If you have children who have grown out of car seats but are not yet allowed behind the wheel, let me let you in on the key ingredient for a little dose of freedom on a family camping trip: walkie talkies. Trust me on this. It’s a little space and independence for everybody. What a great invention they are. For our family trip to the mountains last summer, we busted out the walkie talkies and all of our nicknames: Papa Bear, Queen Bee, Babe Ruth, and Hollywood. The boys headed down the hill for some evening fishing, with their walkie talkies in hand. It was 8:30 pm, and Tucker’s prayer all week long had been that he could please catch just one fish.
They had been gone for maybe ten minutes when I heard the buzz of my walkie talkie. “Queen Bee. Babe Ruth to Queen Bee. Roger.”
I pick up my walkie talkie and respond. “This is Queen Bee.”
“You didn’t say Roger.”
“No, first you say Queen Bee, then Roger.”
“Tucker, what do you need?”
“I just have one question. Roger.”
“Say, ‘Yes, Roger.’”
“Yes, Tucker. Roger.”
“Good job. Here’s my question. If God can put the Baby Jesus inside Mary, why can’t he put a little fish on my hook? Roger.”
Ah, yes. An age-appropriate version of some very deep theology.
“Babe Ruth, please. Roger.”
“Well, Babe Ruth, it’s hard to know. But maybe God has a different plan for that fish, and his plan doesn’t involve you or your hook.”
“I didn’t catch that, Queen Bee.”
I repeat, louder this time, “I said! It’s hard to know! Maybe God has a different plan for the…”
“I cannot hear you, Queen Bee. Are you holding down the button? Roger.” I received his coaching, as if he invented walkie talkies and I’m new at this. (Please, I thought. I was chatting with Uncle Rob on these puppies before you were even a twinkle, pal.)
“Yes, I’m holding down the button. Roger.”
“Say it one more time. Roger.”
“I. Think. Maybe. God. Has—”
“Queen Bee! You are breaking up! I repeat! There is a poor connection, Queen Bee! You are breaking up!”
For crying out loud. Walkie talkies are good for many things, like freedoms and explorations of independence. Fostering discussions on the cornerstones of theology may not be one of the strengths of this technology.
“Tucker, we can talk about it when you come back up the hill.”
What I wanted to tell Tucker is that maybe God has another plan for the fish. Or honestly? Maybe the fish doesn’t like the squeaks and squawks of the walkie talkies, and he swam away on his own free will.
Fish are like that. So is free will.
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Tucker’s question was ultimately this one: Why won’t God help me? Why won’t he step in? If he has all the power of the universe, and if answering me would cost him nothing, why doesn’t he help me? Anyone who’s lived through any amount of waiting has likely asked this very question.
Maybe you’re asking a question like this, too. (Although probably about a topic much deeper than a fish on your hook.)
I’ve been tempted to believe that God is angry with me, that this season in my life is obviously a punishment for something. I find myself searching my heart and my past, looking for something I could or should confess in order to hurry myself out of this mess.
Sometimes I’ve wondered if God is unfair. I begin to look around me, peering into the social media perspectives of people who are living happy, joyful lives, and I wonder why God rewarded them with a, b, and c when we all know they’ve never given him x, y, or z.
In the face of my own waiting, invariably someone will say something stupid that makes me want to punch them in the neck. Like, “Praise the Lord who answers prayers! I got a great parking spot!” Or “Finally! I’ve been asking the Lord to put this sweater on sale, and he finally did!” Or “We weren’t sure if all our IKEA furniture would fit in the minivan, but praise the Lord, it did. He answers prayers.” You guys, those are not real problems. And if it seems like God is more helpful in finding lost keys or granting discounts and close parking spaces, then you may begin to feel like you want nothing to do with a God like that.
Heavy questions, seasons, and situations like these present a crossroads of faith, an intersection where you have a decision to make about what you will believe. Faith is won or lost, deepened or weakened. Roots grow deeper, or faith blows away like tumbleweed across a ghost town.
And the thing is, these kinds of feelings are very normal. Doubts are well within the normal range of responses when you feel like God is unaware, angry, ignoring, absent, punishing, unkind, or unfair. Who would want to obey a God who doesn’t seem to know them or even care? It can all start to get a little murky. Or a lot murky.
The Enemy is an expert at sniffing out those times when we are weary of waiting, when we are tired and vulnerable to the seed of doubt. We can see this when Jesus went into the wilderness for forty days, and Satan met him there to tempt him. Jesus, now burdened with the needs and boundaries of human flesh, was tired, hungry, and ready for God to lift the ban on his 40-day fast. Based on this encounter, we can see that Satan is persistent, clever, smart, aware of weaknesses, and cunningly opportunistic. He knows when the air changes and the defenses are low.
Here’s one thing we can be sure of: God was with Jesus when he was in the wilderness. In fact, he abides in all of us who call on his name. He weaves this theme throughout both the Old and New Testament. I love the verses that say this very explicitly:
We find, “The Lord was with Joseph.” (Genesis 39:3)
He promised Moses directly, “I will certainly be with you.” (Exodus 3:12)
To Isaac, he said, “I am the God of Abraham your father. Fear not, for I am with you.”
He sends Joshua into battle with this promise, “Be strong and courageous… and I will be with you.” (Deuteronomy 31:23)
When Gideon feared he was too small for the task at hand, God said, “I will be with you.”
And he repeats his important message again to the his people throughout Isaiah:
“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)
“I have called you by name, you are mine.” (Isaiah 43:1)
We know that God doesn’t play favorites, though I confess it’s very hard to imagine that he loves me as much as his buddies, James, David, Moses, and Job. But the fact that is true whether I believe it or not, whether I feel it or not. He was with them; he is with me.
And if he says "no," it's not because he's not here, he's not listening, or he doesn't care. It's only because he has in mind a bigger, different "yes."
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