Have you ever felt that your life was ruined as a result of having done something embarrassing, shameful, or even criminal—only to wake up and realize it was just a dream? But what if it wasn’t just a nightmare? What if the situation was all too real—either for yourself or someone you love?
This is the situation confronted in George MacDonald’s 19th-century novel The Curate’s Awakening. It’s the story of a parish minister who discovers that he’s been speaking for a God he’s not even sure he believes in. Later, he is called to the bedside of a young man who is losing his mind and dying, haunted by a murder he has committed.
In the heart-rending struggle that follows, the minister discovers what we all need to see. The relief of waking up from a bad dream is nothing compared to waking to the reality of God’s forgiveness, which we once thought was too good to be true.
Where will we find the mercy we need? It is found in Jesus, who, from His own cross said to a dying criminal who turned to Him for help, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).
Caleb was sick. Really sick! Diagnosed with a nervous system disease, the 5-year-old suffered from temporary paralysis. His anxious parents prayed. And waited. Slowly, Caleb began to recover. Months later, when doctors cleared him to attend school, all Caleb could manage was a slow, unsteady walk.
One day his dad visited him at school. He watched his son haltingly descend the steps to the playground. And then he saw Caleb’s young friend Tyler come alongside him. For the entire recess, as the other kids raced and romped and played, Tyler slowly walked the playground with his frail friend.
Job must have ached for a friend like Tyler. Instead, he had three friends who were certain he was guilty. “Who ever perished, being innocent?” asked Eliphaz (Job 4:7). Such accusations prompted Job to bitterly declare, “Miserable comforters are you all!” (16:2).
How unlike Jesus. On the eve of His crucifixion He took time to comfort His disciples. He promised them the Holy Spirit, who would be with them forever (John 14:16), and assured them, “I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you” (v. 18). Then, just before He returned to His Father, He said, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20).
The One who died for us also walks with us, step by painstaking step.
Charlotte Elliott wrote the hymn “Just As I Am” in 1834. She had been an invalid for many years, and though she wanted to help with a fund-raiser for a girl’s school, she was too ill. She felt useless, and this inner distress caused her to begin doubting her faith in Christ. She wrote “Just As I Am” as a response to her doubt. The crux of her distress is perhaps best expressed in these words:
The corkscrew willow tree stood vigil over our backyard for more than 20 years. It shaded all four of our children as they played in the yard, and it provided shelter for the neighborhood squirrels. But when springtime came and the tree didn’t awaken from its winter slumber, it was time to bring it down.
Noise. Vibration. Pressure. Fireball. Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield used these words to describe being launched into space. As the rocket raced toward the International Space Station, the weight of gravity increased and breathing became difficult. Just when he thought he would pass out, the rocket made a fiery breakthrough into weightlessness. Instead of lapsing into unconsciousness, he broke into laughter.
I asked several friends what their most difficult, painful experience in life had been. Their answers included war, divorce, surgery, and the loss of a loved one. My wife’s reply was, “The birth of our first child.” It was a long and difficult labor in a lonely army hospital. But looking back, she said she considers it joyful “because the pain had a big purpose.”
British pastor Joseph Parker was asked, “Why did Jesus choose Judas to be one of His disciples?” He thought deeply about the question for a while but could not come up with an answer. He said that he kept running into an even more baffling question: “Why did He choose me?”
In recent years, my daughter has become fascinated with the history of the indigenous people in northern Michigan where she lives. One summer afternoon when I was visiting, she showed me a road that had a sign designating “Trail Trees.” She explained to me that it’s believed that long ago the Native Americans bent young trees to point the way to specific destinations and that they continued to grow in an unusual shape.
One of the most popular tourist attractions in England is the giant stone pillars of Stonehenge. These massive pieces of granite are also a great source of mystery. Every year, people travel to Stonehenge with questions such as: Why were they erected? Who accomplished this extraordinary engineering marvel? And perhaps we wonder most of all how they did it. But visitors leave having received no answers from the silent stones. The mystery remains.