“We are not intended to understand life. If I can understand a thing and can define it, I am its master. Logic and reason are always on the hunt for definition, and anything that can’t be defined is apt to be defied…” Oswald Chambers
I don’t believe Christians – even real good ones – are exempt from suffering. Neither do I believe that God plans all our trials for some sovereign purpose of his. I’m not saying that he never providentially prevents our sufferings or that he never miraculously intervenes to alleviate them. There’s no doubt that he does those things – sometimes. In the following post or two (or three) I propose to illustrate my point with a simple metaphor.
I was stuck in some jaw-clenching urban traffic recently. It looked more like a parking lot than a street and I had places to go and people to see. The traffic is always bad in the City. Just in case you ever visit, that’s what we call San Francisco – never “Frisco” or “San Fran.” But this day the traffic was beyond bad. It wasn’t just that everyone in the City decided at the same time to take the same route to Target. There was something more going up ahead. “What’s the hold up here?” I screamed loud enough to make own my ears ring, but with all my windows closed, no one answered back. I’m not usually one of those manic horn honkers, but the connection between my brain and my honking hand was temporarily severed. I joined in the fruitless, albeit emotionally satisfying, chorus of horns, as though the guy ahead of each of us were at fault for the jam up.
I tried calming breathing exercises to the point of hyperventilation, counted into quadruple digits, and quoted every Bible verse about patience that I could recall. I even tried opening up a Red Sea-like path in the traffic like The Secret said would happen if I thought good thoughts. It didn’t. I attempted to kill time by making overdue phone calls but got nothing but voice mails, which only increased my frustration. If they really cared they’d answer! I nearly called 911 to report a heart attack, reasoning that an ambulance would at least clear a path. I hadn’t really thought past that. I resorted to prayers, but they sounded more like curses against whatever or whoever was holding me up than like intercessions for lost souls.
Next I turned philosophical:
Why do these things happen to me? Why me in particular? Everyone else gets where they want to go without delay. (Right.) I’m sure none of these other people have anywhere important to go anyway – not as important as me! They should pull over and get out of my way!
Finally, my musings morphed into wondering what caused the congestion up ahead and why doesn’t someone just do something about it? What’s going on up there? Why can’t someone just stop stopping up the streets? Unfortunately I didn’t have that App that takes real time photos of traffic jams from Mars, so no answers came.
My thoughts turned to that poor sap in the Bible named Job (rhymes with “robe”). Surely these sufferings of mine could be considered, “Jobish.” I was going to be late to a very important date (not really a “date” date, it’s just a saying I use because it rhymes). Mine was a tragedy of epic proportions to be sure.
Then I thought about when God showed up at the end of the Job story and said (and I paraphrase), “I made this universe. Can you do that? You don’t really know what you’re talking about. You can’t see what I can see. My vantage point is considerably higher than yours.”
I’ve heard some people say that Job had to go through his losses – loss of his ten kids, loss of his health, loss of his servants, and loss of his reputation – all so God could give him more stuff – better stuff. With all the respect due those preachy pundits, that’s bull %*^$&!. With ten graves in the backyard you can’t tell me Job was happy with how it all ended up. I’ve also read that the point of the story was that God had a sovereign plan for Job’s future and so orchestrated all his losses. I wouldn’t exactly call that bull %*^$&! but it doesn’t quite ring true either.
My distilled-down take on God’s four-chapter tirade to Job is: “You can try to figure out what’s up ahead, but it’s just not in your purview. Leave universe managing to me.”
By the time all these things made their way through my thoughts the cars in front of me started to roll forward. I turned my cold engine back on, put it in drive, and inched ahead till I got to where I was going – irritated, late, and famished. I arrived just in time to help with the dishes – not even a morsel of dessert was left! It seemed more than a little unfair, but I pretended to take it in stride and made my way home taking a different route.
I threw myself on my couch and cracked open the book by Greg Boyd called, Is God to Blame? Moving Beyond Pat Answers to the Problem of Suffering and flipped to the chapter on Job. He confirmed my suspicions that the story probably wasn’t about how God planned all that poor sap’s sufferings for some sovereign purpose. It had more to do with how clueless we are of the eccentricities of a complex universe and that we should leave such things in the hands of the Traffic Engineer in the sky (my words, not his).
I thought about my losing bout with traffic and how, as hard as I tried, I couldn’t begin to see what was up ahead holding us as highway hostages. Road construction, a horrible injury accident, a stalled car or a scared puppy in the road could be the explanation for my missed dinner. We live way too far back in traffic to know what’s going on up ahead. We can seldom tell if the delay is someone’s fault or just the way things roll (or don’t) on a given day in certain stretch of road.
God may know the number of our hairs that are falling out and how many birds are in the sky. Or is that how many hairs we have on our heads and the birds that are falling out of the sky? Either way, to my mind it doesn’t follow that he plans how much hair I sport or that he shoots those birds out of the air.
He created a system in which these things happen, but doesn’t necessarily order their occurrence, at least not in every case. He can see the traffic problem up ahead. He knows what’s keeping me from getting to dinner on time. He may or may not answer my frantic prayer to open up a lane for me. (Speaking of frantic prayer, I wonder if missing dinner that night counted as “fasting”?)
But as far as the holdup is concerned, I can’t see that far. I can ask for insight or for intervention, but what he usually offers me instead is serenity to wait until things clear up.
So I pray, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change…”
Next time we’ll look at “God, the Traffic Engineer”… Until then, your thoughts?