The best-selling author (Walking from East to West) shows how the random threads of our lives are part of a larger design. Look for the unabridged audio.
With inspiring stories and thought-provoking questions, Ravi Zacharias traces the multiple threads of our lives, describing how the unseen hand of God guides our joys, our tragedies, our daily humdrum to weave a pattern of divine providence and meaning.See more details below
With inspiring stories and thought-provoking questions, Ravi Zacharias traces the multiple threads of our lives, describing how the unseen hand of God guides our joys, our tragedies, our daily humdrum to weave a pattern of divine providence and meaning.
The best-selling author (Walking from East to West) shows how the random threads of our lives are part of a larger design. Look for the unabridged audio.
My father-in-law passed away a mere three months before I began to pen these words. His downward slide had begun a few weeks before, when what started as an ordinary day ended with life's sunset in sight.
He felt bothered by an odd feeling in his lower back and chalked it up to a muscle strain. But as the pain intensified, he scheduled a visit to see his doctor, just to make sure there wasn't any skeletal damage. As the doctor did a casual examination, poking around and feeling the inflammation, he didn't like what he felt. He directed my father-in-law to the hospital across the street for some tests.
Several days later the reason for the pain became clear: a fast-growing tumor was impinging on the kidney. The prognosis was grim.
Before this moment he had no intimation of anything so fearsome. And yet, less than five months later we buried him-and the heavens opened up and wept with us.
A severe time of testing descended on the whole family right after this diagnosis was made. Emotions swung from slender glimmers of hope when it looked as though he just might make it, to a dark foreboding that the end was near. We had all taken the opportunity to get some time alone with him. My children wrote long personal letters to express their deep love and great admiration for him.
As the end drew near, the days grew heavy emotionally. Three of his four daughters and his wife cared for him every moment of the last week of his life. When his daughters tried to comfort him by assuring him that they would be there to take care of him, with quivering lip he said, "You don't know what you are saying. Taking care of a dying person can be very unpleasant."
My father-in-law had seen his mother care for his grandmother before she died, you see, and he knew what might be coming. To make things even more difficult, he was probably the most gentlemanly of all the gentlemen I ever knew. He had a perfect sense of propriety in every situation-ever the right demeanor, ever the right word. Just a year before, he had helped bury his only brother. After the graveside service, he quietly spoke with a few people. Suddenly he became aware that the cemetery staff had begun to lower the casket containing his brother's remains into the ground. He gently ended the conversation and stood at attention until earth had completely filled in the grave. He was a man of immense dignity-and this was the man who now himself lay dying, tormented by the added fear of the indignities he suspected might be awaiting him.
His body had become small and thin, his mind no longer able to think rationally. He could not communicate, and his very blue eyes remained either closed or unfocused. He could not even keep his clothes on. My wife said that one of the hardest things about watching him die was seeing this man of such vast dignity reduced to ... this. Finally, they watched him take his last tortured breath, and he was gone.
But something incredible happened in the last few moments of his life. Until this day, it gives me pause, as it did those who were with him. It helped put everything in perspective. But this I shall save for later.
If, however, the only thing that had taken place is what I have described already, then how could we escape the difficult questions? Are we all moving toward an inglorious end? What is the meaning of life, if it ends with such helplessness and loss of dignity?
An Odd Mix of Order and Surprise
I begin with this story of my father-in-law's passing because every aspect of his personality came into focus during those last days. This was one man, up against his greatest fears. As his doctor said, "He was a man of faith; yet faith didn't come easily to him."
At the same time that he faced his greatest fears, some of his greatest hopes came to fulfillment. He had planned, organized, and labeled practically everything in his life. One look at his clothes, his files, and his daily life, and you would envy a man so meticulous in every detail. Yet, in the end, the planning was not of his doing.
In this odd mix of order and surprise, enchantment and hurt, we long for some sense. Can we detect some intentionally woven pattern here? Is the human story "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing," as Shakespeare said? Or is there a grand design, not just for life but for each individual life-yours and mine? Could the words of Canadian World War II pilot John Gillespie Magee be more appropriate?
Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings ... Put out my hand and touched the face of God.
The Bible offers a beautiful passage from the heart of one who knew much, suffered much, endured much, and wrote much:
"No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him." 1 Corinthians 2:9
If this is true, then such awe-inspiring consolation reaches beyond the future to carry profound implications for the present. If God has prepared something for me that will literally take my breath away, then even though he plans to give me a new kind of body and mind, he must have a specific purpose for my body and mind here as well.
The question is, How can you see the divine intersection of all that shapes and marks your existence, whether it be the heart-wrenching tragedies that wound you or the ecstasy of a great delight that brings laughter to your soul? How can you meet God in all your appointments and your disappointments? How can you recognize that he has a purpose, even when all around seems senseless, if not hopeless? Will there be a last gasp that whispers in one word a conclusion that redefines everything? If so, is it possible to borrow from that word to enrich the now? Can we really see, even a little, the patterned convergence of everything into some grand design?
To See or Not to See?
Right here we run into our first stray thread. Many of us would not have chosen for ourselves the body or face or features that we have. In fact, we might often wish to be unburdened with the physicality of our being. With the importance given today to having a beautiful or "perfect" body, some might wonder why they ended up with theirs. Why this body and not another? "If only I could shake it off," we muse. In fact, why have a body at all, since it can be so uncomfortable to bear?
Even as a child, when you read the fairy tale of "Jack the Giant Killer," you knew right from the start that Jack could do what he did only because he had that marvelous coat. Each time he draped it over himself, his body became invisible, allowing him to defeat the giant and so proving the adage that you cannot hit what you cannot see. How could Jack have vanished from that bone-littered dungeon? How could he have stolen away with the beautiful princess? How could all those ferocious monsters that sought his scalp fail in their murderous attempts? It was that enchanted coat! All Jack had to do was to throw it over his shoulders, and he became invisible-transcending and neutralizing the body at the same time.
Who of us at some time has not wanted a coat like that? And fairy tale writers aren't the only ones who imagine a tool with such powers. Did not Plato in The Republic introduce us to Gyges, who discovered a wonderful ring? Whenever he slipped it on and pointed it in a certain direction, his body ceased to hinder him. Even Plato, with his famous metaphor of shadows, found time in his thoughts to imagine life without a body. Ah! what marvels we could do if we could get a ring like that. It's the stuff movies are made of.
In more recent times, H. G. Wells wrote of the "Invisible Man." Here it was not a coat or a ring but a chemical concoction that one could drink to become invisible. Listen to his description:
I shall never forget that dawn, and the strange horror of seeing that my hands had become as clouded glass, and watching them grow clearer and thinner as the days went by, until at last I could see the sickly disorder of my room through them, though I closed my transparent eyelids. My limbs became glassy, the bones and arteries faded, vanished, and the little white nerves went last. I gritted my teeth and stayed there to the end. At last only the dead tips of the fingernails remained, pallid and white, and the brown stain of some acid upon my fingers.
From science fiction to philosophy to fairy tales, we dream of being able to make ourselves invisible at will, sometimes for good reasons but sometimes for all of the wrong ones. And that is an important clue.
The enchanted coat and the ring of Gyges and the chemical concoction present some terrible possibilities, don't they? What if a criminal had a coat like that? What if a mass murderer had a concoction like that? The power of invisibility would mean the ultimate destruction of humanity, for criminals would certainly abuse and misuse it and so wreak catastrophic havoc with it.
We identify and recognize individuals via the body. With all of our misgivings, the body is both individual and identifiable. But it is more than that.
A Name or a Number
Pause here with me and consider this: the body-the face, the features, the coloring-contains marks that identify us as individuals. These marks arise from our DNA and make us recognizable to the naked eye. But they provide more than a point of recognition for the sake of others; they are God's imprint on each of us. These few features have seemingly infinite possibilities when rearranged in different shapes and sizes. And how often each of us vents and complains to God, either implicitly or explicitly, wanting a better personal design: "If only I had a stronger back to do what I need to do!" "If only I had a more powerful voice that would convey authority!"
Even those we regard as heroes of the faith have not escaped such thoughts. In the Old Testament, God called Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, but Moses kept coming up with all kinds of excuses for why he was a poor choice. To Moses' observation that he was "slow of speech and tongue," God said, "Who gave man his mouth?" in effect asking, "Who made your mouth, Moses?" (see Exodus 4:10-11). Granted, God designed the question to remind Moses that since God had made his mouth, God could use it as he saw fit; but the point is well taken. We are fearfully and wonderfully made. Every time we make something artificial to duplicate what we have or had naturally, we once more recognize the intricate nature of the design, even with its weaknesses.
My daughter Naomi works with the destitute of the world and others trapped in and sold into the sex-trafficking industry. She wears a black pearl pendant around her neck, a gift from a friend. There's a story behind that gift. When the friend saw it in a store, she commented that the pearls had some odd markings. "Yes," said the clerk, "some see them as flawed; others see them as special." That was all Naomi's friend needed to hear. She bought it for Naomi to remind her that the hurting individuals she serves are not flawed but unique and special.
The recent movie The March of the Penguins features an awe-inspiring scene in which the males return with food after having been gone for weeks. As the biting winds of winter begin to take their toll and time starts to run out, the males, thousands of them, return, almost as if in a regiment commanded by a general. They waddle back to their "home" amid the thousands of females there, each calling for her mate, and in the midst of that cacophony of sound, each male begins the search for his own partner and offspring-his unique ones.
This is not just nature. This is the Grand Weaver designing the thoughts and the instinct to bring order out of chaos-to bring order out of the chaos we have created for ourselves in our attempts to shake off our bodies by the use of enchanted coats or rings or chemicals. When these birds from the movie reunite, they share a tender moment, revealing that all this individuality and identifiability had a purpose for each one. The penguins may not be able to articulate all that it means to them, but in analogous situations-as well as in dissimilar circumstances-humans can and do.
In Chiang Mai, Thailand, you will find a house called "Ban Sanook." It literally means "Fun House." As you enter, you see a group of people of varying ages involved in weaving. Here, for example, is twenty-five-year-old Bodintr Bain. His demeanor, his bouncing walk, and his contagious smile make you want to pull a chair over and watch him at work. His friends call him Tu. Tu looks up, smiles and says, "I'm weaving a giant wave. I want to weave colorful patterns of waves and make the cloth as big as the wide ocean, so that I'll have enough space to play and swim in my dreams." Laughter fills his voice. He uses "Saori," the Japanese technique of weaving, to do his work. Twelve of his friends surround him, each doing the same thing, yet each with a different design in mind. They dream up their designs and fulfill their yearnings in this fun-filled home.
But what makes it so special? Of the thirteen here, three have physical disabilities, six have Down syndrome (including Tu), one is autistic, and the other three have learning or developmental disabilities. As you talk to Tu, you notice a bright-eyed woman standing nearby, watching his moves and listening to his descriptions of his work. Then she gently interjects her own words: "This is my son. He has now sold sixty of his creations. When he receives the payment for each one, he hands it to me and says, 'This is yours because without you I never would have made it.'"
Even in his debilitation, he knows that neither the work of art nor his life itself would have occurred but for the mother who conceived him, carried him, and loved him, Down syndrome and all. Now as he "creates," he recognizes and acknowledges that ultimately she is the one who has made his creations possible, and so he brings his earnings and sets them at her feet. What a picture this is, I thought, of the climactic moment of our earthly life when we bow before God. I have a feeling we will be saying the same thing that Tu says to his mother.
So I ask again-if a man who experiences such limited access to his own mental capacities can do such incredible work, how much more grand is the work of our Heavenly Father as he pulls together all the varied strands of life to reveal his grand design? Sometimes he uses soft and delicate colors; at other times he chooses dramatic and vibrant ones.
In the book Finding Your Way, Gary LaFerla tells an amazing story, gleaned from the records of the United States Naval Institute following the Second World War. The USS Astoria engaged the Japanese during the battle for Savo Island before any other ships from the U.S. naval fleet arrived. During the crucial night of the battle, August 8, the Astoria scored several direct hits on a Japanese vessel but was itself badly damaged and sank the next day. Here's how LaFerla tells the rest of the story:
About 0200 hours a young Midwesterner, Signalman 3rd Class Elgin Staples, was swept overboard by the blast when the Astoria's number one eight-inch gun turret exploded. Wounded in both legs by shrapnel and semi-shock, he was kept afloat by a narrow lifebelt that he managed to activate with a simple trigger mechanism.
At around 0600 hours, Staples was rescued by a passing destroyer and returned to the Astoria, whose captain was attempting to save the cruiser by beaching her. The effort failed, and Staples, still wearing the same lifebelt, found himself back in the water. It was lunchtime. Picked up again, this time by the USS President Jackson (AP-37), he was one of 500 survivors of the battle who were evacuated to Noumea. On board the transport, Staples hugging that lifebelt with gratitude, looked at that small piece of equipment for the first time. He scrutinized every stitch of the lifebelt that had served him so well. It had been manufactured by Firestone Tire and Rubber Company of Akron, Ohio, and bore a registration number.
Excerpted from The Grand Weaver by Ravi Zacharias Copyright © 2007 by Ravi Zacharias. Excerpted by permission.
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