Thursday, 1 November 2012

“Theirs not to reason why; theirs but to do and die.”

I’ve often quoted the above line from Tennyson’s poem, “The Charge of the Light Brigade”, without knowing who wrote it nor its context of the Crimean War.

I quote it when I don’t understand a situation, especially in government offices, and airports, but I’ve always quoted it incorrectly, “[Ours] is not to reason why, [ours] is but to do or die.”

It hit me today that the correct version, “to do and die”, sums up a hard fact of life, even for grateful children of God. In fact, as people of faith we have to do and die without knowing why.
According to Jesus, with God as our strength, ours is to “do”: to revere our Creator, to be thankful for Her good gifts and to add some hope and healing to our world, even when nothing makes sense.

I don’t understand why life is so unfair, why random natural disasters end the lives of thousands in a day, why humans foment hateful conflicts, small and large, and why personal tragedy comes to some and not to others. 
Most of us have asked  “How could a loving and powerful God allow so much suffering? It makes no sense.”
Know-it-all Christians (and others) are either simple-minded or arrogant. We can’t know it all.

I’m glad that brilliant people like physicist, John Polkinghorne, confirm for me that we don’t have to be stupid to follow Christ. Christian faith isn’t nonsensical. 
But we sure do have to be humble. It takes guts to trust Christ’s leading when we don’t understand, especially when we’re all heading to the grave like the cavalry brigade in Tennyson’s poem, without knowing exactly what will happen afterward.

The famously mistreated bible hero, Job, who lost everything, despite his faithful obedience to God, said this:
“Though He slay me,
I will hope in Him.”
And then continued,
Nevertheless I will argue my ways before Him”
I love how realistic the bible is about human nature; nothing’s sugar-coated. Job trusted but did not understand, and talked to God about his confusion.

God refused to explain, but during a lengthy tour of nature, reminded Job that he wasn’t God. The story includes an oh-so-familiar detail; Job covers his mouth. We can hear him thinking, 
“Oops. I forgot who I was talking to. Please don’t kill me.” 

Then Job says to God:
 “I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’
Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me to know. 

Jesus, help us to remember what you said,
 “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.”

P.S. I recommend these two excellent books on this human conundrum. 
 Where Is God When It Hurts? by Philip Yancey

 Can God Be Trusted? by Dr. John Stackhouse