When we read John 6, sometimes we Calvinists tend to race down to verse 44. But let's slow up a bit and not rush by this:
Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, "Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?" 6 He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. (John 6:5-6)On one level, I think we can look at this as a charming little story: dumb disciple, amazing Lord, big miracle. Cool! Jesus is great and powerful. Can we do verse 44 now?
When we read it that way, we feel no connection whatever between ourselves and the story itself. Which one of us has ever been in this situation? None of us. We've never been physically standing with Jesus, in immediate communication with Him; never been faced with a huge obstacle, and had Him verbally ask us, one-on-one, what we propose to do about it. Never. Huge gap between the Then and the Now, the There and the Here.
So let's step 'way back and paint the situation with a very broad brush:
- A disciple is pursuing God's will
- Providence puts a difficulty on his plate
- The difficulty is insurmountable
- He must make a decision
"Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?", Jesus asks.
Today, we'd say reverently that Jesus' question was a trick-question. Not deceptive or insincere; but effective on two levels. Jesus means to teach Philip something, and He has to put him in a test-spot to do it. So Jesus in effect takes Himself out of the lead, approaches Philip as if He were observing the situation (instead of controlling it), and makes Philip deal with it.
Now, has that ever happened to us? "In the last five minutes, no," you say. "But before that, oh, about a zillion times."
Indeed yes. We're not pursuing sin in a brothel, or selling our souls to land a book-contract to peddle heresy, or waiting to rob a liquor store. We're doing something within God's will — preaching the Word, raising our children, loving our wives, doing our jobs. And then Providence drops a knotty dilemma on our plate, with no divine answer in sight.
"What are you going to do about this?", comes the question. How do we field it? Do we panic, because the train is clearly off the tracks? Do we lose all hope, all faith? Do we approach the situation as if we were indeed facing it alone, as it seems to the naked eye?
Well, look: if it weren't hard, it wouldn't be a test, would it? Do you build muscles by hefting a piece of typing paper, or by groaning over something that taxes your strength?
Nor do we grow as disciples by easy-answer situations. We grow by dealing with dilemmas, insolubles, dead-ends.
Are there promises of God's goodness, His kindness, His sovereignty, His invincible benevolence towards His elect? Is He panicked? Has He already made provision, in His eternal plan? Is there not, even in this "trick" question, a subtle hint: "Where are we to buy bread?" Philip isn't actually alone in the situation. Will he deal with it as if he were, or will he factor Jesus into the solution?
And so, in our situation: has God granted to us exceedingly great and precious promises to hold onto?
Now's the time to reach for them. The hopelessness of the situation is the illusion; the promises are the reality.
This dilemma that Providence has posed — it's a trick-question.
Careful how you answer.