January 11, 2004
Annie Dillard writes in her book Pilgrim at Tinker Creek:
A couple of summers ago I was walking along the edge of the island to see
what I could see in the water, and mainly to scare frogs. Frogs have an
inelegant way of taking off from invisible positions on the bank just ahead
of your feet, in dire panic, emitting a froggy "Yike!" and splashing into the
water. Incredibly, this amused me, and incredibly, it amuses me still. As I
walked along the grassy edge of the island, I got better and better at seeing
frogs both in and out of the water. I learned to recognize, slowing down,
the difference in texture of the light reflected from mud bank, water, grass,
or frog. He was exactly half in and half out of the water, looking like a
schematic diagram of an amphibian, and he didn't jump.
He didn't jump; I crept closer. At last I knelt on the island's winter-killed
grass, lost, dumbstruck, staring at the frog in the creek just four feet away.
He was a very small frog with wide, dull eyes. And just as I looked at him,
he slowly crumpled and began to sag. The spirit vanished from his eyes as
if snuffed. His skin emptied and drooped; his very skull seemed to collapse
and settle like a kicked tent. He was shrinking before my eyes like a
deflating football. I watched the taut, glistening skin on his shoulders tuck,
and rumple, and fall. Soon, part of his skin, formless as a pricked balloon,
lay in floating folds like bright scum on top of the water: It was a
monstrous and terrifying thing. I gaped bewildered, appalled. An oval
shadow hung in the water behind the drained frog; then the shadow glided
away. The frog skin bag started to sink.
I had read about the giant water bug, but never seen one. "Giant water
bug" is really the name of the creature, which is an enormous, heavy-bodied
brown beetle. It eats insects, tadpoles, fish, and frogs. Its grasping forelegs
are mighty and hooked inward. It seizes a victim with these legs, hugs it
tight, and paralyzes it with enzymes injected during a vicious bite. That one
bite is the only bite it ever takes. Through the puncture shoot the poisons
that dissolve the victim's muscles and bones and organs -- all but the
skin -- and through it the giant water bug sucks out the victim's body,
reduced to a juice. The frog I saw was being sucked by a giant water bug.
I have seen the same thing happen, in a different dimension, with people. A young person starts out living for God but runs into adversity and it acts like poison. Obviously, some adversity we deserve. But if you live long enough you will go through some pretty rough times through no fault of your own. It still amazes me, however, when people blame God for their own dopey choices. After a short series of irresponsible choices have created a significant amount of hardship, bitterness - like the water bug's poison - begins to dissolve their soul. And it's God's fault, because they didn't get what they wanted. Instead they got bit.
Of course, adversity also comes through nothing you've done to cause it. You're minding your own business, serving God will all your heart and WHAM out of nowhere your brothers mug you and sell you into slavery. And just when things look like they will improve you are betrayed by the vilest act of slander a courtroom has ever heard.
What do you do now? Resentment could dissolve your soul if you allow it.
Read Genesis 39
Bitterness is part of the air we breathe. Bumper stickers of emotional venom I have seen: Your kid may be an honor student, but you're still an idiot. Or - Some people are only alive because it is illegal to murder.
Bitterness is the poison we swallow, while hoping the other person dies. It's like shooting ourselves in the heart, thinking it will kill the other person. This one episode in Joseph's life is a recipe for bitterness. He did everything God's way and still ended up in prison. But the challenge for Joseph is much larger, even, than this episode. His brothers have already rejected him, nearly killing him. And in prison, after doing a positive service for the king's cup bearer, he is forgotten by the ones who could help. Yet Joseph remains faithful to God. One thing we can say for this young man: Immediate gratification is not his driving force. That would be a good lesson to learn . . . another day!
As horrible as it is, Joesph knew there was someting worse than being rejected by his family. Some of you have experienced that kind of rejection and you're not sure if there is anything worse. Joesph would tell you there is.
As horrible as it is, and none of us have experienced it, there is something worse than being sold into slavery, and slandered into prison, and then forgotten by people who could've helped.
What if your whole life was a meaningless accident? What if God had a few folks He loved, a few He tolerated and the rest He despised? What if God had no concern for you whatsoever?
Early in his life Joseph had been given a vision of God's plan for his life. Based on his understanding of God's character - a holy God, a God of integrity, and his knowledge of God's power - Joseph trusted that God would work that ultimate plan through the worst of hardships.
Satan wants you to believe that hardship is evidence of God's neglect. The Bible says, "Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as His children" (Hebrews 12:7). One of His favorites!
The tokens of God's love to Joseph were his early visions. What is our token of God's love? The cross of Jesus. God loves us so much that He allowed His Son to die for our sins. The token of His power is the resurrection of Jesus. These proofs will take us through hardship if we believe them. These proofs helped Peter and Paul and Jim Elliot to die!
Based on his experience with God, Joseph trusted in the wisdom and power of God instead of becoming bitter and filled with resentment.
God, in His wisdom, has goals for our lives. You're not there yet. I'm not there yet. One of His objectives for you is not that you have a trouble-free, untested, happy existence while you wait for heaven. If you think that is His goal for you then at the first taste of hardship you must consider that either God's wisdom or His power has broken down!
Joseph could've bought into that lie while in the cistern waiting for his brothers to kill him. Or on the caravan to Egypt, or in Pharaoh's prison. Instead he continued to trust God's wisdom and God's ability to bring His plan to fruition. Have you ever been in a pit of despair? Or on a journey in the wrong direction? Or forgotten?
The moment you or I give in to resentment or self pity, we have started to act as if Satan has gotten one over on God. He ambushed us when God was sleeping? And if that is the way it is you might think, "It's every man for himself. I'll make my own happiness, if it is with Potipher's wife or the nearest willing partner in some selfish fun. Who is God to tell me how to run my life?"
In order to be faithful to God, even in adversity, you need to know that God values your life. You can be reckless in your love for God, even when the lights go out, because your very existence is the result of omniscient planning. God thinks it is a good thing to be the person you are - with the potential to become the person He plans for you to be.
Joseph overcame the temptation to bitterness, because he believed God had clearly expressed His love. And God's wisdom and power would see that love wins. He never lost sight of this even in his family's rejection, in slavery or in imprisonment. Later he told his brothers, "You intended evil for me, but in that same act, God was able to accomplish great good."
Trusting that God's goal is your ultimate good - even when adversity comes - will help you maintain an inner peace. Being sure of God's good purposes, we can be free to be loyal to Him even in suffering.
This is the foundation of a promise like I Corinthians 10:13, "No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will provide a way out so that you can stand up under it."
"No temptation has seized you . . .." Satan can not ambush you with something special or unique. In fact, temptation is not a supernatural power.. It is only natural. We are all tested by the same basic tests. Joseph. Judah and Jesus. You. Me.
"God is faithful . . .." Hardship, adversity is not a signal that God has left the building. He is as close as ever. Partly to insure that the test does not exceed your stress limits. Every test has boundaries and every test has an exit. Temptation and escape always come in pairs. And every time you choose the exit instead of the temptation your character becomes more like Jesus. And God's ultimate plan for you is getting closer to the finish line.
As hormone driven as our culture is today, a lust inspiring, salacious temptress (or tempter) is not that stress inducing in comparison to the long term impact of self pity and resentment. I don't want to disrespect the power of lust, but the bigger tests are to give in to bitterness, resentment and the lie that God does not value you. Too many are failing the smaller tests and still being bit by resentment. That poison will puree your soul, and Satan will suck it down with a straw. Resentment is a slander of God on the cross! When you give in to the idea that God has forgotten you, any old temptation will do.
"God so loved ___(me)___ that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him will not die but have life that lasts forever" (John 3:16).
It is a very powerful love...but for it to have its full impact it must be trusted. Is His love enough for your dark times?