Tell me if this synopsis doesn’t sound familiar:
The hero is just starting to get the hang of this gig. Saving lives is starting to become systematic, even normal somehow. Sure, there have been a few close calls, but the hero has learned from these and has taken them to heart – and it’s showing. The support team is running like a well-oiled machine, and before long, it seems like nothing can go wrong.
Until it does. Not only do things go wrong, but they go horribly astray. A crisis that seemed simple and straightforward suddenly pitches sideways, and the hero squad is scrambling with everything they’ve got to save the day – but this time, even their best efforts are not enough.
After the dust settles, they make their way back to headquarters, heads hanging low. The team’s wise old sage pats the hero on the shoulder and says consolingly, “You can’t save everybody.”
Failure is part of life, but it stings particularly badly when you’ve put in all your best efforts on something that is actually worthwhile and meaningful . . . and it tanks anyway. All of us have experienced this – the feeling that no matter how hard you try, sometimes all it takes is one little thing spinning out of control to bring everything to a crashing halt.
I’m no stranger to it, either. Thankfully, most of my crises have been far less than life-threatening, although they didn’t feel like it at the time. It took nearly failing out of graduate school to realize being a middle school music teacher wasn’t a good fit for me. Even though I wanted it so bad and tried so hard, I felt like my whole world was cracking apart around me. The hard truth looked me dead in the eyes and said, “You can’t do this.”
What I didn’t see was I had allowed school, teaching, and music – my world – to get in the way of God.
I came up with a thousand ways I’d fix things if only I could go back and do it again. I dreamed and schemed of how to get what I wanted without the degree I was denied. I got mad at my teachers, at myself, at God. I wondered in the wee hours of the morning where I had gone wrong to get on this dead-end road, and how I was ever going to get off it.
The real problem was, even if I had done everything right, there was nothing I could do to change the outcome. If this was an episode from one of my favorite superhero shows, there was no way to bring back the lost comrade – at least, not short of some wild plot twist.
What is God trying to teach us in these no-win situations? Sometimes well-meaning friends and family offer advice along the lines of “God is in control,” or “It’s just not in God’s plan,” or “God will work good out of this.” While those and other lessons might be true in whatever situation we’re faced with, one thing ought to rise above the rest: We were made to love God above all.
Everything else falls away, as the old song goes, when we “turn our eyes upon Jesus.” There is no way to know how things might have turned out differently, or how different things are going to be now – and that knowledge may not have changed things even if we had it. The need for control over one’s circumstances is an earthly desire borne of pride, and completely unattainable. 1 Corinthians 13:12 says, “Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.”
This is different than a cheap platitude. God recognizes our lack of understanding, and promises us that in our failings, we don’t need to know everything. Knowledge will not change the facts. “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My word will never pass away,” and His Word says He is all we need, all that matters (Matthew 24:35).
We can’t save everyone. We don’t have the power in ourselves. We don’t have control. However, when the world blows up in our face, all we really need to do is put our focus back on the only One who matters.
“Yours, Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and on earth is Yours. Yours, Lord, is the kingdom; You are exalted as head over all.” 1 Chronicles 29:11