I hate it when things break. I know it may sound like whining, but when things break down, it disrupts my schedule. At the least it is an inconvenience. It usually costs money, and it too often shows my ineptitude in not knowing how to fix it. Maybe it is a computer problem or the toilet that keeps running. A minor fender bender can cost a lot to repair.
There was a time when the wheel on my lawnmower fell off. I took the lawnmower into the repair shop. Later I got a phone call from the repair man asking for the model number as it wasn’t on the mower. He needed the model number to order the part to fix the wheel. He said the “whole world revolves around that model number.” Thankfully, we still had the owner’s manual with the model number.
Things break down. I wish they wouldn’t. For some reason I like to think that things won’t break down. Maybe it’s optimism. Maybe it’s naivete. But what about when things break down in our lives that you can’t just fix with money or a computer tech? What about marriages that break down? Or families that are torn apart? What about health issues that can’t be fixed by a pill or a surgery? We live in a culture that has a “fix it” mentality. Someone somewhere should be able to fix my problem. But sometimes they can’t. Some problems can’t always be fixed. Then what?
Do we then expect God to “fix” our problems? Does God become the last resort, if nothing else has worked? “God, save my marriage, my family, my job.” “God make me better.” If our faith and prayer life is saved only for emergencies, it will make it much harder to all of sudden learn to trust in God. Trust is something that one develops over a period of time.
There’s an old joke about a man who has fallen off a cliff. As he falls he is able to grab a branch sticking out of the cliff. But it’s still a long way down. As he is hanging there he begins to lose his grip on the branch. He has never prayed before but thought it was about time to do so. So he prayed, “God please save my life.” After waiting awhile he hears God’s voice from the heavens, “I will save you.” The man began thanking God. Then God said, “Just let go of the branch, and I will catch you.” The man went silent. Then he shouted up at the sky, “Is there anyone else up there?”
It is harder to trust God when things are not going the way we want them to if you haven’t learned to trust God when things are going fine. That is why it is so important to practice the disciplines of faith every day. It is in daily prayer and reading God’s word that we build a relationship of trust. It is in weekly worship that we are reminded that God is there to give us strength, hope and forgiveness when our lives are broken.
This is expressed in the following hymn: “What God Hath Promised” by Annie Johnson Flint:
God hath not promised skies always blue,
Flower-strewn pathways all our lives through.
God hath not promised sun without rain,
Joy without sorrow, peace without pain.
God hath not promised smooth roads and wide,
Swift, easy travel, needing no guide;
Never a mountain, rocky and steep,
Never a river, turbid and deep.
But God hath promised strength for the day,
Rest for the labor, light for the way,
Grace for the trials, help from above,
Unfailing sympathy, undying love.
God doesn’t promise a smooth road. But God does promise to be with us. Because of Jesus and his suffering and death, we know that God knows what it is like to suffer. God knows about brokenness.
One could say that in baptism people are given a model number called, “Christian.” Through baptism in Christ and faith, God has fixed the biggest problem of all, our sin. We can now know that sin will not separate us from the love of God. As Paul writes in Romans 8, “nothing will separate us from the love of God in Christ … not even death.”
The Rev. Rick Biedermann is pastor of English Lutheran Church of Bateman, rural Chippewa Falls, and St. James Trinity Lutheran Church, Fall Creek.