How Much Can the Locusts Eat?
Joel 2:25 KJV And I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten, the cankerworm, and the caterpillar, and the palmerworm, my great army which I sent among you.
Every so often my mind wanders back to a bygone time. Some days that time seems like only yesterday and other times, it seems so far away I wonder if it really ever existed at all. Was it all only a dream? Or a nightmare?
There we were, my wife and me, two twenty-somethings living the dream. It may not have been your dream, but it was ours. I worked all day to come home to the wife and kids in the late afternoon. We would eat supper and then go for a ride in our car. The two of us with our two kids in our 1969 Ford two-door Fairlane with the 8-track tape player (neatly installed under the dash by yours truly) blaring Southern Gospel songs: the Gaither Trio, the Speer Family, and Henry and Hazel Slaughter. Ruth helped on the alto parts and I helped with the bass. The kids sang along where they could because they had heard all the songs hundreds of times before.
No restrictive car seats (or mandatory seatbelts) and with the windows rolled down (because air-conditioning was a luxury no one gave much thought to in 1969). Life was good and hitting on all eight cylinders. That is an old codger’s way of saying that life was really good. Family was good, church was good, job was good, finances were good…life was good.
If you were to ask either of us if anything, ever, could destroy even a portion of this “good” we would have scoffed. Even politics and politicians seemed to be palatable back in the day.
The Christian School movement caused us to move our now three kids to a two-year-old Christian school with leadership that had never led much of anything, let alone God’s school. Schooling became a struggle that lasted from then until 13 years later when our last child graduated.
We moved to a different church, believing we were doing God’s work that instead devolved into a nasty church split. What we thought was to be a reconciliation became new unforgiveness piled on top of old anger and bitterness and apathy and leftover unforgiveness from years before.
The job which I had grown up in and loved was hanging by a thread. One strong-willed board member took it as his calling in life to make a name for himself at my expense. I lived from meeting to meeting and day to day with the expectation that I could be fired at any time.
Our finances, which we never had to give a second thought to, now needed a third, fourth and fifth thought. We were sliding steadily backwards financially. We had always tithed and more since we were pre-teens, but the holes in our pockets were real, and they were growing.
My health, while never perfect, became more difficult for me to live with and I became more difficult for my wife to understand—and to live with.
I am not a crier—but I learned what it meant to mourn over what I had lost, the tangible things I could hold in my hands and the dreams I slowly lost hope in. Dreams, once cherished, now became painful to even think about and were relegated to the growing trash heap that seemed to be my life.
Our marriage vows, taken as seriously as a naïve 20-year-old boy could take them, involved that plagued phrase “for better or worse.” Neither one of us knew that “better” had an evil twin named “worse” when we glibly mouthed the words, “I do” on that Friday night in front of family, the preacher, and God. We, over time, learned more about that twin than we ever wanted.
Scripture, which had been something to teach, or to hear preached, or to argue about now, became like really dry dust. And God was silent. And prayers became only obligatory because it seemed as though no one heard…and if they heard, they did not care.
I did not know who I was anymore. Friends turned their backs on us, some of them stabbed us in ours. Pastors lied about us and to us. Some friends we had taken into confidence twisted our words to attack us in church meetings.
Family, close-knit, loving, family fell apart. Some dear loved ones died far too soon. Some family could not understand what was wrong and gave up on us. Some moved on with their lives, leaving us behind.
Did we do everything right? Absolutely not. It seemed as though our lives were like looking out the porthole of a sinking ship as the water rose steadily to finally cover the entire porthole. We were bystanders, watching a movie of our lives being destroyed and we could not stop or rewind the projector.
I drove my deceased father’s pickup truck because I had to sell my truck to pay bills. His truck had a cassette player, and I would drive around the roads at my place of work and play one song over and over. It was Steve and Maria Gardner’s song: “Nothing will happen to me today, nothing good, nothing bad. Nothing will happen to me today, without passing through my Father’s hand.” I would try to sing along with them, but it was hard to sing with the tears streaming down my face and my jaw quivering.
I clung to the Scripture, “The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.” It was the only verse in either Testament that brought any comfort.
The poor health continued. The financial woes continued. Church continued to pile affliction upon affliction. The trials at work continued to mount. Family continued to fall apart. And our marriage continued only because of a vow, “for better or worse, until death do us part.” Neither one of us could help ourselves, we certainly could not help each other.
That 1969 Ford Fairlane with the 8-track pumping out gospel songs and us singing and laughing—and loving—was a fading memory of some distant time, maybe of some other family living long ago in Perfectville. It could not have been us.
I used to say that I would not wish those years on my worst enemy, but I would not trade them for the world. That was a stupid thing to say. I miss the Ford Fairlane days. I miss family and friends and laughing and loving. The loss is palpable, it is real, it is ever present.
Did the loss yield good? Yes. A new ministry. A new depth of soul. God worked in both of us. We are more like Him because of all those losses. But there is an emptiness that remains, the locusts have eaten and the years they have taken from us have not been restored yet. And here we are. We are on the path from somewhere back there to somewhere up there. We cannot go back to a world that no longer exists. We do not fit in well here and now. And the path ahead, while promised by God Himself, is seen only through a glass darkly.
When I close my eyes, I can still hear Steve and Maria sing, “nothing will happen to me today…without passing through my Father’s hand.” And their words are still true. We live, not in the past, but we live in the promise of God for today and for tomorrow—that He does indeed work ALL things for good, even though we may not know that good in this life.
I do not pretend to compare our losses with Job, or Joseph, or Paul, or yours. Some of you have experienced so much more loss than we have ever known. Some of you are living in the murky depths of that loss right now. Your trials may be doubly hard—but God’s grace is doubly sufficient for today and each of your tomorrows. There is an inner confidence that comes as His Spirit communes with our spirit, that God is still on heaven’s throne and nothing, ever, comes into our life without passing through His hands and His heart. We may not see the path ahead, but He does, and He walks it with us.
The book of Job opens with an interesting, but scary, scene. It is assuring in that we see Satan the Tempter, one on One with God the Father. God is in control of that scene just as He is in control of every scene throughout eternity. Satan is a force, but he is not in control. The scene with Job is scary because in some other meeting, in another time, God may look at Satan and say, “Have you considered My servant, Karl?” While there may be some honor there, the thought of being tested as Job was holds no allure for me. It reminds me of yet another scene, this time in the New Testament, when Jesus tells Peter that Satan had requested him. Rather than Jesus denying Satan’s request, the Advocate prays that Peter will stand firm. Jesus is not oblivious to my hard times; He is praying for me.
Maybe I am better off not knowing that God allows these trials in my life. Why would He allow them? If He is love? If His benefits are peace and joy? If He wants only what is best for me?
The question hangs there, is God in control and is He good?
- Job, after losing everything that mattered to him, including his health, answers:
- Job 42:5-6 KJV I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. (6) Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.
- Asaph, after seeing that the ungodly seemed to have more of life’s good than he did, answers:
- Psalms 73:17 KJV Until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end. Psalms 73:23-25 KJV Nevertheless I am continually with thee: thou hast holden me by my right hand. (24) Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory. (25) Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee.
- The Psalmist, faced with the question, why do good people face trials, answers:
- Psalms 119:71 KJV It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes.
- Paul, while in prison and praying for relief from some added affliction, answers:
- 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 KJV And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (10) Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.
- James, knowing the trials that many Christians will face, answers:
- James 1:2-3 KJV My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; (3) Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.
- Stephen, being stoned to death for his faith, answers as he looks up into heaven and sees the Father:
- Acts 7:55-56 KJV But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, (56) And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.
- Habakkuk, after questioning God, answers:
- Habakkuk 3:17-19 KJV Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: (18) Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation. (19) The LORD God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds’ feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine high places. To the chief singer on my stringed instruments.
- Those in Hebrews Hall of Faith, being put to death for being a Christian, answer:
- Hebrews 11:36-39 KJV And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: (37) They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (38) (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. (39) And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise:
- Jesus, walking towards His death, answers:
- Hebrews 12:2 KJV Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.
The question for me, is, how will I answer? Will I say, “Surely, a lot of so-called friends meant it for evil, but God meant it for good—and I thank Him for it”? Will I “count it all joy”? Or will I live in the present while longing for the past?
We can, while in Joseph’s prison, with Job’s sores, with Paul’s thorn, and Asaph’s doubts, trust in God through the promises in His Word. Our circumstances make the promises no less true. The God of truth and grace, who promised throughout Scripture to never leave us nor forsake us, has not forgotten to keep a single one of His promises. Nor will He…ever! And no thing, no good thing, nor bad thing, will enter my life today, without passing through my Father’s hand. That is His promise.