The news was completely unexpected. For the past five years, my husband has been teaching Bible and theology at a small private school in our area. But the economy has taken a toll on the school, and enrollment is down. The board was forced to make cuts, combine classes, and let a teacher go.
It made sense, in a way. All the other teachers are responsible for core classes. Latin. English. History. Math. My husband has two master’s degrees in Bible and Theology, but he couldn’t tell you five things about Shakespeare or explain why x equals 3, or how the alphabet got mixed up with the numbers in the first place. It really was the most logical decision: Jeff should be the one to go.
The principal was very kind and even apologetic about the decision. He gave the typical “it’s not you, it’s us” speech that one would expect in a situation like this. They didn’t want to let him go.
Still, when I got the news, it felt like a punch in the gut. It felt personal, even though I knew it wasn’t. I spent the day feeling nauseous and fighting back tears and trying to make the rational side of my brain sit on my emotions. What are we going to do now? I thought about my kids and my mortgage and the school books I had just ordered and wished now that I could return.
Then my husband came home from work. He walked in the door with a huge smile on his face but stopped when he saw me. I burst into tears. “Kristie!” he said, wrapping his arms around me. “Don’t you see? God is about to do something! It’s going to be okay.”
“I know,” I sniffed.
“Really? Because you know He’s going to take care of us. He’s always taken care of us.”
“I know.” I did. Really. I was crying because I was just so…happy.
“Then be excited!” He looked like he was enjoying this. “We’re about to find out exactly where God wants us next.”
I smiled and said, “Yeah!”
But inside, I was thinking about how much easier it would be to be excited if I didn’t know a thing or two about God. I know that God sometimes has a funny way of making everything work out for the good of those who love Him and have been called according to His purpose. Sometimes, the working out for the good takes the long road. Sometimes, it doesn’t make any sense at all. Sometimes, it even hurts.
That night, after I’d finished crying and eating some conciliatory ice cream, I settled down in the rocking chair with the book of Hebrews, chapter 11—the great Hall of Faith as it’s sometimes called. I got through Abel and Enoch and came to verse 7 where Noah caught my eye.
Noah. Everyone knows the story about Noah. He’s the one who built the ark, collected the animals, and floated around with them while the rain came down and filled up the whole earth. You know, that Noah.
This time, one little phase about Noah struck me. The writer of Hebrews said, “In reverence, Noah prepared an ark…” Reverence. Awe. Fear. Praise. Worship.
Suddenly, I pictured Noah up there on his ladder, banging away on his ridiculously large boat, praising God while his fields went to weeds and his goats broke through their fences. He already knew the “working out for the good” was going to hurt. It was going to hurt like nothing he’d ever known.
In fact, when God came to tell Noah about the flood, Noah’s father was still alive. His grandfather was still alive. The Bible doesn’t say it, but he probably had brothers and sisters and most certainly a slew of cousins and friends and neighbors. He didn’t know that his dad would die before the ark was finished. But he did know that there was only room for eight. He did know that almost everyone he had ever met in over 500 years of living was not on the list.
The years came and went and Noah kept felling trees and planing boards while the people he knew and loved came and stared and pointed at his ark. Maybe they even looked inside and gave advice about the size of the windows. Maybe they laughed. Maybe they praised. And all that time, Noah looked at their faces and listened to their words and thought about how much it was going to hurt.
But he didn’t stop working, even when his wife came out after washing up the dinner dishes and said, “Really, Noah? An ark? You haven’t even finished my kitchen cabinets!” Noah just grinned at her with a nail between his teeth and kept on banging, but in the secrecy of his thoughts, he knew that that the woman he loved was going to have to watch her world wash away. And it was going to hurt.
But somehow, Noah also knew that God was at work, and Noah believed that any place where God is working is holy ground. The whole world was degenerating into apathy and filth, but this, this was holy ground. He took off his shoes and smeared pitch all over a house of worship that looked like a lot like a coffin, a coffin that might just save the world. He chose not to fear. He chose to stand in awe.
With reverence, he loaded up the wife and kids and all the animals, including the ones he didn’t particularly like and the ones that didn’t particularly like him. He double checked to make sure he packed food for the lions. Then he herded in the sheep and the goats that he knew would be a sacrifice to God when this whole thing came out all right. Because the whole thing was going to come out all right.
When the time was full, God slowly shut the door, and the last glimpses of blue sky melted behind a door Noah and his family could not open from the inside. In the dimness, they waited.
The animals felt it first. They shifted their weight against the splinters on the floor, uneasy as the barometer fell. Then he heard it. The rain. They listened, and everyone jumped when they felt the wood scrape against the earth and bump into the rocks as the water rose and lifted them away from the only home they had ever known.
It’s funny how you can think you’re brave when there’s nothing to be brave about. In the darkness, as the wood of the ark groaned under the weight of the water, Noah had something to be brave about. More than likely, Noah discovered he wasn’t brave at all. But he had faith, and he held on to the expectation that he was right where he was supposed to be because he was right where God had told him to go.
So here we are, my husband and family and I, feeling the floorboards creak underneath us and wondering where God is going to lead. It might not be easy. It might hurt. But we have a firm expectation that God is at work, and God is leading us right where He wants us. With reverence, we are waiting for the ark to move, fully expecting everything to come out to the praise of His glory.
Just like Noah. The waters did not stay. They raged and foamed but they did not stay. The ark came to rest and the door was opened from the outside by the hand of one who is Mighty to Save. Noah walked out into the blinding light, knelt down on the earth still swollen with water, and began to dig out rocks for an altar using his bare hands. He built it up and brought out the animals he had preserved for such a time as this. Out of the reverence of his heart, out of the expectation and belief and faith that was in his soul all along, Noah prepared a sacrifice for the realization of what he fully expected to happen. God would make all things work together for the good for those who love Him and have been called according to His purpose.
It hurt, no doubt about it, but God had made it good.