This exit closed—take previous exit

by Kurt Burger, Lt. Colonel – 

Sometimes things just don’t make sense; life sometimes doesn’t make sense. Confronted with events we don’t understand, we lose our concentration on living. Hungry for understanding, hungry for tears and relief, we search for answers but there are none. How could this have happened to me? How could God allow this? Where did I go wrong?

Allow me to use the ridiculous traffic sign found in New York that provides the title for this column as my analytical guide to wrestling with a dilemma we sometimes face. While it may be ridiculous as a traffic sign, it is descriptive of what happens to us on occasion.

First, seeing this sign, my initial realization is that I missed the exit; I blew it. I didn’t see the signs of God’s will, ignored his Word, the advice of saints, the poetry of heaven. I drove right by all this and now that I want to get off I can’t; the exit is closed. Often my first reaction is anger. This should not have happened to me. I begin to blame others, declaring the world cruel and unfair. Am I not a faithful Christian? A Salvationist? This, however, doesn’t get me anywhere. As Harold Kushner writes in his book When All You’ve Ever Wanted Isn’t Enough (Summit Books, New York, 1968, p. 63): “A teacher of mine used to say, ‘Expecting the world to treat you fairly because you are a good person is like expecting the bull not to charge you because you are a vegetarian’.”

Second, to add insult to injury, I realize I missed it by only one exit. Most opportunities are missed by small mistakes, short inattention and brief moral lapses. But the consequences can be great. The tragedy on the road could have been averted if only the driver of the other car had had one or two drinks less. The one-time sexual encounter that engulfed the businessman, husband and father in a hotel while attending a convention far away from home is not his pattern. It was only a brief shining lie. Cheating on the tax return may be the first and last time but in the end very costly—if only I had taken that previous exit and not kept going down the wrong road.

Then comes the dilemma of backtracking. How do I turn around, go back and catch the right exit? In most cases, it isn’t possible. Rather, we have to accept that we cannot undo what has been done; we simply have missed the exit we should have taken.

The only option I have is to keep going. But how can I do that knowing I am on the wrong path? After all, I missed the exit and can’t go back. It is at this juncture non-believers and some believers lose their way. Life has no meaning, there is no God—if he existed in the first place, he would not have allowed me to go off course; I thought he was a loving God.

Just what would I expect a God of love to do after his creature had taken a wrong road? What steps would we expect him to take? The Scriptures say that even before the wrong choice had been taken either by man or angels, God knew all about it. He had even drawn up careful plans in advance to cope with the situation that would arise, even though he was in no sense responsible for it, nor did he cause it. (Rev. 13:8; Eph. 1:4; Heb. 4:3; 1 Peter 1:19-20)

Just because he saw it coming (i.e. my missing the right exit) and didn’t prevent it, doesn’t mean the end of his love for me. I can get to know a person so well that I am able to predict his reactions to certain situations or arguments. My ability to predict, however, doesn’t make me responsible for my friend’s reactions. Taking polls to predict an election doesn’t make the poll-takers responsible for its outcome. The fact that God knows what will happen doesn’t make it his fault. Thus, God has not stopped loving me—just the opposite. He is willing to leave the ninety nine sheep and go to the rescue of the one that has strayed. The dilemma is not God’s love to me. The dilemma is my having to swallow my pride and return to him, make the necessary restitution to my fellow man and ask for forgiveness. The “what ifs” and “if only I had” need to be replaced with “God’s love to me is constant,” “He knows the way,” “I am in his hand.”

This not only has a profound impact on my standing with God and eternity, but also on the way I can live my life: I don’t have to go through life paranoid about taking the wrong exit. Taking an exit too soon can be just as bad as taking an exit too late. Trying to insulate myself from danger, failure, and loss not only robs me of fulfilling my potential but it also makes it impossible for God to work his will for my life. As Paul traveled to Jerusalem for the last time, expecting to lose his life, he was assured by God not to be afraid; he would be with his ambassador to the last day.

Paul could have listened to his friends who strongly counseled him not to go. Were his friends right? If he had listened to them he would have taken an exit too soon. If I never take a risk, be it in a relationship, on a business venture, a career move, on my spiritual journey for fear of ending up in the wrong place, I diminish my soul and my ability to bear fruit. Referring to Harold Kushner one more time from the same book (p. 66), he quotes a song by Simon and Garfunkel: “If I never loved, I never would have cried… I touch no one and no one touches me… I am a rock, I am an island, and a rock feels no pain, and an island never cries.”

Approaching events we don’t understand from this perspective doesn’t provide the answers we wish we had, but it endows us with the peace of mind that God has not abandoned us, that he knows and he has made plans for us even before events take place—that’s all we need; anything more, we probably couldn’t handle anyway.


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