The post below is from a journal entry of sorts which I wrote during our first months living in Vietnam in 2013/2014. The context has changed for us, but the truths the piece touches on have not. Are you are sorting through some things you find confusing? Perhaps this will help.
“God has a larger theatre in which to display his glory than the short span of our lifetime.”
That quote is from a conversation with a friend of mine. He is a theologian. His daughter was one of the most lovely young women you could ever meet. Several years ago, she contracted a terrible illness, and through the years, the effect of this sickness caused incredible pain and unimaginable emotional and mental anguish. Eventually, her personality underwent dramatic changes. A few months ago, my friend stood beside her grave to say good-bye. As I wrote to express my prayers and condolences, his final note in our exchange was that poignant sentence.
I must admit that I’ve been going through a bit of a challenging time over the past few weeks. It is nothing life-threatening or earth-shattering. Just a consistent set of unanswered questions that seem to have hold of me. Oddly, it has almost nothing to do with being in Vietnam in particular. I think that may be because I had so few expectations of the country when I came.
Vietnam is what it and no one invited me to come, let alone be critical of the country. I am a guest here and must always remember that it is because of their courtesy that I can continue to be here. Yes, some things take some adjustments (traffic, complex bureaucracies), but Vietnam has survived just fine without my advice since long before they drove out the Mongols. I am the one who needs to adjust – and I think I have.
My struggle has been trying to make sense of what God is up to in Vietnam – especially with the gang that is supposed to be on His side. I have traveled to Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, and Kuwait in the past year. I have connected with 50+ workers from as many as 20 different countries and as many mission agencies – including a surprising number of “unattached” missionaries. They are involved in a wide variety of ministries. Some are doing them remarkably well. Others are not. All are certain of their call to be doing what they are doing. More than a few are isolated, rarely cooperating unless there is a benefit that outweighs the risk. A number hold firmly to an “I answer to no one but God” perspective and are seemingly happy to be “on their own,” with little to no accountability.
Add to this the fact that, because of the nature of working in a “restricted-access” country, people who work in our neighborhood have had to be exceptionally careful about what they said and whom they could trust. The result is a continuing high level of caution and a tendency to use Christian code words and intentionally vague language. Straight answers are rare. And, it seems, the more conversations I have, the muddier the picture becomes. Two different people, who have been doing similar work with similar people, who have both worked in-country for decades, can view “reality” very differently. Their respective advice, therefore, can be almost entirely contradictory.
So for someone who likes to understand things clearly, “see the big picture,” “get the lay of the land,” and has little time for nonsense – this can be a highly frustrating place! And lately, it has been.
Which brings me to Chaos Theory. No, I cannot explain it, but I do understand it well enough to benefit from one of its corollaries. Because it applies to me, I will state it in the personalized form.
If something in the universe appears to me to be in chaos, it is not a reflection of reality. It is merely a sign that, because of my limited perspective, I am incapable of thinking in terms comprehensive enough to see the order that exists beyond the apparent chaos.
In Christian terms, when I fret over the apparently unsalvageable mess things are in, I have failed to take God into consideration. Because what I see as chaos, He sees as a part of the tapestry of His divine “purpose.” God’s purposes cover the material world and the immaterial world, in both time and eternity, and though the patterns are something only He is capable of understanding at the moment, they do indeed exist.
There is something very big and very complicated going on here. The One who is in charge is all wise and altogether good. He is unchallenged in His authority, unrivaled in His capacity, and faces no real obstacles in accomplishing His purposes. In the meantime, my responsibility is to be faithful to my task. Work hard. Live with integrity. And trust God with the details.
Someday, not now, we will see the finished picture. When we do, it will be more extraordinary than we could ever have imagined. And, odds are, it will all make sense.