A 1974 edition of National Geographic contained an article, “The Incredible Universe,” which attempted to explain the size of the universe by equating the distance to the sun to a sheet of paper. This sheet of paper represents 93 million miles and takes eight minutes for light to travel. To demonstrate how far it is to the nearest star, you would need a stack of paper 71 feet high. The breadth of our own galaxy would be represented by a stack of paper 310 miles high. And to show how far it is to the edge of the known universe, we’d need a stack of paper 31,000,000 miles high (one third of the way to the sun). That was what we knew of the universe in 1974 – imagine how much more we know about the size of the universe now!
I read about that article a couple of weeks ago in Elisabeth Elliot’s book, Keep a Quiet Heart, which I mentioned the other day has been a source of comfort to me in my affliction. (For those who are not familiar with Ms. Elliot, she is a Christian writer, speaker, former missionary, and author whose first husband, Jim Elliot, was killed during missionary work when their daughter was 10 months old. She also lost her second husband, Addison Leitch, to whom I attribute the title of this post, “You can’t unscrew the Inscrutable.” I respect her as a humble woman who has suffered much and kept following the Lord. You can see her website here, if you are interested.)
Now, maybe you can relate, but when I am having a hard time with life, it’s very easy to become cynical and find that nothing really helps me feel better. That’s why I think healing comes slowly and we just have to give ourselves a little room to experience all the fluctuations of grief. If I start reading a blog or a book that causes me to feel even more cynical or angry, I just have to put it down and chalk it up to “not being on the same page” as that author. After all, everyone processes grief differently. I was so relieved that Elisabeth’s writing in this book did not rub me the wrong way or grate on my nerves (but there’s no guarantee that it won’t grate on yours). See what you think of what she wrote concerning the 93-million-mile-sheet-of-paper comparison:
“Hardly a day goes by without my receiving a letter, a phone call, or a visit from someone in trouble. Almost always the question comes, in one form or another, Why does God do this to me?
When I am tempted to ask the same question, it loses its power when I remember that this Lord, into whose strong hands I long ago committed my life, is engineering a universe of unimaginable proportions and complexity. How could I possibly understand all that He must take into consideration as He deals with it and with me, a single individual! He has given us countless assurances that we cannot get lost in the shuffle. …
Yet in our darkness we suppose He has overlooked us. He hasn’t. …”
And in another chapter, writing about the Incarnation:
“A close and fretful inquiry into how spiritual things ‘work’ is an exercise in futility. Even wondering how ‘natural’ things are going to work if you bring God into them … is sometimes an awful waste of energy. God knows how. Why should I bother my head about it if I’ve turned it over to Him? If the Word of the Lord to us is that we are ‘predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with his purpose’ (Ephesians 1:11), we may apprehend this fact by faith alone. By believing that God means just what He says, and by acting upon the word (faith always requires action), we apprehend it – we take hold of it, we make it our own. We cannot make it our own by mere reason – ‘I don’t see how such-and-such an incident can possible have anything to do with any divine “plan.”‘
Why should we see how! Is it not sufficient that we are told that it is so? We need not see. We need only believe and proceed on the basis of that assured fact.” (emphasis mine)
As I type that out, I remember my first of many coffee dates with a woman who lost her husband a few years ago. She, too, knows the pain of suffering so deeply that your life can never be the same. She said something that day that struck me and will not leave me. When I told her that I wrestle constantly with the Lord and want to know why this is all happening to me, she understood. She said that for her, she has found it to be useless and unhelpful to approach God with “why” questions. She didn’t say it in a superior, “Gosh, Sara, get your head on straight” sort of way. She said it thoughtfully and conversationally and humbly. It’s what works for her. She admitted she didn’t know why it was easier for her to lay that down — maybe just God’s grace or the way she is wired. Some people have a harder time laying down the questions. She just found early on that staying near the Father’s love was the only way she would find the strength to go on with her life. She doesn’t want anything to separate her from her Father’s love, and so dismisses those things that create a wedge, and focuses on what draws her near.
I thought about that for a long time. It was a simple idea and letting it sink in was key. Could I really let down my demands for answers and trust God again?
Well, comfort has come in answering “yes” to that question, little by little. It’s not overnight, it’s not perfect, and it’s only in answer to prayer, by God’s grace. Because if it’s up to me, I’m like this:
But, like Lt. Dan, I’m working on making my peace with God (cut-scene to me jumping off a boat at sunset and swimming away on my back…with my legs). So when I read Elisabeth Elliot’s closing words in today’s chapter, I feel more grateful to God, and nearer to my Father’s love. I pray that you will find your peace with God, too.
“Do you understand what is going on in the invisible realm of your life with God? Do you see how the visible things relate to the hidden Plan and Purpose? Probably not. As my second husband Addison Leitch used to say, ‘You can’t unscrew the Inscrutable.’ But you do see at least one thing, maybe a very little thing, that He wants you to do. ‘Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult [other translations say too hard, too wonderful] for you or beyond your reach. It is not up in heaven….nor is it beyond the sea….no, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it’ (Deuteronomy 30:11-14, NIV).