Remember the Magic 8 Ball? It was that toy that you thought of a question in your mind and then shook the Magic 8 Ball and then it gave you an “answer.” Now they have the Magic 8 Ball online. Back in the day, we could ask it questions such as “Does he/she like me?” or “Will I grow up to be a millionaire or professional athlete?” And it gave answers like, “Without a Doubt” and “Outlook Good” and “Don’t Count on it.”
Well, that was fun when we were younger. But somewhere along the way, the questions and the answers get much more complicated for us and the Magic 8 Ball.
Questions like why are young women and children left widowed and orphaned? Why do children have tumors and cancers? Why can we only watch helplessly as people we love make destructive choices for their lives? Why are some young people sexually abused? Why are long-time hard workers laid off? What can we do about children dying of hunger? Why do marriages fall apart? Why do friends betray each other? And many other questions that leave us stunned, discouraged and without answers.
So many times, I have wanted to find and/or give answers – as a friend and a pastor. But I didn’t have them. Sometimes all you can do listen – and that is hard!
And of course we are talking about answers from God. You and I have sat in silence waiting for answers for a lot of things. And many, if not most times, the answers do not come. WHY?
Let’s settle one thing first. It’s not that God doesn’t care or is mute. He does care and He does speak through the Bible and the Holy Spirit. But they can be hard to hear and it takes practice. But also, God’s ways are not our ways, and God’s thoughts are higher and great than ours can ever be. In other words, God is macro and micro at the same time – caring for us as individuals but also implementing a global plan of restoration and salvation at the same time.
Even with that in mind, there is a part of us that still wants, even perhaps demands answers. But let me ask you this. And this is just my thinking. Even if we had answers – the answers – that explained terrible events and behaviors from God himself – would it satisfy us? I have thought about it and I think in most cases it might temporarily help ease suffering and pain – it may even give some relief. But information or answers themselves do not have the power to transform something terrible into something good – something hurtful into something healed. I think we would hear the “answers” and kind of shrug our shoulders and move on – nothing really resolved.
I think we are hoping from God and others – for something more than information.
Fortunately, God does not leave us hanging…
It turns out, there is something, from God, that can transform even the worst situations, events and times into something good, something wonderful even…
It’s called…a promise. Only a promise can go beyond wisdom, and information, and answers and deliver us to a healthier, life-giving, life-saving, healing place. And I want to share four basic promises that aren’t just on paper or in the sky, but are real and are just waiting for us to embrace them to be actualized.
First, there is the promise of fellowship. Through baptism, Christians promise to be brothers and sisters in Christ – founded on the Holy Spirit – beyond friendship and acquaintance – a faith family. That when healthy and Christ-centered can be the closest thing to Heaven on earth – strength, peace, healing, encouragement, forgiveness – orphans have parents, widows have companions, the hungry are fed, dying people are not alone, hurting people are surrounded, and much more. When people become members of churches they vow and promise to make for unity, purity and peace – and when it works – it is one the most beautiful things to witness – because it is Christ alive in and through us.
Second, there is the promise of comfort and God’s presence. Before Jesus ascended to Heaven, He promised to always be with us – even to the end of time. And through the Holy Spirit and one another – He is always with us. “…the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God (2 Corinthians 1:4).” It’s this beautiful portrait of a wellspring and an oasis in this desert of anonymity and suffering. As we suffer, God comforts us and then opens doors for us to share this wonderful gift with others and so on, and so on, and so on. The secular equivalent is the “Pay It Forward” idea. But this is better – because this is more than being good or nice – this is taking the comforting presence of God and God’s Word and sharing it through our brokenness and compassion to others – with God’s choreography. “Cause there’s nothing more beautiful to God, when his sons and daughters come – broken,” sings Mark Schultz, meaning when we come to Him in need – God fills us with comfort and that comfort overflows by design to others.
Third, there is the promise that this life, this fleshly existence is temporary. “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed daily…for what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal…we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have an eternal building in Heaven made by God…(2 Corinthians 4:16-5:1).” Take that cancer! Take that ALS! Take that heart disease! Take that addictions! In fact, take that death! None of these have the last word in our lives thanks be to God! As much work as there is to be done, as hard as it is, we have to remember the promise that our time here on earth is very short compared to eternal life with God. “This is my temporary home, it’s not where we belong. Windows and rooms that we’re passin’ through. This is just a stop on the way to where we’re going. I’m not afraid because I know this is our temporary home,” sings Carrie Underwood.
Fourth and most importantly, we have the promise of salvation through Jesus Christ. By calling on the name of Jesus, by asking Him into our hearts as Lord and Savior and seeking to follow Him, we have the promise of all promises – to live abundantly here on earth and to live eternally in Heaven. And this is a promise that nothing, absolutely nothing in this world can minimize, take away, destroy, or get in the way of. It’s sealed in the precious blood of Jesus himself, made visible by the waters of baptism and by the fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives. And, nothing disqualifies you from embracing this promise today – no amount of sins or time or distance from God – as long as you have breath – and you can utter the words, “Jesus, I give my heart, my life to you, only you can forgive all my sins and deliver me from death; from now on I seek to follow you first in my life” and this promise and the others are yours – forever.
Beloved ones, I know that many of you are asking those and other questions today. Real, painful questions that you have been wrestling with for so long – without answers. Let’s stop shaking the Magic 8 Ball furiously until it gives us the answer we want! And I just want to encourage you today, to let go of finding and seeking “the answer” or answers. I know about this – I have spent a lot of time asking for answers too – for a lot of things (well intentioned) – and I have usually found myself in dead ends. I have even heard God gently and lovingly say, “Let me take care of this.” And there have been too many times where I didn’t listen. But…But when I have exchanged my search and demand for answers for remembering and embracing these promises – that’s when I have healed and moved on and seen God working new things in my life. Let God be God, and let us be His people to whom He has promised wonderful things through good times and even in the midst of suffering, trouble and sorrow. We may never have or find answers in this life – but we do have God’s promises – promises that can’t be diminished.
I pray that you receive these promises as your own today – welcome, embrace, and cling to them.
Rev. Christopher B. Wolf
Christopher B. Wolf is the author of Giving Faith a Second Chance: Restarts, Mulligans and Do-Overs (2007) and the forthcoming, With You: Every Step of the Way (2011).
“It is a matter of sharing and bearing the pain and puzzlement of the world so that the crucified love of God in Christ may be brought to bear healingly upon the world at exactly that point.” N.T. Wright