Did you know that many fruits are picked green so that they can be shipped without as much spoilage? Prior to putting them on display some are artificially ripened. Bananas and tomatoes, for example, are exposed to ethylene gas to give them the yellow and red color we expect! There is a difference in the natural process and the ‘forced’ one however. Some tomatoes are sold as ‘vipe ripened.’ And there is no comparing a supermarket tomato to one freshly taken from the vine in the backyard garden.
Hannah Anderson borrows the practice of artificially ‘ripening’ fruit to meet consumer expectations to illustrate the way that so many of us demand almost instant maturity of understanding from the Lord. She writes that “while Jesus is concerned that His disciples grow in their understanding, He is also comfortable with them not knowing ALL things- in part because they are not ready for more knowledge yet.” (Humble Roots, Moody, 2016)
Each of us lives through times when we have BIG questions.
Why did that happen?
How could this be good?
Is God unfair?
In the crisp sunshine of a New Jersey Fall, with beautiful color around me, yesterday morning I stood at Bev’s grave with tears streaming down my face. I sobbed and choked, asking God to help me to make sense of her death. “Where are You? Do you care about me at all? How can I possibly believe that You are good and loving when You allowed her so much pain and took her home leaving me so alone, so sad?” It would make a nice story to say that the Holy Spirit showed me a great passage that answered all those questions, but it would be untrue! I stumbled to my car to wipe away tears, my heart still broken.
What I do know is that my faith is ripening naturally, unforced. I would like Him to accomplish His purposes quickly, but He seldom does. Time passes, events flow around us, and gradually we become more like Jesus. I can tell you, with great assurance, that things that have broken my heart in the past are now memorials where I see Him at work. But, making any sense of those moments required years to pass, perspective to develop in me and for me.
Let’s be clear about one thing. Life is not as simple as we would like to think. Christians, especially, love to draw straight lines of ‘cause and effect,’ as if things that happen can be reduced to a single catalyst. Spiritual immaturity is revealed when we praise God when we think life is good and blame Him when things are not as we want. Let me use Bev’s death from cancer as an illustration of the complexity of life. Only God knows, literally, what combination of environmental factors, genetic issues, and nutrition contributed to her body’s failure. Or this – Who knows what stirred the winds of the deadly hurricane that blew across the Caribbean and up the US coast? Did God simply decree the death of hundreds in Haiti only to spare West Palm Beach, Florida with a wave of His hand? Some think this way, and reveal an immature faith in so doing. Who knows all the factors that create the weather as well as the sociological choices and history that make some populations so much more vulnerable than others?
It is not that God is incapable of healing cancer or directing hurricanes. He IS God! But, He has also given us (all of our lives are intertwined) choices to make. Those choices can lead us to life or death. And, we individually, bear the weight of choices made by others, too. Our freedom can be a great blessing but it also makes terrible suffering possible.
Our response, Jesus says, needs to be like that of a trusting child. “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3-4, NIV) A child is willing to learn, knowing that she must trust parents and teachers about things she cannot yet grasp. The life of a teenager is often complicated because he makes foolish choices, thinking he knows so much more about life than he actually does. Are you willing to trust the Lord like a child? Jesus promises that when the Spirit comes, He will guide us into all truth.
With maturity comes greater capacity. Greater understanding increases both strength and productivity. However, that maturity cannot come without today’s lesson. A first grader must learn that 2 plus 2 equals 4. Mastery of the basic is the foundation for doing algebraic equations in ninth grade. Our spiritual life is similar, though less linear. The Word reminds us of the discipline that is absolutely necessary. (Do not equate discipline with punishment.) We read “we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (Heb 12:9-11)
Meditate on the wisdom of the Proverb. God calls us to faith. “Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he’s the one who will keep you on track.” (Proverbs 3:5-6, The Message) As you trust, always remember to factor in the improbably, the impossible, the unimaginable.
Here is a word from the Word. Let’s believe it and wait for faith to ripen! “Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think,(things beyond even our imagination!) according to the power that worketh in us, Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21, KJV)