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When You Don’t Know What God Is Up To

“Reverend, I need to talk to both you and your wife about something very important. Will you follow me into surgical?”


As I heard the urgency in my wife’s surgeon’s voice, my hands involuntarily clenched the arms of my chair. With dread, I followed her into the surgical ward where my wife was being prepped for her mastectomy, and braced myself for the worst. After all, the worst is what I had come to expect over the past month and a half.

In September of 2009, with great excitement and conviction, my wife and I had planted a church in Washington, D.C., with a vision to create a place where spirituality and outreach were in healthy balance. We had gathered a wonderful group of Christians who began reaching out to the local community through outreaches and service projects, and things were going very well. That is, until December of that same year, when a biopsy revealed that my wife had triple negative breast cancer, an aggressive type of cancer that was unresponsive to the most modern treatments available. As if that wasn’t enough, our insurance company refused to pay for my wife’s surgery or treatments, calling her condition “pre-existing.” Fortunately, we were able to prove that they were wrong and forced them to re-instate her coverage. 

But you can understand why we were expecting the worst when her surgeon pulled us aside to share urgent news, just moments before my wife’s mastectomy. Our experiences over the past month had taught us to always prepare ourselves for another kick in the stomach. What would it be this time—the insurance company? Had the cancer spread? Was there some other terrible complication we could have never imagined? …

I have always been an intensely logical person. In order to have peace about something, I need to understand it, and be able to mentally justify it to some extent. And if I can’t do that, I can very quickly lose all hope. While not the best habit, I don’t think this is necessarily wrong or a sin, because after all, it was God who gave us logical minds through which we can strive to know Him. 

I turned my wife’s diagnosis over and over in my mind, and prayed repeatedly to God for some explanation as to why this was all happening to us at this particularly fragile moment in our lives … and received no satisfying response. I could not understand why God had allowed this to take place, and decided that the situation was irredeemably negative, a tragic turn of events that had no greater purpose or reason.

And because our circumstances seemed devoid of meaning, a mountain of doubt descended upon me. I doubted myself and my ability to hear God. I doubted that I was qualified to pastor a church, much less plant one. And I began to doubt God, that He cared for us, had a plan for us and could work all of these terrible circumstances for our greater good. 

I had been praying for an answer, which I did not receive. What He was about to give me instead was a hint.

Back in the surgical ward, our surgeon watched us with an inscrutable expression on her face, a mixture of both seriousness and, strangely, amusement. She then began cautiously.

“So, we took a routine blood test for your wife as we were prepping her for surgery, something we always do. But when I got the results back, I saw that her hormone levels were very strange. So we had to run some additional tests, and I just got those results back right now. Mrs. Chin, you are six weeks pregnant.”

My wife and I looked at each other, but didn’t say a thing. We simply could not wrap our minds around what we had just been told. When our surgeon saw that we had nothing intelligible to say in response, she continued.

“I don’t know what God is up to, but He is up to something, that’s for sure.” And we had to agree.

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Before this moment, my sense of peace was inextricably tied to my sense of comprehension. If I could comprehend something and justify it in some way, I had peace. But the fact is that there are many moments in life where we cannot begin to comprehend what God is doing because His ways and purposes are so much higher, larger and longer than our own, and understanding such things is a frustrating impossibility. And in those moments, what is more important than comprehension is conviction. Conviction is the measure of how much we believe something, even when we do not understand it at all. It is our ability to have faith that God is up to something, even if we haven’t the slightest idea what that “something” is.

Take Mary for example, when she discovers that she will be the mother of Jesus. "Good news!" the Angel Gabriel informs her. “Even though you’re a virgin, you’re going to be pregnant with God’s Son!” I have a feeling that Mary had no idea what this angel was talking about, and scarcely saw having a child out of wedlock as “good news.” In fact, many ancient icons that illustrate this moment depict Mary turning away from the angel, either in fear of him or his message. In the end, Mary accepts this prophecy not because she comprehends it, but instead, because she submits to it: “May it be unto me as the Lord says.” She doesn’t understand what God is up to, but she is sure that He is up to something. And that is enough for her. 

The moment that Carol and I found out about this child, we too realized that God was truly up to something. We could not even begin to fathom what that “something” was, not any more than Mary comprehended that her Son would eventually redeem all of humanity through His death and resurrection. For once, my need for comprehension took a backseat to the power of conviction. In that brief moment, while my mind gasped for oxygen, my heart knew God was doing something far too crazy and wonderful for us to wrap our minds around. And through this, I finally was able to put aside some of the fears and doubts under which I had been buried.

I still am a man of logic who often uses his mind to the best of his ability to comprehend the world that God has created. But I now also know the importance of conviction, which is so necessary in the moments where we cannot begin to fathom what God is up to … which is nearly all the time.

Peter Chin is a former church planter who lives in the Washington, D.C., area with his wife and three children—with one more on the way. He is working on publishing a book about his family’s journey through church planting and cancer. You can read his blog at www.peterwchin.com.

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