Wednesday, November 21, 2018

An Iceberg in the Gulf of Mexico

I sat in an office meeting last Saturday morning listening to my fellow managers discuss internal company changes that were, to everyone there, more than a little disconcerting. The afternoon shift supervisor had a clear note of panic in his tone as he anticipated what personnel moves upper management might be contemplating.

Understandably. Nice guy, but he’s got a doctorate in something esoteric that’s all but useless in the real world and I’m quite sure hasn’t the slightest idea what he’ll do if he’s suddenly unemployed.

I’m not about to tell you that I’m a whole lot better qualified myself, or that looking for another job has any great appeal to me. In fact, there are hundreds of thousands, and I suspect millions, all across North America who are staring down similar situations these days.

It’s not just potential unemployment that’s scary, is it.

Sadly Precarious

People recognize that even the most important relationships in their lives are sadly precarious. I had another conversation this weekend with a co-worker about marriage, and how even commitments made by wonderful people with the best of intentions cannot be fully relied upon. The statistical evidence is certainly out there in support of that.

Among Christian women, it’s not divorce or desertion that is usually the biggest fear. But I’ve heard the question asked more than once by stay-at-home moms, “What do I do if my husband dies?”

Good question. In fact, odds are unless you’re much older than he is, he will die before you do. And either before or after him you’ll lose other loved ones, or maybe they’ll lose you.

How about that economy; see anything there that gives you cause for concern?

What about cancer; know anybody fighting it or anybody who’s recently succumbed? I guarantee you do. Got a strategy for the inevitable heart attack or stroke, fifty-something men? How are the crime rates where you live? Do you think about that when you go shopping? I used to live across the street from a gas station that was robbed so many times we all but lost count. I’m in a slightly better neighborhood now, but there was still a gunfight at our local 7-11 a couple of years back. That sort of news tends to make you think.

If you manage to avoid get ventilated while shopping for a Slurpee®, how are your retirement savings looking?

Basically, this life is pretty much like riding an iceberg on a sunny day in the Gulf of Mexico. How should Christians process that?

I Commit My Spirit

On the cross, the Lord Jesus expressed his trust in his Father with his last breath, quoting David’s words in Psalm 31 as he died: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”

We may think of the Lord committing his spirit into the hands of his Father as something that happened at a particular point in time, and indeed it was. The KJV says immediately after saying this, he “gave up the ghost”. This could be a mere figure of speech, and in fact modern translations give us “he breathed his last” instead. However, the antiquated expression may actually better convey what took place, whether or not it is the most literal rendering of the Greek. The Lord himself described his unique position with respect to death by saying, “No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”

He did something no other human has done, in that he quite literally “gave up” the ghost. KJV-ers, you can have that one. Sort of.

Habitual Commitment

When we read David’s original statement in context, though, it seems he was not occupied so much with his particular situation at the time, but was indicating something that was characteristic of his life. “Committing his spirit” seems to have been habitual for David:
“For you are my rock and my fortress;
and for your name’s sake you lead me and guide me;
you take me out of the net they have hidden for me,
for you are my refuge.
Into your hand I commit my spirit.”
Yes, there was a particular situation going on in his life about which David was necessarily concerned. He was not being paranoid in the slightest when he spoke of “enemies”. His life was legitimately under serious threat. But he understood that the Lord was his refuge at all times. In fact, he says further down in the same psalm, “ ‘You are my God.’ My times are in your hand.”

The Lord Jesus committed his spirit to his Father and breathed his last. David committed his spirit to the Lord and lived.

A Rock and a Fortress

But whether the ‘worst’ happens or whether we are spared, our times are always in his hand. There is no circumstance or situation in which we cannot look to the Lord as our refuge.

When we think about it, other than in the case of the Lord Jesus, the idea of committing one’s spirit to God is clearly idiomatic rather than literal. We can no more choose whether our spirits or times are in the hands of God than we can be sure of being alive next week, tomorrow or ever ten minutes from now. We cannot assign our spirits into the hand of God (or, for that matter, withdraw them from the hand of God).

What we can do is live in the enjoyment of being there already.

Believers have a “rock” and a “fortress” that our unsaved family members and co-workers can’t rely on. The more we appreciate that and reflect on it, the less like the world we’ll inevitably become in our reactions to things that would normally and quite reasonably produce fear, and the more confidently we’ll proceed through life. Because our confidence is not in fate, luck or the odds, but in a Foundation that is unbreakable no matter what comes.

Not Looking for the Windfall

Back at the office, everybody in our department except me kicks in to a lottery pool once a week, presumably in hope that one day I’ll be the only one left in the department. I don’t, partially because I actually understand math a little, but more significantly because I know my times, my situation and my circumstances are all in the Lord’s hands. Including whatever moves upper management makes and whatever fallout they may have for my employment situation.

I’m not a stoic, and I certainly don’t dislike money. But I don’t need a windfall to secure my future. I’m perfectly safe in ways very few people can even imagine.

That’s the reality, whether I always fully apprehend it or not. When I remember to commit my spirit to my Father, I can even enjoy that reality.

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