Get a Bigger Frame
The phone rang. We had been sitting on pins and needles. It was our son, Jack. "Get Mom on the line," he said. "It's a girl, Alison Beatrice!" It yet hardly seems real. We have a grandchild. After having three sons, our first grandchild is a girl, and she's named for my mother, Beatrice. We went to San Francisco, and held a three-hour-old baby. New life. My world is now changed. It has expanded to include a granddaughter. To reinforce the new reality, our church staff held a surprise grandparents' party and showered us with delightful baby gifts for us to keep in our house. My world has expanded.
I need a bigger frame, conscious again of how our neat little frames of reference tend to become narrow and inadequate when joy or sorrow come along. In dealing with life's complexities, the human tendency is to make a frame of reference too small. Where we search for understanding and assimilation is within what is called a "frame of reference." A frame of reference is the circumscribed area in the mind where we hold certain principles, perceptions and beliefs. This frame of reference is formed from our social status, religion, politics, nationality, family values and traditions, personal experiences, etc. From this cultural mix we form a frame of reference and order our lives according to how the problems and challenges of life fit into that framework. And the tendency is to make our frame of reference too small.
The frame of reference in which we had the Soviet Union and communism neatly filed under "evil empire" and "No. 1 Enemy" is no longer adequate. We need a bigger frame. How exciting to live in these changing times, and to hear President Bush propose cutbacks in nuclear weapons.
Most of us Americans of European descent need a bigger frame in order to understand American history. We were taught American history began with Columbus' arrival 499 years ago. Next year we observe the 500th anniversary of Columbus discovering America. Our frame of reference needs to be enlarged. There was an America already here. Actually, in Minnesota I was taught that the Vikings preceded Columbus by 500 years. Lief Ericson, we believe, even reached Minnesota via the Great Lakes. National Geographic magazine has begun an excellent series on America before Columbus and the Vikings. How arrogant of us to act as if history began with our ancestors. Americans need a bigger frame.
The story of Job was written by an author who was convinced that the popular frame of reference of his day was much too narrow and inadequate to deal with tragedy. Popular theology then, and it is still with us today, believed that good is rewarded and evil is punished. Therefore, when illness or death strike, agonizing questions are asked: Why do the righteous suffer? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why do the good die young? What did he/she do to deserve such treatment? Why are they being punished? Life is unfair, they conclude. The author of Job cries, "Your frame of reference is too small. Get a bigger frame!"
Job was a good man, a righteous man. Yet, he lost his oxen, donkeys, sheep, camels, and servants. His children died, and ugly sores like boils appeared all over his body. His friends and wife tried to counsel him using the old, inadequate frame of reference, "Surely you must have done something to cause this misfortune." Job disagreed, and deiscovered a bigger frame.
A frame of reference is big enough when tragedy, illness, death, and failure in job, dreams, goals, marriage, family are perhaps not understood fully, but are handled confidently, successfully, and faithfully.
Job expanded his frame of reference beyond the simple "good is rewarded and evil is punished" theology. Job began to see himself in relation to the wonder, awe and majesty of God and creation. He responded with humility and worship. In humility, he acknowledged his dependence upon God. 42:3, "I have uttered what I did not understand; things too wonderful for me, which I did not know."
Job fell on the ground and worshiped. 1:21, "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return there; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord." Toward the end of the book, after in-depth conversations with his friends, wife, and the Lord, Job exclaimed, 42:5-6, "I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes." Job worshiped. He acknowledged his human inadequacies and dependence on God, and entered into a new relationship with God, a relationship of wonder, awe, praise, and gratitude. Consequently, he looked at life from within the frame of reference of worship.
Jesus told us to love God. Loving God begins with worship. Worship is an adequate frame of reference from which to deal with life, its complexities, joys, and sorrows. Within the context of worship--praise, gratitude, confession of sin, acknowledgement of our humanness, and awareness of our dependence upon our Creator--we can cope with what life deals us in confidence and faithfulness.
Today we dedicate our excellent choirs. Great music in worship helps us expand our limited experience. Sometimes music can transport us out of ourselves into the presence and splendor of God. Classes and sermons, hopefully, are not just comforting but expand our frames of reference, by giving us new ideas and stretching our theology.
An adequate frame of reference gives hope, confidence, and direction, even when there are no answers. Answers are not always possible. How would you make sense out of the suicide of your 18-year-old son? Herbert Chilstrom was bishop of the former Lutheran Church in America, Minnesota Synod, when his son Andrew shot himself to death. Bishop Chilstrom said, "I cannot describe my grief, nor can I comprehend Andrew's motives for taking his own life." A reporter for the Minneapolis Star and Tribune asked the bishop how he coped with such a tragedy. The bishop said he responded within the framework of the Christian faith, and explained,
Christians are not known for giving up. History shows that Christians are at their best when everything else is at its worst. When others have given up, it is the Christians who say, "We will find a way through the darkness." The place to go within that framework of faith is to the origin of our faith. While Roman Catholics go on pilgrimages to Rome and Lutherans to Wittenberg, there is one pilgrimage that they and all Christians can take together. That pilgrimage is to Jerusalem, to the foot of the cross and the door of the empty tomb. Here we can stand, grasping the hands of one another and testifying to the world with one voice. We believe that God still loves the world. We believe that the future is in God's hands. And because we believe, we will work and pray--and we will have hope.
How big is your frame of reference? Can your frame of reference handle problems, failure, illness and death? Can it handle joy? If not get a bigger frame. With Job, consider humility and worship. Bow before the foot of the cross, humbly acknowledge your human inadequacies, and worship the Creator in praise, gratitude, confession, commitment and joy.
© 1991 Douglas I. Norris