For Such a Time as This: Why Frame of Reference Matters
Joseph sat in a pit, staring up at the sky and wondering if his brothers would return to kill him or simply leave him to rot and die.
Job sat on a pile of ashes, covered in sores and wondering why God was persecuting him, demanding justice and begging for death.
Esther sat in a harem, surrounded by rivals, wondering why God had allowed soldiers to abduct her from her home and force her into the service of the world’s most powerful king.
A beggar sat by the side of the road, blind from birth, enduring the slander of those who insisted he had been born in sin, wondering if maybe they were right.
* * *
Four stories, separated by centuries, each with no tie to the next save for one simple, common thread weaving its way through every narrative:
God had a plan.
None of these stories happened by accident. Throughout each story, God was in charge. He was calling the shots. Not a single moment passed without His knowledge and permission. The specific things that happened to these specific people happened for very specific reasons.
There was one other common thread, too:
None of these people knew that.
* * *
You are, at this moment, whirling around the sun at roughly 66,000 miles per hour. Feeling dizzy? Probably not. That’s because the earth is doing the same exact thing. From our frame of reference, the world we live on is stationary—it’s the universe that’s doing all the moving.
Frame of reference makes all the difference in the world. It’s not a phrase we use very often, but it’s a concept we use nearly every day. It comes into play when we make observations like, “I’m going five miles per hour faster than the car next to me,” or, “I’m going fifteen over the speed limit right now,” or, “Wow, that cop sure is gaining on me!”
Speed requires a frame of reference. You can’t just be going 75 miles per hour—you have to be going 75 miles per hour in relation to something. Here on planet Earth, our de facto frame of reference is the surface of the planet itself. That’s why, when the police officer asks us if we knew how fast we were going, the correct reply isn’t, “Faster than that other guy,” or, “Slower than you,” or, “Sixty-six thousand with respect to the sun, so what’s another 15 at this point?”
He’s asking how fast we were going in relation to the surface of the earth. He just doesn’t say that last part because it’s implied—which is good, because the highway would look absolutely ridiculous if it were filled with signs that said “SPEED LIMIT 65 IN RELATION TO THE SURFACE OF THE EARTH.”
* * *
Here’s a question: Does our frame of reference make the speed at which the earth is traveling around the sun irrelevant?
Obviously not. All you have to do is imagine what would happen if the earth stopped traveling at 66,000 miles per hour (and we didn’t) and you’ll very quickly get a sense of why that number matters a great deal.
Our problem is that we’re not really wired to keep track of multiple frames of reference. Honestly, unless you’re a physics teacher or a rocket scientist, I doubt you have much reason to even think about those perspectives on a regular basis. Day in and day out, our limited frame of reference persuades us that we live on a stationary planet, an Earth that remains perfectly still while the universe rolls slowly by overhead. The truth of the matter—that we live on a massive, organic spaceship whirling its way around a star, ensconced within a galaxy traveling at unfathomable speeds through an ever-expanding universe—is a bit harder to grapple with.
But it’s true all the same.
* * *
Joseph was in a pit for a purpose. Job was on an ash heap for a purpose. Esther was in the king’s harem for a purpose. The blind man was begging by the roadside for a purpose.
The problem was that none of them could see it. From their frames of reference, their situations looked beyond hopeless. They were looking at a stationary world, not realizing that even though everything appeared to be standing still, God was moving each of them toward a destiny far greater than they could have possibly imagined. In the meantime, though, they were probably wrestling the same questions any of us would be asking in their shoes:
Why is God allowing this?
Doesn’t He care?
Has He forgotten about me?
And if the stories all stopped there, those would be some fairly daunting questions without any clear answers. But the beautiful thing is that those stories don’t stop there—not at all.
* * *
For Joseph, the bigger picture wasn’t clear until he was reunited with his brothers years later. He had spent time as Potiphar’s slave; he had spent time in prison; he had spent time as Pharaoh’s second-in-command, but you can almost see the lightbulb going off as he reveals himself to the brothers who sold him into slavery all those years ago:
“But now, do not therefore be grieved or angry with yourselves because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. … And God sent me before you to preserve a posterity for you in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So now it was not you who sent me here, but God; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house, and a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt.”
(Genesis 45:5, 7-8)
It was through Joseph that God established the nation of Israel in the land of Egypt (Genesis 46:3). It was through Joseph that God saved “many people alive” (Genesis 50:20). It was through Joseph that a sizeable portion of God’s plan was set in motion.
And it all started with a pit. That miserable, hopeless pit where Joseph must have been sure that God had abandoned him. And yet God had done nothing of the sort. It was God who gave Joseph favor in Potiphar’s house; it was God who gave Joseph favor in the eyes of the prison keeper; it was God who gave Joseph favor in the court of Pharaoh. Every step of the way, God was with Joseph, bringing him toward an endgame so masterfully designed that even Joseph couldn’t see what was happening until the final stroke of the brush.
Joseph’s story did not happen by accident.
* * *
For Job, the pieces didn’t make sense until God answered out of the whirlwind. Job had lost his health, his children, and nearly all his earthly possessions. He was surrounded by “miserable comforters” (Job 16:2) who were more interested in preaching at him than consoling with him. He sat on a pile of ashes, using a potsherd to scrape at the sores covering his body (Job 2:8). In his mind, there was no doubt—no doubt at all—that God was unjustly persecuting him, and he was prepared to face God in court and prove it.
And then God spoke. He thundered out of the whirlwind: “Who is this who darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” (Job 38:2).
The next four chapters are filled with pointed questions from God, reminding Job how little he knows and how little room he has to hurl accusations against the God of the universe.
Even then, it’s not until Job’s answer that the pieces finally come together. Job replies,
I know that You can do everything,
And that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You.
You asked, ‘Who is this who hides counsel without knowledge?’
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
Listen, please, and let me speak;
You said, ‘I will question you, and you shall answer Me.’
I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear,
But now my eye sees You.
Therefore I abhor myself,
And repent in dust and ashes.
Now my eye sees You.
From the very beginning of this book—from the moment God said to Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job?” (Job 1:8)—a plan was in motion. Satan saw it as some sort of divine cockfight, a chance to shatter God’s prized servant—but God was operating on a higher level than that. When James writes about Job, he mentions “the end intended by the Lord” (James 5:11). God did not allow Satan to torment Job because He needed to prove anything to Satan. God used Satan’s appetite for destruction to refine Job, to enter into a deeper relationship with him, and to bring him to the point where he was able to say, “Now my eye sees You.” From there, “the Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning” (Job 42:12).
Job’s story did not happen by accident.
* * *
For Esther, it wasn’t until Haman’s wicked plot became known that her purpose became clear—and even then, there were some doubts. To go before the king unbidden was to gamble with life itself. Begging for the king’s intervention might well be the last thing she ever did.
It was her cousin Mordecai who put it into perspective:
If you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?
“Esther,” he was saying, “this is why you’re here. This is the moment God has been building up to for years, and you’re the one He’s using to make it happen.”
God, who “removes kings and raises up kings” (Daniel 2:21), maneuvered Queen Esther to be in the right place at the right time to save both herself and her entire nation. Not only that, but “many of the people of the land became Jews, because fear of the Jews fell upon them” (Esther 8:17). Instead of dwindling, the number of Jews in Persia actually grew.
God had a plan for Esther, and the more she followed His lead, the more He accomplished through her and through those around her, ultimately delivering His people through the woman who was brave enough to come before the king.
Esther’s story did not happen by accident.
* * *
For the blind man who sat and begged, it took a miracle before his life made sense. He was blind in a culture where any misfortune was a clear proof of sin. Who knows how many days he sat and begged for money, seeking to lessen the burden he must have been on his family’s finances. Who knows how many times he heard the derision, the merciless reminders that he was born in sin, that his condition was a just punishment and not a tragedy.
Who knows how often he struggled with those words, pondering them in the darkest corners of his heart, wondering—”Is it true? Is that all I am? A byproduct of sin?”
When the disciples saw him, they had the same question. “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2). Who’s at fault? Where do we put the blame?
Christ’s response must have silenced the crowd:
“Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him” (John 9:3).
Boom. An entire cultural misconception, shattered in a single moment. This man was born blind, not from sin, but for a purpose. For this moment. A lifetime of blindness, culminating in one extraordinary miracle that would open the eyes of not only this man, but of many who stood watching.
It was a healing that shook a community to its core. Christ didn’t just restore this man’s vision—He created it. As the blind man himself later professed, “Since the world began it has been unheard of that anyone opened the eyes of one who was born blind. If this Man were not from God, He could do nothing” (John 9:32-33).
His physical vision led him to a spiritual conclusion he was willing to accept, even when it meant banishment from the synagogue, the nexus of Jewish existence. When Jesus revealed Himself to this man as the Son of God, I doubt whether for one moment the man held any bitterness at all about the years he spent without sight. Instead, he fell to the ground to worship his Creator. It was clear now that every single one of those years had been spent leading up to this one priceless moment: seeing—and believing in—the Son of God Himself.
The blind man’s story did not happen by accident.
* * *
And that brings us, dear reader, to you.
I don’t know your story. I don’t know what kind of trials you’re going through or what kind of burdens you’re bearing. I don’t know where you’ve been or what you’ve experienced or whether all the pieces make sense yet, but I do know this:
That’s the lesson. Sometimes it doesn’t make sense until the end of the story, but there is always, always a reason. God had reasons for the moments He allowed in Joseph’s life, in Job’s life, in Esther’s and in the blind man’s.
He has reasons for the moments in yours, too.
One day, you’ll look back on your life like we look back on the lives of these four servants of God, and you’ll say, “Of course. I see it now.”
You can’t yet—and that’s okay, because God can. You don’t have the right frame of reference, not yet. You see an Earth that’s standing still—God sees an Earth that’s flying around a sun that’s flying around a galaxy that’s flying through a universe. He knows where you’re going and He knows why He’s bringing you there.
In the book of Romans, Paul writes, “But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor?” (Romans 9:20-21).
To be honest, that passage used to make me uneasy. It still does, sometimes. I think we’d all prefer to be the fancy vessels, the kind you put on display to show off to your friends—and then we encounter situations that makes us wonder if maybe we’re being fashioned into a chamber pot instead.
We’re not in a very good position to criticize God’s handiwork or cast doubt on what He’s planning in our lives. From where we are right now, it’s nearly impossible to see; nearly impossible to understand completely.
Here’s a better approach: “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing” (James 1:2-4).
There is a reason. Even if we can’t see it yet, even if it doesn’t make any sense from where we’re standing, God has a reason for everything He’s allowing in your life.
The path to second-in-command began in a pit. The path to a deeper relationship with God began on a heap of ashes. The path to queen began in a harem. The path to the revelation of God’s incredible power and perfect will began with blindness.
When these stories began, the end was clear to no one but God. When they ended, the value of every moment along the way became obvious. You will not understand your path completely until it’s over. And that’s okay. You don’t have to. Not right now. God does, and in the meantime, you can rest assured of one simple truth:
Your story is not happening by accident.
Until next time,
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