My kids’ friend Alex Smiley, 13 years old, died of Leukemia last week. This week has been a time when most of us feel deep and pressing questions. Why did God make the world the way he did?
I have a story for you.
It’s from the book of 2 Esdras, which is in the Apocrypha – the books from the Catholic Bible between the Old and New Testaments.
Most people aren’t familiar with the Apocrypha. But having read most of it, I would suggest to you that it’s worth at least as much attention as the latest Christian title by Rick Warren, John Eldredge or Bill Johnson.
The prophet Esdras (Ezra) comes to God in great sorrow over the suffering of his people and he says:
“Perhaps those in Babylon lead better lives, and that is why they have conquered Zion. But when I arrived here, I saw more wickedness than I could reckon, and these thirty years I have seen many evildoers with my own eyes.
“My heart sank, because I saw how you tolerate sinners and spare the godless; how you have destroyed your own people, but protected your enemies. You have given no hint whatever to anyone how to understand your ways. Is Babylon more virtuous than Zion?
“Weigh our sins in the balance against the sins of the rest of the world; and it will be clear which way the scale tips.”
In other words:
“God, if you treated your people a little better, you’d probably have more friends.”
An angel is sent to him, whose name is Uriel. He replies to Ezra:
“I have been sent to propound to you three of the ways of this world,” he continued, “to give you three illustrations. If you can explain to me any one of them, then I will answer your question about the way of the Most High, and teach you why the heart is wicked.”
The angel presents him with this question:
“Weigh me a pound of fire, measure me a bushel of wind, or call back a day that has passed.”
Ezra replied: “No man on earth can answer your question.”
Uriel says, “I have only asked you about fire, about wind, and about yesterday, things you have experience with; and yet you have failed to tell me the answers. Therefore I cannot answer this question for you.”
Ezra gets the point. If he can’t convert energy into matter, if he can’t store wind in a bucket, if he can’t travel through time, how can he expect to understand the deepest mysteries of God’s mind?
But Ezra still presses Uriel further: “Why has Israel been made a joke among the Gentiles; why has the people you loved been put at the mercy of godless nations? Why has the law of our fathers been brought to nothing, and the written covenants made a dead letter?
“We pass like a flight of locusts, our life is but a vapour, and we are not worth the Lord’s pity, though we bear his name; what then will he do for us? These are my questions.”
The angel replies: “The evil about which you ask me has been sown, but its reaping has not yet come. Until the crop of evil has been reaped as well as sown, until the ground where it was sown has vanished, there will be no room for the field which has been sown with the good.
“Consider this: if one grain of evil seed has produced so great a crop of godlessness, how vast a harvest will there be when good seeds beyond number have been sown!”
Ezra asks, “But WHEN? How long have we to wait? Why are our lives so short and so miserable?”
He replied, “Do not be in a greater hurry than the Most High himself. You are in a hurry for yourself alone; the Most High for many. Are not these the very questions which were asked by the righteous in the storehouse of souls: ‘How long must we stay here?’
“For the Lord has weighed the world in a balance, he has measured and numbered the ages; he will move nothing, alter nothing, until the appointed number is achieved.”
“Go,” the angel said, “Ask a pregnant woman whether she can keep the child in her womb any longer after the nine months are complete.”
“No, my lord,” Ezra said, “She cannot.”
The angel went on: “The storehouses of souls in the world below are like the womb. As a woman in travail is impatient to see the end of her labour, so they are impatient to give back all the souls committed to them since time began.”
The angel is clear: God has judged that we are not wise enough to be told the inner secrets of God’s heart. But God is equally clear that He has a plan and a time is appointed.
Good seeds have been sown. Justice WILL be carried out, and God’s people will experience a vast harvest with ALL his blessings.