A Homework Question

A few weeks ago I told you about a pastor who counseled me during my depression and loss of faith. I mentioned that he gave me homework questions to help me discover truths about God to replace the false notions I had. A surprising number of you asked me, “What were the homework questions?”

His questions to me specifically focused on the aspects of God’s character that confused me.

For instance, he focused my attention on a passage in Isaiah 60:22 where God promises to do something for Israel after the nation had waited a very long time.

“I am the Lord; in its time I will do this swiftly.” (NIV)

“You seem to believe that Jesus is in a desperate hurry to build His Church among the Canelas,” he said. “But is that what this passage teaches about God?”

As I pondered that line, I remembered a lesson I had learned a few years before, and now needed to relearn. Here’s the story:

The computer operators and the programmers on the mission centre in Belem, Brazil, heaved a huge sigh of relief when Jack the Jerk and his family finally left on a mini-furlough. They’d had enough Popjes Pressure to last them for the rest of the year.

For weeks I had asked and insisted, pressured and persisted, straining relationships with my coworkers with my haste, until at last, the line printer spat out a first draft translation of Luke and Acts in Canela. (Printing the seventeen Canela vowel symbols was a complex process in the late 1970s.)

I addressed the parcel to Jaco, our best translation helper, and gave it to a friend who assured me he would give it to the government agent in the village to pass on to Jaco.

During our visit in Canada, I excitedly told our prayer and financial partners, “A first draft copy of Luke and Acts is now in the Canela village and is being read. Pray that God will reveal Himself to the readers.”

Several months later, we returned to Brazil and found that Brazil’s anti-missionary policies were still keeping us out of the Canela village. It was another full year before we managed to visit with Jaco in a small Brazilian town outside of Canela land. We were delighted to see him arrive with notes and gifts from Canela friends.

parcelOne gift parcel looked familiar and I realized it was wrapped in the same paper I had used to wrap the Luke and Acts printout. Opening the parcel was like being punched in the stomach. There was the Scripture printout! Still as clean, new, and unread, as it was when I wrapped it nearly two years before.

Jaco was astonished! “This parcel has been lying on the desk of the government agent in the village for over a year. I saw it there. He gave it to me to give to you. Why didn’t he give it to me? Look, it has my name on the front!”

I couldn’t answer his question, and had some of my own. “Hadn’t I worked hard and long to translate, print, and move those books nearly 1,000 kilometres into the village? Then why didn’t God move that parcel one arm’s length from the agent’s desk to Jaco’s hand?”

My answer: God seems to have a schedule, a timetable. He waits until everything is ready, then acts instantly and decisively. God’s character, or “brand” knows nothing of frantic haste or hurry. Rather, He schedules His activities, doing things at the right time in accordance with His agenda.

I had heard testimonies of how people had “hit bottom” in their addiction before they saw they needed God. Was it possible that the Canela society simply was not yet ready to turn to God? That the Canelas needed to “hit bottom” before they saw Jesus as their Saviour?

I was slowly getting my head around the concept that to God, Sooner is not better than Later, nor is Faster better than Slower, but that there will come a moment when He will act.

I felt ashamed as I thought about what a jerk I had been, pushing my coworkers in Belem to work around the clock to get that printout done. I had damaged relationships in my desperate hurry to get God’s Word into the village. Now I realized I had been faster than God!

I had forgotten this incident during my confusion, anger, and emotional upheaval leading to depression. Remembering it now helped me to relearn the lesson. God is never in a hurry, but He is always on time.

By the way, at the end of Jaco’s visit, he carried those printouts back to the village. About a year later, as he was lying in his hammock, reading them . . . .

A story for next week.

(Oh no, not another cliff-hanging To Be Continued!)


1 thought on “A Homework Question

  1. We cry for an answer, “Why.”

    We cry for an answer, “why?” Why did my daughter’s boyfriend die at the young age of 38? Why did my sound advice get rejected only to be accepted 10 years later with vigor? Why did a pilot friend re-tool from being solely a helicopter pilot to become a fixed wing pilot because of JAARS rules, learn French, and go to Cameroon only to discover that his wife had Lupus and had to return to the USA? Why did my pilot friend and colleague die of cancer at the early age of 42? Why did a child of a translation team die of crib death (SIDS) at the age of 2 months?

    And then there is your legitimate question, “Why was there a delay in the delivery of a precious printout of Scripture?”

    While I am glad you got an answer for the delayed delivery, I wonder how much guessing we should do as to why God does – or doesn’t do – what He does. Guessing might satisfy the need we have for closure. But maybe we are not expected to know some answers and yet we trust Him – or maybe we are to have an eternal perspective on the issue. What is the eternal perspective? Maybe it is that we will know it all by-and-by but not now?

    The end of Heb. 11 says of those who suffered for Him, “They did not receive what was promised” and “The world was too good for them.” (See below.)

    I just wonder? “Is it right for us to search for a reason why?” Or maybe we should ask ourselves, “How certain can we be that we are accurate when we come up with some reason for why something ‘bad’ happens?” Sometimes the things that happen just don’t make sense.

    And yet there are enough answers to “things that don’t make sense” in the Bible that my faith that God “knows what He is doing” is a rational faith and not some naive faith.

    While I am often confused, just as many of the Psalmists were, yet I trust Him,


    Philip Yancey has a good book, “The question that never goes away.”


    Heb. 11:
    “But others were tortured, refusing to turn from God in order to be set free. They placed their hope in a better life after the resurrection. 36 Some were jeered at, and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in prisons. 37 Some died by stoning, some were sawed in half, and others were killed with the sword. Some went about wearing skins of sheep and goats, destitute and oppressed and mistreated. 38 They were too good for this world,..

    “39 All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised….” (NLT)

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