Harold Camping, Jenga, and Our Father’s Secrets
Now that the embarrassment of the May 21 prediction has come and gone, it occurs to me that I’m not really so far removed from Harold Camping as I’d like to think. Sure, I know enough to avoid trying to predict when the Lord might return, but I have to admit that there is a desire within my heart to know (and predict?) the future. That’s because, and here I flatter myself, I think that if I did, I’d be able to plan well enough that every contingency would be covered. All my fig leaves would be perfectly sewn together so that I could appear wise and in control to everyone . . . especially myself. Why I’d even have some fig leaves for you, too, just in case you forgot yours.
Over the past six months, our family has gone through so many significant changes we feel like we’re playing Jenga. In case you’ve never played, Jenga is a puzzle game where you try to take one block from the bottom of a tower and balance it on the top without knocking the tower down. We say we’ve been playing real-life Jenga because just when we think we’ve got everything figured out, when we think we know where we’ll be living or working, how our health will be . . . the whole thing comes crashing down and we have to start all over again. We’ve taken to saying, “This is the plan for today . . . don’t know if it will be the plan for tomorrow.” I’ll admit this is pretty uncomfortable. My friends tell me their heads are spinning just trying to keep up. Me too. Like the followers of Camping, I’d really like someone to clear up all this uncertainty to lay out some simple steps for me that would be easy to follow.
Isn’t there within each of our hearts a desire to predict and plan for the future? I’m not talking about wise planning here, like saving or buying insurance. I’m talking about looking at the signs and trying to divine what’s coming next. We’re not alone in this desire; the disciples wrestled with it, too. They asked the Lord questions that I can totally relate to: “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?” (Matthew 24:3). Just like them I want to know what’s coming.
I know this desire flows out of unbelief and pride. It’s unbelief because I think God needs my help working things out so that I can maintain the status quo, the life I want to live. I don’t want things to change. It’s pride because I think I can handle anything that comes down the pike as long as I have enough forewarning and have thought through (read: worried about) every possible eventuality.
Unknown Even to the Son
What’s astounding about Jesus’ conversation with the disciples is that Jesus himself didn’t know the answer to their “when?” question. Think of that. The disciples ask God a question he can’t answer! In this case, in his humanity, he wasn’t privy to this information. He said, “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.” I don’t think we grasp the enormity of this statement. If anyone should have been in the “know,” shouldn’t it have been him? But you never hear Jesus grousing about how his head is spinning from all the possible contingencies. He’s never grumpy because he feels uncertain about the future, nor does he question his Father’s wisdom, faithfulness, or love. No, he just states that this is a secret that his Father has kept to himself. Jesus is our perfect example of how to walk ahead in faith through the dark. Jesus teaches us that we should expect God to have secrets. God’s not obligated to lay all his cards on the table for us. We can trust him.
But Jesus is not just our example, he’s also our righteousness. Because he was unaware of at least one facet of the Father’s will, and because he walked through this perfectly, without sin, I can rest in his righteousness today. Jesus is “one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). He’s not just our example; he humbled himself and admitted that he didn’t know the answer, and he did so joyfully. He rejoiced in his Father’s secret will. And his righteous record is ours. Think of that!
So, on the days when the tower has fallen again, when I complain or wish that I could at least have a clue about tomorrow, on all those days when God has a secret that he isn’t sharing and I’m tempted to feel overwhelmed . . . yes, on all those days I don’t need to wonder if he’s grown tired of me. There remains one area of complete certainty for me: I am justified in Christ, his righteous record is mine. Nothing can ever change that. This knowledge frees me to put Jenga away and rejoice in my Father’s great love and faithfulness. I don’t need to be sure that he’s got everything together, because as Paul wrote, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” He’ll be sure that I have what I need when I need it. How do I know? Because he’s given me the righteousness of his Son.