That’s In The Bible Somewhere…: Clouds & Silver Linings
There is a phrase that is offered quite often in the every day affairs of our ordinary lives. It is uttered over a cup of coffee with a friend, crops up when we are on the back nine with our favorite golfing buddy and is occasionally used around the water cooler during our Tuesday morning break at work.
Now that I have your curiosity up, here is the statement. “I am pretty sure that’s in the Bible somewhere.” This common phrase is a way of communicating our belief that a particular statement or idea can be found in Holy Scripture. It is also a way of saying that we don’t know exactly where this statement or idea can be found in God’s word, but, that we feel fairly confident that somewhere in the 900 to 1,000 pages that make up the Old Testament or the 200 to 300 pages that make up the New Testament (depending on the print size of our Bible), the phrase exists.
Sometimes we are right about this and the statement actually is in scripture. Sometimes we are wrong about this. And, sometimes we are partially right in that the idea is in some ways a part of scripture but maybe not in quite the same way or using the exact wording that we think.
At other times, we slightly alter the phrase and offer it in the form of a question. “Is that really in the Bible somewhere?” This is our way of offering surprise or the honest admittance that we were not aware that the Bible actually said this or that sort of like the discovery that Moses committed murder as described in Exodus 2 or that the term Anti-Christ is actually from I & II John while never appearing as a word in Revelation as everyone assumes. Again, in these moments the phrase “that’s in the Bible” is connected to our discovery that something appears in scripture at all and is thus a part of God’s word not absent from it.
This is all a way of saying that this interesting little phrase “that’s in the Bible” often causes us either to build ways of thinking about God that are not biblical at all or to ignore ways of thinking about God that are far more Biblical than we ever thought or knew.
This Fall, we are going to make a journey of discovery in worship as we focus on some common statements, ideas and phrases that often crop up in our “that’s in the Bible” talk. As we do, we’ll discover if they really are in Holy Scripture or not. Further, we’ll also ponder how best to think about the ideas and beliefs that these common phrases of our every day lives express by using what scripture actually has to say as our guide.
Today, we begin with a phrase that one has to say truly falls in the middle as to whether it is or is not in scripture.
We regularly offer the statement “Every cloud has a silver lining” as if the statement is straight out of Proverbs or certainly something that Jesus’ said while offering the Sermon on the Mount.
This catchy little statement that most of us hear throughout our lives is an interesting one in that it offers the hopeful sense that even life’s worst moments can have positive elements to them. While this statement doesn’t appear in the Bible in this exact form and actually apparently comes from a poem by John Milton from the 1600s, the idea behind the statement that life’s worst moments can teach us things and grow us in ways that could have never happened otherwise definitely has a biblical bent to it.
In many ways, “every cloud has a silver lining” is a very earthy or cultural way of expressing the very Biblical idea of Romans 8, our text for today that says this, “we know that everything works together for the good of those who love God and are called according to God’s purposes.” It is also a common way of getting at a very Biblical word. The word is redemption.
Now, we must be clear that in Romans 8, God is not working for every person or in every situation as in the statement “every cloud has a silver lining”. Instead, Romans 8 is clear that God is working in the lives of those who are God’s children. Likewise, Romans 8 is primarily about God’s working for our salvation. In other words, the main gist of Romans 8 is that even in our hard places in life, God is with us as his children and through these times God is bringing us into who God wants us to be. God is always at work for our good – this is the big picture no matter the temporary place or situation in which we currently find ourselves.
Thus, redemption is the belief that God is always at work even in life’s worst moments and most horrific occasions. And, while the more direct focus of Romans 8 is our salvation, I believe it is through God’s power that good lessons, unexpected friendships, and otherwise impossible blessings can come from the most evil of moments.
Wallace Johnson was the founder of Holiday Inn. Johnson of course died a wealthy man but he didn’t start out that way. When he was still rather young, he lost his job one day at a sawmill where he worked for a common laborer’s wage. That crises in Johnson’s family and in his working life caused him to take a leap of faith and to go into the building business. In turn and over time, it was this move from the saw mill to the construction industry that lead to Holiday Inn. Once when talking about his life, Johnson said that if he could go back and meet the man again who fired him on that fateful day at the sawmill that he would sincerely thank him. For, while horrible, it was that pivotal moment that lead to the greatest successes in his career.
Again, for you and I as people of faith, the term for this is redemption and it is first and foremost connected to the redeeming act of the cross. Scripture never minimizes the horror, agony or brutality of Jesus’ death on the cross. But, scripture is also clear that God was at work in it and that the gift of salvation and our own ability to conquer even death hinge on what happened at Calvary. Jesus the Son died. But, God the Father was at work redeeming the event. In turn our lives, like that of Wallace Johnson, are full of horrific events where redemption is also, always at work too. This is the spiritual idea behind the every day statement “every cloud has a silver lining”. And if we are alert, we catch glimpses of the idea almost every day.
In conclusion let me say three things about the old cliche “every cloud has a silver lining” that both connect it to and distance the saying from what we find in scripture.
First, to affirm God’s goodness and God’s lessons in hard places is never to minimize the pain of the moment. To say that God can redeem a situation is never to insinuate that our pain, hurt, sadness and anxiety are not real and awful. Sometimes the statement “every cloud has a silver lining” misses this point as it seems to insinuate that what happened isn’t a big deal in light of the good that will come. As believers, we never minimize the pain while at the same time talking about God’s redemptive work through it.
Second, to affirm God’s being at work even in hard places is never to suggest that God caused terrible things to happen so that certain lessons could be taught or learned. Occasionally, we will visit someone in the hospital and they will say, “I don’t know why God caused this to happen to me”. The emphasis is that their illness or disease was the act of God to teach a lesson or to get their attention. I think this is a poor way of talking about God or life’s tragedies. It isn’t that God brings evil upon us but rather the point is that even when evil comes, even then God wants our best.
This gets me to the last and perhaps more important lesson. All of this is a way of affirming that God is always acting with what is best for us and with love for us in mind. Above all else, God is a God of goodness who actively works on our behalf as Romans 8 says that even when we know not what to pray or how to pray that the Holy Spirit prays to God the Father on our behalf. This is the point of redemption. No matter how bad life is and no matter if we fail to realize it or understand it, in the midst of it all, God is at work and at work for our good.
Over this past weekend, a dear friend of mine and his wife welcomed their second grandchild into the world. I happened to talk with him by phone on Wednesday and he was sharing with me about that special moment. In the midst of his excitement, he said this, “when I held that little boy in my arms, I knew in my heart that no matter what happened or what he did from this day forward, I would love him and want what is best for him”.
When I heard those words, it captured the essence of Romans 8 and set it apart from clouds with silver linings. His love for his grandson is God’s love for us. God loves us so much that no matter what happens, God is always there working for our good out of God’s abundant love. Though painful and hard sometimes, God’s love is always redeeming what is happening in our lives. Amen.