Monday, August 2, 2010

"How" not "If"

I discovered a new cool show called "The Universe" on the History Channel. Mike and I have been watching a few of the episodes lately. It is a series that explains scientific theory about various aspects of the solar system, the galaxy, and the universe itself. For me, there are always surprises when watching a show like this. For example, I learned that the center of our galaxy is not a star or a planet but, in fact, a black hole. There are geysers of water on one of Saturn's moons. The show is just a series of incredible and fascinating facts.

While getting my hair cut recently, I was talking about the show with the stylist who cuts my hair. A space enthusiast himself, he eagerly described one of the episodes I had not seen. As we continued the discussion, he began one sentence by saying, "If there is a Creator..."

These days it's not uncommon to run into someone who doubts that there is a God who created space, time, matter, life, and all that we see and experience. It still throws me off a little though to hear someone so enthralled with science and the intricacies of space questioning the source of the detailed intelligence that holds it all together. I wince a bit when I think of that word "if."

However, when I think back to the times when I have been the hardest pressed emotionally and physically, the word "if" often stirs up doubts that have long settled to the ocean floor of my soul. It takes a life-altering event like an illness or a tremendous loss to stir that sediment up until I'm disoriented, sitting in a mess of cloudy, murky water. "If God loved me, wouldn't he have protected me from this?" "If God was all powerful, wouldn't he have intervened by now?"

And those questions are where I lose my footing a bit. I have had more than the average number of trials for a person my age, at least for someone in America. It's kind of understood that you'll have to endure challenges in life, but like a roller coaster, there are expected peaks after the valleys. There is an expectation of hands to hold through the darkness until it's light again, not abandonment by those you counted on the most. It's almost socially unacceptable these days to walk through a trial for years without end. People start thinking that maybe there's something you're doing wrong or something you did to deserve it. Maybe you're being overly dramatic or things aren't as bad as you make them sound. It's even harder when the trial isn't a common one like a broken bone or a lost job. When the suffering is long and when it's not well understood, it's easy for faith to weaken, to wobble, to start wondering "if" God is really there, "if" God will really come through, "if" you might just not make it.

When I read the Bible this morning, I was reminded of two people who had very unusual experiences in their lives, and one of them wondered if God was really going to pull through for him, while the other person saw it was impossible and believed God for it anyway.

I have a soft spot in my heart for this story because the second person, the faithful one, was a young woman. The first person, the one who asked for a sign and doubted initially was a priest - a well-respected man. These two stories are told back to back, I think, in order to emphasize the contrast in response to the life-altering news they had just been given.

Zechariah was an old man, a priest, childless, and had just been going about his duty in the temple when an angel appeared to him and told him he was going to have a very special son - the man who was prophesied about in Isaiah as the one who would prepare the way for the Messiah. When Zechariah heard this, instead of believing his old and barren wife would miraculously conceive a child as he had been told, he said: "How shall I know this?" He still didn't buy it. The angel made him temporarily mute "because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time."

The second story is about Mary, the young virgin mother of Jesus. Presented with an even more impossible-sounding message, Mary learns from an angel that she will become pregnant with a child who will be the Messiah. Instead of questioning the veracity of the message, she instead merely asks out of curiosity how God will accomplish this miracle in her. "How will this be, since I am a virgin?" The angel explained to her the details, and later Mary was praised as "blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord."

This verse made an impression on me as I read this morning. I thought about the promises of God for my future, to never leave me, to guarantee a place of rest and reward for patient endurance through trials, and it occurred to me that my mindset is so often tempted to wonder "if" God will really carry through on his promises instead of "how" these things will take place. It's a humbling reminder to consider Mary's faith in light of the humiliation and complete isolation she'd be forced to endure as an unmarried pregnant woman.

In the midst of circumstances that don't make sense, I'm encouraged to not waiver in my belief that God will do what he has promised concerning justice, redemption, healing, and grace. By his grace, I have a place in his house someday soon, and by his sacrifice on the cross, I have mercifully been given a place in his family. When God asks me to go through the unexplainable or unimaginable, I want to be humbly obedient like Mary who said, "Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word."