What To Do When God Tears You


“Get out,” my pastor said.

I shake my head to rattle out the memory. I’m working on a patio with a tile saw. The saw and a big squawking hawk try to drown each other out, but quiet pervades the lonely, wide open plain of eastern Colorado. It’s a natural quiet, because even when the saw and the bird quit their squawking, crickets chirp, wind sets the yellow grass to shivering, and whistle pigs yip at the hawk and other unseen dangers. But no one speaks, no ads run across the field — just rabbits. The constant whirring of electricity and air conditioning stays indoors. But my thoughts make plenty of noise.

I could feel God tearing me. Has he ever torn you?

“Get out,” he said. The rest of the staff studied their toes.
“That’s ridiculous,” I replied.
“I agree.” His bearded lip quivered and his eyes burned red.

I lurched up from the chair and yanked on my backpack. My legs and hands shook with anger and shame as I fought the urge to run out, to escape.

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Warring Impulses

After two days, the tile saw — or more likely, the lonely quiet — cut open that black box of shame and guilt again.

I want to justify myself: He was wrong. He said things he shouldn’t have. He asked for too much.

I want forgiveness: No matter how small the church, my pastor is the Lord’s man — an under-shepherd of the flock, a ruler of the congregation, worthy of double honor. I was wrong. I said things I shouldn’t have. I must repent.

The two impulses war within me. I know the truth. I was in the wrong. Reconcile. Yet while guilt and I peer out of our dark cage, remorse paces outside like a lion. Once I admit my guilt, the lion will get in and tear me up. And I’m afraid. My pride protects me, puts up a wall that keeps the lion out.

Raising Walls of Pride

As I resist, I remember a different story of a whole people who raised up walls of pride. The Israelites, high on economic prosperity and international power, turned to fake gods for satisfaction and help. The prophet Hosea warned them, “You have become spiritual whores. Tear down your altars to Baal and your walls of pride and return to Yahweh your God.” But the Israelites only built their walls higher so that the pride of Israel “testified to his face; yet they did not return to the Lord their God” (Hosea 7:10).

They preferred the safety of their pride and insulated themselves against the pain of remorse. They rejected the God who “opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (Proverbs 3:34James 4:6) — and who grants repentance with its remorse and humility (2 Timothy 2:25). They raised walls against shame, weakness, and remorse. And still the Lion came. He razed their walls of pride and tore them to pieces: he sent Assyria to destroy Israel and deport her people.

Do Not Flee the Lion

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I stand next to the tile saw in that Colorado field and this Lion approaches slowly in the tall yellow grass. Unyielding. Unswerving. He comes to tear me open. If I bulldoze my wall of pride — if I admit my wrong and give up my claim to justice — he will come in and tear my heart with painful repentance and remorse. And redemption. The discipline of a loving Father. If I raise my wall higher with self-justifying excuses and build it thicker with angry attacks against my pastor, the Lion will come nonetheless. His claws will tear me to pieces in anger. In judgment. To destroy.

“Let me run,” Pride says, “to a different church with more like-minded people.”
“Stay,” the Lion replies, “reconcile with your brother.”

Has God ever torn you like this? Surely he has — or he will. The Lion of Judah does not discriminate. He tears everyone. Oh, how you want to flee his outstretched claws. Pride calls you sweetly away and leads you down a well-worn path. Sheltered from embarrassment. Encouraged to live however you like. Blinded to your own gruesome filth and total poverty. And protected from the tearing Lion. But Pride has a forked tongue. It cannot protect you. The Lion waits just around the next bend.

“Hide it,” Pride demands. “Don’t let them see your anxious heart, your lustful eyes, your selfish intent.” “Confess your sins,” says the Lion, “for I am faithful and just to forgive you and to cleanse you from that black filth.”

He Tears to Heal

Hosea paints God in terrifying colors — a canvas bloodied red by the Lion’s angry tearing. But then, with white beard, a tired face, earnest tears running down his cheeks, he pleads with Israel, and with me, and with you. He says, Let us press on to know and love this tearing Lion. “He has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up” (Hosea 6:1).

For those who return to God — his children — he tears them in order to heal them, not to destroy them.

But as I make another cut with the saw, sorrow — for my sin, for a damaged friendship, for my pride’s power to wound others — sends tears trickling into the sludge of ground-up brick. I wonder, Will this Lion who just shredded my heart, will he truly bind me up? Did he tear me as judgment, or as merciful discipline?

Will He Heal Me?

We don’t have to wonder long. The Lion does not only tear. He speaks. “After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him” (Hosea 6:2).

The Lion now comes to breathe out healing on our stinging wounds. He will bind us up, because he has torn Jesus, the Lamb, to pieces. His head, his wrists, his side, his feet all bleed out precious life, and we are covered from our head to our feet. God sends him down to the grave, and raises him, and us with him, on the third day that we may live before him.

The Lion comes to tear. He tears his children to discipline them. He tears them to give them life, if they will press on to know him and look for his coming like a refreshing spring rain. And he tears prideful people who do not turn to the Lord, but raise their walls of pride higher like Israel. He tears them to destroy them.

Therefore, come, let us return to the Lord.

Confess. Repent. Reconcile. As long as it is called “today,” run to the Lion who tears you. He will bind you up.

Caleb Ziegler is a second-year seminarian at Bethlehem Seminary. He lives with his wife, Kori, and their daughter in Minneapolis.

A version of this article previously appeared on the Desiring God website under the headline, “Has God Ever Torn You?”

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Desiring God produces God-centered resources from the ministry of John Piper. Its mission is to produce and distribute resources that spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ.