Tag Archives: Futility

Circumstances I Don’t Control

Circumstances I Don't Control (CaD Gen 40) Wayfarer

The chief cupbearer, however, did not remember Joseph; he forgot him.
Genesis 40:23 (NIV)

This Sunday, I am giving the final message in a series on the sage words of Ecclesiastes among our local gathering of Jesus’ followers. One of the themes of the ancient book of wisdom is that the notion we have any control in this life is an illusion. In fact, the Sage has a Hebrew word for it: hevel (or hebel). It gets translated into English as “vanity” or “meaningless” but its meaning is really more like “smoke” or “vapor.” I can see it. It looks like I should be able to touch it, grab it, or contain it but I can’t.

The continued story of Joseph in today’s chapter is a prime example of life and circumstance being out of our control. Life is not turning out to look anything like he expected. He thought things were comfortable at home being his father’s favorite. Then his brothers sold him into slavery and told their father Joseph was dead. Joseph then became a successful house manager for a powerful Egyptian official, only to be falsely accused of attempted rape and thrown into prison. In today’s chapter, Joseph successfully interprets the dreams of Pharaoh’s cupbearer who is reinstated to his position. Joseph asks the man to “remember him” and it appears that circumstances are finally in Joseph’s favor.

Alas, no…the restored cupbearer completely forgets Joseph. He continues to languish in the Egyptian prison for a crime he didn’t commit. His circumstances are out of his own control.

As I look back on my own earthly journey, I have so many examples in my own life. A grandmother was run over and was killed by a distracted teen driver. Getting unexpectedly fired. The “perfect job” turned out to be a year of purgatory within a dysfunctionally chaotic system. My marriage fell apart. I was scandalized by wrongful accusations. Family members were diagnosed with cancer. Mom developed Alzheimer’s. And these are just the big items. There as countless small experiences that have affected my circumstances and my life; Circumstances that were unexpected, unforeseen, and completely out of my control.

Meditating on the reality of control being an illusion leads right to where the Sage ends up. It’s futile. It’s like trying to chase the wind or contain the morning fog. It’s all hevel.

But there’s another layer that I have to consider as a follower of Jesus, and this layer redeems the hevel. It’s a parallel reality that we are part of the Great Story, and the Author of Life is a sovereign storyteller.

Once again, Joseph is a prime example. Prior to his life being hijacked by circumstances out of his control, Joseph had a dream. That dream was a foreshadowing of the end of Joseph’s story. Joseph couldn’t see it in the moment. Every hevelish circumstance in Joseph’s experience is leading somewhere that’s known and has been foreshadowed. In the next chapters of the Great Story, God will lead the Hebrew people out of Egypt, through the wilderness, and to the Promised Land. He chooses to appear to them each day as a cloud. What is a cloud? It’s water vapor. It’s hevel.

God is in the hevel. That’s good news within the out-of-control circumstances of my life.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself recalling hevelish moments along my life journey that seemed out of control. Looking back from my present waypoint on Life’s road, I can see how God used each one to grow me up, teach me, hone me, and lead me to another waypoint a little further up the road and further in my own story. God has always been in the hevel.

I have to believe that Joseph was frustrated, angry, and depressed that the cupbearer forgot him rotting away in his cell. I imagine he felt the futility of his circumstances. He might have even whispered, “It’s all hevel.” What he doesn’t recognize is that he is part of a larger story. The cupbearer will remember him at just the right moment. The rest of the story has yet to be told.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

A Tale of Two Kings

A Tale of Two Kings (CaD Ps 144) Wayfarer

Lord, what are human beings that you care for them,
    mere mortals that you think of them?
They are like a breath;
    their days are like a fleeting shadow.

Psalm 144:3-4 (NIV)

Bear with me today, because I’m going to theatre-geek out on you a bit.

The tale of Shakespeare’s Macbeth is one that I have found myself referencing repeatedly in these post over the past 15 years. Macbeth is the Bard’s shortest play, and the further I traverse this road of life, the more meaningful I find it. It is full of mystery and of humans striving against both fate and unseen forces to ascend power in the kingdoms of this world to a tragic end.

Did You Know?
In the theatre world, it is considered taboo to utter the name of Shakespeare’s tragic hero, Macbeth. When referencing the play of “he who must not be named,” it is most common to simply refer to it as “The Scottish Play.”

To refresh your memory from high school English class, Macbeth is a soldier who does himself proud. On his way home from war, he meets “the weird sisters” who prophetically tell him that he will become a noble, and then will become king. He writes his wife the news and immediately the first part of the prophecy comes true.

As fate would have it, King Duncan is passing through the area and decides to spend the night with the Macbeths at their estate. Rather than waiting to see if the prophecy comes true, Lady Macbeth and her husband are convinced that this is the opportunity to make the second part of the prophecy come true. They murder the King, seize the throne, but in doing so they unleash circumstances that will cycle out of control and doom them.

Near the end of The Scottish Play, King Macbeth receives news that his wife is dead. As Jesus would have observed: He gained the world, and lost his soul, along with everything else that matters. As this realization kicks in, the tragic hero utters one of Shakespeare’s well-known monologues:

She should have died hereafter;
There would have been a time for such a word.
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

I couldn’t help but think of Macbeth as I read David’s lyrics in today’s chapter, Psalm 144:

Lord, what are human beings that you care for them,
    mere mortals that you think of them?
They are like a breath;
    their days are like a fleeting shadow.

As I meditated on the similarity of sentiments between Macbeth’s lines and David’s lyrics, I was eventually led to contemplate both the common themes and the contrasts.

Macbeth was given a prophesy that he would be king of Scotland in the same way that David was anointed king by the prophet Samuel when he was still a young man. Impatient and hungry for power, Macbeth and his Lady resorted to lies, deceit, and murder to take the throne by force. David lived for many years in the wilderness, refusing multiple opportunities to kill his rival, King Saul. If the prophecy was to be fulfilled, David wanted it to be God who made it happen, not him.

Macbeth’s observations about life being a walking shadow are filled with the emptiness and bitterness amidst the ruins of his choices and their tragic ends. David’s observation is filled with faith and awe that God would choose to love, protect, and bless him when he humbly acknowledges that he is nothing before the hand of the almighty.

In the quiet this morning, I’m thinking about my own life. I turn 55 at the end of this month. Even if I am graciously allowed the average number of days on the “petty pace” earthly journey (and that’s no guarantee), I must acknowledge that “all my yesterdays” account for more than my “tomorrows.” There are more days behind me than before. I will eventually make my exit from this terrestrial stage.

As the “fleeting shadow” of my own journey creeps to the ext, whom will I be most like?

Macbeth in his despair and woes of meaningless futility?

David in his humble praise to God for all the blessings he’d graciously been afforded despite his tragic flaws and many mistakes?