Today has been a little discouraging. In the grand scheme of things, I have nothing to complain about. But right now I’m frustrated because I got two papers back and got a little roughed up on both of them. And the experience has me thinking about how we as people — and as Christians — interpret the things that happen in our lives.
Take my two bum papers, for example. Are they a sign? If so, what do they signal? Is God telling me to buckle down and do a better job next time? Or is he telling me to quit school because it’s not His will for my life? Those are two very different possibilities that use the same evidence. But I know people who base major decisions on the events in their lives because they connect the dots and think they see God will.
place place a in for everything its everything
As people, we are born with a strong desire to make sense the world around us. We seek to arrange everything we encounter inside a framework that organizes them, gives them context, and assigns them meaning. That’s why you puzzled over the bold line of words above this paragraph for a few minutes before moving on. Your instincts told you that those words were there for a reason, that they somehow related to each other and that together they expressed meaning. In other words, you assumed there was…
A place for everything and everything in its place.
That’s ok. It’s totally natural.
As Christians, we have an extra layer we like to apply to help assign meaning to the events, sights, sounds, and people in our lives — God. We believe that God is in control and he is organizing the scattered bits of our experience into a coherent sequence for a directed purpose. God, we think, is sovereign and he is scripting history — including our history — into a meaningful story.
Even if we can’t comprehend it now, God is placing everything in its place. Normal people don’t buy that, but we believe it. And we should, because that’s how the Bible presents it.
Our faith is the problem
But in this regard, our faith can be a problem for us as believers. We so much want to assign meaning to what is happing in the world right now, that we jump the gun. We try to tell ourselves and others what God is up to in a specific situation, even though we don’t always know for sure. In fact, a lot of times we get it wrong. Like Pat Robertson claiming the earthquake in Haiti is God’s judgment for their sins. He’s wanting to make sense of the situation, so gives it a meaning based on what he thinks God is up to.
Robertson is an extreme example, I admit. But, all of us Christians do the same thing – interpreting life in a way that fits our ideas about God and about how we want the story He’s writing to turn out. I do it. We believe in God’s sovereignty so strongly that we jump to conclusions too quickly.
This quote from N.T Wright sums it up:
One of the key words [in interpreting history] is Paul’s little word perhaps, which he uses in Philemon…’Perhaps this is why Onesimus was parted from me for a while, so that you could have him back not just as a slave but as a brother’ (Philemon 15). When Christians try to read off what God is doing even in their own situations, such claims always have to carry the word perhaps about with them as a mark of humility and of the necessary reticence of faith. That doesn’t mean that such claims can’t be made, but that they need to be made with a “perhaps’ which is always inviting God to come in and say, ‘Well, actually, no” (Christianity Today, April, 2001 p. 47).
So, I’m not going to make any bold claims or drastic conclusions because I got two bad grades in a row. Perhaps God is telling me to quit school, grab a camera and move to Africa. But I’m going to have to see a lot more of my story play out before I connect the dots that way.
And I guess the lesson is, be careful when you think God’s telling you something based on a few circumstances. You and God might wind up having very different ideas about the meaning. It’s best to let him put everything in its place…in His own time.