Sometimes we may reasonably wonder why we were born into a world such as this, but that is not the meaning of my question, "Why did God send me here?" The world we live in may look crazy, but since no man ever had any choice in parentage or place of birth, it is only beating the air to pose problem questions that will always remain unanswerable in this life. It is after our lives begin to run their course, and we find ourselves caught up in the inexorable laws that govern everyday existence, that millions of men cry out: "Why did God send me here? Why did this have to happen to me?"
One of my most interesting recent Christian contacts was with a young European woman exiled from her homeland. She found herself in a refugee camp, and amid the sometimes-demoralizing futility and loneliness of it all, she said she often wondered why God had brought it all upon her. But even if her own actions had contributed to her situation, she could not dismiss the thought of divine purpose even in her darkest days. Eventually she found herself alone and penniless in the New World and her faith was tested in a new way. A brighter Christian, a more simple faith, I have not seen in many years. She probably will never see her people again. She started life anew with nothing but faith, began a nursing course in a foreign tongue, and is slowly acquiring a new circle of friends. You could not shake this young woman's faith in God's presence and purpose through all her trials. However, not all cases shine as bright as this one.Some years ago a distraught mother of two almost uncontrollable teen-age boys assured me that everything was wrong in her life because God was not with her. She was sure she had married the wrong man, and therefore God had forsaken her. "Don't you know," I asked, "that Christians have been marrying non-Christians since the days of Jesus?
Don't you know that God does not leave us when we make mistakes, and that the New Testament has a solution for things that God permits but does not order?" Then I read this: "A woman who has a heathen husband willing to live with her must not divorce her husband. For the heathen husband now belongs to God through his Christian wife, and the heathen wife through her Christian husband. Otherwise your children would not belong to God, whereas in fact they do" (1 Cor. 7:13, 14, N.E.B.).*
"You all belong to God," I said. "He does not let us go when we make mistakes. Go back to your church, make home and mother and wife mean more than they ever meant before, and let God work things out. His grace is your sufficiency." Two years later one son married a Christian girl and the father went to the wedding where a watchful minister made his acquaintance and never let him go. Father, mother, son, and his wife are now all happy in the church and conscious that a divine purpose overshadows them.
These two cases are only types in a world full of people who wonder why they are where they are and what to do about it.
If we read the Bible with relevance there is a really human story in Paul's letter to his fellow worker Titus, who lived in Crete, but who probably would have preferred life elsewhere. Titus was a pagan convert to Christianity, and he had lived in Antioch, Jerusalem, Corinth—all civilized centers in their time. Then he apparently entered upon arduous missionary labors in Dalmatia (modern Yugoslavia) and in Crete.
Crete in those days must have possessed a high average in basic human weaknesses. Paul quotes a local prophet as saying: " 'Cretans were always liars, vicious brutes, lazy gluttons'—and he told the truth!" (Titus 1:12, N.E.B.).* That was a tough environment to live in, but read the whole chapter, what Christians ought to be, compared with what too many Cretans were.
Titus lived among overbearing, short-tempered people, drinkers, brawlers, moneygrubbers. When Paul has to say that Christian leaders—and Titus was to train and ordain them for service (Titus 1:5)—must not be drunken brawlers and "not given to filthy lucre," we may be sure that the early Christian church sometimes had some pitiful money-loving, inebriated persons to deal with, and they were a sore trial to men such as Titus.
Add to all this, false teachings, scandalmongering, low-principled old men and women, unchaste, unkind, gadabout young women, drunken young men of violent disposition—and Crete wasn't exactly an island of peaceful, Elysian delights for a Christian minister!
Dr. Thomas H. Keir, from whom my title is borrowed, is probably right in thinking that the Epistle to Titus is an answer to a letter written by Titus to Paul about these trying conditions. He wonders aloud whether Titus had written along these lines:
"Why did God send me here to Crete? This is not a 'desirable parish.' It would take years and years of sweated labour—and you know very well the Church is not a good employer—to make anything of the place. The Cretans are a miserable lot, cheats, liars, drunken, and pretty foulmouthed . . .
The remainder can be imagined, but Thomas Keir leaves that in order to say what is to me a delightful thing.
We can only guess at the contents of Titus' letter. We do have Paul's reply. Paul says in effect:
"Dear Titus—my true son in the faith, you ask why you are posted to Crete? Because there is so much 1\ rong in Crete that needs to be put right! Yes, everybody knows about the Cretans—they are a byword for every kind of vice. What you say is all too true. But that's why you are there—to show them the kind of character Christ creates through faith in Him."—The Word Is Worship, p. 14.
This is all well-founded on the actual words of Paul: "This is why I left you in Crete, that you might amend what was defective, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you" (Titus 1:5, R.S.V.). The qualities required in Christian leaders are outlined in this chapter, and the succeeding chapter speaks about the kind of people Christians ought to be. It was the proclamation of the "sound doctrine" of the gospel that was to change even pagan Cretans into men and women who lived "soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ" (Titus 2:12, 13).
I once worked for a short time in a naval shipyard where thirteen thousand men were employed. As a young Christian I found myself in a new and tough place where Christian principles were not easily maintained. I soon found a few more professing Christians there, and became acquainted with a fine man who was a well-read Methodist lay preacher. To this older man I conveyed my dislike of the environment in which we worked. He dropped his slide rule and drawing pen on his draftsman's board, looked at me as he placed his hand on my shoulder. "Harry.' he said, "that's why you, Jim West, a few other believers, and I are here!"
A few days later I heard him talking earnestly to some scoffers. Then I noted how unruffled and patient he was under the provocation of the ungodly. Soon he became something of a hero to me, and I understood that I had not just drifted into that place. God had a purpose for my presence there, though I did not see it clearly till later.
His first purpose was, I am sure, to make a timid young man face up to the basic necessity of Christian witness. What tragic delays in God's program for the world have ensued because Christians have not borne a witness that is consistent, courageous, and sustained throughout the ages. For example, in Paul's day personal witness had carried Christianity into most of the known world. There were many churches all along the North African Coast, and the logical course was for Christian witness to spread through Egypt, Ethiopia, and indeed the whole of Africa. Instead, the fires of missionary zeal burned low. The Christian church lost interest in the heathen continent, and erstwhile Christian churches disappeared. Today Africa may well become Mohammedan rather than Christian.
The second purpose I discovered for my presence among these worldly men was that I might meet a man. An old and saintly man took an interest in me, and through him I found Christ as I had never known Him before. Indirectly, this old man who led me closer to "the man, Christ Jesus" had a part in my leaving my environment to take training for the ministry and the mission field. I have not escaped problems and trials such as come to all men, and I have many times wondered why God sent me here and there, and why this happened and that. But always as I faced my problems I have heard that voice: "That's why you are there! My grace is sufficient."
* Texts credited to N.E.B. are from The New English Bible. The Delegates of the Oxford University Press and the Syndics of the Cambridge University Press 1961.