Sunday, August 31, 2014

No Coincidences

Have you had days that are just plain exhausting? Days where it seems the world is conspiring to find your last nerve and do the Hokey Pokey all over it? Over these past few days life has been putting its left foot in, left foot out, left foot in and shaking it all about.

We're celebrating Labor Day with my wife's family which means we're out of our normal routine. And as parents of little ones what happens when we stray from routine? Hot mess, that's what happens. "Be nice. Walk away. Use your words. Put it down. Sit at the table. Take turns. Eat your next bite, please. Calm down." These phrases flow from my lips with thoughtless Pavlovian effort. You would think after twelve years of marriage Mrs. Collins would know these things. :-)

In all seriousness it is hard being a parent. You wonder if you're having any positive impact at all on your kids. I'm still in the thick of it so check back with me in a decade. Despite all the correcting my wife and I do we both recognize that we really do have some pretty awesome boys. And we love them to pieces.

Sometimes I wonder if we get a little too preoccupied living the expectations of life rather than life itself. We create idealized views of how the world should be and get frustrated when the actual world doesn't match. And then the blame game starts. Some will blame others. Some will blame themselves. Some will blame God.

Ultimately we all have to reconcile the idealized world with the actual world. The world is what it is. And God appears to be allowing it to exist as it is for the moment. So how can God be all-loving and all-powerful while allowing broken things to stay broken? I think the answer is wrapped up in understand God as our father. As a dad I have to allow temporary pain in my boys lives to bring about something greater than fulfilling their immediate cravings. Even as a fallible, imperfect being I can see the value in deferring immediate gratification for something more worthwhile. How much more so is this true for God, the only being who knows the entirety of all ends from beginnings?

There's a known verse from the Old Testament people frequently quote. Jeremiah 29:11 says:
I alone know the plans I have for you, plans to bring you prosperity and not disaster, plans to bring about the future you hope for.
I've heard this in the context of the health and wealth gospel. Some people use this verse and claim that God never allows anything bad to happen to you. Once you place your trust in Jesus you should never experience problems or sickness and if you do it's from sin or lack of faith.

In one sense this is true because all evil has its root in sin. But sin entered the world long before you and I showed up. We are daily experiencing the result of mankind's fall from innocence. So, yes, sickness, disease and death is the result of sin. It just may not be your sin.

If you read Jeremiah 29:11 in context you see that God was giving this promise to encourage the children of Israel who were in the bonds of slavery. The world they lived in was very different than the idealized world they wanted to live in. Let's back up and start at verse 4:
The Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those people whom he allowed Nebuchadnezzar to take away as prisoners from Jerusalem to Babylonia: 'Build houses and settle down. Plant gardens and eat what you grow in them. Marry and have children. Then let your children get married, so that they also may have children. You must increase and not decrease. Work for the good of the cities where I have made you go as prisoners. Pray to me on their behalf, because if they are prosperous, you will be prosperous too. I, the Lord, the God of Israel, warn you not to let yourselves be deceived by the prophets who live among you or by an others you claim they can predict the future. Do not pay attention to their dreams. They are telling you lies in my name. I did not send them. I, the Lord Almighty, have spoken.'
The Lord says, 'When Babylonia's seventy years are over, I will show my concern for you and keep my promise to bring you back home. I alone know the plans I have for you, plans to bring you prosperity and not disaster, plans to bring about the future you hope for.
The whole context of this promise is that God is walking his children through a less than ideal situation to accomplish a greater good. But even in the midst of the trial God still wants them to carry on with life. Keep on keeping on because there is a purpose to the trial.

The presence of adversity doesn't mean the absence of God's love. I like how the character Reverend Graham Hess puts it in M. Night Shyamalan's Signs when confronted with the unexpected:
People break down into two groups. When they experience something lucky, group number one sees it as more than luck, more than coincidence. They see it as a sign, evidence, that there is someone up there, watching out for them. Group number two sees it as just pure luck. Just a happy turn of chance. I'm sure the people in group number two are looking at those fourteen lights in a very suspicious way. For them, the situation is a fifty-fifty. Could be bad, could be good. But deep down, they feel that whatever happens, they're on their own. And that fills them with fear. Yeah, there are those people. But there's a whole lot of people in group number one. When they see those fourteen lights, they're looking at a miracle. And deep down, they feel that whatever's going to happen, there will be someone there to help them. And that fills them with hope. See what you have to ask yourself is what kind of person are you? Are you the kind that sees signs, that sees miracles? Or do you believe that people just get lucky? Or, look at the question this way: Is it possible that there are no coincidences?
Perhaps the next time a trial strikes rather than ask God to remove it ask him to help you understand why you're going through it. There are no coincidences with God.

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