IVP - Strangely Dim - The Impossible Task

December 5, 2003

The Impossible Task

by David A. Zimmerman

So I’m sitting at the pool when some woman in a two-piece bathing suit, sitting on a chaise lounge by the deck, says, “Honey, I’m cold. Could you turn up the heat?” She’s not talking to me; the temperature is some other guy’s problem. But we’re at a hotel, and she’s in a two-piece. The heat (or lack thereof) is out of his control.

Still, he marches off dutifully to find the temperature gauge, or the hotel manager, or a match to light the towels on fire. He may have grumbled a bit as he went, but secretly, perhaps even unconsciously, I’ll bet he was excited. He got to tackle the impossible task.

We commonly think we are masters of our environment. Often we are: humankind has effectively dominated creation from its earliest days. But that's not enough for many of us: humans individually often want to dominate each other.

Some of us try to master information, because knowledge is power. Some of us collect everything from manna to money to missiles, because the one who dies with the most toys wins. Some of us traffic in our bodies or relationships because sex sells, or might makes right, or he is not poor who has family or friends, or whatever other flimsy cliché we think we can ride to the top of the human race.

But then comes the impossible task. This one has not talked to her brother for seven years when she gets the call that he’s died in a car accident. That one has inoperable cancer and a newborn son. And at one time or another each has offended in one way or another the righteousness of a holy God. The task is to resolve the conflict with the brother or to cure the cancer or to make things right with God. The task is impossible.

Sorry, but it’s true. We are masters of our environment only so long as we hide from those things we cannot master. Once we can no longer hide, we can no longer fool ourselves that we have all we need in ourselves, that we don’t need help.

Good news, though. The God we’ve offended in one way or another is the master of our environment, our relationships, our internal and eternal lives.

Wait a minute. That may be news, but it doesn’t sound good. And yet it is good, because God is good.

Once we are faced with the impossible task of reconciling with a dead loved one, we realize that all along the conflict was not worth the separation. Once we are faced with the pain of a deadly disease and the imminent separation from our newborn child, we recognize how precious are life and health and wholeness. And once we are faced with the God who created life and health and wholeness and relationships, we understand that all that is good has its origin in him. That God is the master of our environment is good news because it means someone good—not fickle or misguided or fallen or mortal—is in charge.

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at December 5, 2003 9:16 AM Bookmark and Share

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Behind the Strangeness

Lisa Rieck is a reader and writer who likes to discuss good ideas over hot drinks and gets inspired by the sky. She takes in all kinds of good ideas as a proofreader for InterVarsity Press.

Rebecca Larson is a writer/designer/creative type who has infiltrated IVP's web department, where she writes and edits online content. She enjoys a good pun and loves the smell of freshly printed books.

David A. Zimmerman is an editor for Likewise Books and a columnist for Burnside Writers Collective. He's written three books, most recently The Parable of the Unexpected Guest. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/unexpguest. Find his personal blog at loud-time.com.

Suanne Camfield is a publicist for InterVarsity Press and a freelance writer. She floats ungracefully between work, parenting and writing, and (much to her dismay) finds it impossible to read on a treadmill. She is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild and blogs at The Rough Cut.

Likewise Books from InterVarsity Press explore a thoughtful, active faith lived out in real time in the midst of an emerging culture.

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