The Message Behind the Story

Have you ever sat in a movie that seemed to be going a bit too long? There comes a time in every story (or sermon, for that matter) where one’s circumstantial realities become stronger than the storyline. It is the moment when you realize that your back is stiff, your stomach is hungry or your mind—no longer engrossed in the moment—latches on to other concerns. Without warning you suddenly find yourself more aware of the movie and less involved in the story. That’s kind of what has happened to me last week in our Bible journey.

 

We have been reading about kings and their exploits for so long now that, rather than being drawn into the story, I find myself pondering the specific details of the story, and the details continue to be so…..terrible! Take 2 Chronicles 21 and 22 for instance. “When Jehoram established himself firmly…he put all his brothers to the sword.” Later the Philistines and Arabs “invaded [Judah] and carried off all the goods found in the king’s palace, together with his sons and wives.” In verse 20 we read how Jehoram “passed away to no one’s regret.” His son Ahaziah, the only surviving son from the earlier raid, was made king. When he died his mother “proceeded to destroy the whole royal family of the house of Judah” so that she could establish herself as sole ruler. All this pain, loss, injustice and struggle is found in two short chapters and it is only the tip of the iceberg!

 

This is horrible stuff and the truly sobering part is that it is true! It is not a storyline in a Marvel Comics movie using CGI special effects. This kind of pain and loss is woven throughout the fabric of the biblical narrative. From one perspective, it is repulsive and it leads some to conclude that any God that would allow this sort of carnage is not a God worth following. I understand this response and have, at times, pondered this myself. But there is another perspective that continues to deepen in my life.

 

I find it interesting that the biblical writers did not choose to soften this story at all. I mean, if the goal of their writing is to show the compassionate love that God has for His people, I think they would be tempted to whitewash these moments of horror and loss. The fact that the authors chose to include them and lamented their existence (“How long O Lord?” Psalm 6:3; 13:1) is instructive to me. It tells me that the world is filled with sin and that I am filled with sin. It warns me that I am not exempt from sin’s impact or immune from its influence.

 

Even if I follow God, bad things can still happen to me. Elisha was God’s mighty prophet and yet he died of an illness (2 Kings 13:14). Righteous king Uzziah was afflicted with leprosy and had to live in a separate house (2 Kings 15:5). Sin not only impacts me, it also influences me. Given the right circumstances I, too, could become a King Asa—starting out well but in the end chucking the faith by choosing to “brutally oppress” people as I rely on my own resources instead of God (2 Chronicles 16:10, 12). Or what might happen to me if my “Jehoiada”—my primary godly influence—was removed from my life? Could I really keep the faith on my own or would I drift by following the counsel of those who had my ear (2 Chronicles 24:1-2, 17)?

 

The older I get the more I see a deeper message in the carnage of the Old Testament. It is a message of assurance telling me that, no matter how bad it gets, God is still on His throne and has not lost control. It is a message of comfort telling me that God meets me in the pain and walks with me even in the midst of profound loss and struggle. And it is a message of hope telling me that nothing I can think or do will ever surprise or shock God and that He is willing to work with me even in the midst of my darkest secrets and deepest struggles. All I need to do is give Him a chance.


It seems to me that the Scripture’s candor carries a powerful message to us all. To the individual who has struggled all her life and received unjust treatment, do not tire in calling out to God. He is not deaf to your cries. To the family that has been invaded by drugs (or any modern enemy), lost their daughter to the courts or to the culture or to death and so have lost their dreams and are now raising her young children in their later years, God is near. You can lean on Him and trust Him to give you a new dream. To the nation concerned about its safety, leadership and financial future, remember that the LORD who reigned over Israel reigns over us. He remains the One who decides beforehand when nations should rise or fall and even determines the extent of their boundaries (think beyond geopolitical boundaries here, Acts 17:26 NLT). God is the stable One; place your hope in Him. And finally, to those who have allowed their circumstances (rather than Scripture) to define God or have walked away from the counsel of their Jehoiada, please think again. It does not have to end for you as it did with Asa or Joash. Take the chance to open the door to the Lord even a crack and watch what He does.


When Moses wanted to see God and know Him face to face, rather than through the veil of this sin-filled world, God passed by and called out, “Yahweh! The Lord! The God of compassion and mercy! I am slow to anger and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness. 7 I lavish unfailing love to a thousand generations. I forgive iniquity, rebellion, and sin. But I do not excuse the guilty” (Exodus 34:6-7, NLT). After spending decades serving the risen Jesus the Apostle John summarized God’s self-revelation with these simple words: “God is love.” (1 John 4:8, 16).


As my back gets stiff and my mind wearies from the carnage and political fighting found in the daily news, I want to remind myself that this seemingly endless violence and power struggle communicates more than what I see on the surface. 16 “That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. 17 For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet, they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! 18 So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18 NLT).


For those with eyes off faith, there is a message behind the story.


Grateful to be part of God’s bigger story with you,


Rob