Engineering, Faith and the Master Plan
My dad, Tom Logue, is at center above in a photo for Dixie Contractor magazine taken for an article on his innovative work in interstate construction tested in paving I-20.
I love construction. That’s why I have been more intrigued and less bothered by the construction project many of us in Camden County have been driving through lately as they rework the intersection of Laurel Island Parkway and Gross Road.
I am fascinated not just by the end product. I enjoy watching how the engineers plan the order of the project. I wonder at times if they know what they are up to and enjoy wondering what comes next and why this or that hasn’t been done yet.
I come by this love of watching a construction project come together honestly. My dad was a civil engineer who spent his life in building roads, bridges and tunnels. His parents were both paving contractors who spent their careers paving primarily roads and parking lots. I love few smells like that of fresh asphalt. I am reminded of the golden days of my preschool youth when I rode with my grandfather to see projects underway. Along the way, I picked up an appreciation for the proper sequence being essential to a project.
The Gospel of John shows an important sequence in the chain of events that leads to Jesus’ death on a cross. Even what can first seem like some random happening in Jesus’ life, is an essential step. For example, once Jesus was just outside of Jerusalem in the village of Bethany. He was at the home of the siblings Mary, Martha and Lazarus. Lazarus was Jesus’ good friend who died. Jesus wept at his tomb and then raised Lazarus from the dead. John’s Gospel makes it clear that raising Lazarus from the dead set in motion the sequence of events that leads Jesus to Calvary.
Lazarus’ death was well attested. His being raised to new life, therefore, caused a big stir in the village of Bethany and spilled over into nearby Jerusalem just as pilgrims were flooding into town for the Passover.
Mary of Bethany made an extravagant thank offering to Jesus. She poured out a pound of perfume on Jesus’ feet, which she wiped with her hair. The perfume was worth 300 denarii. A denarii was the usual pay for a day of work for a common laborer. Today, a minimum wage worker earns $17,400 in 300 eight-hour days.
John says Judas Iscariot proclaimed that the perfume should have been sold and the money given to the poor. Judas’ anger over the waste of perfume was significant. Within a week of this celebration as Mary, Martha and Lazarus’ home, Jesus would be dead and buried. The betrayal later that week would require this sort of event preceding it.
We can see with hindsight how God was working through human choice to bring Jesus’ life and ministry to its conclusion. Like a vast construction project, there was a sequence that was essential. The high priest Caiaphas already stated that Jesus was a threat to Israel’s tenuous relationship with Rome and “It is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.”
Caiaphas placed a call for anyone who was connected to Jesus to help them find him away from the crowds. Next someone would need to turn against Jesus and betray him, then others would flee, then he would die, and finally he would rise to new life. I jump ahead of the story just to say that there is a trajectory here. God’s plan is working through human actions, and while we can wreak havoc, cause pain, and even thwart God’s will for our own lives, God’s plan proceeds.
It’s not that God made Judas betray Jesus, but that Judas was always the one who would choose willingly to do so. God’s view takes in all time as well as place and so God could see that Judas always would make that choice.
None of this is merely academic. How we live our lives day to day depends on these very issues. There are times when you or I beat our heads against a wall wondering why God doesn’t make this or that thing happen. Yet, with the wisdom of hindsight we can see again and again how something else needed to occur first. God is working on the issue, but there are steps and the steps are not incidental, but essential to the ultimate success of that very thing God wills. Often we are looking for a “yes” or “no” answer from God when the true answer is “not yet.”
Equally often, there are ways in which, through our own free will or that of others lots of unnecessary suffering comes into the world. This is not because God willed it or wants it, but because love demands choice we have the ability to choose the evil as well as the good. As surely as Judas’ choice to betray led not just to death, but also resurrection, so too can and will God weave all things together for the good for those who love Him.
I can go to the construction site at Laurel Island and pull every surveyor’s stake out of the ground. It will not help the contractors who need the stakes to make the planned road widening a reality. Yet even if I were to pull all the stakes, the job will get completed. I can come back day after day to pull the stakes or otherwise try to sabotage their efforts. But I grew up with contractors and I know that they will see the job through to completion.
Like some vast construction project with plans unseen by us, God works through and in spite of human choices toward an ultimate plan. We can make our own choices, live out the consequences of our own actions, but we can not thwart God’s ultimate plans or purposes any more than individual choices could have caused or prevented either Good Friday or Easter Sunday if they had not been God’s will.
While the master engineer leaves much to your choice, the master plan is God’s alone. He is working out that plan of salvation in and through our actions. Our choice is not whether God will redeem. Our choice is whether we are redeemed and whether we will live into that redemption through our own actions and take our part in working things together for the good.
The above essay is today's religion column for the Tribune & Georgian.
Labels: religion column