Television and movies have conditioned me to expect every part of a story to be neatly wrapped up in 45 minutes to two hours. A crime is committed, the CSI unit comes in, does their whiz-bang, high-tech, crime-solving stuff, a suspect is identified, and justice is served. Liam Neeson’s family is attacked, yet again (those criminals must be morons), Neeson goes on a highly controlled rampage, and all is set right. Simba is the arrogant prince, his dad gets murdered by Scar, Simba goes into exile, comes back, falls in love, defeats Scar, and regains his rightful place on the throne. It’s the circle of life. Hakuna matata. All the problems get resolved, all the interpersonal conflicts resolved, and everyone has a big laugh at the end.
God is not like Hollywood. His stories take decades, even millennia to unfold. He intentionally leaves certain things achingly unresolved. Certain threads of the plot seem to disappear, only to reappear at the most unexpected moments. God would never cut it as a Hollywood writer, and that’s a really good thing.
Abraham obeyed God, leaving friends and family to venture in an unknown land. God promised him a son. How romantic! How adventurous! Abraham and Sarah would become a happy family, with lot of kids and grandkids sitting around the dinner table, listening to Abraham spin one yarn after another. Except it didn’t happen that way. The baby didn’t come. Abraham and Sarah watched their bodies slowly decay. Abraham almost gave Sarah away on two separate occasions. Sarah made Abraham have a child with her servant. More years went by. Why wasn’t God coming through? Why was he being so slow to deliver on his promise?
So much confusion, so much heartache, so many questions. So. Many. Years.
Finally, years after the original promise, God gave them their son. And then commanded Abraham to sacrifice the son. What?!?!
From our perspective, it can be easy to compress all the years in this story, as if everything happened quickly. But it didn’t. God didn’t hand Abraham a neatly wrapped, easy to understand story. He invited Abraham into a story full of confusion, heartache, perplexing moments, and colossal failures on Abraham’s part.
But God’s stories are better than Hollywood’s. Out of the confusion and sin and mess and tears and questions, God produced a saving faith in Abraham. He also made a covenant with Abraham that we still feel the wonderful effects of today. God’s ways are not neat and tidy – at least not from our perspective. But he knows what he’s doing.
The story of Joseph is no different. Joseph was an arrogant jerk, running his mouth about his dreams and visions, proclaiming that one day he would be the king of the family. His brothers despised him, almost killed him, thought better of it, and threw him in a well. Hollywood would have the story end there. Joseph would learn his lesson, the brother’s would feel guilt, and everyone would share a big group hug at the end.
But it didn’t end there.
Joseph was sold as a slave. He took over the daily operations at Potiphar’s house, and turned Potiphar into a very wealthy man. Potiphar’s wife had the hots for Joseph, constantly trying to get him into bed, but because Joseph feared God, he refused. Hollywood would stop the story here too. The righteous Joseph would be vindicated, set free, and would return triumphantly to his family.
But it didn’t end there.
Joseph was framed by Potiphar’s wife, and thrown into prison. Imagine the confusion and hurt Joseph felt. Why had things gone so wrong? He had done everything right, and he ended up in the slammer. Why was God leading him on such a torturous route? Why wasn’t God fixing things?
We know how the story ends. God did eventually deliver Joseph from prison and install him as the second dog in Egypt. But it wasn’t a pretty story – at least not from human perspective. But human perspective is so short-sighted and unimaginative.
The truth is, 99.9% of the time we have no idea what God is up to. He is doing things in us and through us and around us that we could never think, grasp, or imagine. He is the grand storyteller, penning a script that spans thousands of years, and he is writing each of us into his beautiful story arc. He is weaving our joys and heartaches, gladness and grief, clarity and confusion, into his grand, glorious story.
Most of the time we won’t understand why God is allowing certain things to happen. We won’t understand the constant migraines, family strife, wayward children, stillborn babies, looming creditors, crushing depression, or stage four cancer. But the testimony of Scripture is this: God loves you and he knows what he is doing.
If the stories of Abraham and Joseph tell us anything, it’s that we should spend less time trying to figure out what God is doing, and more time trusting him that he actually knows what he’s doing.
And there is one story that should silence all our questions. The Son of God pinned to a Roman cross for the sins of the world is the most backwards of all the stories. Who could have ever dreamed that such a thing would happen? Who could have ever come up with that story line?
Only a God who is good and who know knows what he’s doing.