The Death of my God-in-the-Box

Updated: Nov 13, 2019

Since I’ve been at HOPE International, I’ve spent a lot of time talking about Uganda. It’s funny how even a year later, there are still so many things I’m learning and processing from that season of my life.


A couple weeks before I left for Uganda, I attended the Passion Conference in Atlanta. It was an unbelievable sendoff for me. I got to witness 60,000 college students unashamedly praising the Lord. Throughout the four day conference, I was feeling empowered, ready to go out and conquer the world.


On the last night, I was worshiping, hands in the air, singing at the top of my lungs. I don’t remember the song we were singing, but suddenly I was overwhelmed with this feeling that intense suffering was coming while I was in Uganda. The feeling became more and more intense. I heard the Lord gently whisper, “Are you willing to suffer?” to which I simply whispered back, “unto death.” John Piper’s sermon came next, and lo and behold, he preached on the joy that comes with suffering. I think I cried through every word.


I boarded that plane on January 15, 2013 fully prepared to never come back. In those last stolen moments at the airport, I was wondering if this was the last time I would ever see my family on this earth. It sounds grim, I know. But it didn’t feel that way. In fact, embracing the possibility of death removed all fear from that season of my life. I was fully, totally surrendered to whatever the Lord’s will was. (or so I thought).

Somehow, on May 7, I found myself on the tarmac of the Atlanta airport, dazed…but okay. I called my mom before the seat belt sign was even off, and we both burst into gleeful sobs as soon as the phones connected.

“I didn’t think you would ever make it back home,” she said.

“Neither did I,” I agreed. “Neither did I.”

I’ve heard a lot of people say that they went to Africa and their lives were changed forever. I applaud those people- but this was not my experience. Africa shattered my life into a million pieces. It wrecked me, knocking the breath right out of my lungs. The fruit of that has been miraculous- but fruit doesn’t often come without a little rain.

In the year since then, I have wrestled with God, on more levels than I ever imagined possible. God, are you even good? I stuttered over and over again, the most broken of broken records. Why did you even call me there? Was there any point to all that? There was more than one day that I wished I’d never gone.


I thought it was me who would die in Africa- but really, it was the God I thought I knew. I thought I knew God before I went to Uganda. But the God I knew was a God-in-the-Box, a silly, toy version of the God of the Bible. I thought a God of love didn’t allow suffering. I caged God in to a predictable set of patterns that made sense in my human mind.


My God-in-the-Box died a slow, painful death in Uganda and the year that followed. And I’m glad he did. Because that isn’t the God of the Bible. And he isn’t real. He is an invention of weak human minds that are too afraid to admit that the unpredictability of God is just a little bit unnerving.


“‘Safe?’ said Mr. Beaver. ‘Who said anything about safe? ‘Course He isn’t safe. But He’s good.” -C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, & the Wardrobe

A year and a half ago when God asked me if I was willing to suffer, I had no idea that He planned to uproot the entire foundation on which I had built my life- nor did I have any idea just how painful it would be. And in the middle of it, I never expected that I would come out of it thankful.


The Lord had to uproot a false foundation before He could rebuild on truth. My God-in-the-Box had to die before I could know who God really is (as much as I can get my mind around, anyway).


A friend of mine asked me a couple weeks after I got home why I thought God would give me this overwhelming feeling I would die in Africa if He knew all along that I wouldn’t. I didn’t have an answer at the time. I filed it away in the ever-growing category of Things-That-Make-No-Sense.


You know? I think a part of me did die in Africa. When I got home, I so desperately wanted to snap back to normal, but I soon realized that I could never go back to the person I was before. Sometimes we have to die before we can truly live.


It’s miraculous how much trust comes when you realize God cannot be predicted. He doesn’t operate in safe, predictable patterns. From our vantage point, it’s easy to think His plans are erratic, irrational.


But if there’s one thing I know, it’s that He is good. Oh, how our Lord is so unfathomably good.


“I have learned to kiss the wave that drives me against the Rock of Ages.” -Charles Spurgeon


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Sarah Ann Schultz

writer + editor + dad jokes aficionado