Once upon a time, a grandpa was celebrating with his 4-year-old granddaughter. She was the apple of his eye and whenever she and her Poppy could spend some time together, she was the center of his universe.
Poppy loved to take his little granddaughter with him on his walks on the beach and, not surprisingly, she loved to go with him. They would discover all sorts of things on the beach from hermit crabs to sand dollars, and met all sorts of people from fishermen to other walkers and joggers like themselves. But the highlight of those walks, and most likely one of the major reasons why she loved to go so much, was where they always ended for Poppy would always make sure they ended at the local donut shop, which was across the main street running alongside the beach. His granddaughter loved the chocolate covered ones.
Now the little 4-year-old had learned many things in her young life, and one of those things was the difference between a red “stop” light and a green “go” light. When she and Poppy walked from the beach to the donut shop at the end of their walks, they always crossed at the traffic light closest to the shop. That was the safest way to make sure they could get across the street without the danger of encountering a speeding car with tragic results.
One day, they stood at the traffic light waiting to cross. The light changed and the little girl jumped out into the street ready to go to get her favorite donut. She was holding Poppy’s hand and was pulling him out into the street to cross with her.
But Poppy had an instinctive hesitation about stepping off the curb. Just as he was about to move out with his young granddaughter, while she was still holding his hand, he detected out of the corner of his eye a car speeding through the intersection with no intention of stopping for the red light.
When Poppy realized that if they continued on their course the speeding automobile would hit both he and his little granddaughter, he tightened his grip on her hand and suddenly pulled her back toward him on the curb, out of the path of the speeding vehicle. In a split second, because of his quick thinking, Poppy and his granddaughter had safely avoided the tragedy of the collision that most assuredly would have occurred had he not pulled her toward him.
Later, while relating the incident to her Mommy, the little girl, with a ferocious-looking frown on her face, described what happened with one short sentence: “Poppy jerked me!” Poppy’s spirits sank when he heard the anger in her voice with that comment.
This true story (yes, it really did happen to a friend of mine) caused me to stop and think. I wonder how many times we respond to our heavenly Father’s care for us in the same way: We say, “He jerked me!” when what He was trying to do was save us from a future agony more intense than the pain of His jerking us would ever be.
In the Bible, the prophet Habakkuk experienced this same sort of thing. He watched as his people slowly degenerated from a nation that seriously and devoutly followed God into one that seemed like they hardly knew God at all. Habakkuk’s constant prayer seemed to be, “How long, O Lord, are you going to allow this sinful nation to continue without dealing with their sin?” When God responded to his prayer by saying, “Habakkuk, don’t worry. I’ve heard your prayers and I am going to answer them by sending the Babylonians to judge the nation,” Habakkuk responded by saying, “What? God, You are jerking me. The cure is worse than the disease.” [that’s my paraphrase]
Whenever bad things happen to us, our tendency will always be to say, with the 4-year-old granddaughter, “God jerked me!” Rather, our response should be that of Habakkuk. After hearing the Lord’s plan, without knowing the outcome, Habakkuk found the inner strength to say, “Yet I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. The Lord God is my strength” (Habakkuk 3:19).
Rick Warren, the pastor of Saddleback Church and the author of “The Purpose Driven Life”, together with his wife Kay, went through a devastating loss when their 27-year-old son Matthew took his own life after battling depression and mental illness for years.
About a year after this tragedy, Rick said, “I’ve often been asked, ‘How have you made it? How have you kept going in your pain?’ And I’ve often replied, ‘The answer is Easter.’ You see, the death and the burial and the resurrection of Jesus happened over three days. Friday was the day of suffering and pain and agony. Saturday was the day of doubt and confusion and misery. But Easter — that Sunday — was the day of hope and joy and victory. And here’s the fact of life: you will face these three days over and over and over in your lifetime. And when you do, you’ll find yourself asking, as I did, three fundamental questions. Number one, ‘What do I do in my days of pain?’ Two, ‘How do I get through my days of doubt and confusion?’ Three, ‘How do I get to the days of joy and victory?’ The answer is Easter.” (Lee Strobel, “The Case for Hope”, pp. 56-57).
You and I will always face days of pain, trials and tribulation, days when our questions go unanswered and our faith wavers. The question is indeed how we will respond. Are you able to say with Rick Warren, “The answer is Easter!” I truly hope so.
Chuck Tabor is a religion columnist for The Times-Gazette and a former Hillsboro area pastor who now resides in Florida. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.