When I was in my pre-teen years, somewhere around ten to twelve years old, I would spend a lot of time hiking, exploring and fishing at the creek that snaked through our town. One summer day I determined to go fishing for the entire day. My plan was to bring home a massive stringer of fish. The previous day there was a hard rain, almost as if God was on my wavelength. So the night before, I picked night crawlers and had a slew of the juicy critters ready for my excursion.
I set out the next day first thing in the morning with my backpack stocked with bait, fishing tackle and my lunch; and I headed off for an expectant day of fishing. I was ready for a big haul.
These days the same creek contains trout, salmon, and an array of other eatable fish. However, at the time of this story, my creek and all the other streams that flowed into Lake Erie, as well as the lake itself were quite polluted and the game fish yield was very limited. No trout or salmon would have survived in the lake or its tributaries at that time. In fact, anyone fishing in the creek back then could only hope to catch the only kind of fish able to survive the polluted waters, a trash fish we called chubs. The only thing they were good for was bait for catching Muskie and Northern Pike in the more inland lakes that were much cleaner.
But that didn’t dampen my enthusiasm one bit. Catching the common chub was an adventure for a boy my age even if the prize was only the fun of the catch. Some people even ate them. However, there were rumors that if you did, you might grow a third eye.
I set out that day with high expectations. I fished up and down the creek. I knew of every hole that was chub-filled, and every spot that contained an especially sizable prize, even though chubs seldom reached more than about ten inches in length.
I fished all day. But I never even got a bite. Not one. I could see the critters swimming playfully in the running waters. But I couldn’t coax a single one to even nibble on my line. I tried every bait I had and every trick I knew; but still, no luck.
So I prayed. I prayed hard. Then I prayed even harder. I was desperate. I tried promises. I said, “Lord, if you will let me catch even one fish, I will serve you wholeheartedly. I’ll even go into the ministry.” Apparently He took me up on that; but still, no fish.
I was to the point of atheism. After all, how could there be a God if someone makes the kind of promises I made, and He doesn’t respond to them with an answer to their prayers?
At the end of my exasperation, I saw some boys down the creek fishing for chubs as well. As I drew closer, I noticed they were kids that everyone my age knew were pretty bad. There were three of them. And all three, though they were only twelve; smoked, drank beer, and used language a sailor would blush at. And they weren’t holding back on my account. They even appeared to be drunk.
As I approached them, I could see what seemed to be a large stringer of fish. Sure enough, they sported a huge catch of chubs made up of all sizes, shapes and colors. I looked at the fish and their captors in amazement trying to make sense of the scene before me. Then, to add insult to injury, they made fun of my lack of success with lewd language and typical adolescent put downs.
As I stood there, the blood in my veins began to rise in temperature until it reached the boiling point. At which time I packed up my gear, made my way to the nearest path to the top of the gorge, hit the first road I could find, and stomped home thoroughly aggravated. But I wasn’t disgusted with these boys. I was extremely and sincerely disgusted with God.
When I entered my house, I threw my supplies onto the floor and shouted, “Ma!”
She was upstairs cleaning. When she answered I pounded my feet up the stairs and unloaded on her.
I demanded, “How come kids who don’t serve God at all, and who are the worse sinners in the whole entire world, catch all kinds of fish, and I don’t catch anything? They were drinking beer, getting drunk, smoking cigarettes, and taking God’s name in vain, and they didn’t just catch a few fish. They caught a lot of fish and a lot of big fish. I fished all day long. And I prayed all day long. I never cussed even once. I go to church all the time and I’m trying to live for God. And I didn’t catch one fish. Not one. If there even is a God, I don’t like the way He does things. Why did he let them catch fish and not me?”
My mother pondered the situation and answered simply, “Maybe he knows that they aren’t going to get to go to heaven. So He is letting them have their fun now.”
Now, as a minister, looking back, this was some pretty questionable theology; especially knowing that these boys could repent at some point, become Christians, and make heaven with flying colors. However, when my mother said this, it calmed my childlike heart. For some reason, it made sense to me. I actually went away from her explanation, feeling sorry for and praying for these boys.
Her idea suggested God’s compassion. It implied that God had heard my prayers. It didn’t exclude God’s miraculous power. It inferred His watchful care over me and them. It included His existence and His sovereignty. And it caused me to feel compassion for these boys. Was her theology really that bad? What do you think?