“Consider the work of God: who can make straight what he has made crooked?” (Ecclesiastes 7:13).
Wait a minute—God makes things crooked? I thought we were the crooked ones. This chapter in Ecclesiastes hints at that very fact: “God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes” (v. 29). “Upright” reaches up to God, as we were made to do, striding through the earth on two feet, living life as life was first conceived in the Maker’s mind. But “many schemes” branched off wildly from the original scheme of making our world a little better—for us. He pronounced it very good. Under the serpent’s prompting, Eve looked around and thought, “But it could be better. Just a little. It’s a very nice garden and all, but if I can’t eat this fruit, then my snaky friend may be right. God is keeping something from me.”
Or she may have rationalized: “What if it’s a test? God lay down the prohibition to see if we were bold and independent enough to cross that line. To see if we deserved to be equal with Him. That must be it! Our status now is like junior partners, but surely He wants us to grow and develop into autonomous beings like Himself. Sure, that’s it.”
Obviously that wasn’t it. Independence did not work out as expected, and instead of exhilaration the man and his wife experienced shame and fear, and another consequence we bump into every day: complication. From now on almost nothing would work out according to expectation, and every plan would require a Plan B. “Why can’t things be simpler?” we cry. In vocation, procreation, and relationship, the vast human endeavor that began with a bad decision becomes more tangled with every generation.
What’s a Creator to do when the creation makes itself crooked with many schemes? It seems there are two ways to proceed: Destroy the whole show and start over, or untangle the knot. If you’ve ever tried to straighten out a box full of wires from a dismantled sound system, or a skein of expensive yarn that the kids have been making spider webs with, you know that further tangling may be required before you locate the loose ends and start working them back the way they came. You have to, in a sense, enter the knot, get your personal fingers involved and feel through it. And that’s exactly what God did: entered the knot, and worked the crookedness into His own plan.
Meanwhile man schemes on, under the illusion of making his path smooth and straight. We’d like to re-enter the garden, and sometimes we seem to be getting close: all the food we can eat at little cost, unprecedented ease, unlimited options. It took millennia to get here, and we got here by thinking straight from what we want to how to achieve it, by building on former accomplishments, and by overcoming complications. “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens.” Let us eliminate drudgery, slavery, common diseases that cut lives too short. And of course there’s no problem with that agenda, as long as it’s accompanied by reverence.
But once reverence falls away, straight paths become perverse: Come, let us eliminate work, commitment, all obstacles to individual happiness. In other words, reprogram the natural order. Productive work and mutually dependent, complementary relationships with God and each other are what we were made for. No good comes of shortcutting those in pursuit of our individual notions of happiness—a goal that appears to undergird much of U.S. domestic policy these days. The result will be more and more crookedness.
But the next time your plans are thwarted, even in godly goals, remember this: The straight path to God was blocked by an angel with a flaming sword. Now our only way up is down, our only hope of self-fulfillment lies in self-denial, our sanctification follows a twisted course, wherein we discover the steps of Jesus.