Swing with Me
Earth flashes by in a blur of speed. The steepening angle of gravity defying geometry becomes increasingly sublime. Fettered chains of bent steel whip through the air. The racing velocity of the moment blows strategically placed hair out of sorts. Little hands squeeze tighter and tighter, holding on for dear life. The impetus gone awry carries the tethered seat to an altitude beyond imagination. The little heart roars with pure, palpitating glee. Suddenly the momentum of the moment runs dry. This upward slingshot destined for the stratosphere loses propulsion. For a split second, the taut chain gains slack and the little seat finds itself in suspended neutrality. Gaining gravity bares down on the little chest that is now throbbing with suspense. The insistent hand of the sky pushes back — free fall has begun. Knuckles turn white. Pupils dilate. Eyebrows raise. In a mere second fear shallows joy. This backward decent towards an unseen destination demands attention.
Life on the swing set.
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It was a bleak time for the nation of Israel. God had removed his hand and dropped them into the hands of the Midians — for seven solid years. Seven years of planting and tilling the ground. Seven harvests robbed by the Midianites and the Amalekites. The desperate nation cries to God in a collective wail, he heard them.
It is in this context that the spotlight of God’s eternal word shifts to the shade of a modest terebinth tree. The protagonist of the moment is found slinging bundles of wheat to the ground. On top of this, he is hiding in a winepress. The man is literally hiding out of season. The world has fallen apart around him, and Gideon is hidden in a place of harvest reserved for a different season. It is in this perplexing scene that one of Scriptures’ eternal truths is found. An angel of the Lord appears to Gideon and calls him a “mighty man of valor” (Judges 6:12, ESV). Gideon responds exactly as we all would if we were in a winepress, threshing wheat after God had lifted his hand for seven years:
“Please, my lord, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our fathers recounted to us, saying, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the Lord has forsaken us and given us into the hand of Midian” (Judges 6:13-15, ESV).
Can you hear Gideon’s despair? Again, “if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us?” At this moment, Gideon is wrestling with the eternal character of God and the present circumstance where God seems void. He is in the precarious place of being forced to reconcile the marvelous wonders of a Supernatural God, with a God who has failed his expectations. Gideon argues that the God of the past simply cannot be the God of the present. What do you do when you find yourself in the place where God’s promise and power seem contradictory to present circumstances? After all, how could God bring something good from a dried up winepress dirtied by the dust of unsettled chaff?
The point is simple: Gideon looked at his past and present situations and reached a conclusion that there was no hope. The God who had delivered his ancestors was nowhere to be found. The God of Gideon’s ancestors did not line up with the God of the situation. For seven solid years, he questioned a deaf deity who only observed from afar but never seemed to work in his life. Gideon’s past experiences had caused him to arrive at the conclusion that God was not going to come through. Too often the same is true in our own lives.
In cognitive psychology, there is a concept known as constructive episodic simulation hypothesis (you don't have to remember that). A recent experiment sought to examine neurological firing when test subjects thought about the past and the future, “the results indicated that all the brain regions active during silent description of the past were also active during silent description of the future” (Goldstein, 2015, p. 167). In other words, the same area of your brain that is active when you think about the past is also used when you think about the future. This means that the past is often the framework through which we interpret and predict the future. G.K. Chesterton put it this way, “Man is a misshapen monster, with his feet set forward and his face turned back.” We always look back when we walk forward.
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Life has a way of disappointing us and smothering the momentum that we thought we were gaining. In one moment we are soaring into the skies, only to get caught in midair. Like Wile E. Coyote, we get caught with no ground beneath our feet. Our past experiences ignite a firestorm of activity in our brains that only tell us it is always going to be the same. We get stuck in the same ruts. The same behaviors. The same ideas. It is in these moments that we find ourselves in a parlous place. We reason like Gideon. God seems a universe away. Our prayers leave our lips only to disappear in the dust beneath our feet. This week I have pondered the question of rectifying a God who fails to meet your expectations. My answer: trust in God’s unchanging character.
At the beginning of last week, I rediscovered Isaiah 26:3-4, “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock” (ESV). I have quoted the verse to myself every day and have clung to it. Yesterday, I spontaneously decided to visit a local coffee shop that I have not been to in months. There was a little chalkboard beside the cash register. Dusty white chalk contrasted the dark slate, “Isaiah 26:3-4…” I’m pretty sure the girl taking my order thought I was a lunatic, but I could not help but laugh. God is not shocked or caught off guard when unforeseen events take place.
Earlier we discussed the pendulum of events that transpires on the swing set. A child is willingly flung into the air, resting only on a small seat and an old chain. The young child endures the experience not because he trusts the chain or has faith in the seat. The child simply knows that when the impetus of the pendulum drives him back to earth, the gentle hands of the father will be there to push him back up. You will not always understand the providence of God. As Alan Redpath (2004) said, “So often the providences of God seem to run completely counter to his promises." However, allow me to remind you that Gideon’s story did not end in the shade of a terebinth tree by a dusty winepress. When you reach the bottom, there you will find the hands of God.
Life on the swing set.
“The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms…” (Deuteronomy 33:27, ESV).
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Goldstein, E. B. (2015). Cognitive psychology: Connecting mind, research and everyday experience (4th ed.). New York: Cengage Learning.
Redpath, A. (2004). The making of a man of God: Lessons from the life of David. Grand Rapids, MI: Fleming H. Revell.