When life tosses you perplexing questions don’t you sometimes wish for easy answers ? Unfortunately, God does not give out cheat sheets for life’s tests nor has he made a heavenly search engine available. However, now and then He grants glimpses behind the curtain that separates time and eternity. Such break-through insights come to each one of us individually and in ways unique to us.
On the topic of suffering and evil, I recently came across a story that spoke to me. Perhaps for some of you, it will resonate also. This well-known German legend I’ve translated from the book, “Leben Aus Erster Hand,” compiled by Heinz Schaefer (Hrsg.), and it goes as follows:
The Ways of God
A hermit sat outside his hut one day pondering the mysteries of life. He said to himself, “I have lived a good many years in this world and still I have doubts. How can God’s ways always be good, wise, and just?” And with that he fell asleep and had a dream.
In his dream a voice from heaven called saying, “Johannes, go out into the world. I want to show you the ways of God!” So he got up, took his walking stick, and set out. Soon he was traipsing through a dense forest. After a while he realized that he was lost. Deeply frightened he cried out, “Is anyone here?” Immediately a stranger appeared and said, “Come with me. You will not find your way out alone.”
The hermit and his companion traveled a long distance, and in the evening they came to a house where they received a joyful welcome. The owner brought them the choicest food and drink and said, “Today I am celebrating a happy occasion. My enemy and I have reconciled, and to affirm our friendship he gave me this golden goblet you see displayed on the shelf!”
In the morning, the travelers thanked their host for his kindness and gave him a blessing. However, before they left, the hermit noticed that his companion secretly slipped the prized goblet into his backpack. “What do you think you are doing?” he protested, but his companion said, “Be quiet! Such are the ways of God!”
They continued on their way and soon arrived at another house. This host, however, was a miser who cursed, berated, and mocked his uninvited guests.
“We need to leave this place,” the companion whispered to the hermit, “and shake the dust off our feet as a testimony against this man.” However, before they left, the companion reached into his backpack and presented the golden goblet to the abusive miser. “Are you out of your mind?” the hermit said once they were on their way, incredulous. His companion put his finger to his lips, “Be quiet! Such are the ways of God!”
The second evening they came to another home and this host treated them well, yet the man was very sad. “With all the work here, I can’t get ahead,” he said. “It seems that disaster follows me whatever I do. I’ve had to sell off one property after another, and all that’s left is this dilapidated hut with its empty walls.”
“God will help you,” said the companion.
The next morning as they were leaving, the companion covertly lit a match to torch the hut.
“Stop!” the hermit cried as tried to wrestle away the match and stop the fire to no avail.
“Be quiet!” the companion commanded. “Such are the ways of God!”
The evening of the third day they were taken in by a man who provided well for them. However, he maintained a dark countenance and appeared very inward focused. Only when he interacted with his young son did he behave in a friendly manner, for it was his only child, and he loved it very much. This, the hermit thought, was very good.
As they left the next morning, their host said, “I cannot accompany you, but my boy will show you the way to the bridge that crosses the river. Please be extra careful that no harm comes to the child.”
“God will protect him,” said the companion and shook hands with the man.
They soon came to the narrow bridge under which the rushing waters passed through a canyon, and the boy wanted to turn around. But the companion said, “Just go on ahead!”
When they reached the middle of the bridge, the companion seized the boy, lifted him overhead and hurled him into the deep.
“You hypocritical devil!” the hermit screamed, simply beside himself now. “I would rather die a slow death in the woods or be eaten alive by hungry beasts than go another step with you. You claim that these are the ways of God? You liar! Take your deceit and go to hell!”
Immediately the companion turned into a shining, white-robed angel surrounded by heavenly light. He said:
“Listen, Johannes! That goblet that I took from the kind host who had reconciled with his enemy was poisoned. The miser, however, as a reward for his sins, will drink from this chalice to his death.
The poverty-stricken, industrious man will begin rebuilding his house and in the ashes find a treasure that will help him recover financially. And that man whose child I threw into the water? He was steeped in sins, and under his parentage, the child that he so preferred would have become a murderer. However, now the loss of his son will bring this man to repentance, while the child, protected in the arms of God, is saved.
You could not reconcile yourself to the wisdom and righteousness of all God’s ways because much remains unseen. Behold! Now you have been given a small glimpse from the perspective of eternity. Take note for the future, and do not be so quick to judge!”
And with that, the angel disappeared. The hermit, however, awoke, went into his hut and was henceforth cured of all his doubts.