language

Nothing has taught me more about God’s love than coming to terms with being transgender. 

To quote one of my favorite movies, Return to Me:

“It’s the character that’s the strongest that God gives the most challenges to. Now you can take that as a compliment.”

Back in high school, I was really into Christian apologetics – defending the faith with logic and argument. When faced with atheistic questions, I always had a ready-made Catholic Answers sort of response at hand to fling at my “opponents” with haughty surety.

One such answer was a reply to the so-called “Problem of Pain.” The reply came in the form of a story. So an atheist comes up to me and asks me how I can believe in a good God when there is so much pain in the world. How could a loving God allow his children to suffer so much? I would reply thusly:

Imagine you’re a bear who has stepped into a bear trap. You are stuck and don’t know how to get out. In fact, you are utterly bewildered by the strange metallic teeth that seem to have emerged from the forest floor to devour your leg. You panic and lash about in rabid pain.

A compassionate hunter comes along and sees you in distress. He, having set similar traps himself, knows how to release such a device. He knows the only way to do so is to push your leg further into the trap to spring the clamp open.

The hunter approaches you from behind and tries to shove your leg down deeper into the trap to release it. Being a bear, you have no clue why the hunter is doing this. You have no way of grasping the hunter’s superior knowledge and reasoning, and all you experience is intense pain. Angry, you swipe at the hunter and drive him off. Whenever the hunter tries to help, you bat him off, and thus remain stuck in the trap. 

In this metaphor, the hunter is God and the bear is humanity. Like the bear, we cannot understand God’s motives and thus assume that the pain we experience is unnecessary or cruel. We fail to see the saving action of God in the pain. 

Now on some level I find analogies like this far too easy and insufficient for the real depth of human suffering, which is why my interest in debate-style apologetics has faded. However, I think there’s an important point here. The crucial point to this story (as well as the Book of Job) isn’t merely the humbling difference of intelligence between God and man, but more essentially the deep compassion of God toward man. The point isn’t just that the hunter’s intentions are beyond the bear’s comprehension, but that the bear is unable to trust the hunter’s love. 

In an oxymoronic way, life’s challenges are definitive proof of God’s love. As Christians, “we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-5). Pain and suffering cause us to grow, and this gives us hope not because we want to grow for growth’s sake, but because we know this growth comes from the love of God. Our growing pains are proof of the fact that God desires us to become the best versions of ourselves, which He wants for us only because He loves us with unutterable intensity. 

As followers of Christ, it’s necessary to remember how much Christ suffered. If He who suffered more than anyone else is the beloved Son of God, then how can we complain of God’s absence when we experience only a fraction of Christ’s pain? More importantly, how can we fail to see that this unites us to Christ, and thus to God’s love? 

“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you” (1 Peter 4:12-14). 

If we receive countless blessings from God, it is a clear sign of His love for us. However, we must always remember that if we receive endless suffering as well, it is even more so a proof of God’s love. “To whom much is given, much is expected,” and to whom much is expected, much is given.

Being transgender isn’t a curse; it’s a stigmata. It’s a sign of how crazy, how insane, how off-the-wall extreme God’s love is for us.

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