A Detour into the Total Perspective Vortex

In the previous post in this series on our Master’s voice, I wrote that: “We can’t see the reasons God wants us to trust Him because there is far more at work than we could ever imagine.”  Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction, but sometimes great illustrations come from strange fictional places, like Jim Carrey movies and Douglas Adams books for example.

In The Restaurant at the End of the Universe,[1] the sequel to the sci-fi comedy classic The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, author Douglas Adams imagines a technology that harnesses full awareness of the universe as a profoundly cruel torture device.  When Trin Tragula invented the “Total Perspective Vortex” to annoy his wife who kept accusing him of blowing things out of proportion, he found that when he tested it on her, “the shock completely annihilated her brain.”  A victim is placed in the TPV and presented with a realistic model of the entire universe, with a tiny dot on top of a tiny dot that says, “you are here.”  He concluded that “a sense of proportion” in such a massive universe would only make someone feel completely insignificant, hopeless, and insane beyond all hope of recovery.  It’s a sci-fi comedy, but still, be careful what you wish for.

Another example from a different angle is the Jim Carrey movie, Bruce Almighty.  This hilarious (but irreverent) comedy is based on Carrey’s character Bruce Nolan raging against God about his frustrating life.  God, played by Morgan Freeman, appears and challenges Bruce to do any better, giving him “the job” for a temporary period to teach him a lesson.  The 3-ish-minute video embedded here is my favorite part of the movie, where Bruce tries to figure out how to deal with his new awareness of all the prayers of the world.

If God thought it was possible, or a good idea, for us to know it all, we would.  After all, even Nipper the dog from the “His Master’s Voice” painting would be distracted and unable to get anything done if he saw this picture, even though it contains only good news:

Our Master speaks to us as our creator, knowing both our limitations, but also what we are capable of as His marvelous creatures if we trust Him!

This post is fourth in a series that started with this post on His Master’s Voice. More to come…

[1] Adams, Douglas. The Restaurant at the End of the Universe.  (1980).  P. 79

God Tells Gideon a Secret

Photo by Byron Johnson on Unsplash

Today we come back to the topic of our Master’s voice, which began with the painting “His Master’s Voice” and continues through the story of Gideon in the book of Judges, chapters 6 and 7.  So far, Gideon has done his best to discern whether God was really talking to him, then set out with an army of 22,000 soldiers, which Gideon faithfully whittled down to only 300, at God’s instruction.  Against an army “like locusts in abundance,” Gideon might have needed a little reassurance, because outside of a miracle[1] his army was going to fail miserably.

That very night, God spoke to Gideon, saying: “Arise, go down against the camp, for I have given it into your hand.  But if you are afraid to go down, go down to the camp with Purah your servant.  And you shall hear what they say, and afterward your hands shall be strengthened to go down against the camp.[2]  We know Gideon was still afraid because he took Purah and went down into the camp.  We also know that God made provision for Gideon’s fear, instead of counting on Gideon to have perfect faith.  Should Gideon have needed extra reassurance?  No, but God provided what was needed to overcome Gideon’s fear, which was a bit more insight into God’s plan.  Victory in battle is never a matter of how many soldiers are on God’s side, as if spiritual warfare was determined by democracy, but by whose side God is on.

When Gideon snuck into the camp: “behold, a man was telling a dream to his comrade. And he said, ‘Behold, I dreamed a dream, and behold, a cake of barley bread tumbled into the camp of Midian and came to the tent and struck it so that it fell and turned it upside down, so that the tent lay flat.’  And his comrade answered, ‘This is no other than the sword of Gideon the son of Joash, a man of Israel; God has given into his hand Midian and all the camp.’”[3]

Victory in battle is never

a matter of how many

soldiers are on God’s side

Some commentators suggest that the “barley” reference means that an inferior army would win, since barley was considered inferior to wheat and other grains, but what we know is that this dream put fear into the Midianite camp and emboldened Gideon to trust God, even though he didn’t understand Him.  Overhearing these words in the camp let Gideon know that that God was at work in far more ways than he could imagine, that victory belongs to the LORD, and that he can trust that God has the knowledge he lacked.  God is trustworthy, even if we don’t fully understand Him.

We only know part of our part in God’s plan.  He knows all of our part, and also all of everyone else’s part.  Each of us are but one of millions of Christians trying to figure out our relationship with God, and we have no idea what those other millions are up to.  But God does, and if we insist God tells us everything before we act, we not only disobey God, but lose out on the opportunity to impact those other lives and see how awesome God’s plan really is!

Our ability to hear and obey our Master’s voice is not a question of complete knowledge, but of wisdom.  Proverbs 17:24 says, “The discerning sets his face toward wisdom, but the eyes of a fool are on the ends of the earth.”  Since “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight,[4] from the story of Gideon, we learn that God was teaching Gideon to revere Him above any desire to see the “ends of the earth.”  Wisdom keeps us on the path of life but doesn’t always mark it out for us far into the future.  We can’t see the reasons God wants us to trust Him because there is far more at work than we could ever imagine.

The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” – Deuteronomy 29:29

This post is third in a series that started with this post on His Master’s Voice. More to come…

[1] Or a certain action film directed by Zack Snyder…
[2] Judges 7:9b-11a
[3] Judges 7:13-14
[4] Proverbs 9:10

The Israelites are Too Many!

In Braveheart, one of my favorite movies, a Scottish soldier is afraid to fight because “the English are too many!”  Imagine if God had responded that, actually, the Scottish army was too big.  In the story of Gideon, something like that happened.

In a series of posts about hearing our Master’s voice, God speaks to and works through Gideon to rescue Israel from oppression by the Midianites, Amalekites, and others.  After some serious doubts, covered in the last post, Gideon gained enough trust in God to gather an army, although he didn’t know the details of God’s plan.  Judges 7 shows the plan being revealed and implemented and is the subject of coming posts.

Gideon gathered 22,000 soldiers south of the Midianite camp, and it was probably an inexperienced army since Judges 3:2 says many in Israel had yet to learn war.  However, the army was too big: “The LORD said to Gideon, ‘The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel boast over me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me.’[1]  God says the fearful must return home, otherwise the army, and Gideon, would take credit that only God deserves.  Only 10,000 remained, presumably those who trusted God for the victory.

But the Israelites were still too many, so the LORD has Gideon watch how the soldiers drank from the water.  Those who knelt to drink were sent home, leaving only 300 men!  Some suggest the soldiers who knelt showed that they were not ready for battle, probably putting down their weapons to drink, but whatever the reason, God was putting a plan into action, revealing it piece by piece, where Gideon could not possibly take credit and also risked massive failure.  The enemy army was “like locusts in abundance, and their camels were without number, as the sand that is on the seashore in abundance.[2]

Gideon must have been getting nervous, but God was about to show him that “If God is for us, who can be against us?” – Romans 8:31b.  The Midianites were not too many for God to handle.

This post is second in a series that started with this post on His Master’s Voice and continues here.

[1] Judges 7:2
[2] Judges 7:12

When We Are Faithful, All Failure is Temporary

Doctor Strange with the Time Stone

In the Marvel movie Avengers: Infinity War, Doctor Strange uses a powerful Time Stone to watch millions of possible future outcomes and find one where the Avengers win.  The solution involves huge, almost unconscionable losses, including giving the villain, Thanos, exactly what he needs to commit genocide.  The movie was part one of two, and the second wasn’t released until a full year later.  Infinity War ends with Thanos victorious, and audiences had to wait to see if Strange’s decisions and sacrifices would work.  Would the trust the Avengers put in him be rewarded and lead to their deliverance?  It didn’t look good at the time, and it was actually a pretty grim movie.

Marvel’s story had cast Strange in the role of a prophet, except that Strange himself saw the future, and decided himself what to report back to the others, who had to trust what he said he saw, his judgement in what to share, and be willing to stick with it no matter what.  As I’ve been covering Jeremiah’s call this week, chapter 1, verses 8-10 have some interesting comparisons with Marvel’s story line.  The verses are:

“Do not be afraid of them,
            for I am with you to deliver you, declares the LORD.
Then the LORD put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the LORD said to me,
            “Behold, I have put my words in your mouth.
See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms,
            to pluck up and to break down,
            to destroy and to overthrow,
            to build and to plant.”

Unlike Doctor Strange, Jeremiah did not have the big picture; he could not pick and choose what to say.  God would “put…words in your mouth,” words specifically chosen from perfect and infinite knowledge to be exactly what was needed.  Strange was able to act on his plan, although the others didn’t understand and resisted.  In Jeremiah’s case, Israel did not listen to him, and God actually told Jeremiah they wouldn’t, but he prophesied anyway.  He was created for that purpose, and in the verses above he was assured to “not be afraid of them.”

While Strange promised that his plan would work, we had to wait for the sequel to see it.  God promised Jeremiah, who also told the people, that his plan would work, and that the words God gave Jeremiah would determine the fates of “nations” and “kingdoms”, who God would “pluck up” and “break down.”  But Jeremiah died waiting for the sequel.  During his lifetime, Israel was plucked up by the Babylonians and sent into exile as punishment for their rejection of God, which was also a rejection of Jeremiah.  His life was like a pretty grim movie, but his story was not finished, as we now know.

None of us consistently

give God’s word the

full authority it deserves.

In three posts about the calling of Jeremiah this week, we’ve seen examples of God’s love for people who have a different calling from us, who have imperfect faith, and who aren’t seeing immediate blessings from their efforts.  We should be compassionate when we see others are flawed in these same ways, because they are no different than Jeremiah, and also no different from us.  None of us consistently give God’s word the full authority it deserves.  It’s a shame that Jeremiah is often seen as a gloomy, annoying bearer of bad news.  In Jeremiah, God has given us an example of someone who is like all of us and a call to love others as we love ourselves.  That’s good news, but it didn’t look good at the time.

In his lifetime he may have looked like a failure, but in the years after and in eternity, his work as a prophet and also his personal experience of God has provided invaluable lessons for millions.  God knew this from the beginning because He didn’t have to wait a year to see the sequel.  He has already seen them all.  Therefore, we can trust what He sees, His judgement in what to share, and be willing to stick with it no matter what, because His story and ours does not end in this lifetime.

“It is not your business to succeed, but to do right. When you have done so the rest lies with God.” – C. S. Lewis

(Prior posts on Jeremiah’s call are here and here)

God Equips Those He Calls

Photo by Tim Wildsmith on Unsplash

When Jeremiah was called to serve as a prophet, God told him he was literally made for it, as covered in a recent post, but Jeremiah’s response was not an enthusiastic one.  Jeremiah 1:6-8 records this exchange:

“Then I said, ‘Ah, Lord GOD! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.’  But the LORD said to me,
            ‘Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’;
            for to all to whom I send you, you shall go,
            and whatever I command you, you shall speak.’”

Even though God had just said “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,” Jeremiah objects that he was too young and did not have the natural ability required for the job.  Maybe he doubted anyone would listen to him, so God must have the wrong guy.  God doesn’t disagree that Jeremiah was young (he already knew that), but knows that God’s ability is what matters, not Jeremiah’s.  God knew that someday you and I would be reading Jeremiah’s words regardless of his own youth or ability.  God never picks the wrong person for the job.

But if “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,”[1] why does the Scripture tell us that one of its own authors doubted and questioned God Himself?

The answer of course, is “for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.”  We should learn not only from Jeremiah’s prophecies to the people of his time, but also from His experience with God.  In hindsight, we think that because Jeremiah is a book of the Bible, of course he was able to do the work God gave him, but in the moment of his call, Jeremiah had no idea.  So, when we think our ability is not enough the job at hand, we should remember Jeremiah’s youth and remember that “God does not call the equipped; He equips the called,” as the saying goes.  Jeremiah learned this from his own experience, and we may learn from it as well because the Bible records it.

Also, God shows us Jeremiah’s flaws to comfort us when we feel inadequate, not only in ability but also in faith.  Even if we know that “God does not call the equipped; He equips the called,” we don’t always act on that knowledge.  Jeremiah doubts not only his call, but there are other examples, including when he questions why he should buy a field the Babylonians were about to seize.[2]  Doubt is not something that only some Christians feel – we are not alone in our weakness.  Even the Bible’s own authors had doubt because they could not see as God sees.

God is patient when we are honest with Him about our doubts, but He is also honest with us when He says we were literally made to serve Him.  No Christian is inadequate for the work God gives them, for in His power He accomplishes what He wants. He has no doubts and is faithful in providing everything we need.

Sometimes God sends us before we think we are ready, so we can learn to put our confidence in the right place like Paul, who wrote: “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” – Philippians 4:13

[1] 2 Timothy 3:16
[2] The story is in Jeremiah 32, which I covered in an earlier post, here.