My hands trembled as I finished reading my estranged father’s letter. Moved beyond words at this amazing answer to prayer after so many years, I realized my joy was twofold. Even as I thanked God for my father’s change of heart and his asking my forgiveness, I knew this answered prayer also afforded me an even better ending to my life story!
The last time I saw my father was over 30 years earlier when he was sentenced to prison for premeditated attempted murder of my mother. For six years I had shared the story about how I overcame the trauma of growing up in an abusive, violent environment. My message of overcoming through forgiveness inspired women’s groups, churches, and retreat attendees throughout California. They observed the truth of my words in my attitude and reflections that only through forgiveness can one be freed from the bondage of bitterness. That had been the happy ending to my sad story.
This new development with my father could replace my story’s happy ending with the perfect ending. What better way to end my story of pain and forgiveness than with my abusive father changing and asking my forgiveness? I thanked God for this new development, reconnected with my father, and rewrote the ending.
With this new conclusion, I loved hearing the gasps of joy when I got to the part where my father unexpectedly wrote and asked my forgiveness. A forgiveness that I had granted years earlier—before he even asked.
But my joy was short-lived.
Only a year and a half later, I was forced to again change my story’s ending. This time the gasps I heard were of shock. Sadly, my father’s apology was insincere—just a ruse to reconnect with his estranged children. And tragically, not only had he not changed but one day he murdered his second wife and committed suicide.
What a horrible ending!
“What is going on here, God? I praised you for this perfect ending to my story and now it’s worse than ever!” I felt betrayed. I didn’t understand. And I was offended.
Fast forward 16 years and I was again offended. My husband Jerry, the love of my life for 47 years was suddenly hospitalized. I again had the perfect ending in mind. I prayed that Jerry would be healed, return home, and as a result the entire hospital staff would be so impressed with God’s power that many would come to Him. But God didn’t cooperate. Two weeks into my plans, Jerry died.
“Lord, why did you take my Jerry?” I cried. “Had you done it my way, you could have received much glory, and I wouldn’t be alone now and heartbroken.”
Mary and Martha were also offended when, after sending word to Jesus that their brother was sick, He didn’t show up until Lazarus had been dead for four days. And Jesus was only two miles away! Martha chastised Jesus saying her brother would be alive had He come when she sent word.
Did Jesus care? John 11:35 shows us that He did—He was so moved by this grief-stricken scene that He, the Savior of the world, wept. Jesus did raise Lazarus from the dead, but why did He ignore their earlier plea for help and put them through all of that grief?
And what about John the Baptist—sitting in King Herod’s prison awaiting his beheading? Jesus knew John was there, so why didn’t He come and rescue this faithful friend and relative who had spent his life serving Him? We can feel John’s frustration in Matthew 11 when he sends messengers to Jesus asking, “Are you the one who was to come or should we expect someone else?” Meaning, “Have I misplaced my faith in you—given you my all for nothing? Where are you now that I need you?”
It is no stretch of the imagination to say that John was offended.
In the sixth chapter of John we read where on one occasion some of Jesus’ followers were grumbling so strongly about something He had said that Jesus stopped and asked “Does this offend you?” Only three verses later we learn the answer. “From this time many of his followers turned back and no longer followed him.”
Who among us has never questioned our heavenly Father? Our self-focused finite minds carefully formulate a logical list of instructions as to how our problems can be solved and we present it to the One who created us. We then wait for our desires to be fulfilled—by the One who holds the universe in balance, who promised to never stop loving us, leave or forsake us—the One who declared His grace is sufficient in all circumstances. We rejoice when our instructions are followed. But when our God, our Savior, the King of kings, and the Lord of lords implements His divine plan and our hearts are broken in the process, we are offended.
But we, too, have a choice. We can determine to trust Him, His wisdom and His love—or we can stop following Him.
Peter had the right answer. Even before the dust settled from the fleeing followers, Jesus turned and asked the twelve disciples, “You do not want to leave, too, do you?”
Peter said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of life” (John 6:68).
The psalmist also had the right answer. In Proverbs 3:5-6 he wrote, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.”
What happens when we lean on something, put all of our weight upon it, and it collapses? We fall. That’s what happens when we lean on our own understanding. Our understanding is unstable.
In Isaiah 55:8-9 we read “‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,’” declares the LORD. “‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.’”
Fortunately Job understood this and he, too, made the right choice. After losing all of his children, his wealth, his health, and his friends who deserted him after arguing and accusing him, only Job’s nagging wife remained. When she told him he should just curse God and die, Job responded with an amazing statement. “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in Him” (Job 13:15).
When our heart is broken and we don’t understand, we would do well to take Job’s declaration as our own.