Afterward You Will Understand
J. R. Miller, 1909
"What I am doing—you do not understand now; but afterward you will understand." John 13:7
Peter drew up his feet when Jesus was about to wash them and said, "Lord, are you going to wash my feet?" He could not bear to have those blessed hands on his feet. Jesus insisted, however, and said, Jesus replied, "What I am doing you do not understand now—but afterward you will understand." There was a purpose in what he was doing which Peter could not understand. Still he should accept the service without question, and in time the reason would appear. These words are always on Christ's lips as he comes to us in our anxieties, our perplexities over the mysteries of life, our sorrows and disappointments.
"What I am doing you do not understand now. It seems to you unnecessary, perhaps even severe and unkind. You cannot see goodness and love in it. You cannot conceive how it ever can prove to have blessing in it for you. But wait—some day you will understand. Then you will find that this strange, hard thing—is really full of love."
We cannot understand all that God does. How could we? Consider his greatness. Scripture tells us that God is infinite, eternal, omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient. In the first verse of the Bible we are told that God created the heavens and the earth, that is, all the universe. Our earth itself seems big to us—but it is only a mere speck in comparison with all that God made. They tell us we can see about five or six thousand stars with our naked eye on a clear night. Scientist say that in the solar system right around us, there are at least a thousand million stars. And these belong only to one little corner of the universe. Truly God is great!
So perfect also are the movements of all the stars, planets and moons—that there is not a moment's variation in all their motions. No star in all the countless millions—is ever a second late in rising or setting. Eclipses, transits, and conjunctions are calculated centuries in advance, and there is never a fraction of a second of failure in their occurring. How great and wise God is—and how vast are the affairs he controls! Is it any wonder, that we are puzzled and perplexed sometimes concerning his dealings with us? Could we expect to understand all the reasons for his actions, and always to see at once the wisdom and beauty in his vast and complex purposes?
"What I am doing—you do not understand now." We are assured that God has a plan for our lives—for each individual life of his redeemed children. Jesus had a purpose in washing the feet of his disciples that night. It was not an idle thing that he was doing. He meant to teach these men a great lesson. He has a purpose in every smallest thing, in each event in our lives. Life is full of God. His plans run on through all the years and are woven of the threads of the common events of our lives. We do not know the meaning of the small things in our everyday experiences—but the least of them is in some way connected with the great divine plan. We need to be careful never to fail in the smallest duty, for the minutest failure—may be the dropping of a stitch which will leave a marred place in the web of some other life, or our own.
God's plan for each life includes the smallest affairs of that life. The things that come into our experience are not mere happenings. Happen is not a good word. At least we must not think that anything comes into our lives as a mere happening, without God's knowledge and permission. Chance is not a good word; at least we may not use it to mean something that broke into our life independently of God. The old poet's way of putting it is better: "It chanced—Eternal God that chance did guide."
Nothing ever comes into our experience by chance, in the sense that it is outside of God's purpose for our life, and beyond God's control.
Suppose someone wrongs you, treats you unkindly, even cruelly. Is that wrong or cruelty of God's doing? No! God never did anything that was not love. A good woman met with two great troubles in a couple of weeks. Her husband died, leaving his family well provided for. Within two weeks the person in charge of his estate embezzled his whole fortune, leaving the widow and little children without money enough even to pay the funeral expenses. It is easy to say that the death of the husband was God's will. He was God's child and his work was done. But can we say that the embezzlement was God's will? Surely not in the sense that God approved of it. God never is the author of a crime. But the moment the sin was committed God took it into his hand, "Eternal God—that chance did guide," and thus it became part of his plan and began to work for good.
That was the way God did with the crime of the brothers of Joseph—he caused it to work for Joseph's good, and for the good of his people. That was the way he did with the crime against Jesus—he made it to work for the saving and blessing of the world. It will be the same in your case—-if anyone wrongs you or treats you unjustly. The wrong or the injustice is not God's act—but if you are God's child, your Father takes the evil into his hands, when it has been committed, and it becomes thenceforth, a secret of blessing; it will be overruled so as to be among the "all things" that work together for good.
The purpose of God for His children—is always good, always love. It could not be otherwise, for God is love. This does not mean that his plan for us, never involves suffering. Ofttimes it does. It brings death to a mother—and pain and grief to her family. It took the baby out of the young mother's arms the other night. It leaves the young widow broken-hearted, with little children to provide for. It permits loss of property to come, leaving a family to suffer pinching poverty and hard struggle. It allows a man to lose his work in the time of financial depression, and to endure experience of sore need. It brings sickness with its pain and cost. It lets us have bitter days of suffering. Godly people ofttimes have to endure bitter things, which are hard and most trying. Nevertheless, the plan of God for our lives is good. It is a plan of love. "What I am doing"—it is the Master who says this, and what he does must be good.
Is affliction good? Can it be good to endure bereavement, to suffer injustice, to bear pain? Some day we shall know that many of the best things in life, are the fruit of these very bitter experiences. Our redemption—comes from the sorrow and suffering of Jesus Christ. The best blessings and the holiest beauties of God's saints—are the harvest of pain.
The pleasant things are the easiest for us to accept—and these, too, are parts of Christ's purpose. We must not think that his will always means hard things. Some people always say, "May Your will be done," as if God's will were something terrible. But we have a thousand glad experiences in life—to one that is sad; a thousand days of bright blue skies—to the one that is dark and cloudy. And the joyous things bring their blessings, too.
We must not get the impression that all the sacred things of Christian life come through pain, that we are enriched and made more worthy—only when we are suffering. We receive countless joys. The sunshine, too, is full of love and full of life. But we must not forget that the things which are painful, are also parts of Christ's chosen way for us, and that they are always good. In all our life Christ is making us—making godly men of us, fashioning Christian character, transforming us into His beautiful image!
In the book of Hebrews there is a wonderful verse which says that Jesus himself was made perfect through suffering. Let not life's pains and trials dismay you. Submit to God, accept the providences that come as part of His discipline and take the lessons, the enrichings which He sends. Some day you will know that you have learned many of your sweetest songs—in the darkness.
In the advertising circular that came with a new canary bird, there is a description of the way the birds are educated. They are raised in the peasant districts of Germany. When they are to be trained, each bird is put in a little box cage, with only a small hole to give him just light enough to see to eat and drink. These cages are then put in a room from which all light is excluded, and their teacher gives the birds a lesson every two hours. First they get a lesson on the flute, then on the violin, then on bells, and last of all a nightingale is brought in to sing its wonderful notes and then to teach the birds to sing at night.
The point to be noted, is that the birds must be taught their lessons in the darkness. They would not learn them in the light. It is with many people also as with the birds. There are certain songs we cannot learn to sing in the sunshine. So the great Teacher calls us apart and shuts the door, to keep out the light and exclude the world's noises and then teaches us the songs of peace, of joy, of trust, of peace, of love. Thus painful things of life have their place in the divine training of our lives.
But all the mysteries in our lives will some day be revealed. They will not always, be inexplicable to us. "What I am doing—you do not understand now; but afterward you will understand." We do not see now how this or that experience can be well, and can do good—but after a time, the mystery is explained. "No chastening seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it." Hebrews 12:11.
The plow cuts mercilessly through the field. It seems only destructive. But afterwards a harvest of golden grain waves—where all seemed ruin at first. It is only afterwards, that many of God's providences can be clearly understood. It takes time for the full meaning to be wrought out. We do not know in the days of sorrow—what 'shining blessing' will be revealed as the final outcome. We do not see in midwinter, the roses that are hidden under the snow, which after a while will unfold their beauty.
There is a distinct promise that the mysteries of life will be made clear sometime. Ofttimes this is realized soon. There are some of life's mysteries, however, which are never made plain in this present world. Life is too short. Godly people die sometimes, with perplexities unexplained. But there is another life. We are immortal. We shall live forever, after leaving earth. There will be time enough then for the deepest mysteries to be made plain.
"What I am doing—you do not understand now; but afterward you will understand" Believe this. Believe that the clouds will lift and that a whole heavenful of sunshine and blue sky will appear! Believe that beyond today's sorrow and out of it—will come comfort and joy. Believe that today's stress and strain, pinching and anxiety, will pass away—and that you will have rest, plenty and gladness. Believe that your present burdens will become 'wings' to lift you upward into the blessings of eternal life! Believe that the buds under the snow will be glorious roses in a little while!