THE IRONIES OF FAITH 

  1. The Angel that Couldn’t Save a Car 

In the Bible there are many apparent ironies of faith, as in life there are many staggering ironies of existence.  I listened to the fascinating story of a preacher who had parked his car in front of his hilltop house and stepped out to pick something quickly from the house.  His five-year old daughter was strapped in her seat at the back.  In about eight seconds as he was still ascending his steps, he hears his car sloping down the hill, he turns around and sees it crash across the street below and through a neighbour’s fence on the opposite side of the street, but the daughter was standing calmly where the car had been parked.  When he gets out of his shock and rushes to her to ask what had happened, she calmly innocently tells him how she had unstrapped her seat belt, disengaged the hand break (probably her first chance at a ‘driving lesson’ as she had seen Daddy do), but an angel had instantly carried her in his arms, taken her out of the car, and placed her on her feet at the spot.  The car doors remained locked.

Every right thinker’s question would be, If the angel could do that, why didn’t or couldn’t he also have kept the girl from interfering with the breaks, or kept the car from crashing down into a crisis with a neighbour?  To say it in the language of the pondering Jews at Bethany when Lazarus died, “Could not this man, which opened the eyes of the blind, have caused that even this man should not have died?” (John 11:37).  Occasionally in the journey of life, we wonder or worry at finding the ‘wrong’ people at one of those perplexing bus stops where reality seems to contradict creed.  More perplexing, sometimes, is that whom we find there is ourselves.

  1. Dead Bones that Give Life 

One of those perplexing paradoxes that has lately confronted me from the Holy Bible is in the story of Prophet Elisha, a man twice anointed than the fiery mighty Elijah, but who is killed by sickness whereas his ‘inferior’ master is specially chauffeured into heaven in a haze of fire and glory; a man whose dead bones could give life to another dead man whereas the same bones could not (or did not) heal the prophet himself from the sickness that finally killed him!

The Bible reports, “And Elisha died, and they buried him” (2 Kings 13:20).  What an awful finality!  What an apparent anti-climax to the tale of a man to whose defence wild bears came without being called; a man who, with mere salt, could reverse a community curse that for nearly five hundred years had defied politicians and priests, even his former master Elijah (2 Kings 2:19-24)!  “…And they buried him”!  Hmmm…

14 Now Elisha was fallen sick of his sickness whereof he died. And Joash the king of Israel came down unto him, and wept over his face, and said, O my father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof.  

20 And Elisha died, and they buried him. And the bands of the Moabites invaded the land at the coming in of the year. 

21 And it came to pass, as they were burying a man, that, behold, they spied a band of men; and they cast the man into the sepulchre of Elisha: and when the man was let down, and touched the bones of Elisha, he revived, and stood up on his feet (2 Kings 13:14, 20-21). 

A right thinker may have asked, If there was such potency in those dead dry bones to jerk a dead man back to life, why didn’t that same power save the prophet himself from a mere sickness, which eventually became his lamented death?  Sometimes you are that prophet to whom such wearisome worries come, or at whom the queries are callously thrown by those who taunt you painfully in wordless eloquence, “He saved others; himself he cannot save” (Matthew 27:42).  It is staggering when the mockers are even notorious sinners of no match to your famed steady virtues, thieves on the cross unfit to touch even your dusty holy sandals, but who will take advantage of your moment of ironies, join voice with villains and sneer, “save thyself and us” (Luke 23:39).   In other words, “If you are so ‘special’ to God as everyone seems to think of you, or as you yourself have always said, we ask nothing for ourselves but you: let us see that salvation work first in your life, then we can trust you enough to buy the ‘product’ you sell.”  Silence.  Those are times when you wonder if you were still a prophet at all, or less!

  1.   The Angel that Wouldn’t Save a Sinking Ship 

Apostle Paul was on a mission to Rome.  God had assured him that He would be with him on that voyage.  During the trip, there is a terrible storm, then a shipwreck.  Earlier, one morning, Pastor Paul had stood before the 266 passengers stranded like himself, and announced with a holy air, “For there stood by me this night the angel of God, whose I am, and whom I serve” (Acts 27:23).

Here’s my worry: If an angel often went with Paul, or had been with him the night before; if Paul truly served God and was God’s man, why the calamity?  Why would an angel merely announce and allow disaster than prevent it?  Could that have been an angel of the good God?  How does a shipwreck explain the presence and pleasure of God?  When the Lord is Shepherd, it is “green pastures” and “still waters” ‘all the way’ as they say; but is He still the One in front when one staggers “through the valley of the shadow of death” (Psalm 23:1-4)?  How does such a dark valley still explain the presence and pleasure of a Good Shepherd?

  1. The Prophet that Killed His Wife 

Ezekiel was a great prophet, but one day he came up with a prophecy that, in Africa, we would have received with great suspicion and begun to question the spiritual integrity of his ministry.  The name Ezekiel meant the strength of God,” but the story you are about to read, in some cultures, would readily suggest ‘strength’ from the opposite side of a good God.

One day, according to the prophet, God came to him and said,

16 “Son of man, with one blow I will take away your dearest treasure. Yet you must not show any sorrow at her death. Do not weep; let there be no tears. 17 Groan silently, but let there be no wailing at her grave. Do not uncover your head or take off your sandals. Do not perform the usual rituals of mourning or accept any food brought to you by consoling friends” (Ezekiel 24:16-17, New Living Translation).

How could God say that He was about to kill the wife of His faithful prophet, and Ezekiel even ‘had the mouth’ to say it, instead of ‘standing in the gap’ for her as Mr Hezekiah might have done (2 Kings 20:1-11)?  Come to think of it, the woman in question was not Jezebel the witch or Mrs Job the nagger or Mrs Hosea the harlot wife!  Why would God kill the good wife of a good preacher? Is that how He rewards His faithful servants?   Next day, that strange ‘revelation’ becomes the prophet’s early morning sermon to his congregation.  What ‘prophetic’ audacity!

Let’s hear the prophet himself: “I preached to the people in the morning. That evening my wife died” (v.18, The Message).  See how smoothly this preacher speaks of the death of his ‘beloved’ wife!  A man whose preaching kills his wife, is that not witchcraft?  Did he not ‘use’ her for his rituals?  Wonder of wonderers, the preacher even claims that the God Who clearly says that we should mourn with those that mourn (Romans 12:15) contradicts Himself only in the case of Ezekiel, advising the prophet to shed no tear for a wife he claimed was his “dearest treasure”?  Who was fooling whom?  Who was shrewdly using ‘church’ and ‘prophecy’ to deceive the people?

If you were the follower of such a prophet, how much longer would you have remained with him?  If your child or good wife were a member in the congregation of such a prophet whose ‘anointing’ kills wives, what would you have done?  How do I trust life from a prophet who could not give life to his own wife?  Should the Elders of the land keep trusting and consulting with such a prophet for national direction (Ezekiel 8:1)?  How might social media in our day have handled such a story of ‘prophetic assassination’?

  1. Miracles Missed from Despised Bones 

Alas how we sometimes have missed the potency in prophetic bones because we judged them by their looks and by what they did not (or apparently could not) do for themselves!  Alas how we sometimes have repudiated help from healing bones because they had seemed unable to heal themselves from their own sickness!  Blinded by pride and a questionable sense of theological justice, we have sometimes acted like one of the thieves on the cross, jeering, “Save yourself first, then we can trust you to save us too.”  Meanwhile, other crossed thieves like us bypass us penitently into Paradise while we hang dying yet joining voices stupidly with malicious Pharisees on their feet (Luke 23:38-43)!

My ‘sickness’ is not a measure of my capacities.  The yet-unmet situations about me in no way say that I am incapable of much more glory.   When we misjudge help, we merely multiply our own dead.  Alas how many more corpses might have been brought back to life if ‘practical’ eyes had not blindly been bypassing those bones as being themselves too hopelessly dead to be the givers of life!

  1. Physician, Heal Thyself 

Beloved, have you ever been there where lofty leaders of religion publicly dared you, saying, “You saved others, yourself you cannot save!  How now we would have loved to see your preachings in you”?  Did anyone ever throw you a challenge, saying, “Physician, heal thyself,” and themselves hobbled home unhealed?  Were you ever forced by ‘friendly’ folks to confess ‘hidden sins’ of their own holy imagination; sins of which you knew nothing, but which you had to confess all the same to get them off your wilderness back?  Still you didn’t get ‘healed’ as they prescribed?

How do you explain it to everyone that Zacharias and his wife were such holy people, and he a faithful priest to his God, with a thriving congregation that often waited for him after service just so he could wave at them to be blessed, yet himself carried a lifelong childlessness (Luke 1: 5-7)!  How can it be explained that a man who prays for others to be healed has not procured healing for himself or his own?  If Elisha had in his bones such power to raise other dead men, how come he fell sick, and died, “and they buried him”?

  1. The Prerogative of Mercy 

To conceal ignorance, we have sometimes multiplied miseries by concocting answers for mysteries beyond our comprehension.  Ignorance compounded by pride has sometimes kept us from help that we might have had if we listened to the Master’s voice in our soul than to ‘knowledgeable’ jeerers.  Aging deaf prophets have sometimes taught agile young mentees to hear God well (1 Samuel 3:9); dying patriarchs have given wells of blessings to living sons that knelt to them (Genesis 27:1-4; 49:1); dead bones have given life to the dead that were carried to them.  We must shut the ears to those who piously call us hopeless dead bones.  Some day will vindicate us when their dead are raised unceremoniously by the despised bones, and the valley of dead dry bones becomes “an exceeding great army” in the land (Ezekiel 37:10).

When we must find answers to fit our precarious place than heed an unsettling truth, we multiply our dead, or seal our place on the cross while others pass on into Paradise.  I hear now, “the prerogative of mercy.”  I understand.  The prerogative of His mercy, which has little to do with the magnitude of my righteousness.  That Mercy once found a sick man who had been 38 years at the healing pool; a man frustrated in consecutive years yet not quitting his place there, in hope that someday help would come.  That day came.  Mercy walked up to him from a different direction than the traditional healing angel had usually been expected from; and Mercy asked, “Wilt thou be made whole?”  That man was put back on his feet after 38 years (not months) of repeated failings.  He walked away, leaving a “great multitude” still waiting at the pool, trusting their strong legs, their nearness to the healing pool, and their muscular men to quickly swing them into the pool whenever the healing angel came.

The next place we find that grateful man is in the Temple of God – his place there had been waiting for him all those years while he lay stranded by the healing pool that always helped others but failed him.  Healed on the Sabbath day, Mercy was saying to him, “Your rest starts today.”  The knowledgeable Pharisees never understood, and would not relent (John 5:1-14), but Mercy had spoken, and Mercy had prevailed.  He was back on his feet at last, despite them all!

O Mercy, find me today.  Amen.

From The Preacher’s diary,
April 3, 2022. 

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