Pundits love to tout the virtue of perspective. So, we start with the Apostle Paul’s in 2 Tim. 4:10-11 (his swan song from Rome): “…for Demas, having loved this present world, has deserted me…Only Luke is with me.” Some of our disappointments merit eye-rolling only. Take the person who annoyingly refers to the last Bible book as “Revelations.” Our ire goes up a notch if the Rapture is discounted or cults are declared “Christian” because of their family values. We are shocked when a believer’s Facebook posts contain four-letter words or promote silly COVID-19 conspiracies. We want to tear out our hair when pastors defy state law against large gatherings and their sheep arrogantly tell the media they can’t get the virus because Jesus told them so.
Nehemiah’s swan song in chapter 13 hits harder, “And I was very angry and threw all the household furniture of Tobiah out…So I remonstrated with the officials…Then I remonstrated with the nobles…And I contended with them and cursed them and beat some of them and pulled out their hair…” (13:8;11;17;25). Still, the very last sentence reads, “Remember me, O my God, for good.” Given permission by the king to leave Babylon and return to rebuild Jerusalem’s wall, he had accomplished the feat in 52 days. The penitent Nehemiah’s confession in chapter 9 should hit closest to home.
Ezra had returned from exile first and performed his duties with exemplary dedication as well. He was shocked to learn that many Jews, the elite among them, had spurned God’s explicit law by marrying local pagan women. “And when I heard about this matter, I tore my garment and my robe, and pulled some of the hair from my head and my beard…” (Ezra 9:3). One more difference between the two post-exilic leaders might be worth noting. Nehemiah had requested passports and accepted Babylonian escorts for the homebound journey, while Ezra declined such from fear of showing lack of trust in the “good hand of the LORD” (Ezra 8:22; Nehemiah 2:7;9).
Cookie-cutter personalities are clearly not mandated by God. So, where He appoints, can His grace redeem what disappoints? Paul was thankful that Luke was still with him, but added, “Pick up Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for service.” This is the future gospel writer and the past “John Mark” of Acts 15:37-39, who abruptly left Paul and Barnabas in Pamphylia. The latter wanted him to rejoin the missionary team, while Paul coldly wrote off the deserter for good. “And there was such a sharp disagreement that they separated…” and – guess what? – God’s kingdom kept advancing spectacularly. From that perspective, can I swallow my pride and trust that even a pandemic and problematic people will serve His holy purpose to a glorious end?