One of my favorite type of books is the one where the main character has a plan and the audience is left out of it. We observe, like the other characters, the preparation, and execution of a plan that looks ridiculous. Some even look doomed to failure. Then, at the last moment, a final piece falls together and everything is resolved. The great plan is revealed and the audience is stunned. There are many examples of this in films like Now You See Me and The Illusionist. My favorite literary example though is Sherlock Holmes.
Over several stories, we come to trust in Sherlock’s amazing analytical skills. Instead of watching things unravel with fear or concern, we are excited to see how he will pull all the details together, knowing that it is basically impossible for him to fail.
I wonder if this is how it was for the disciples as they watched Jesus do his work. I’m sure his actions seemed bizarre at times. He seemed to wander around with an agenda no one else could recognize. He didn’t even heal people the same way every time–sometimes a word, sometimes they would have to do something, sometimes he made mud and covered their eyes, and so on. Any time they felt they had him pegged, he would do something surprising.
The worst surprise of all was his arrest and crucifixion. Though Jesus warned them, this did not seem to make sense at all. They were broken and lost–Jesus (or their idea of him) had completely failed them.
Perhaps you feel the same way. Maybe you thought you understood how God worked, but then he did something surprising or allowed something painful to happen or continue. Suddenly, when you thought you were in the know, you realize you don’t actually know what is going on. You feel betrayed by the One you were following so diligently.
I know I have. Surprisingly I thought that if I played my part well, then God would play His. I prided myself on being one of those who “understood” God–who knew how to please him. I did not see that, in reality, my obedience was my way of trying to control God. And God will not be controlled.
When my father died without making a choice for God, my world was shattered. I had prayed, I had shared the gospel, I had done my part and it seemed God did not do his. My father had a heart attack–his final reaction was fear and swearing. He died in the ambulance next to strangers. I don’t have words to explain how much this tears my heart apart. Since the moment I became a Christian as a teenager, I had envisioned what it would be like when my Dad became a believer. But it did not go as planned. I spent months wrestling with God about the possible culmination of one of my worst fears.
At the end of it, I decided to trust that no matter what God is good. I decided to believe that even though it seems God did not care, that He loves my father more than I do. I am choosing to believe that there are things going on that I can’t see.
This speaks to me in the various random things that occur that seem nonsensical. Philosophers argue that chance rules the universe–there is no meaning in the chaos. This is where we can speak our anthem of faith. We trust that somehow all these random events (like the unraveling of even negative events in the movies and books we love) somehow will work together in the end for an ending we couldn’t imagine.
This means we must release our normal, God-given need for resolution for every situation. There will be times when we cannot make sense of things. As Christians, a large part of our message is about how God can turn things around. Our Christian movies like Facing the Giants and God’s Not Dead have decidedly happy endings for Christians. However, we know this is not always how things work. Movies and books like Shusaku Endo’s Silence accurately depict the challenges believers face when there seems to be no point to the suffering, and God seems silent.
Scripture beautifully shows us both–the rejoicing in seeing things amazingly resolved and the lament when we do not. Hebrews 11 reminds us that faith is celebrated when people choose to believe, no matter what the results are.
And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection.
[Notice the switch here]
Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.
And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect. (vs 32-40)
This second grouping of stories tells of people who “did not receive what is promised.” They did not give up faith though and the author of Hebrews lets us know that God has a plan. Our job is to trust His plan. We are allowed to lament (the psalms demonstrate this without a doubt), but, we must continue to believe. One day, we will get to see the end of the story and what a surprise ending it will be! I have a feeling, it will be one that we will be glad we did not miss!