When It Doesn't Make Sense

Perplexed, but not in despair.

                                                                            II CORINTHIANS 4:8

I grew up in the Horatio Alger days, when the numerous stories of that prolific writer made standard fare for country schoolboys. Old-timers will recall those sink-or-swim, bound-to-rise thrillers. They were all cut from the same cloth and had just about the same outline: country boy goes to town; prevents a railroad wreck by flagging the train; gets job as messenger boy; rescues banker's daughter from bandits; gets job in bank; falls in love with the banker's daughter and marries her; comes through at the happy ending sitting on top of the world.

   It made good reading in those days before the realists began to wallow so morbidly in insanity and suicide. But, of course, most lives do not roll along in story-book fashion. A few do, and we rejoice that their lines have been cast in such pleasant places. A few Christians seem to move through this world on an ever-ascending scale: health, success, happy family life, serene old age and a glorious exit. But with most of

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us life does not follow the Alger pattern, and with many it goes exactly the other way, through disappointment, pain, grief, broken dreams, and often into sinister situations that simply do not make sense. These days we are listening to ever-increasing stories of tragedy and heartache, and no superficial pious moralizing will meet the need nor soothe the heart. There is no use denying it, there is much that doesn't make sense, and thousands of saints are not only perplexed but in despair.

   Now, Paul was in perplexity but not in despair. He was not whistling his way through the graveyard, however, nor was he merely ''smiling through'' or, Micawber-like, looking for something to turn up. His way out was not by painting the clouds with sunshine, wearing rose-colored glasses and quoting lovely poems about ''God's in His heaven—all's right with the world!''

   I am constantly encountering dilemmas that don't make sense. I have a picture of myself standing with two other preachers taken only a few years ago. One was rudely snatched from earth in an automobile collision with a drunken driver. The drunken driver escaped, but the splendid young preacher was taken from a fruitful ministry and a fine wife and little children. The other preacher in the photo died later in his forties, just a few weeks before the birth of his only child, a son he had longed for through the years. I saw that little fellow recently and was struck again with the unexplainable mystery of what just doesn't seem to make sense. Even now I am tramping the woods with another fine youngster whose father died some years ago. When I think how much he loved that

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boy but had to leave him, and wonder why I am enjoying that little fellow instead, there looms again the perplexity of those enigmas that just don't fit into any of our patterns.

   Of course men have wrestled with such puzzles from the beginning. It was Job's perplexity. Habakkuk contended with it and gave us his blessed ''Although'' and ''Yet.'' Micah surveyed a dismal day when godly men had perished from the earth, while the wicked prospered. He got through to God, and a man had better do that or he will go crazy. John the Baptist sat in prison and doubtless pondered why Jesus could work all His miracles but leave His forerunner in jail.

   The text finds Paul in straits, ''put to it but not put out.'' Some things are given us to know (Mt. 13:11) but some things are not for us to know (Acts 1:7), and, unfortunately, we fail to learn much we could know by trying to find out what we cannot know. The little boy who couldn't understand why God put so many vitamins in spinach instead of putting them all in ice cream was learning early that things just don't work out as we would do them if we had the universe in charge.

   Some things just don't make sense, but we may be perplexed yet not in despair. The way out is not by explanation but by revelation. The Bible does not give us explanation for some of these riddles, but it does supply revelation.

   To begin with, because things do not make sense to us does not mean that they don't make sense at all. Joseph told his brethren that they meant it for evil when they sold him into Egypt but God meant it for good. It didn't make sense to Joseph or to Jacob, who

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said, ''All these things are against me.'' But Jacob was mistaken, for all things cannot be against us if all things work together for good. We have often used the well-worn illustration of the hand-sewed bookmark. On the reverse side one sees only a meaningless tangle of loose thread-ends, but on the front side one reads ''God is Love.'' We are often on the wrong side of God's providences and the threads make no sense to us. But they make sense to Him who understands the end from the beginning. It is always foolish to assume that what we cannot understand cannot be understood at all.

   Furthermore, because some things do not make sense to us now does not mean that they never will make sense. Many things that God does we know not now, but we shall know hereafter. One does not eat flour or sour milk or salt or soda. But when these are properly mixed and baked awhile they come out Southern biscuits. There are happenings and events that are very disturbing when we try to digest them by themselves. But God mixes them as part of His recipe, and when they come out of His oven in the light of eternity we find that they were part of the ''all things'' that ''work together for good.'' We run into plenty of trouble trying to isolate certain experiences and understand them torn from their context. What mistakes have been made along that line with Scripture! We cannot detach this event or that from the whole pattern of our lives and make sense of it. It must be viewed in the light of eternity. Some day we'll understand.

   But a still deeper consideration remains. There is a higher viewpoint from which things which don't make

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sense to our ordinary reasoning can make sense to our spiritual understanding even now. The highest lesson God wants to teach us is to ''trust Him regardless.'' If everything made sense to our understanding we would need no faith. If everything worked out in story-book style we would become complacent and spoiled. God wants to bring us to a higher plane, where He himself is our portion and reward, where we can sing,

                 Now Thee alone I seek;

Give what is best.

   To do this, God allows things that don't make sense, that baffle and perplex our ordinary understanding. We may never be able to understand them here. But we can do one of several things about them. We grow bitter and resentful, sulk and grumble, and murmur, ''Is the Lord among us or not?''  We can grit our teeth and ''tough it out'' with a stiff-upper-lip stoicism. We can resign ourselves to the inevitable and go around with a martyr spirit. But there is a better way. We can accept it as one of the methods God uses to bring us to walk by faith and not by sight. While we still may not understand it with our heads, it makes sense to the higher understanding of our hearts. This is part of that wisdom which cometh down from above, and if we lack it we may ask of God, who gives liberally and upbraids not. It is not learned in schools, and often theologians miss it, while the simplest souls learn it. We have seen these unexplainable providences completely bowl over the wise and mighty, while lowly souls who had learned to sanctify themselves against tomorrow took them in faith's stride. They did not know why but they knew whom and trusted the matter

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with Him. It brought peace and blessing and so it ''made sense'' after all, the highest kind of sense, the sixth sense of the spirit.

   When our Lord commanded the servants at the feast of Cana to fill the waterpots with water, I am sure that it didn't make sense. What they needed was wine, not water. But they filled the pots with water, and when it was served the governor of the feast did not understand, but we read that ''the servants which drew the water knew.'' Humble souls who co-operate with the Lord even when things don't make sense have an understanding of which ''governors'' often know nothing.


   Whatsoe'r He bids you, do it:

           Though you may not understand,

                Yield to Him complete obedience,

          Then you'll see His mighty hand.

         Fill the waterpots with water;

Fill them to the very brim.

             He will honor all your trusting,

   Leave the miracles to Him.

                                         Author Unknown

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