Do not tremble, do not be afraid. Did I not proclaim this and foretell it long ago? You are my witnesses. Is there any God besides me? No, there is no other Rock; I know not one. (Isaiah 44.8)
Bureaucratic indifference tests my fortitude. I don’t like its expression when I look it in the eye. I don’t like its tone on the other end of the line. When inflexible policy is all that’s between an urgent request and me, keeping a Christ-like head takes all my strength. I don’t always succeed. A few months back I dropped by my bank to cash a check. When I got to the teller, I remembered slipping my passport into a coat pocket while clearing airport security earlier that week. I offered what I had: an expired driver’s license, several government-issued cards, and enough plastic to tile a small floor. Many of the staff knew me by sight. My signature slept in the files. None of that mattered. “I’d like to help you, but I can’t,” the teller said. I asked for the manager, who was new to the job. “Policy won’t allow it. I’m sorry,” she said. Did she doubt I was Tim Wolfe? “If I believe you or not makes no difference. That’s just the way it is,” she said and walked away. Why did she do that? Now I had to raise my voice. “It’s odd you believe I’m me when I make a deposit.” Her theatrical sense, a real plus in a largely gay neighborhood, impressed me. In a voice to be heard by all, she announced, “It’s for your protection.” I fired back, “Our protection? That’s what all these foreclosures are? Protection? I’m glad to know that.” Out I stomped—no cash, no dignity.
No one likes “that’s just the way it is,” because most times it’s a lazy excuse, not a valid reason. Nothing we’ve created need be the way it is. Nothing we invent is immune to change. Everything we do can be done better or differently by someone else. Now let’s look at God’s world. “The way it is” means something there. Unlike manmade institutions that breed indifference in the guise of protecting us, God’s greatest concerns genuinely center on our safety and trust. It’s important for us to realize what He says and the policies He implements are eternally fixed for our benefit. Without us, there would be no need to set down principles or impose limits; the rest of nature intuitively complies with His standards. We’re the only scofflaws on the planet. We’ve somehow got into our heads if we don’t like way things are in God’s world, we can adjust them to suit how we’d like them to be. But there is no power in heaven or earth that comes close to matching His might and intelligence. Psalm 83.18 sums it up: “Let them know that you, whose name is the LORD—that you alone are the Most High over all the earth.” He’s God. He has no equals. If He says, “This is how it is,” then, like it or not, that’s just the way it is.
Grumble or Rejoice
Of course, this irks us. We want from God what we want from managers and executives and officials when their policies rub us the wrong way. We want Him to see the hassles and frustrations we deal with by doing things His way. And He does see them. He realizes why we get irritated and whiny and angry when we chafe at His priorities and methods. He understands how our penchant for stubborn indifference toward each other would cause us to misperceive His wisdom and protection as unconcern. Yet above all else He knows His way is the absolute best way and because He’s committed to our welfare, He won’t waver from it.
Since His way is the way it is, we have two choices: grumble about it or rejoice in it. Grumbling is no problem; it comes easily to us. Rejoicing takes effort, as it requires us to see our difficulties from God’s perspective. Any time things don’t go like we think they should, we crank up the anger and resentment to drown out our anxiety. But from God’s side of the window, there’s no reason for worry and fear. He’s got things well in hand. What I omitted from my story was I had offered to help a friend in dire straits. He had no time to wait for a check to clear and I had to leave town again early the next morning. Forgetting my ID blew my only chance to make good on my offer. I was afraid of failing him and what he might face if I did. I completely forgot that in God’s world, the way it looks to us is never the way it is. So my friend came by. I gave him a check, apologized for my blunder, and ranted about the bank manager. The next day I dragged myself to the airport under a shadow. When the plane landed, I turned on my phone to find a message: “Don’t ask me how, but the problem is fixed. Everything’s fine. Call me when you’re back and I’ll return your check.” I’d made a fool of myself for no reason. I should have known the Most High had a better plan.
Through His Eyes
“Do not tremble, do not be afraid,” God tells us in Isaiah 44.8. “Did I not proclaim this and foretell it long ago? You are my witnesses. Is there any God besides me? No, there is no other Rock; I know not one.” When we learn to look at God’s world through His eyes of wisdom and might, we see ourselves in a world where the Most High does as He wills for our good. From that perspective, “That’s just the way it is” is neither a lame excuse nor a bullying tactic. It’s the most valid reason we have to celebrate—to sing and dance and clap our hands and rejoice before and after the fact.
Problems that lurch out of nowhere He’s seen coming all along. He’s also aware of situations that have hung around without being resolved. Characters who turn away from us, new ones who join our journey, our own spiritual and emotional evolution—none of this is news to God. “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be,” David sings in Psalm 139.16. God proclaims the way things are because He alone can foretell how things will be. Is there any God besides Him? No, there is no other Rock. That’s just the way it is. The sooner we learn to accept that and rejoice in it, the safer and saner our lives will be.
Human indifference causes us to mistake God’s way as unconcern. He sets down principles because He cares about us. Since He alone can see what will be, who’s better qualified to say, “That’s just the way it is”?