When I was a child, I had a small, wooden cigar box in which I would put my allowance money and whatever money I had earned from my job as a rural paper route assistant. One of the things I hated most was when, each month, my mother would raid my box and take most of the money, usually after I had just been paid, to deposit in a savings account she had opened for me. I couldn’t understand why she took MY money. Years later, upon entering college, that savings account balance had grown significantly and I was glad to have it.
Her practice of doing this “stealing” had two positive results. First, it helped me save a lot of money when I would have spent it, and secondly, it taught me the value of saving money through her example. She was a Depression child, so she knew the value of being thrifty with money.
I remember fondly these lessons from childhood, but when I was a teenager, not so much. In my child’s mind, two things were at play. First, I was selfish, and, second, I didn’t trust my mother enough because I couldn’t imagine out far enough into my future to see the value of her thriftiness.
I know currently there are many asking why the Lord is allowing this pandemic, allowing the physical, emotional, and economic toll across the world. Compared to God, we are mere children with an inability of understanding how something we consider bad can come to good. As I have thought about this, the disciples come to mind. The more they came to know Jesus, the more they became convinced he indeed was the Messiah. Yet, in their minds, the Messiah had returned to restore the nation of Israel and to overthrow the Roman Empire. So, when Jesus revealed that he was about to return to Jerusalem where he would be killed, Peter immediately expressed what no doubt the other eleven were thinking: “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”
It is easy to dismiss his response on the other side of the Resurrection, but the Twelve hadn’t yet crossed that divide. They were still residing in their belief, common to all Jews, that the Messiah would be an earthly king. In fact, this belief was so ingrained in their minds that at the words informing them of his impending death, his next words, “…and on the third day be raised to life,” failed to register at all. They lacked the trust and the imagination in how the Lord could work through something so dreadful as being executed. Yet, in just over a week, believers across the globe will be celebrating the wonderous miracle that came out of his crucifixion.
There is a passage that we believers often like to quote in times of questioning or when we are faced with a tremendous challenge. It says, “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21) Normally, this is quoted in the context of believing God will bring positive things into our lives, such as my meeting my wife. I couldn’t have imagined that or the way in which our meeting happened. Or perhaps getting an unexpected job or inheritance.
Certainly, this is an accurate way to interpret this, and many along with myself can attest to the truth of this interpretation. However, it is incomplete. It’s like looking out a window and thinking you see everything there is to see, or entering marriage and believing you know everything there is to know about your spouse. Or, in the case of my mom putting much of my money into a savings account, I only pictured her as taking my money. In all of these, we have an incomplete understanding of the realities we are seeing. There are more to them than meets the eye.
So, when we read Paul’s words, we of course use our limited understanding to interpret them. By nature, we ask for good things for ourselves and our imaginations flow in the same direction. Yet, what if we used these words and applied them to Jesus’s statement to the Twelve? “More than all we ask.” Who among the disciples would have thought to ask that Jesus be put to death? “More than all we imagine.” Who among them would have ever imagined how the Lord’s plan was going to unfold? This whole scenario was immeasurably beyond all they could ask or imagine. In fact, in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed that he could have an easier path to take. But then he said, “Yet not as I will, but as you will.”
Now fast-forward to today’s pandemic. I know many of us are praying for a speedy end to the devastation COVID-19 is wreaking across the planet. We’re praying for protection for ourselves and those we love. The question is, do we trust God enough if this turns out so much longer and more devastating than we can now imagine? Or does the very idea make you want to say, “Never, Lord!”
On the other side of the Resurrection, the plan of God became much clearer, and no one down through church history has ever complained about the death of Jesus being an unnecessary tragedy and wishing it hadn’t happened. The Lord may give us what we all want, a quick end to this pandemic. But he may not, and if that is the case, he is wanting us to trust him that he just might have in mind something greater than what we can ask for or imagine. And perhaps only far on the other side of this will we begin to understand.
Not as we will, Lord, but as you will.
© Jim Musser 2020 All Scripture references are from the New International Version 2011.