By: Dr. Ian Murphy
I was once getting ready for a job interview in the restroom, using the mirror to fix my hair, when I noticed there were no urinals.
“That’s odd,” I thought, “a men’s room with only stalls.”
Then I noticed the walls were pink. The weirdest of all was when a couple of girls came out of the stalls and started fixing their hair in the same mirror, giggling. I smiled politely, figuring that the women’s restroom either must be under maintenance or too crowded. Then the epiphany: I was the one in the wrong place. I was the one who was upside-down.
Just as I wondered why the supposed men’s room had pink walls, we can look at the world around us and wonder why certain things are the way they are, observing that parts of this place seem strange. The reason certain things about this world look peculiar is because we’re in the wrong place—a fallen world, as opposed to the paradise God intended. As the Bible reveals the grace that is available to save us, it continually takes our disordered understanding and flips it onto its head, in order to turn us straight. In other words, theBible is filled with accounts of backwards human understanding getting turned right-side-up—getting reversed.
TheKing of all Kings is born in a manger (Luke 2:7)
At Christmas, God’s mighty, angelic host celebrates with shepherds instead of society’s elite (Luke 2:8–20).
“A person’s pride will bring humiliation, but one who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor” (Prov 29:23).
The meek inherit the earth (Mt 5:5).
“But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first” (Mt 19:30).
Resurrection life comes through crucifixion brokenness (Mark 15–16).
“Claiming to be wise, they became fools” (Rom 1:22).
Prostitutes enter God’s kingdom ahead of scribes (Mt 21:31).
In dying to self, we find life (Luke 9:24).
On Jesus’ birthday, we receive the birthday present (Isaiah 7:14; 9:6).
In fact, the unfolding of salvation history is one giant narrative of reversal!In our current, limited understanding, one might expect the Bible to be about covenantal heroes from beginning to end—akin to what we find in the religious texts of Greek mythology. Indeed, when humankind tries to create gods after their own image, we get figures like Hercules. The Bible is different. It’s anything but what we’d expect.
The Bible is definitely not about perfect models of saintly behavior. Noah gets drunk and naked. Sarah hooks up Abraham with their slave girl, Hagar, until Sarah gets jealous and Hagar bolts. Rebekah teams up with Jacob to deceive Isaac. Uncle Laban is a con man who tricks Jacob into marrying the ugly daughter. Joseph’s brothers throw him into a well. King David has a soldier killed to steal the man’s wife.
Then there’s Jesus’s dream team of disciples, which is a sight to behold. The group includes a thieving tax collector, a racist who hates people from Nazareth, and a cowardly fisherman as just a few of the members of this motley crew. In addition, James and John are nicknamed the sons of thunder, referring in part to their father’s reputation for his temper. In fact, the only disciple with a decent resume by the kingdom of this world’s standards was Judas Iscariot.
No wonder the disciples were all so confused. They expected to see a Messiah who came blazing in with the armies of heaven to dethrone Caesar. But a military display of superior might was not the agency of Christ’s triumph over all powers of darkness. The triumph came through a crucifixion. And our salvation comes from the Lord’s broken body.
Talk about backwards. Salvation history unfolds through the most dysfunctional lot of folks around—according to earthly wisdom, that is. It all looks so backwards from our vantage point. Yet these reversals reveal the truth that God is the Maestro who plays his symphony through broken instruments.
If you think about it, it makes sense that the Word of God would be filled with reversals. To explain, if the Almighty Creator is truly communicating to his creation through his relationships with human beings, then we should expect that God’s messages would transcend human expectations. It makes sense that inspired communication from the infinite God would take the shortsighted understanding of finite human beings and flip it on its head. If your relationship with the Lord has you feeling as though God is turning your whole life upside-down, it may be a sign that you’re right where you’re supposed to be.
Reversal are thus a conduit of tremendous hope and power. They indicate that the Word of God is revealing heavenly truths that transcend what we can presently see and understand. They signify that God’s ways and thoughts are higher than our own. Reversals resound that we live by faith, not by sight, looking forward to joys that no heart has conceived. They announce that the Lord is the Redeemer who takes the worst and makes it the best. Reversals remind us to trust that God knows what he’s doing. They inspire us not to tell God how big the storm is—but to tell the storm how big our God is.