Monday, February 23, 2009

When the Answer Doesn't Make Sense

We drove west this evening into the sunset. The sky was palest robin's egg blue and the clouds gilt edged, creamy vanilla. The humble farmers' fields in the distance looked as though they were covered in cloth of gold as their snowy coverings reflected back the setting sun.

I pondered a train of thought that had started earlier in the day about the times that God did things that seemed counterintuitive. With the benefit of hindsight it is easy to see humour in people's responses. I read one of them this morning:

A disciple named Ananias was told in a vision to go to a house on Straight Street, and pray for a man from Tarsus named Saul, who had lost his sight. I smile whenever I read Ananias's response.

Acts 9:13-14 (New International Version)
13"Lord," Ananias answered, "I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem. 14 And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name."

The "pharisee of pharisees," the least likely to be chosen for the task of reaching the Gentiles, was the very one God chose.

I also love the passage in Luke, describing two disciples walking to the town of Emmaus after the crucifixion. They are joined by Jesus, whom they do not immediately recognize. This is some of the interchange that took place.

Luke 24:17-19 (New International Version)
17 He asked them, "What are you discussing together as you walk along?"
They stood still, their faces downcast. 18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, "Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?"
19"What things?" he asked.


"Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem?" Can you imagine how Jesus must have been smiling?

I thought too, of the account of Lazarus's death. How puzzling that Jesus took so much time to go to the bedside of his sick friend-- seemingly arriving too late.

John 11:32 (New International Version)
32When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died."


Jesus must have been anticipating what was to happen next--the raising from the dead of Lazarus. "Where have you put him?" he asked. And no one could have guessed why.

As we drove back later, Paul mused out loud, "I often wonder if my dad felt cheated."

"What?" I asked, surprised.

"Well, he was only 62 when he died of cancer, 23 years ago. I'm nearly 62 and I wonder if he didn't feel like he had a lot more living to do."

I didn't know what to say, but I wondered if those times--the times when we think God didn't hear, or got the answer wrong, aren't the times when God gave the best surprise of all...

This morning we sang again, that beautiful song, by Chris Tomlin, I Will Rise:
And I Will Rise
when he calls my name
No more sorrow,
No more pain
I Will Rise,
on Eagle's wings
Before my God fall on my kness,
and rise
I Will Rise

3 comments:

Julie said...

I know that my dad who just passed away at 69 was just about to embark on his retirement years and during his short 8 months of fighting cancer he shared that he still had more living to do. I hold onto the living that he has now is far greater than the living we have on earth.
Blessings

Marilyn said...

Yes, Julie! You have written well in your comment. I am sorry to hear of your loss, though.

I didn't know Paul's father, but in light of our current experience here - with a cancer diagnosis coming into the family last August and Wally being only 56 - I suspect Paul's dad at least passed through a period of feeling a bit cheated out of a lot more living. It may have been brief and he may have had some marvelous conversations with God about this before arriving at peace over the timing of things.

I often muse about the difference it makes to be a believer in the various situations life presents. DOES IT (make a difference)?

Concerning 'when things don't make sense,' this is what I've concluded:

For believers, it's not that everything makes sense.

OR that we know the answer to what doesn't make sense. (God save me from believers who feel they MUST offer a platitude or silver lining to every situation. It IS okay for people to grieve and to feel their grief.)

BUT that, in the face of what doesn't make sense, there is faith that God hasn't accidentally slipped up or missed something or failed to stay on all the details. He is still on top of things and yes, has the best surprise in store. THAT is the difference for the person of faith. And it's upheld by the Word.

I think the real question to ask people isn't "Do you believe in God?" but "Do you believe God cares about you?" Even long-time believers wrestle with this and it's an overlooked area of ministry, that people need a fresh experience and reminder.

You've given just such a reminder here today, Belinda. I like how you tied these examples together!

(yikes, this comment went longer than I expected)

Belinda said...

Dear Marilyn and Julie,
Thank you for the expanding and thoughtful conversation on this topic.

Paul's dad had someone saying insistently that they had a "word from the Lord," that he was going to be healed--in spite of all evidence to the contrary. He handled that with such grace, saying only that he believed that God was able to heal him, but he also knew he might not, and if he did not, he still trusted in his goodness.

At the end, he preached an easter sermon from a chair on the platform in April, and his final act of ministry was to ensure that the flowers were ordered for the mothers on mothers day at church. He died Mother's Day weekend, 1986 at 62.

His parting word of wisdom to us all, after being a very type A personality in ministry, was to say that all that matters is relationship--relationship with God and with one another. You had to know him to know how profound a statement that was. We have never forgotten it, even though we sometimes head down the path of "doing" instead of just "being."

His last night he sent everyone out of his room. He said he wanted some time alone with God. He trusted in his Saviour and loved him deeply, right to the end.

I don't want to make him out to be anything more than human. He had strengths and weaknesses in extremes. He was an extreme personality! :) But one thing he did, as Susan wrote recently, was show us how to die!