A God of Surprises
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Then I saw all the work of God, that a man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun. For though a man labors to discover it, yet he will not find it; moreover, though a wise man attempts to know it, he will not be able to find it (Eccl. 8:17).
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God promised Abraham that he would become the father of a great nation, a nation through which "all the families of the earth shall be blessed" (Gen. 12:2-3). The old patriarch lived just long enough to see the first sprouts of that tree come forth, but he died having no idea how it would play out.
When his descendants became a great nation, God sent prophets to them promising the arrival of a mysterious Messiah--"the anointed one"--who would judge the nations and bring righteousness to His people. For over a thousand years, Israel pined for their Savior to come. In the meantime, they endured afflictions externally from neighboring adversaries, and internally from wicked rulers and self-serving aristocrats. How long would they have to wait? And how would this Messiah make His entrance on the world stage? The Jews developed a lot ideas about how it would all play out, but they really didn't know. The prophecies were not too specific.
When the Messiah did come, He surprised everyone. Instead of swooping down out of heaven on a white charger, smiting godless pagans in mass numbers, He came as a lowly carpenter. His teaching was unlike anything the people had ever heard, emphasizing personal character rather than political reform. He exposed the hypocrisy of the ruling classes, which got Him in deep trouble. The few disciples who stuck with Him to the bitter end were crushed to see Him crucified like a common criminal. Only after His resurrection did it all begin to make sense.
Now it's our turn. After His ascension into heaven, His apostles taught of a Second Coming and a great judgment and eternal life in glorious bliss, far beyond the toils of this life. For two thousand years now, God's people are once again waiting, waiting, waiting . . . .
A cynic would say that God keeps moving the goal posts on us. He gets our hopes up, only to dash them on the rocks of reality, followed by more promises of future glory--someday. Yet after all this drama, here we are, still stuck in a world dominated by evil and suffering. What gives?
This quick overview of sacred history teaches us two important lessons:
First, God keeps His promises. The fulfillment may not be what we expected, but that's due to our terribly myopic perspective, not His incompetence. If we are still awaiting the next stage in His master plan, we can be confident that He will deliver.
Second, God's promises are enigmatic. He shrouds them in cryptic language, revealing only the barest details in a manner that gives hope to the faithful while misleading the faithless. Only in retrospect can we make sense of the hidden meanings in the earlier texts.
These two facts should temper my faith as I go through life. I can trust that God is working out a plan, and that someday I will see its final realization. In the meantime, I must be humble about my expectations, knowing that God may have surprises in store that I cannot now comprehend.
It's all about Him, not me. And that's enough.