October 4, 2018

Faith Among the Radishes

Had God somehow arranged the travels of two random souls so that we stared uncomfortably at each other?

Bill Knott

The teen squinted in the morning light as he surveyed all of us in vehicles crowded close behind him at the signal. He was obviously uncomfortable being noticed, perched on bags of lettuce and snap peas piled in the cargo bay of a Piaggio three-wheeled truck—headed, no doubt, for a market in this Indian metropolis.

The uncomfortably long wait for the light to change made him look away from all the eyes inspecting him. This wasn’t what he wanted for his life, it seemed. His neat jacket, smoothed-back hair, the angle of his jaw as he stared out from his commercial chariot—they all suggested he aspired to something greater than a lifetime hawking produce.

Twelve hours on, our vehicle pulled up to yet another crowded intersection to wait for the inevitable melee in this city of 3 million souls. There—unbelievably—was the same teenager, slumped wearily among the bags of unsold produce in the back of the Piaggio. The jacket had surrendered to humidity and heat: the hair was tousled and unkempt. The confidence had disappeared as well: the eyes cried boredom, even sadness. I scanned the piles on which he sat: not much had moved. A tedious day had yielded too few rupees.

Had God somehow arranged the travels of two random souls so that we stared uncomfortably at each other?

I estimated the odds that twice in 12 hours I would have seen the same uneasy teenager among the thousands of delivery vehicles, motorbikes, and cars that overwhelmed these avenues. One in a million? One in 3 million?

And why? In what winding of the celestial clock was it imperative that we meet—eye contact only, not a word or gesture? Had God somehow arranged the travels of two random souls so that—for 30 seconds at a time—we stared uncomfortably at each other? Had He who knows when sparrows fall arranged 3 million lives and all those drivers so two strangers would assess each other at some disputed red-light signal?

The grand conceit of poor theology rebuked me soon enough. No, God doesn’t necessarily order all the world to be of benefit to me, to teach me lessons about providence, or ponder questions of coincidence. All the world may be a stage, but heaven doesn’t stage productions just to tune my faith or give me object lessons on His rulership of everything.

In the unfolding of each day, there’s no need to make the Author of the universe responsible for every human incident or every flake of breakfast cereal. The hand of God need not be traced in things He didn’t originate—including programmed stoplight sensors, motorcycles wedged up against our car, or whether I have soup for lunch.

Life happens: there’s nothing in God’s Word requiring we believe that He determines every minute, or that all choices and connections correspond to some emerging great design. God surely causes certain intersections: Phillip meets the Ethiopian; Jesus meets a woman at a well; Moses turns aside to learn why the bush was not consumed. Such moments—timed by God—advance His kingdom and align the history of peoples. But if we make Him responsible for every incident, we lessen the responsibility He gave us. This isn’t faith or piety: it is, in fact, unfaith to claim that we are largely pawns of His omnipotence and choice.

Faith takes the stuff of dailyness, and finds in it a call to prayer and new commitment. Deep trust in God increases our accountability to make good sense of all that we experience—to find in conversations, choices, and their aftermath the presence of a Lord who regularly calms storms He didn’t cause.

And so I prayed for him, this teen among the radishes—asking that the Lord who loves Him just as fully as I’m loved will plant in him a faith that puts the light back in his eyes, and pulls him toward the kingdom.

Perhaps—who knows?—we’ll meet again where no one ever hurries.