(Beware that I have been known to take eisegesis to ridiculous levels. Just like my literary-critic heroes.)
Lately I’ve been floundering a little, to be honest.
If you’ve talked to me in the last month, I’ve probably communicated that my life is finally beginning to come together. That I feel like I have some direction. And that I have a lot of ambition. And none of that has changed. But I’ve begun to realize that the short term is just as important in my life as the long term—and that’s uncomfortable, because short-term planning is something I shrink from.
Some of this feeling is a coming-of-age angst that will pass (I hope) in a couple of years. Wandering, though, is a trait of God’s people throughout recorded history. Just think of Hebrews: “They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins”. Or Second Corinthians: “We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair”.
I have a wonderfully charming book on this subject in my library—Chaim Potok’s Wanderings: A History of the Jews. The title says it all; Potok’s people have been homeless, restless, since the day God displaced their ancestor Abraham. Restless four millennia.
The story I ultimately find encouraging, though, is even older than Abraham. It’s from what many scholars have called the oldest book in the Bible, the book of Job; and if there ever was a story of a displacement, of a wandering, of trouble and perplexity, this is it.
I was drawn to this story again because of Job’s words in chapter 26:14 (forgive me, I’ve already forgotten where I came across them): “Behold, these are but the outskirts of his ways, and how small a whisper do we hear of him! But the thunder of his power who can understand?” But I decided I’d start at the beginning. And, ironically, I found comfort in Job’s first recorded outburst to his friends after he’s lost everything, in his raw ragged shock and grief:
“Why did I not die at birth, come out from the womb and expire? Why did the knees receive me? Or why the breasts, that I should nurse? For then I would have been quiet; I would have slept; then I would have been at rest….Or why was I not as a hidden stillborn child, as infants who never see the light? There the wicked cease from troubling, and there the weary are at rest….Why is light given to a man whose way is hidden, whom God has hedged in (Job 3:11-13, 16, 17, 23)?”
(Here’s where I eisegete.)
Intelligent people through all ages have puzzled over the questions of existence and purpose; I dare not discredit them all. However, the entire issue seems so obvious to me.
As a Christian, I must believe several things about this scenario:
- That there is a God Who created every man (Genesis 1, 2).
- That this God determines men’s affairs (Daniel 4:17).
- That God is light, and no darkness can be found in Him (1 John 1:5).
- That God has provided a plan—a plan—a means by which His entire creation will someday see that light (John 3:16,17; Philippians 2:5-11).
Given these premises, I ought to reach a simple conclusion: that we exist solely to become part of the great Illumination. Then, since we know that there is no darkness in God, we can rest assured that any method He uses will bring us to that place of illumination. And further, we know that some of His methods favour ends over means: “Whom the Lord loves, He chastens; He scourges every son He receives (Hebrews 12:6).
Now to bring my wanderings back into focus—
No test seems fun in the present (Don’t be too literal about this. I loved taking English exams). No stretch comes without a little more pain. No prize comes without practice. No growth occurs without added responsibility.
But I am persuaded that the tests, the pains, the burdens of my life—the blood, toil, tears, and sweat, as Churchill famously put it—are in my life for a reason. I get to experience them in the process of learning how to reflect His glorious light.
Or as Job said himself:
“Behold, I go forward, but he is not there, and backward, but I do not perceive him; on the left hand when he is working, I do not behold him; he turns to the right hand, but I do not see him. But he knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold (Job 23:8-10).”
Sometimes other people’s words say it so much better than mine. And now is one of those times; since I can’t be bothered to write a poem this afternoon, I’ve got this classic attributed to Edwin Markham:
Defeat may serve as well as victory
To shake the soul and let the glory out.
When the great oak is straining in the wind,
The boughs drink in new beauty, and the trunk
Sends down a deeper root on the windward side.
Only the soul that knows the mighty grief
Can known the mighty rapture. Sorrows come
to stretch out spaces in the heart for joy.
Love and peace. No matter what you’re facing.