My plan was to join the Air Force and fly jet planes. They fascinated me. Our home was just a few miles north of a Strategic Air Command base. Bad vision took care of that plan. It was not a disappointment. By the time I knew that one needed good eyes to fly jet planes, I had bigger plans. I was going to change the world. “How,” you ask? I would become a lawyer, become involved in local politics, run for a local office, and from there move up the ladder. I could see myself as Governor of my home state. From there? Well, Presidents have come from humbler beginnings than mine.
All of those plans were before I became aware that God might have other plans. Ministry wouldn’t be so bad, I thought. Billy Graham was in his heyday and he was certainly changing the world, or so it seemed to me. I knew I would have to start small, but I was sure a big and powerful church was in my future. I was out to change the world!
I didn’t enter politics, except for the church’s version, and my relatively small church in small-town America does not offer a bully pulpit from which I can bellow world-changing words. Sometimes I despair. The despair doesn’t usually last long. I keep thinking about George.
After years of bouncing from one dead-end job to another, George finally landed the one for which he was created. Some of his friends didn’t think the job was so great, but George did. He liked the work. He got along with his co-workers, he had a good relationship with his supervisor, and the company’s clients liked him. Plus, the salary, while not great, paid the bills. George was a good employee. He gave a full day’s work for his pay, and he was willing when necessary to stay past quitting time or to come in early.
Then the accident happened. George was rushed from his work to the hospital. His injuries resulted in the necessity of surgery—surgery, the doctor said, would make him like new. It didn’t. The first surgery was followed by two more. He spent months going to rehab, doing everything he was told to do. The mobility didn’t return; nor did the pain go away. George, who a year ago was happy and employed and able to provide adequately for his family, is now homebound. Well, he was homebound. Without a regular paycheck, he couldn’t keep up the modest monthly payment. The home is gone. To add insult to injury, George picked up his mail to find a certified letter from his employer, notifying him that his employment was being terminated.
When I saw George, his anger, frustration, and depression were evident. “They say that God won’t put more on you than you can take,” he said to me. Then he added, “They are wrong! What’s God trying to do to me? I’ve had enough!” he shouted, pleading with his eyes for an answer and for hope.
There are no easy answers when life throws more at us than we can take. Clichés, no matter how well-meaning, are useless at best and destructive at their worst.
Are “they” right? Did God bring all this rotten luck down on George? NO! “They” are dead wrong! I Corinthians 10:13 states: “No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will provide the way out so that you may be able to bear it” (New Revised Standard Version). Doesn’t that imply that God is doing the testing, the trying? No. The Scripture states that the trials that come our way are “common to everyone.” Life comes with a hard truth we would rather ignore—that life is not fair and justice does not always prevail. The truth is that good things happen to good people and to bad people, and bad things happen to bad people and to good people. As Jesus reminded us, “. . . he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45).
Is there a word of hope for George? For the rest of us when the bad happens to us? There is. Our hope is in a God whom Jesus described as love. It is in a God who understands suffering at its worst. Witness the cross on which Jesus was crucified.
Will there be a better day for George? Probably, but for the moment his hope, our hope, rests in a God who not only knows suffering but also dares to remain with us in the midst of it. In the midst of the worst that can happen, God is present working for our good, not causing our troubles (Romans 8:28). Jesus reminds us that when we are at our lowest, there is an invitation to hope and life: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).
In the meantime, I’ll walk alongside George. I will let him cry out in anger at God and at me whenever he needs to do so. God can handle it, and, with God’s help, I can too. With God’s help, I will not abandon George (or any other George or Betty or Jim or Sally). By my presence, and on occasion by my words, I will remind him that his hope, my hope, rests in a God who wills wholeness and blessing for us.
I may never change the world, but I’m changing George’s world and George is changing mine. I wonder . . . If George’s world is changed and my world is changed, have George and I together not changed the world?