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Snakes and Stones
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Tuesday, April 21, 2015
Wendy Wippel

To be perfectly honest,  Matthew 7:—which seems to say that God, like Santa Clause, exists to provide us with whatever good things we ask for --sticks in my craw. Because now and then, for everybody, there’s a lump of coal.  And when things really go south? Doubt seeps in and we wonder: did God lie?

The specific passage in question is Matthew 7:7-11:

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!”

Exclamation point there provided by the translators of the New King James Bible.  Which just makes it worse, because sometimes human experience screams differently. This is a fallen world and currently under the administration of Satan himself, and things do not always go the way we want them to!

Exclamation point added by yours truly.

I admit I have struggled with this passage off and on.  There are obviously many prayers that Christians over the millennia have prayed that were never answered, prayers for good and worthy things like healthy children, God-honoring marriages, the salvation of family members, and many more. Things that Scripture condones or even commends as part of a believer’s life.  The word of God confirms that these are good things; they are things that God approves of and prescribes, right? Surely, these prayers will be answered.

But somewhere, sometimes, something goes wrong.

Like a rock-solid saint (a good friend of mine who married the worship leader right out of college) who ends up raising her child alone when he grows his hair to his knees, moves to Belize and becomes a Hindu.

Like Joe and Sharon Boone, dear friends of ours who (of all the couples we’ve ever known, born to be parents find out that they never will be). They adopt, of course; within months, Sharon is diagnosed with breast cancer and her kids are motherless within a year of their becoming a family. 

They honored God, served Him, kept their nose clean and prayed for fish and bread. But the God who knows how to give good gifts gave them what certainly seems like snakes and stones. So what gives?

I think we’ve all been there. More than once. I know I have. 

We moved to Mississippi on New Year’s Day of 2001. My husband had been tasked with setting up an orthopedics manufacturing plant in the Memphis area; when the plant was up and running, we were to return to Cincinnati (our home and the home of both of our extended families).  We expected to be in Mississippi a year or two, maybe three. As it happened, though, his company started talking about moving us back before we even got into the house we were building, and within six months, they said they were moving us back.

No, never mind.

A month later. Get ready to move.  Then no, never mind. Then three months after that.

You got it. Again, never mind.

Let me say at this point that, by the way, that I HATED Mississippi. With a passion.  Strange food, strange culture, horrible schools, etc.  No family support for a young couple with two kids. An hour to the mall.  And the only grocery in town, a Piggly Wiggly. . No real bagels!!!

I hated it, and wanted desperately to go home. And was seasick from the back and forth of their indecision.

Spring, 2003, and word came down again. We were being moved back. And this time they actually financed a trip home to house-hunt.  Oh Happy day!!  I gave up the part time position I had taken (teaching college anatomy and physiology) , gave up the kids sports at the Christian school, and headed back to Cincinnati to pick out a new house. 

We’d been in Cincinnati three days, happily seeking our future (hopefully permanent) residence when the call came in. 

You got it. Never mind.

I ended up in the hospital with chest pain (I’d never even heard of an anxiety attack at the time), and all too soon we were back in Mississippi. With one important difference: hubby, sick of watching me cry, got a drop-dead date, in writing, for our return. January 1 of 2005. On or before that date we would be home. So I gritted my teeth, settled in, and resigned myself to waiting.

In September of 2004, we were in the Outer Banks at a family reunion/vacation when corporate called my husband back to Mississippi.  The company had been sold.  And in the process, our drop dead agreement was null and void.

I’ll admit it. At that point I really doubted God’s love. And I was really, really sure that this wasn’t the best thing for either me or my family.  I spent three days in bed in  a fetal position, and I threw Matthew 7  in God’s face.  I accused the God of all creation of bait and switch! Promising the good fish that I asked for, then crushing my hopes with the snake.

It didn’t make sense to me--the passage can’t be interpreted as God substituting the snake for the fish because for some reason the snake was actually better for the petitioner. The passage says if you ask for a fish you won’t get a snake. It implies that you’ll get the fish you asked for!  Something that you perceive as a good thing, not bad.  And I have to admit that I haven’t ever really figured this out. At the moment, I really wish I had, because we are kind of back  to square one again. 

We’ve had a very rough month.  Notified that my hubby’s mom was dying, we packed and drove to Cincinnati three weeks ago. We arrived in time to say our goodbyes, and she died a few hours later. Back to Mississippi to take care of jobs, acquiring daughters from school, and back up to the funeral. Arrived back home, physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted (and about $10,000 poorer), to return to work.

And then it got worse.

A Swedish outfit bought the company hubby works for in 2011 as an investment, with no real interest in the orthopedics business. Then they made up numbers for how much they wanted its profits to increase by 2017, when they planned to sell it and live happily ever after.

They didn’t figure in Obama Care, the medical device tax, or the tanking Democratic economy. So, halfway through and not happy with anybody’s profit margins, the Swiss owners are putting LOTS of pressure on the executives. Which trickles down.  And one particular young VP has decided that the problem is old school managers. So after 30 years of service, starting as a Olsten temporary janitor and now the general manager of a multimillion dollar facility, my husband is apparently to be relocated to a basically irrelevant job.  And at the moment we don’t know where. They have 13 facilities, from Oregon to Connecticut.  From sea to shining sea.

After 30 years at the company, his dedication, long hours, spotless performance reviews and consistent results mean nothing. His company is being merged with another and he’s being shipped out.

He’s a much more black and white thinker than I am anyway, and he’s really asking God: “What gives?!”

I don’t know. .  But here’s what I do know:

God asks us to trust him.  Job, who went through more than any of us are likely to, himself pointed out that “Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?”  (Job 2:10)

Which makes it clear that what appears to be favor and what appears to be disfavor come mutually from God’s hand. So our perceptions must sometimes be faulty.

Utimately, it is faith that God desires on our part:

“But without faith it is impossible to please Him. For he that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. (Hebrews 11:6)

Real faith is hard in the middle of our trials. Very hard. Real faith is the faith of Job, who came to a point where he could truthfully say, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.” (Job 13:15)

And that kind of faith only comes from walking with God and bathing yourself in His word until you can accept without question that God’s in control. At that point, when evil comes into your life, your personal knowledge of God and His love for you give you assurance that God allowed it for a particular reason. So even if an arrogant hot-shot wonder boy ends my husband’s thirty years of exemplary service to his company (without justification) we can know that even though said hotshot wonder boy intended evil, God wasn’t blindsided. God allowed it for a higher purpose. As Joseph said, “you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good”.  (Genesis 50:20)

In other words, that snake might look nothing like the fish promised, but as time rolls on, in the clear vision that is hindsight, we often recognize that we got exactly what we prayed for, if not in the manner expected.

Case in point: my sister Debby, having had a son, tried for years and years thereafter to have another child, with no luck. Finally, desperate to mother another child, they decided to adopt a Chinese orphan. The process is length, but, after seemingly endless delays they finally had a date on the horizon: April, 2003. Finally. They would hold the daughter they had longed to hold for so long.

Then the SARS epidemic hit China, and all foreign adoptions were put on hold. Indefinitely. The moment Deb had waited for so long, finally almost in her grasp, was now not even on the horizon.  Heart and soul devastated, she cried out to God (even though she didn’t really know Him yet).

And unbeknownst to her even at that point, God meant it for her good. China- having lost zillions of dollars of revenue from the suspension of adoption industry travel- not only reversed that decision pretty quickly but actually, in an effort to jumpstart the revenue stream again, moved up the  adoption dates originally assigned. Bottom Line? Deb was actually holding her new baby girl three months earlier than she ever expected to be. God was in control.

She named her new daughter Hope, and oft encouraged by yours truly to trust God, before long Deb was (finally!) one of His no-longer-lost lambs.

(The verse says that all things work together for those who are called according to His purposes, apparently whether they have answered yet or not! )

My point?  We need to trust God, even when every fiber of our being is sure that this time He’s made a mistake. Because He has the whole picture.

And we don’t, ‘cause  we’re human. And that’s why it’s still hard, when relocation will bring my employment to an end, and we have two kids in college whose expenses need paid faster than money hits the bank, and now we’ll have to get the house ready to sell. More money out the window, and  we don’t even want to move.

But God knows our needs. Physically, mentally, and spiritually. And He’s in control .

Joe Boone (the father left to raise his two adopted sons alone)  after his wife died of cancer, made one observation frequently (and utterly profoundly) if money will solve it, it’s not really a problem.

So true.

And for the problems that money won’t fix?. We know that He works everything—fishes and snakes-- together for good, If you are one of His own.

And someday, He will hold us in His arms and wipe away every tear.

About Wendy Wippel

Last week: The First Francis (And the Second)

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