“Then Jesus told him, ‘You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me’.” John 20:29
Robert Burns wrote that the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. I’m not sure my plans for Saturday were particularly well laid out, but they surely didn’t turn out as I expected.
Originally, I was going to spend a free day cashing in a reward at one of the local Starbucks, lifting weights and then catching my favorite baseball team on the telly. What occurred was that I did go to the S-bucks, but the rest of the day went in a different direction.
The actual major events don’t matter in this tale so much. What is important are the little decisions I made and the small circumstances and interactions of the day. They made me ponder their meaning.
I suppose this is because I just listened to an audio recording by Jerry Bridges on the Providence of God. At the time I began thinking of the accrued happenings on this October day, I was focusing on the negative (something that my pessimistic nature is prone to).
After some little misfortunes occurred, I began to wonder if Bridges was right in his assessment that God is in control of every little thing. If He was, then I questioned why these things were happening to me.
Was I being punished or disciplined? Or were these incidents just a product of a fallen world? Why was life so difficult?
Perhaps it would be best to provide a short narrative for these hours. I woke up not sure of the plan ahead, which is common to my shoot from the hip nature.
I decided that I would walk into town and catch the bus to Starbucks. In fact, many of the events of the day were influenced by my lack of wheels.
I am addicted out of necessity to being a ped. No, I am not involved with performance enhancing drugs. I just walk everywhere I go, especially when the bus system is not reliable.
The bus service in my town is reduced on weekends. At 9 am there were no busses. Besides, I needed to get some exercise.
However, when I arrived in town, I learned that the bus over to the Starbucks would not leave for almost an hour. I think I just missed it.
So I decided to hop the bus to the WalMart. I had an errand to run at the Best Buy near there and decided to “redeem” the time.
As it turned out, due to the local university’s Homecoming football events, the bus had to take an alternative route. This detour dropped me about two blocks from the Starbucks, my original planned destination.
“Wow,” I thought.
It was a cool and crisp autumn day, and as I sat at Starbucks sipping my coffee I thought,”Maybe I’ll go to the game.” One of my friends was at a major NASCAR event, and another buddy of mine had just gone to see Notre Dame play.
So I was thinking,”Well, if my friends can have all this fun, is it so wrong that I have a little once in a while to.” I have to mentally justify these kinds of expenditures because I am on a limited budget.
Now, my school, which is also my employer, isn’t exactly Alabama, but they aren’t the Little Sisters of the Poor either. They are in a mid-level college conference, and generally do pretty well (except for this year).
I said to myself,”Look. This is what is available. Sure, the game is not a major deal. But it will be nice to experience some college football of any kind on a day like this.”
Not knowing the bus situation, I just decided to walk down the road I was already on to the stadium. It’s a straight shot of about two miles.
Before I left, I went grocery shopping to buy any non-perishables I could carry. I do not live near a grocery store, so I have to take these opportunities to buy food when I have them.
In the middle of rearranging my stuff into my backpack, a kid whose job it was to snare carts whacked me on the knee with one. Now, it really didn’t do any damage, but I had the same emotional response some students do when they get a grade they are not happy with. I was “shocked” and “disappointed” at this fellows lack of care.
He asked me if I was ok, to which I replied while wincing, “Yeah.” Now, as I walked away, I noted to myself that the pained reaction was for effect. I mentally kicked myself and asked God why I had to be so dramatic and why I didn’t just give the kid a break.
Before I began the walk to the game, I stopped to get a lunch special from a Chinese place. I ordered among other things egg drop soup, which was too hot to eat and looked like its name: it was a gooey concoction of yell slime. I didn’t eat it.
After eating lunch, I did the walk. Arriving at the stadium, I bought my ticket and went to the gate.
I had to have my bag checked and I thought for sure I would be accosted about the food in there. It has been my common experience lately to have people with any kind of authority use it. Sure enough, I was told “they don’t like people to bring food in here.”. However, the gentleman checking my bag let me in anyway.
During the game, I filmed events from my laptop. On my school’s first touchdown, the quarterback threw a beautiful pass to a receiver who made a spectacular catch in the corner of the end zone. My camera was ready and I began filming from my laptop. Unfortunately, a group of students walked right in front of me up the stadium stairs as I was filming, oblivious to my grimace.
One staff person finally told me,”You can take pictures of the game, but you can’t film.” I thought,”Thirty thousand people with Smartphones which have video capability and he has to pick on me.”
Now, I was already non-plussed by this man because he kept walking up and down the stadium stares with a watchful eye and seeming glare. Frankly, he gave me the creeps.
Going out to a quick three touchdown lead, my university’s team lost the game in the end. They were knocking at the door with 8 seconds to go and couldn’t punch it in. I listened to disgruntled fans complain about the play-calling of our coach and watched as one guy berated excited fans of the opposing team.
“Hmm. These usually wonderful students are not as nice as I thought,” I said to myself.
Leaving the stadium, I was hoping to catch one of these bus shuttles I had seen. The regular bus service had already ended and the schedule on the school’s shuttle stop noted that it did not run there on Saturday.
I just missed a city shuttle as it turned a corner. I asked a female police officer directing traffic if she knew about these shuttles, and she said she didn’t. But she also added,”You had better stand back or you are going to get hit by a car.” My mind went to, “Yep. Another unnecessary rebuke from a police officer.”
I waited for about 10 to 15 minutes and a shuttle never appeared. So I walked down the same street I had walked down three hours earlier. As I trudged along, three shuttles from the stadium passed me within 20 minutes.
I made a turn down a long road that runs through campus and to the greenway, which leads to my neighborhood. I arrived home about 90 minutes after leaving the stadium, in the dark, and hungry.
When I got home, I turned on the television and learned my favorite baseball team had just lost in the last inning for the second night in a row. They have now dug a deep hole for themselves to make a World Series.
The end to a perfectly topsy turvy day.
After reflecting on this Saturday, though, I came to the conclusion that the doctrine of God’s Providence was not really the issue here, at least for me. What really mattered was whether or not I believed that God loved me and was trustworthy enough to help me in my circumstances.
If in fact God is in control of all good and bad things that happen to me as Jerry Bridges says, then the question for me is , “Does He use them for my good?.” This well known verse from the Bible seems to say he does:
“And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” (Romans 8:28)
In retrospect, when I review my supposedly negative experiences from Saturday, I realize that many of the things that occurred were quite helpful. Here are some of the positive effects of these apparently “bad” events:
1) My early morning bus didn’t come, but the one I DID take led me to my planned destination anyway.
2) God protected me from harm when a careless grocery store worker slammed my knee with a cart.
3) My egg drop soup was not eatable, but I learned what NOT to order next time AND I enjoyed a nice chicken and broccoli dish there.
4) The guy who checked my bag at the stadium could have in fact denied my entry. But when I explained that I did not have a car and had just gone grocery shopping, he said,”You don’t have a car here.” He was confirming my story to see if I was believable. When he believed me, he let me in. He was polite and nice about it.
5) The events staffer was just doing his job. It’s not his fault Osama Bin Laden committed a heinous terrorist act which has led to today’s overbearing police state environment.
6) The police officer I met actually was trying to keep me from getting killed. In addition, she pointed out the nearest bus stop.
7) I missed my planned weight lifting program this day. God replaced it with 6 to 8 miles of walking.
8) It was an absolutely gorgeous day to be outside for as long as I was.
9) I have noted that my youthful determination to never let a sports team get me depressed is still there. My take on my baseball team this year has always been that they have had a great season no matter how it ends. I have just enjoyed the baseball.
10) While I want my university sports teams to win, I don’t really have a dog in their fights. Their teams represent my workplace, not my alma mater or hometown.
In essence, my delays, near misses,unfinished plans and unfulfilled desires don’t really matter much except in the economy of a loving God.
Of the above, I think near misses frustrate me the most. “Nuts. The Orioles were close to the World Series and didn’t make it after 35 years of not being there,” I think.
One of my most common near misses is missing great pictures. Most of the time it is the result of the event occurring before I can get my camera ready, not an obstruction like at the game on Saturday.
But I have learned from one of the great near misses of all time. One of Jesus’s disciples, Thomas, missed the Lord’s appearance to all His other followers.
Thomas didn’t believe that Jesus had been resurrected. He complained that unless he saw the nail scars in the Lord’s hands, he wouldn’t believe.
Thomas wanted proof! As a result, he has gone down in history as “Doubting Thomas”. I don’t think I would like to be give a moniker which would be used as a negative byword for two thousand years.
When Thomas finally did see Jesus, he exclaimed,”My Lord and my God.” (John 20:28)
In fact, as the Life Recovery Bible notes, Thomas went on to exhibit great courage as one of Jesus’s apostles. Church history credits him with founding the church in India.
Thus, I know I can repent of my own doubts and have faith and still have a successful life.
It could be worse. At least I am not my school’s football coach, who has to wonder what happened on that fade route on fourth down at the end of Saturday’s game!
If he is a man of faith, it would help him to believe that Jesus is at work regardless of appearances.