As we live out the divine blueprint given to us by our Lord, we build the Church and act in unity as the Body of Christ. Every moment becomes an act of worship. We experience God’s mercy and power as we learn obedience through humility and submission. How we come to understand and discern God’s will for our lives involves a deep surrender of our hearts that is both pure in its simplicity and profound in its depth.
Truly discerning God’s plan calls us to be open to the “divine paradox” of Christ’s love – His power and tenderness, His justice and mercy, His peaceful rest and His raging wrath – in order to come to a place where we can experience healing and joyful rest, and at the same time growth and a passion to build His kingdom here on earth.
Chance or Destiny?
In 1994 Wendy Finerman Productions and Paramount Pictures produced the movie Forrest Gump, a film about a slow-witted man who lives an abundant life because he is open to whatever comes his way. The movie illustrates the divine paradox of life brilliantly in the opening scene by a feather that blows in the wind and lands at Forrest’s feet. This same feather then blows away at the conclusion of the movie when Forrest lets his son go to his first day of school. The feather seems to be blown about by chance and at the same time directed to come to Forrest so he can take hold of it. The feather becomes a symbol of his taking hold of life with such a child-like innocence that he is able to find provision, love, peace, and fulfillment.
But Forrest’s life is not without struggle as well. Although he quietly accepts the twists and turns of his journey, he is still left asking a very fundamental question: Is our life left to chance or is it guided by something greater than ourselves? It is a question Forrest asks himself at the graveside of Jenny, the woman who loved him but then died. His conclusion is that life is a seemingly random series of events that unfold to create a destiny we can claim for ourselves as we take hold of it in faith and love.
Perceiving God’s Presence
As believers we have all considered the contradictions of our faith. We accept that God guides our lives and that all things are in His hands; and yet, we also struggle with the losses we suffer and the cruelty human beings inflict on one another. The good news is, we have been given a vision to carry us as we look to our heavenly Father and take hold of His holy will.
Each of us perceives God’s presence in our life in different ways. Elijah experienced God’s incredible power on the mountain when holy fire came down from heaven and consumed his water-soaked sacrifice. Yet, when Elijah was pursued by the evil Queen Jezebel, he fled in fear to a cave and waited for a word from the Lord:
And there he came to a cave, and lodged there; and behold, the word of the LORD came to him, and he said to him, “What are you doing here, Eli'jah?” He said, “I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the sons of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and slain your prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.” And he said, “Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD.” And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. And when Eli'jah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him, and said, “What are you doing here, Eli'jah?” (1 Kings 19:9-13, RSV2-CE)
Here was the divine contradiction: that the all-powerful God of the universe could drive His servant to His knees in submission, not with earth-shaking power, but with a gentle whisper. The same God who could tear apart the mountain could cause His servant to tremble with a gentle murmur of His perfect love. It was a love so powerful that it could wound in order to bind up, a love so overwhelming that it could bring new purpose and perfect peace.
Jesus: The Living Paradox of Divine Love
Our Lord presented the Gospel as a paradox of divine love. He demonstrated with His life the many sides of His divine nature. He could shout, “Silence!” to still the mighty storm and walk on the tossing waves; yet he could also cradle a small child in His arms and scold His disciples for neglecting to care for one of these. He could cast out a legion of demons and he could gather and feed His flock on the mountain. He could rage against the money changers and speak with tenderness to the sinful woman who anointed His feet with her tears. He could be transfigured before the eyes of His closest disciples and then be hung on the cross in utter humiliation. He could cry out in despair before His father as He surrendered His life for the world; and then He could walk out of the grave on the third day and ascend to His Father in heaven.
Our lives are filled with highs and lows, joys and sorrows, triumphs and tragedies. Sometimes we are on the mountaintop with Jesus and other times we are lost at sea. We can be swept up in God’s raging power or rest at His still waters. Sometimes we are broken; sometimes we are healed. And though these may seem contradictory, it all depends on how we are working out our salvation. God is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8); and still we experience His ever-unfolding wonders, day by day.
The Divine Filter
God reveals Himself to us in different ways as we go through the failures and victories of our lives. As we look to discern His divine plan, we will struggle and fall and sometimes miss the mark. The bottom line is that God is sovereign and everything that happens in our lives – no matter how powerful or how trying – is filtered through His loving hands. Nothing escapes God’s sovereignty, no matter how we may choose to perceive what happens in our lives. God will always remain God.
That divine paradox is what salvation is all about. In Christ, we can experience strength in our weakness, rebirth in our death, and salvation in the cross. In Christ, we see both the justice of God and the mercy of God – God demanding a payment for our sin and then paying the price Himself in the person of His Son Jesus Christ. It is all about the who of God – who God is for us – rather than just what He does for us.
A Matter of Consequence
One of my favorite books is The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. It is a wonderful tale with hidden Gospel messages woven into a story about a man who crashes his plane in the desert and then meets a small boy who lives on a very small planet with a tiny beautiful rose. This Little Prince asks the man to draw him a sheep. He needs the sheep to eat the tiny baobabs that spring up from the soil before they can grow so big they rip apart his planet. Though the man is concerned with fixing his plane before he dies of thirst, he soon learns that this unusual request is truly a matter of consequence.
The Little Prince teaches the man the value of loving those things which one tames, the preciousness of relationships, and the beauty of individuality in each one we choose to love. After the Little Prince returns to his planet the man realizes that he has forgotten to draw a strap for the muzzle of the sheep. He wonders whether or not the sheep has mistakenly eaten the Little Prince’s rose; and that becomes a matter of great consequence to him. It changes everything, even whether he hears laughter or tears in the stars when he looks toward the heavens and remembers the Little Prince.
I too have often considered which parts of my life are truly consequential. I have wondered just how much time has been wasted chasing that which is meaningless, temporary, and insignificant. But I have also had moments so wonderful and profound that I have grown faint with the overwhelming joy they bring me: writing for the glory of God, spending time with my family and rejoicing in the gift they are to me, and experiencing the laughter and love of God through good times and bad.
Paradox Gives Way to Peace
In these wonderful moments of clarity, I realize that one important truth stands before me: God is still God, a sovereign, immutable, unchanging Father of love and mercy, who has an ever-unfolding plan for my life and for this whole world. His plan is beautiful and perfect. All I need to do – all any of us needs to do – is accept and follow that plan. As mysterious as it may seem in this life, we are called to work out this blueprint of our salvation and find rest in Him. The perfect illustration for this comes from 2 Corinthians:
But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For while we live we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh… So we do not lose heart. Though our outer man is wasting away, our inner man is being renewed every day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, because we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:7-11, 16-18), RSV2-CE)
The divine paradox reveals itself as call to surrender to the whisper of God’s love and the laughter in the stars, the power that can move mountains, and the mercy that opened the gates of heaven to fallen humanity. Let us take hold of this awesome reality and live out our lives in complete submission to the mysterious, ever-unfolding, never-changing plan of the One who loves us with a perfect, paradoxical, divine love.