Friday, January 10, 2014

The Hands That Hold the Nets

“People can never predict when hard times might come. Like fish in a net or birds in a snare, people are often caught by sudden tragedy.”
Ecclesiastes 9:12)

Imagine you’re a fish.
    Come on, imagine it. You’ve got fins and gills. You live in water, not air. You spend your days looking for food and avoiding sharks. You have a simple life. The rules are clear, and the complications are few. But you have one great fear.
    Not the sharks. Oh, they’re dangerous, of course, but statistically they get very few of you. The thing you fear most is the stuff of fish legends and myths. It’s the horror story of undersea life. The thing you fear most is nameless and faceless. It takes many fish, and they’re never heard from again. It’s especially frightening because it’s so sudden. You’re just minding your own business, and you’re suddenly ripped away from the world you know, into...what? A few have escaped. They’ve come back to tell of a strange world without water to breathe, populated by weird, loud fish with no fins and no scales, but plenty of these horrible things that the strange fish call “nets”.
    OK, OK, I’ll stop. But are you getting my point? I want you to imagine you’re a fish because I want you to imagine the fear generated in a school of fish by these everyday, ordinary things called “nets”. To us, they’re unremarkable: just strands of fiber interlocked to form mesh. To a fish, a net is the end of life as he knows it. A net is the great unknown.
   Now you see, don’t you? “Like fish in a net...people are often caught by sudden tragedy.” An earthquake that kills thousands. A plane lost at sea. The sudden grave illness of a child. The stroke that takes a parent before a son or daughter can say goodbye. Tragedy’s usually sudden. It rarely comes with a warning, and even when it does the warning never prepares you. Divorce papers arrive, you find a pink slip in a pay envelope, you read the suicide note of a close friend, and suddenly you can relate to a fish in a net. You’re ripped away from the familiar. A strange new world whirls around you. You can’t focus, you can’t hear anything over the chaos, and you can’t even draw a breath.
    You’ve probably been there. Maybe you’re there right now. Certainly, if you live any time in this world, you’ll be there one day. What do you do? How do you handle it when the net of tragedy closes around you?
    Maybe you’ll appreciate a story I heard recently about a fish in Oslo.
    This fish, a cod, is blind in both eyes. He weighs about 5 pounds. And this particular fish has found himself in a net a few times. Well, more than a few. How do we know? Because he’s been in the same net each time.
    Fisherman Harold Hauso has caught this poor little blind cod at least 35 times since March of last year.
    Harold lets him go every time he catches him. “He’s too thin to eat and he’s in bad condition,” the fisherman says. “And I feel a bit sorry for him.” Apparently, Harold’s nets attract some of the fish’s favorite food, like tiny crabs and starfish. The cod has discovered that it’s an easy place to find dinner, and he knows Harold always lets him go. So he swims bravely into the nets.
    Remember that little blind cod the next time you find yourself spinning helplessly into the unknown. The next time you feel the strands of tragedy suddenly tighten around you, remember that the One who controls the nets is more merciful even than Harold Hauso. “The helpless put their trust in you,” sang David to God (Psalm 10:14). Jesus came to those trapped by sickness, prejudice, poverty, and religious indifference to show beyond a shadow of a doubt that God cares. He even showed by his crucifixion and resurrection that the nets of sin and death are firmly in God’s grip.
    And if you can trust that God won’t let tragedy destroy you, you can start to see what the blind cod sees. In the nets, there’s food. In the struggle, there’s growth. In tragedy, faith is hardened, hope is clarified, and gratitude is born. Believe in a loving God who takes charge of tragedy’s helpless victims, and you’ll learn not to be so afraid when it snaps you away from what you know, love, and trust. You’ll learn to say, with Paul, “I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from his love.” (Romans 8:38)
    Paul’s realistic about the world, there’s no denying that. He doesn’t imagine that faith in a loving God can be an opiate that dulls the pain of what human beings have to endure in their lifetimes. “Trouble...hardship...persecution...famine...nakedness...danger...sword” - these are the nets Paul knows about. He doesn’t give us room to imagine a faith that removes us from the struggles of life in a fallen world.
    He just knows the One Who holds the nets. And he’s so convinced of God’s love that he’s certain that the worst the world can throw at us isn’t enough to undo the plans that God has set underway in Jesus Christ. God gave up his Son for us - is there any length to which he won’t go to show us his love? Jesus, whom God raised to life, intercedes for us in God’s presence - is there any way to imagine a scenario in which God give us up to the hardships and troubles and tragedies of human life?
    By the way, Harold has plans for the next time he catches his fish. He’s found a marine park nearby who’ll let the fish retire to its aquarium. “It’ll be a good place for him to be a pensioner,” says Harold.
    God has great plans for you, too. He sent Jesus to show you and open the way for you. One day, it’s true, you’ll find yourself jerked out of this life. It will be painful to those who mourn you, and quite possible to you too. It will seem that everything has ended, that death and destruction have one. But, in Jesus, the end isn’t destruction. It’s life, and it’s peace. It’s never having to worry about pain, sin, sickness, or death again. If you’re in Jesus, even the worst tragedy becomes a pathway to heaven. Even death loses its sting.

    Trust in the loving hands that hold the nets. Look closely, and you can still see the scars of the nails they took for you.

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