Choosing to believe when you don’t understand…
Mark Lowry’s famous song has prompted plenty of pushback from theologians who recognize that both Gabriel’s message (Luke 1:26-38) and Mary’s own song (Luke 1:46-55) indicate she knew plenty about who her boy would become. She knew that he would be “great…the son of the Most High,” and that he would rule over David’s descendants in an eternal kingdom (v 31-33). She knew that he would be God’s son (v 35) and that his name would mean “God saves” (v31). And she knew (whether the angel told her, or the Holy Spirit prompted her) that this Jesus would lift up the humble, scatter the proud, fill the hungry, and send away the rich (v 51-53).
But the more I studied about Mary this month, the more I realized she didn’t know. I can’t imagine she knew what Simeon meant when he said, “a sword would pierce [her] soul, too” (Luke 2:35). I bet she didn’t know that while she escaped to Egypt with her husband and newborn son, many other mothers would be weeping over the death of their baby boys (Matt 2:13-18). I don’t think she knew her son would be ready to debate the teachers of the law by the age of 12 (Luke 2:41-50). When she told Jesus to “turn the water into wine,” (John 2), I don’t think she realized the ramifications his public ministry would have. And I will also speculate that she was counting on a Messiah that would save from Roman oppression, not one who would die a horrific death on a cross. I speculate on all these points, imagining her conversation with Luke many years after Jesus’ ascension.
Mary didn’t know what God was doing throughout much of Jesus’ earthly life. I think that’s why she’s described as “pondering” things in her heart (Luke 2:19, 51). As Luke interviews her, she’s not just remembering the little boy she raised – she’s thinking about the theological significance of how she saw the “Messiah-story” play out in Jesus’ life, through his ministry, crucifixion, and resurrection. She didn’t always understand why her life – her son’s life – turned out differently than she planned. But even when she doesn’t know what God is doing, God is faithfully executing his plans. And even when we don’t understand our circumstances or storms, God is keeping his promises.
Promises God actually makes. Not promises we think God SHOULD make.
I’ve been hearing about God keeping promises all my life – from my parents, in Sunday school, in sermons, and reading the Bible for myself. But recently I’ve struggled to believe that when I didn’t understand what God was doing. Like this past summer, when our 3-year-old granddaughter lost her battle with leukemia.
Back in March, I shared during a worship service about our experience. I think on a very subconscious level, I thought if I proclaimed my testimony, then God would honor my obedience with her healing. Even the story of Job ends with God restoring his health, his fortune, and family. I shared confidently that “we can’t control what tomorrow will bring. But we can choose to trust God’s presence in the middle of the pain, in the middle of the doubt, in the middle of the suffering.” So, I chose a posture of surrender toward God’s plans, before I knew the outcome.
But secretly, I thought God was going to heal her.
Then in July we heard words no parent or grandparent wants to hear – “there’s nothing else we can do.” Even then, I was still holding onto a thread of hope, believing every day God would show up and FIX this. Believing God would restore Isla’s health like he did for Job. Just two days before her death, I finally realized I was going to have to do my own letting go. Of control. Of fear. Of assumptions. Of expectations. I was going to have to choose to follow God, even when I didn’t understand what God was doing, before I knew the outcome, just like Mary.
See, God’s blessing doesn’t exempt us from suffering, and God’s favor isn’t something we earn with good behavior. God never promises we won’t go through storms. What God actually promises is to be with us in the middle of them. And we have to choose to stay in the boat no matter the weather, believing God’s promises regardless of the storm.
God’s promises are not limited by time and space, by class or race, or gender.
Even when we don’t understand, God is keeping his promises.
I’m choosing to believe that.
This post is based on a sermon written and presented with Mark Ashton at Christ Community Church, Dec 20, 2020. Some of our inspiration for the Wise Women series came from the following resources:
ECS Ministry Resource Center, #SermonStarters series on Instagram
Garbe, Theresa. “Christ-Bearers.” https://www.cbeinternational.org/resource/article/priscilla-papers-academic-journal/christ-bearers
Frady, Julie R. “Behaving Like Mary: Reexamining Mary’s Encounter with Gabriel.” https://www.cbeinternational.org/resource/article/mutuality-blog-magazine/behaving-mary-reexamining-marys-encounter-gabriel
McEachern, Katie. “Mary the Brave: Neither Meek nor Superhuman.” https://www.cbeinternational.org/resource/article/mutuality-blog-magazine/mary-brave-neither-meek-nor-superhuman Mowczko, Marg. “Christmas Cardology 2: Mary’s Scandal and Favor.” https://margmowczko.com/christmas-cardology-2-scandal-and-favour/