What’s Next (Part 2)

Weeks of isolation drag on, masks become symbols of either submission or rebellion, death tolls mount. My “What’s next, Papa?” query takes on less ebullient faith and more plaintive whine as the weeks pass. Let’s face it: we—especially we who live in the Western world—aren’t especially resilient during long haul tough times. We want easy access answers: take a pill, stop the spread, answer my prayer…NOW!

“What’s next, Papa?” is not a question we may honestly want to ask. I remember receiving a letter from my mother less than a year after our son died. She wrote about her husband’s declining health and my immediate—unstated but nonetheless piercing—response: “NO! I can’t take this again so soon.” Or maybe you live in a long haul, no-easy-answers situation like my friend whose adult daughter’s mental state swoops from black depths to manic highs. Though living in the same house, my friend hasn’t heard “I love you, Mom” or relationship-enhancing words in years.

I’m re-reading Philip Yancey’s Reaching for the Invisible God. Perhaps you have never experienced doubt about God—or you have never allowed yourself to experience doubt, a condition perhaps more toxic—but Yancey’s honest probing about his own struggle sheds important light on how we approach the “what’s next?” question. Yes, I know and firmly believe that to “see” God we need look at Jesus (John 14:9), but I find consolation in my own timidity when I read, “In books like Job, Ecclesiastes, and Habakkuk, the Bible poses blunt questions that have no answers.” And giants of the faith like Luther, Moody, missionary C.F. Andrews and Bible characters Sarah, Jacob, Jeremiah, Thomas, Martha, Peter and others asked penetrating questions. Often with no answers.

Just this morning I quietly asked, “What’s next, Papa?” No lightning emblazoned answer appeared on the wall. In fact, I heard no answer. But then I recalled the words Oswald Chambers saw carved into the wood lintel at the exit of a small church in England: Do ye the next thyng. And so I sat down to write, soon I’ll make a quick (masked!) visit to the grocery store, return to more mundane tasks and rest tonight in the assurance that God—the invisible God—and I have walked together in harmony.

What’s Next?

In my pre-shower, pre-coffee, befuddled morning state, I press the power button on the small radio, pre-tuned to my favorite station. As a long-time listener, I recognize the voices broadcasting news from world, country, state and community. Lately the information hasn’t been particularly uplifting, but at least this station offers little editorializing so—while I don’t hear butterflies-and-rainbows commentary or its gloom and doom opposite—at least it’s usually factual. I want to be well informed, and the commentaries—especially weather reports for Colorado’s storm-prone summer afternoons—often influence my daily activities and my mental meanderings during those activities.

Recently when shower and coffee had completed their morning rejuvenation purpose, I opened my Bible to the eighth chapter of Romans. (If you’re not familiar with the Bible, that’s the sixth book of the New Testament.) In these paragraphs, the Apostle Paul described for the Christians of Rome what I call a freely-walking-with-Christ-life. No longer weighed down by penalty of the Law (which no one could keep anyhow), Paul says that “there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.”

Sidebar: Romans 8:1 became, and continues to be, a personal lifegiving whisper of long sought freedom. But more about that some other time.

As Paul is wont to do, he goes on at some length😏 to lay a superb theological foundation for all that Christ did on the cross to purchase our freedom. Many translations render Paul’s sound message with  introductory words and phrases (all important of course) that I could wade through more easily if I’d pay closer attention to sentence parsing during my grade school days at Patchin School in Michigan. But instead of simply skipping over the magnificent truth of Romans eight until I had time for deeper study, I opened Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase in The Message.

Many of us are familiar with the usually translated words, by him (the Holy Spirit) we cry, ‘Abba, Father’ (Romans 8: 15) and even stand in awe at the implied intimacy with God since “Abba” was the Aramaic equivalent of “Daddy” as a familiar form of address. “Abba, Father.” A profound phrase that leaves my spirit quiet, humble, grateful.

But with his skill as a scholar and preacher, Peterson “lays it out” in language too clear to misunderstand or ignore. Here’s what he writes: God’s Spirit beckons. There are things to do and places to go! This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?”

“WHAT’S NEXT, PAPA??!” How do you read those words? What’s your tone of voice? What emotions surface as you say them aloud? How can we read them in the midst of pandemic, rioting, global uncertainty? As the morning news influences my day, how might “What’s next, Papa?” impact my day?

And that’s where I leave you for now! If you care to respond, send me a note at mj.ehle@comcast.net, or just let the question simmer with you for a few days. I’ll be back…