I think like a human. Like an earth-bound, time-constrained, self-absorbed human. And I parented like that most of the time, too. Humanity bears the imago dei, which means we reflect the loveliness of our Creator, so this was not always a problem, this human thinking. But I always knew there was more to life than my human brain could grasp, and I didn’t want to miss it.
One day a long time ago, Bill stepped out of his little sunroom-turned-office and told me, “The Lord spoke to me today about Matt.”
Bill is never flippant about this kind of thing, so I was immediately all ears, and, besides, in that season of parenting, I needed transcendence. Badly.
“He told me He would prevail in Matt’s life, but that it was going to get worse before it got better.”
I’m an optimist, so I locked in on that word “prevail” and ignored the word “worse.” The next day Matt got suspended from Stone Mountain Middle School for calling 911 from the pay phone with a group of his buddies. When I picked him up at the school, I’m sure he was surprised at my composure. I was thinking, “This is the ‘worse,’ which can only mean God will prevail, like, by tomorrow.”
… I always knew there was more to life than my human brain could grasp, and I didn’t want to miss it.
I’ve been reading the gospel of John lately, and I think the disciples were a lot like me. Jesus would do and say these confusing or comforting things, and they would run it through the sieve of human reasoning.
Today I read the last few verses of chapter 11. Knowing what’s ahead in this book we call the Bible sometimes increases the dramatic tension instead of diminishing it. John writes that “Jesus therefore no longer walked openly among the Jews, but went from there to the region near the wilderness, to a town called Ephraim, and there He stayed with the disciples” (Verse 54).
I can only guess that the disciples were heartened by this fact. They had their Jesus tucked away among friends, safe and secure. It probably felt good, like a reprieve. What they did not know was that twenty miles away in Jerusalem the High Priest had just uttered the most precisely prophetic words of his life: “…it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish” (Verse 49). Yes, God would prevail, but it was going to get a whole lot worse before it got better.
And, being human, the disciples couldn’t help but cling to the first part and ignore the second. Things appeared right and resolved. And so, for the time being, they could not see the grand redemption for all humanity that was waiting in the wings.
So today I’ve been thinking. Maybe Matt could have straightened up his act in eighth grade and saved us a lot of heartache. Maybe he could have transformed into a compliant child overnight. Maybe he could have started making good choices. Let’s throw in our other sons here. Maybe they could have become the men they are today without any of the hard, embarrassing, befuddling parts. Maybe we could have had a family that made us, in every picture frame of our little existence, proud.
And that is what we would have been left with: pride. A collection of straightened up lives. Easy answers. It makes me shudder to think of it. I’m already too much of a Pharisee as it is. This, I think, is what happens when we prevail, not when God does.
Ecclesiastes 7:13 says, “Consider the work of God: who can make straight what he has made crooked?”
When God prevails, even the worst of circumstances can become the best. Human stuff like time and space, what do these matter to Him if He is determined to redeem? Human common sense, what is that but our best attempts to straighten out what God has made, for a time, crooked?
When God prevails, even the worst of circumstances can become the best.
Sometimes I need a vacation from human thinking. Habakkuk’s response to what looked like a recipe for despair in human terms never fails to offer me one. The whole book is a litany of danger and failure and loss. It’s like a dirge. Until the very end. Then it turns into something altogether different. Today I noticed Habakkuk tacked on this codicil to the final, redemptive refrain: “for congregational use, with full orchestra.”
So I invite you to take a little vacation from human thinking and sing along:
“I’m singing joyful praise to God. I’m turning cartwheels of joy to my Savior God. Counting on God’s Rule to prevail, I take heart and gain strength. I run like a deer. I feel like I’m king of the mountain!” (Habakkuk 3:18-19, MSG)