WAYPOINTS: God is not surprised

The Rev. Mike Hesse

Some years ago several of us had an opportunity to fish the Chesapeake Bay. The bluefish were running. The weather was warm. Little clouds dotted the otherwise bright blue sky. The winds were calm. And our 19-foot Boston Whaler was fueled and ready. Given the circumstances, what water-lover could say “No?”

By the dawn’s early light we were several miles from shore and living the dream. The bluefish were schooling and striking everything that touched the water. They were big and beautiful and plentiful and by early afternoon the fishbox was full and we were exhausted and elated. It wasn’t until we made the decision to pack it in for the day and pointed the bow towards the boat launch that we took notice of the sky off the stern.

The puffy little clouds had rolled into a gray blanket which covered the horizon. No problem, it was behind us and we were scooting along at 20 knots or so. Then, inexplicably, the cloud blanket seemed to unroll on either side of us — and then in front to block our path. As the clear center we were still traveling through became ever smaller, the wind began to whip the water into a fury. No worries, we were in a Boston Whaler, and Boston Whalers are unsinkable!

Sheets of driving rain raced sideways across the water and cut into us like a million tiny knives. We hunkered together behind the windshield of the center console, still good to go. Then came the first lightning strike and all confidence evaporated in a flash of ice-blue brilliance. That was followed by another and another and another. We watched helplessly as bolts from the sky struck yards from our boat exploding the water time and again. No matter how low we crouched against the deck, we were still the tallest object around for miles. It is one of the few times that I have been authentically scared. I have never been so glad to make it to shore in my life.

The fact that this summer storm appeared out of nowhere was a surprise. And as I have often been reminded, some surprises are not as good as others. So here is a question. Was God as surprised as we were? Did he slap himself on the forehead and say, “Wow, I can’t believe that just happened?” Or did he know? Does he always know?

Throughout the Bible we are reminded over and again that our Lord is never surprised.

Psalm 139 reminds us, “O Lord, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar ... Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether ... even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you.” (Psalm 139:1,2,4,12)

I don’t know about you, but I find it comforting that our God is not only the Creator of this world, but also its overseer. God didn’t just busy himself making this planet and then get bored with his work and move on to other interests leaving us to manage for ourselves. He is the God of history, and creation continues to unfold according to his divine plan.

Well, if he is so involved with us that he has a plan for each of our lives, then how come he doesn’t intervene to keep those bad surprises from unfolding? Surely he has the power! That begs the question then, “Does he care?” Seeing suffering all around us, and perhaps experiencing it ourselves, we could be tempted to conclude that the answer must be, “No.”

God be praised, nothing could be further from the truth. As Jesus reminded the questioning Pharisee, Nicodemus, “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:16,17)

Jesus is the focus of God’s plan for human beings. Our free will combined with a fallen world means that suffering is inevitable and, predictably, often comes as a surprise. Understanding that, Jesus took all the sin, and all the suffering and carried them to the cross, offered his life in exchange for ours. Then on the third day he rose from the dead — and in conquering death offered us eternal life.

As long as we live in this world, we will never be able to understand exactly when and how the Lord intervenes in the affairs of men. We are not God. We don’t have the big picture.

What we do know is that God knows each and every one of us. “Can a mother forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will never forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.” (Isaiah 49:15,16)

Surprises come and surprises go. Unfair things happen to good people. But we have a Lord who knows what it is like to suffer. No life is ever wasted in God’s family. There is much we don’t understand, but one thing we know for certain. Whatever happens, in the end, all will be well. As Christians we are destined for eternal life in the presence of the Lord in a place where there is no pain or sorrow. And when we hear him call our name we will once again be surprised — only this time it will be by unspeakable joy.

The Rev. Mike Hesse is senior pastor of Immanuel Anglican Church in Destin.