Growing up in a conservative family, as a child I soon learned that not everything happened just to make me happy. There were those days that I thought would never end. There were times when circumstances brought me to my knees in despondence, as I have mentioned in previous writings. With parental guidance being shared by several family members in my early years and inconsistency being more than a watch-word in some respects, there was no time for confusion; but the question has arisen in my mind more than once; “If all this was for good, and in God’s plan… why did it hurt so much?”
It is likely that there will be more than one reader who has asked that same question. As the worst things happen in our lives, we are faced with several avenues of understanding surrounding our faith. For the Christian who has been drilled with the “Word” all their lives, the answer may be straight-forward and the process of decision may be a simple one. But when the “worst” happens, the foundational precepts seem shaky when undermined by harsh truths that may have been overlooked by some myopic theology or thematic preaching. I am not trying to tear down the effective element of God’s Word being expounded, or even trying to label one denomination or theological orientation, as more effective than another. But, when limited access to the Word, as a prime source of “truth” directing both life and “Faith-based ideology”, there can be a true deficit in one’s ability to fully understand and demonstrate, through living, how God works in carrying out His sovereign plan.
Limited access is not just living without a Bible to read, but more importantly the lack of its reading with a view to experiencing a deeper walk and life in Christ, as proclaimed by the whole of the Bible. Growing up, we often wondered what those preachers were saying. We often sit under lay teachers in Sunday school and Church sponsored Youth Groups, and too often the Biblical information we received may have been from a canned format, being proclaimed by someone who may have just felt the need to “fill a need”, not out of a call to teach the Word in truth, and that being in context of both historical and cultural circumstance which may have been above their pay grade (knowledge).
This begs another question for many, and can become just another stumbling block to overcome, for those who see both historical and cultural value as a byproduct, that is similar to the filler found in our food or drugs, as necessary elements that build a story and not the foundation upon which a greater message is being given. A few Sunday school teachers, from my pas,t reflected that the New Testament was the prime source of all we needed to know about the Bible. Other followers and perhaps some longtime Christians will fervently admit to not having read much of either the Old Testament or the New Testament, citing that much of what is written is either too difficult to understand, (words to large, names too difficult or concepts too deep) or out of context with the world now-a-days.
As a child I never considered that I was making arbitrary decisions about life and what was being lived out day to day. Things just happened, and though much of what happened I knew was out of my control, I didn’t often consider that it was God’s hand effectively moving in my life, that could change circumstances at the drop of a hat. Given that as Christians we acknowledge the presence of both good and evil, we must also strive to understand God’s sovereign right to make choices for us, that may affect not only us personally, but also others around us… especially those we love.
In Church today our Pastor submitted the example of Job, a man of God, who was confronted by the satanic effect on his life. It would be easy for any of us to cave in under the weight of such a disaster as that which confronted Job. The loss of all he had, excluding his wife and his life, brought him to the brink of despair, but Job continued to rely on God for both his life and his joy. The playing out of this story before the reader reminds us that God may in fact allow bad things to happen to good people… for a greater good. We examine God’s fairness against our understanding of life, not against God’s greater plan for His creation. We hear our parents, our friends and others quoting that old adage, “Behind every cloud there is a silver lining!” and we struggle to reign in our disappointments, hurts, and anger with God, so that we can be one of the “beloved”, holding a banner of goodness and a testimony of witness for our God. Yet our hearts still cry out… “why God?”... “Why is this happening to me and those I love?” And our predilection in questioning God is not sin! Some may define it as such, but we are not the first to question God’s decisions, or His right to make them. The sin enters when we let go of God and turn from His will and lose our faith in what He is planning. We soon learn that hope is tied to faith and faith is tied to God’s plan, and this includes His ability to overcome, as He has promised in His Son… the Christ.
So are we wrong then in embracing those few precious verses that the Word brings to mind when we are surrounded by troubles? Jeremiah 29:11 is one of those we cling to. “For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. “ It would be remiss of us to just suppose that this verse lays open before us an all-purpose covering of God’s grace that guarantees nothing but goodness, found in Divine security, with no negative circumstances in life. The greater context is generally found in the reading of the surrounding verses; even better, a whole chapter of the complete Book of the Bible, in which the promising verse is found. Note that in the following verses of 12 ff state, “Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you," declares the Lord, "and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you," declares the Lord, "and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile." There is always that expectation that something specific must take place with His people for them to begin to see Him acting as a sovereign God who brings positive benefits.
I have those days when I like Job could sit before the fire and scrape my body with ashes, in agony over elements of disappointments in life. Fear for my family, their health, their livelihoods and their faith in He who holds them in His hand can overwhelm me, and my mind spins out of control with questions that I would love to ask God. But, who doesn’t have those days? We live in a world that some may define as the end times. There are those who would evaluate the haze of pending economic and political disasters as the beginning of the end for humanity. But I don’t believe that God is finished with us yet.
I loved certain stories in Biblical history reminding me that just because I have struck out, lost my way and seem to be hovering in some void, in my own sense of reality, God is still in control. I can’t imagine how “BIG” God is, how immense the scope of His omnipotence and the vastness of His Divine Grace. My mind seeks again and again the mind of Elijah, who when feeling defeated and afraid needed not some huge evidence to free him from fear… it was the still small voice of God speaking to him. (1 Kings 19:11-13) Can you imagine the heart of Abraham when confronted with the directive to sacrifice his son? (Genesis 22:9-13) To let go of someone you love , just to prove a greater love for another! Wow… Is that even possible? Yes, I am afraid so; yet our minds question the validity of such a request, or even being confronted by the possibility of it ever happening in our lives,… to us, as His soldier of faith.
Moses, in the story of the burning bush in Exodus 3:1-15, was confronted by an enormous task, a God moment, where he must enter a holy place to learn that life was going to change. This man knew he must. There was no turning back, but he would nearly lose his life, due to the fact that he did not realize the depth of God’s will demanding him to be pure of heart and readiness, entering into the task set before him. It was only due to the wisdom of his wife and the completion of a ceremonial service that saved his life. Why do we tend to skim over the details, when considering God’s will… where is the wisdom in challenging God, on the terms of our contract, so to speak? In my experience, there is none. We have to do what God’s has deemed to be our task in life and remain in both solidarity and faithfulness to that task.
So here I am. I know the plan that God has for me, not to harm me…. But does that make it any easier? No, not really. My human nature is tied up in flesh, and the desires of that flesh can be as varied as they are many, and they are not always in alignment with God’s plan or His will. St. Paul stated that he struggled with this just like the rest of humanity. (See Romans 7:15-20) Having knowledge of something does not necessarily make the pathway easier. Understanding the pros and cons of a subject does not make decision making easier all the time either. Much of the time we seem to need to make our own mistakes and deal with their potential consequences, as we develop a personal set of values and mores upon which we build our lives and family foundations. Some find it both harsh and illogical to just follow the script… it leaves them spinning, under the assumption that freewill means something far different than God’s greater plan; an assumption not wisely made. For those who become labeled due to their faith, there is much to battle, but not much to lose when all things are considered, if we stick to the plan… God’s plan.
So, do we steer clear of God and what some would call His insipid plans for our lives? I think not! In the weighing out of clear decision process there is little to consider. A renowned theologian once told me; “It is just a decision… not a debate!” He is the writer of the famed Biblical Paraphrase, “The Message”, Dr. Eugene H. Peterson. We chatted following one of his lectures and I wanted to know how I could better challenge my congregations to accept Christ. I was astounded at the clarity and simplicity of his answer. Years of work with small church in rural America taught him one thing he said; “Remember that God is in control and ours is to just present the facts and leave God to move in His people” Those who steer clear of God’s plan may find themselves in depths over their heads or more than lost in the shuffle to come one day. How we live our lives as the deck is shuffled is the ingredient with which we are going to be found acceptable or not. For Moses, someone else saved his proverbial butt (See Exodus 4:18-31). For us, the Christ has been the one… He has paid it all. Now for us to live within that plan there may be moments near the edge, but hey… living near the edge is not all bad, if we don’t look down, but up. Look up into the eyes of Him who came that we might have life and have it more abundantly. God’s plan is more than we can comprehend, but not more than we can withstand, for we stand not alone.