I wrote this nearly two years ago, but it didn’t seem like the right time to put it out there, until now. While we may not be able to explain every bad thing, we can choose to live into God’s purposes, no matter what circumstances we are facing.
Part of the experience here in Honduras is coming across insects and other creatures that are new to me. Either that, or they have the extra-large version here, where I may have only seen the small ones before. Scorpions and tarantulas are new to me, and I’m not accustomed to grasshoppers the size of my hand and toads the size of a softball. We foreigners react pretty strongly to these things while the Hondurans just look at us and shrug.
About a month ago, in the middle of the night, I was awoken by a distinct “scurrying” feeling. An incredibly fast scurrying moving up my back toward my head… intense enough to jolt me wide awake at 1AM. I instinctively jumped up to throw whatever it was off my back. I stumbled over to the light switch to begin my investigation. I looked around and didn’t really see anything. I felt around on my back and the back of my head and found a big beetle in my hair. I thought, “Huh, it seemed bigger than that.” I got rid of the bug and walked to the bathroom… where I found the real culprit. There, crouched in the corner, was a big fat mouse staring back at me. It started running around, and there was something sort of hanging off the back of it, which I identified later as an incapacitated baby mouse… gross. What followed was a half-hour of trying to corral, capture, or kill these things without making a complete mess. In the process, I walked out to the living room to try to look for any weaponry I could find. There I found a scorpion walking slowly across the floor. So I quickly killed it and went back to the matter at hand. I ended up getting a couple upside-down baskets over each mouse, and I shuffled them outside and sent them on their way. It was a little hard to get right back to sleep after that.
I told my story to several people at school the next day, where the gringos reacted in horror and the Hondurans presented me with stares of indifference.
It’s just hard to get pity from someone who grew up without running water when you tell them you had to take a cold shower this morning because the power to your electric water heater was out.
But the scorpion part does kind of get to everyone. No matter your circumstances growing up, a scorpion sting still hurts… a lot. And some of them can even kill people. Mice don’t kill. Tarantulas don’t even kill. But scorpions can. It’s not common, and the kinds of scorpions around here don’t kill people, but there are varieties in the world that can be deadly.
So it got me to thinking… maybe the mouse wasn’t such a big deal. Maybe it was a good thing that it woke me up so that I could kill that scorpion before it stung my wife or one of my kids or me. Maybe God uses little problems in our lives to make us aware of bigger issues that are looming. Maybe what I perceived to be a problem at the time was actually a good thing in the long run.
And this can happen in a couple ways.
Sometimes God is using our troubles to bring our attention to something more dangerous. And other times, God is using them to get us ready for something bigger and more challenging. Sometimes the little mouse brings our attention to the scorpion. Sometimes the little mouse gets us ready for a bigger mouse. Sometimes it’s prevention. Sometimes, it’s preparation.
So yeah, sometimes, the difficulties in our lives prove to be beneficial in the long run.
And sometimes they don’t.
What do we do with that?
Sometimes, the people of entire nations suffer for generations under oppressive leadership. Sometimes, we give everything we have to give, and we get nothing in return. Sometimes, our children die. Do we really believe that the God of infinite love is behind these things? Can that God even exist in a universe where these things do?
Not only is he in it with us, but he’s the only way through it. Sometimes, things like these happen because of the curse of sin in the universe, which exists as a result of our own terrible choices. Choice, which itself exists as a necessary expression of true love from the Father, has been the only real tool at human disposal, and we’ve used it to destroy God’s perfect universe to the best of our abilities.
But we could never mess anything up so bad that he couldn’t fix it.
So how do we fix it? Well, first of all, we don’t. He does. We have to let him fix it.
Well then, how can we explain that to others who maybe don’t totally know the God we do in a way that makes sense? Well, again, we can’t. We can try, but even that is wishful thinking.
If we want, we could summarize and say that:
1) Sometimes God uses the hard things in life to prevent or bring attention to bigger, harder things;
2) Sometimes God uses the hard things in life to prepare us for later, harder things;
3) and sometimes, bad things just happen because of the curse of sin in this world.
Ok, great, are you really gonna sleep any better tonight? Probably not.
The very exercise of trying to explain these things away undermines the very reason for our existence… ultimate and complete reliance on and trust in God… a meaningful relationship with the Father through the Spirit allowed by the actions of the Son.
We have to choose to follow him. We have to choose to act in a way consistent with his instructions. We have to choose to make our actions demonstrate the trust we place in him.
Paul went through all kinds of problems (criticism, hunger, imprisonment, etc) in his lifetime and still ended up being arguably the most influential spreader of the gospel of all time (shy of Jesus himself). God used all the problems in Paul’s life to speak to much bigger problems of humanity for generations to come. We’re living in that time, and that influence will doubtless continue into the future.
Old Testament Saul lost his donkeys. He went to go look for them and ended up running into Samuel, who appointed him to be king over all of Israel. God used his little donkey problem to prepare the way for him to rule over his people and change the course of history.
Job dealt with a problem or two, and never really got a great explanation. Sure, things worked out for him ok in the end, but that doesn’t mean he still didn’t bear the immensity of the loss of everything he had and everyone in his family all the days of his life.
Peter and John didn’t have any money, but they acted in the knowledge of what they did have… the power of Jesus Christ through them. With their faith and hope and words and actions with Christ inside them, they were able to help a lame man to walk again, sharing the glory and hope of Christ with many.
Some things will only be fully explained in heaven, but that’s no excuse to be apathetic or dismissive now. Some things will only be redeemed in the eternal presence of the one who redeems all things. Until then, we must speak and act in manner consistent with the hope that we have… the certain hope that comes from the eternal promises given to us by the only one who is capable of keeping all his promises.