Radio broadcaster, Paul Harvey, used to have a popular segment called, “The Rest of the Story” in which he would give behind-the-scenes stories on fascinating bits of history, culture, or news. These background details sometimes solved a mystery or altered the way we viewed the original story. I loved waiting for the punchline. Once that was delivered, he would end the segment with, “And now you know the rest of the story!” His broadcast was enormously popular for decades. There was something deeply satisfying about knowing “the rest of the story.”
Longing for Answers
Unsolved mysteries and unresolved issues are at the least annoying and at the worst excruciating. Our minds long for resolution. And sometimes in our rush for closure, we jump to conclusions, overgeneralizing and oversimplifying complex situations.
This is certainly a risk when we, or someone we know is suffering. We want to know why. We want to solve the problem, and control or at least contain the situation. We want to know how to protect ourselves in the future. In short, we have trouble living in mystery.
Sometimes we shy away from people who suffer because they represent our deepest fears. We don’t want to be contaminated by association. Silently we accuse others, or even ourselves. Curiously, we blame ourselves or others because that is less painful than living in a world we cannot control, where easy answers escape us, and where we are not privy to the behind-the-scenes story. Where is Paul Harvey when we need him?
Jumping to Conclusions
Consider Job’s friends who were so sure they knew the mind of God and the reason for his suffering. We know from reading the story in scripture that Job was a good man who lost his children, servants, and livestock in one day because of an exchange between God and Satan. It wasn’t because of anything Job had done. Still Job’s friends wanted answers and jumped to conclusions. They defended God and blamed Job. They were sure Job had somehow offended God, otherwise why would God allow him to suffer?
This view operates from a false formula we still use: If I am faithful and do what is right, bad things won’t happen to me and mine. The problem is we overgeneralize.
While as a rule, faithful living brings rewards and poor choices bring painful consequences this is not always obvious, at least this side of heaven. The same holds true for the blessings of faithful living. Ruth, for example, was blessed for her devotion to Naomi in ways that she never saw in her lifetime. Because of her choices, her descendants included David and Jesus.
Our choices always have consequences even if they aren’t always immediate or obvious. But sometimes things happen to us that have NOTHING to do with any decisions we made. This begs the million-dollar question, why do good people suffer?
At the beginning of the story, God himself called Job a blameless and upright man, so Job’s suffering had nothing to do with him offending God. Job and his friends had no knowledge of the negotiations going on behind-the-scenes. The truth is that while we know some things from scripture, we don’t have all the data. We don’t fully know the mind of God.
Consider God’s answer to Job when he struggled to understand his overwhelming hardship:
Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Have you commanded the morning since your days began? Have you entered into the springs of the sea, or walked the recesses of the deep? Have the gates of death been revealed to you? Or have you seen the gates of deep darkness? Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth?Job 38:1-18
God makes it clear in his answer to Job that He is in control; his genius and power are well beyond ours. We are not in a position to call him to account. That is an easy pill to swallow when things are going well, but not when our lives feel like they are falling apart.
Enlarging our View
God’s response to Job calls us to enlarge our view of him. We so often put him in a tidy little box, but God is not as predictable as we want him to be. God will not be contained. Scripture is FULL of examples of God showing up in unexpected places and working out his plans in strange and surprising ways.
Psalm 19 tells us nature reflects who God is:
The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.Psalm 19:1-4
Nature can be wildly unpredictable, sometimes terrifying, and yet at the same time exquisitely beautiful. Psalm 19 also describes the mind of God-reflected in his precepts– as perfect, trustworthy, pure, and more precious than gold.
For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.Isaiah 55:9
O, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable His judgments, and untraceable his ways! Who has known the mind of the Lord? O who has been his counselor?Romans 11:33-34
Setting Our Expectations
I grew up reading C. S. Lewis’s Narnia Chronicles over and over. In one book in the series, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the Pevensie children stumble through a wardrobe into a magical world cursed by the White Queen. Their brother, Edmund, falls under the queen’s spell and is held captive in her palace. With the help of the Beaver family, the other children prepare to rescue him. Their plan depends on joining Aslan, the great lion and Christ-figure in the story. While preparing for their journey, Mr. Beaver sets them straight on who Aslan is and what they should expect.
“Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion.”
“Ooh” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion”
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver …”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
God does not answer to us. He will not be bound by our expectations.
I don’t know if we will even care to know the rest of the story when we get to heaven, but for now, let go and settle into the mystery.