When God Laughs

The following meditation is written by Doug Hood\’s son, 
Nathanael Hood, MA, New York University.
“Immediately after he saw the vision, we prepared to leave for the province of Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them.” 
(Acts 16:10 Common English Bible)
Oh, to travel to Phrygia, land of music, wine, and horsemen! Nerve center of trade and commerce since time immemorial. Mythic land of King Midas and the goddess Cybele. Oh, to preach in Galatia, birthplace of the warlike Hittites and conquered home of the Celtic Gauls! The ancient cradle of ironworking. The land of Gomer and the dwarfish god Telesphorus. To spread the Gospel of Christ in these lands would have been a boon to the newborn church, and that’s exactly where the Apostle Paul intended to go in the year 49 AD as he set out on his second missionary journey. He’d already evangelized in Athens, Corinth, and Ephesus, and now the early church father wanted to travel further east into Asia Minor. However, each time Paul and his companions tried, the Holy Spirit pushed them back. Frustrated, Paul then tried to enter Bithynia in the north of modern Anatolia. Yet once more the Holy Spirit refused. Disheartened and disappointed, Paul retreated back to Troas where one night he had an extraordinary vision: a man of Macedonia pleading for him to come and help them.
Macedonia was, of course, in the opposite direction of the lands Paul was determined to visit, especially after his disastrous previous attempts in Europe. And Paul was not a man of flimsy convictions. He was a man with the fire of Jeremiah and the recklessness of Ezekiel, willing to risk life and limb, temperament and sanity for his ministry. His letters are filled with equal parts compassion and invective, cherishing his followers as children one minute before pronouncing them idiots the next. His temper could run away from him, much as it did in First Corinthians where in a fit of pique he thanked God ignoring the Corinthian church before pausing and meekly adding that on second thought he’d actually baptized many of them. His anger could kill—did he not help lynch Saint Stephen? His outrage could cripple—did he not blind Bar-Jesus? His audacity could astonish—did he not preach to King Agrippa in chains? His was a dogged single-mindedness of purpose that could brook no delay, suffer no misstep, tolerate no foolishness.
And yet, look at the first word of verse ten: “immediately.” Without any doubt or hesitation, Paul refocused his ministry, altered his plans, and reoriented his fervor for God. He set out at once eastwards towards Macedonia and Europe. The rest, as they say, is history. Shortly afterwards he would plant the seeds of the European church, capturing not just the hearts of the people but the minds of the intelligentsia and the respect of the ruling authorities. The early church fathers would encounter the great thinkers of Greece through which they legitimized the faith in the eyes of the learned: Justin of Caesarea reconciled Christian theology with Plato while Tertullian did the same with Aristotle and Clement of Alexandria with Stoicism. And in Rome the imperialist authorities who’d invaded the ancestral home of Judaism were forced once and for all to confront the specter of this new religious movement from Palestine, one which denied their pantheon of cruel, capricious gods in favor of a single deity that preached compassion, tolerance, and love. In time this strange faith would be accepted by the same imperial household that made a martyr of Paul and so many early Christians; for better or worse, the teachings of Jesus and the authority of his church would be the law of the land that could humble kings and emperors.
How many of us have struggled in life towards goals we knew in our hearts we needed only to have them denied? There’s a saying that whenever man plans God laughs, and if the Acts of the Apostles is any indication this is not a flaw in the divine plan but an essential feature—we are simply incapable of controlling the full trajectories of our lives. One is tempted to think of Ulysses S. Grant who at 38 worked at his father’s leather goods business and at 47 was elected President of the United States. Or consider Oprah Gail Winfrey who worked her way up from desperate Mississippi poverty to becoming the first black multibillionaire and global philanthropist. Of course, very few of us are ultimately called to become presidents or multibillionaires…or era-defining evangelists. Most of us will be called to live simple, quiet lives and undistinguished toil and service. But these are no less vital and precious in the eyes of the Almighty. We all fit into the tapestry of creation with every piece in its place. If we are to find happiness and contentment in our life, perhaps we should stop asking when we’ll find our Phyrgia and Galatia and ask if we’ve already found our Macedonia.

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