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God's Irony

Irony is one of my favorite literary devices. It’s when the audience, or the reader, knows something in advance that a character in a story doesn’t, which gives onlookers a completely different attitude toward what is going on than what the character has.

Let’s say, for example, that you’re watching a show about a guy named Jason who struggles with depressing and suicidal thoughts.

It’s a week before his 30th birthday, and he’s noticed people being distant and evasive. He thinks that it’s just a part of a trend, that everyone’s tiring of him just as he’s tiring of life, but in truth, they’re all hiding a secret: a big surprise birthday party for him being thrown by a close friend who is flying into town just for the occasion.

As the big day gets closer, Jason’s mind is on other things, on how his life hasn’t lived up to what he dreamed as a child, that it will slowly get worse and worse until he’s old and without hope. Although he’s been putting out there that his 30th birthday is coming up, no one seems interested in talking about it–something the distant friend requested so that the surprise could be that much more powerful–but Jason sees the evasiveness as a sign that maybe it’s time to end things. Maybe his 30th birthday will be the perfect occasion to take his life like he has fantasized in many a depressed stupor.

You follow Jason along as he muses bitterly, his misery yours as you wish you could open his eyes to the love that is there for him. If only he understood the plan in motion, he wouldn’t be buying the rope to hang himself with, nor the alcohol and drugs to numb his fears. You breathe nervously as he approaches his apartment, bag of supplies in hand, his hesitant fingers slowly turning that particular doorknob for what he thinks is the last time. Only he doesn’t know what’s on the other end of it, a room filled with people who love him.

When it comes to our own lives, God is the all-knowing observer, the director of our irony, God’s irony. As he told Isaiah, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neitherare your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9).

Centuries later, the Savior reminded his disciples that only God knows all things about his plans for the world, “But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only” (Matthew 24:36). Similarly, God is the one who completely knows the direction our lives are going. We don’t, and in that ignorance, something good is supposed to happen, or at least we are supposed to believe that.

But why?

There are many examples in the scriptures of God’s love, of his desire for our best in what matters to us. But there is a particular scripture that I feel sums it up well: “If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?” (Matthew 7:11)

It can be extremely difficult to live with a faith that God is guiding our lives, especially with all of our insecurities, all of our shortcomings. The notion that God, being all-powerful, cares about us individually can seem impossible when we are depressed and downtrodden. At times, we are left feeling that we are simply not good enough for his grace.

But consider something else the Savior taught, “[God] maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). In other words, we don’t always have to be good for good things to happen to us. I’m not suggesting you go out and slash your neighbor’s tires because his dog always poops on your grass and kills your flowers, but understand that God cares about you enough that he will bless you with good things even when things aren’t going your way.

I am reminded of a scene that often plays out in movies and shows: an unfaithful husband returns from seeing his mistress to find that his wife has some wonderful surprise in store, perhaps a dinner or a gift because she loves him so. It makes me sick, yet when it comes to faithfulness to God, we are much the same. We do wrong and then return to God, hoping that he will bless us as we briefly, sometimes sincerely lament our evils.

The truth is that good things sometimes happen to bad people, and bad things sometimes happen to good people. But wherever we are, and no matter how lost we feel, God wants us to speak with him and seek his guidance and blessing.

He hears our prayers and answers them, our loving father, the director of our irony. He often lets us wander confused, unsure of what is to come next, yet asks that we trust him as we move forward, walking in faith until we reach that point at which the veil is lifted and we see the reasons for all we endure. Until then, we should strive to be as strong as our circumstances permit, do our best to resist the urge to complain, and hold to his love.

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