Sometimes, life just happens.
A few weeks ago, I was supposed to get myself on an early flight into Phoenix, to participate in a commencement ceremony there. Several of the graduates had been students in one of my classes, and I was looking forward to seeing them walk.
A day or two before, a friend (thanks, Ken!) sent me a link to a wonderful essay by N. T. Wright on the Lord’s Prayer. I was scheduled to offer the pastoral prayer at the commencement, ending with the Lord’s Prayer — how fortuitous! The essay came right when I needed it, and would aid my preparation and deepen my meditation. It felt like divine confirmation of a kind I’ve written about before.
Saturday morning came. I rousted myself out of bed, got dressed and ready. My wife dropped me off at the airport. I made it through security without a hitch, bought a cup of tea, and made my way to the gate, which seemed strangely deserted — except for the long line of people that trailed from the counter.
I plopped into a seat, a little curious, but not enough so to make me brave the line. Then a man a few seats away caught my attention and spoke: “Sir? Are you going to Phoenix? That flight’s been cancelled.” He himself, poor soul, was trying to find a way to Pittsburgh, and had been there for hours. I sighed, thanked him for the information, then stood in line and began making phone calls.
The long and short of it: I didn’t make it to Phoenix, but sure enjoyed that essay on the Lord’s Prayer.
When situations line up in a way that makes life easier, it can feel like the hand of God. It may be so, and I see no reason why we shouldn’t be grateful to God for such moments.
But what about when things go the other way? Doubts may go through our minds. Perhaps we wonder if God is punishing us for some transgression. Or preventing us from some catastrophe. Or trying to “teach us a lesson.”
Again, perhaps. But sometimes, life just happens.
As we’ve seen in previous posts, the apostle Paul suffered greatly in his service to Jesus. And to add insult to injury, some of the Corinthians seemed convinced that this was a sign that something was amiss about Paul. Here, the book of Job comes to mind, and the “counsel” of his three friends: C’mon, Job — just admit you messed up and be done with it.
By nature, we want explanations that make sense of the things that happen to us. It’s convenient to make God the author of both weal and woe, and there is biblical precedent for believing this to be true.
But when things go wrong, when we suffer anything from daily hassles to deep heartache, it’s not necessarily because God is trying to drum something into us. It’s because we live in a world that is still far from what God created it to be. Things break. People die. Sin and stupidity abound.
The good news is that brokenness and sin aren’t the last word. There is grace. There is redemption and resurrection hope. And the question is whether or not, when life happens, we can respond as people of a sure and robust hope, as conduits of grace in a mad and mixed-up world.