Version:1.0 StartHTML:0000000168 EndHTML:0000006980 StartFragment:0000000534 EndFragment:0000006963
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)
It was mid-September, 1996, and 38 sticky degrees Celsius as we waited outside the hotel for our bus to the beach. The pastor leading our mission to the southern-most point in Cuba had arranged the outing as a rest day for us, but mostly for our local co-workers. With cars an unheard-of luxury for most, they had little chance of a day at the beach.
Our “bus” turned out to be a seriously ancient one-tonne truck. The men hoisted themselves up on the back, and helped the rest climb aboard. We each gripped the rickety wooden guard rails at the sides and, with a series of lurches, we were off.
The ride started well, if slowly. But at the first hill, the truck balked. The men jumped down and pushed until the beast sputtered forward, then jumped back on while it was still moving. Fortunately, that was the only glitch, since the beach lay beyond mountainous country on an apparently deserted road, where the grades were steep and winding.
We enjoyed our beach reprieve, but the driver kept tinkering under the hood. Finally I asked the pastor about it. “He doesn’t know if he can get it started again,” Alan said. Since the beach was deserted and we were miles from habitation, I said a silent prayer.
After a few false starts, the engine did catch and we piled in for the trip back. But at the crest of the first long, steep descent, the engine died. Water was fetched from a little stream, in case the engine was overheated. Still no ignition. We waited at the side of the road in the blazing sun, taking turns holding the infant and entertaining the six-year-old who were with us. I prayed, “Lord, you know we can’t walk 20 miles in this heat, with these children. You’ve got to start that engine.”
In my wisdom, I was sure this would happen. I fully expected the engine to roar to life.
Roar it did not.
Not even a whimper.
There was a noise, however — the unexpected sound of a vehicle approaching from behind the truck. When a massive dump trump rolled up, Rico told us not to say a word; let him do the talking. There were three large Communist guards in the cab, with equally large scowls, not to mention rifles. Cuba welcomed tourists, as long as they stayed in designated areas. This wasn’t one of them.
Rico explained our dilemma and they agreed to take us to Santiago, since they were going there anyway. Climbing into the dumper over the monster wheels and then the sides was a challenge. It was a silent and very bouncy ride, sitting on stacks of grapefruit boxes. Every one of us was grateful for this unexpected answer to our prayers, especially when the guards, who had no idea where we were going, let us off a block from our hotel.
We didn’t know the half of it.
The next day, Alan told us the truck driver had managed to get the beast towed to a garage, where it was discovered the engine wasn’t the only thing that failed. So had the brakes. If God had answered my prayer to start the truck’s engine, it would have hurtled down the long, steep mountain road at breakneck speed, and the necks that would have broken were ours.
I had been so sure I knew what God should do. But I couldn’t see what He saw, or know what He knew. He answered our need in His wisdom, and thankfully not in the terms I set out. It’s a lesson I’ve tried to keep in mind: God knows what He’s doing, whether or not I do.
Between Good Friday and Sunday morning, I don’t think those close to Jesus could see how His suffering and death on the cross could be of any conceivable benefit. Surely it was the most deplorable injustice ever committed. After waiting centuries for the Messiah, they were sure He would lead His people triumphantly, defeating the hated Roman rulers, and making Himself their King. They had great expectations; instead they got great excruciation. They had wanted His kingdom to get started, but it appeared to have ended in the most degrading way possible. Why would God let this happen?
It wasn’t until Easter Sunday that the unexpected answer came, and God’s purpose was revealed. What looked like the worst thing ever was actually the absolute best thing — the only thing that could save us. It was undeniable evidence that Jesus was who He said He was, and would do what He promised.
His ways are higher: as high as heaven itself. So expect the unexpected, and rejoice.