I am rereading the Gospel of John lately, and one of the things that strikes me most about that Gospel is how it frames the story of Christ through references to both ignorance [at the time of the events that occurred] and awareness [that came later with the Holy Spirit].
Throughout John, the people who follow Jesus repeatedly demonstrate great ignorance of what he is teaching. When he discusses nourishment through His flesh and blood in John 6, the crowd responds with revulsion and confusion as they appear to engage only with the most literal meaning. The woman at the well in John 4 makes reference to the Messiah, ignorant to the fact that He is the one offering salvation. Nicodemus is bewildered by the prospect of being born again.
In John 2, after Jesus over the tables of the moneychangers, the Jews bicker about his authority to take such an action. Jesus answers, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The story is immediately followed by an intriguing note:
“So when He had risen from the dead, His disciples remembered what He had said. And they believed…”
I find it intriguing that John’s Gospel resists separating the disciples out from the rest of the madding crowd. The entirety of it is written this way, with the perspective of a man looking over a series of bewildering events only to say, “Ah, I understand it fully, now.” The Gospel acknowledges fully that, at times, Christ’s closest disciples were as ignorant of what He was doing as anyone else.
We like to think that, at least in this regard, we have the advantage.
Modern believers have the whole story, after all. We know how it ends. We don’t have to guess what Jesus means as he’s telling a parable: we hear the whole thing, with the lesson, in one fell swoop. We totally get the bread-and-blood thing and what it means. We have footnotes and references to tell us about all the prophecies and allusions Jesus is making. We are conversant with the whys and wherefores of which the original disciples were bereft.
Except, really, we’re not.
What I mean to say is this: God still works, visibly, publicly. And I suspect that, the vast majority of the time—much like the disciples—we have no idea what is going on until long after the fact.
Here’s a story: five or six years ago, I was at odd ends. I was dissatisfied with my career, no immediate prospects on the horizon, and I felt professionally useless. When I got an invitation in my mail to join a local civic organization, I did so on a whim—even though it had nothing to do with my professional life, my career focus, or even my hobbies and interests.
I served on that organization, and held several positions on it, for many years. Three years ago, when a job possibility came up, the interviewer noted my work in that organization. And, unexpectedly, many of my experiences there qualified me for the job I have now had since that time.
God was preparing me for an opportunity I literally would never have considered. I had no idea what was going on.
None of us do.
The disciples did not see how the grace and love of God might unfold in their lifetime. Couldn’t fathom it. When they did finally get a glimpse—when they glanced back over events and phrases and moments and understood how it all fit together—they wrote that down. They didn’t want those who followed them to assume they had it all figured out. Their ignorance was an important part of the story.
After many of Jesus’ followers abandon him, turned off by the difficult teachings, he turns to His disciples. “You do not want to leave too, do you?” He asks.
And Peter says, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”
They don’t always get it, the disciples. They can’t put the pieces together, and in this regard they are not dissimilar from those who have fled. But they stay because know Jesus. They know enough to know who He is. Not knowing what God is doing is acceptable as long as you know who God is and what God is like. Because then, regardless of what is happening, you are in safe hands.
We are all going to go through periods of great mystery. Why does one thing happen to us, and not another? Why did something hoped-for never occur? Why did that particular person do that particular thing? Why did God guide you to x and not y? Our lives are full of unanswered questions. We don’t have all the pieces of the puzzle, all the parts of the narrative.
I don’t know what’s going on with you. But rest assured that, like the disciples, you will come to an understanding. A deeper knowledge of God always brings awareness, lights up the dark corners of our comprehension. In the meantime, sometimes the response is as simple as sticking close by Christ while we work through our own ignorance.
We don’t know what’s going on. But we know who Christ is. That’s enough for comfort.