Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Most High Ruleth

In the book of Daniel in the Old Testament two stories are recorded about God’s intervention in the affairs of men. The first story told about Nebuchadnezzar, the great king of the Babylonian empire, who was driven from his throne by madness and spent seven years in the wilderness eating grass like oxen. The second story describes Belshazzar, the son of Nebuchadnezzar, who hosted a large drunken party and used the golden vessels from God’s temple. He watched in terror as a large hand wrote a message of judgment on the wall.

In both cases Daniel explained to these men why God was doing this: “........ until thou know that the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever He will.” Daniel 4:32

This lesson must be important because it is repeated almost word for word at least four times in this book alone. The assumption can also be made that it must be a difficult lesson for man to learn. This is not surprising when I look at the classes that I teach here at the Christian school in the Dominican Republic. The students have been friends with each other for years and the Dominican culture is famous for its fondness of social events. So in my classroom it is difficult for them to learn one of my cardinal rules: “Math class is not a social event!”

The assumption that it is a hard lesson to learn is also not surprising when I look at my own life. How many times in the last month have I been angry or dejected simply because events didn’t turn out the way I had planned? Indeed, the fact that God is in charge of His universe and decides what He wants to do is something we all need to learn on a consistent basis as long as we are alive. Jeremiah was trying to express this, I believe, when he prayed:

“O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself: It is not
in man that walketh to direct his steps. O Lord, correct me,
but with judgment; not in Thine anger, lest Thou bring me to
nothing.” Jeremiah 10:23, 24

In my judgment this is exactly what happened this past week during my daughter’s court case. As most of my readers know, our daughter has been in a Dominican prison for the last 3 ½ years. Our prayer from the beginning was for God to use us to help her in any way that we could. God eventually opened the door for me to teach at a small Christian school in the Dominican Republic and we have been living here for the last 8 months. A basic rule of probation in the DR is to allow a prisoner freedom when half the sentence has been served if she has a place to live and a person to employ her. We moved here in order to satisfy the first condition.

The date for her parole request occurred two days ago on Thursday March 26th. Her papers were in order, both prosecuting attorney and defense attorney showed up, and the judge sat on the bench with about 50 people crowded into the small court room which had seats for only 25. The stage was set for something we had prayed for and anticipated for over 3 ½ years.

Three ladies in the women’s Bible study that Carol attends accompanied us to San Cristóbal, the small town outside of the capital city where the courthouse is located. One of the ladies volunteered to transport us in her car along the two hour journey from Santiago to the courthouse. If you know anything about the condition of the roads in a third world country and the woeful lack of appropriate signs, this in itself was a miracle of grace that we arrived at 8:58 a.m. --- two minutes before the proceedings were scheduled.

When we entered the court room we saw an austere looking female guard standing next to our daughter who was seated and handcuffed to another woman prisoner. She was dressed in pale green dress pants and a matching flowered blouse that she had borrowed from an inmate friend and greeted us with a hug and joyful countenance. My first thought when I saw her was that this lovely young woman is a direct result of God’s grace.

Shortly after she was incarcerated she came to grips with the claim that Jesus Christ had on her life. When she repented of her sins and was marvelously converted she literally became a new creature. Her testimony continues to be “I came to prison to find my freedom.” But on this day we were all expecting her to be literally set free.

After an hour of waiting for the hearing to start a man told us all in Spanish to rise. Dressed in a black robe and black hat shaped like a round 2-layer cake with a purple pom-pom on the top, the judge took his seat and we all sat down to commence the hearings.

Several prisoners were waiting with their lawyers and “garantes” to present their request before the judge. As the uniformed bailiff called out a name, each prisoner was released from his handcuffs and approached the bench while both lawyers stood. The prisoner had to stand on an unmarked position directly in front of the judge who sat behind an elevated bench about six feet away. Near the judge’s gavel stood a wooden crucifix about 8 inches tall directly in the line of sight between the judge and the prisoner. It was a solemn reminder of how much God values justice.

At the request of the judge the prisoner spoke for a few minutes and then faced the prosecuting attorney who usually had a few questions. Then he sat down while this process was repeated with the “garante” ... the person who guarantees a job and puts up bail money for the time that the prisoner is released for the remainder of his sentence.

After the “garante” sat down, the prosecuting attorney (with a black robe and a blue pom-pom on his hat) and the defense attorney (with a black robe and white pom-pom on her hat) presented their case to the judge. Then with a bang of his gavel, the judge made a decision and called for the next case.

Our daughter was the third prisoner to be called forward. What ensued was to me a most remarkable scene. Up to this point the proceeding sort of resembled my classroom in some of my nightmares during the week before school starts each year. More people were standing than were seated. It was so crowded that they were literally stepping on one another. Cell phones were ringing; people were murmuring in hushed tones, lawyers droned on in a dutiful monotone voice that I couldn’t have understood even if he did speak louder.

When Paul in the book of Acts was arrested he used his times in court as an opportunity to share his testimony. Our daughter decided to do the same thing. When she began to speak, the entire room was suddenly very quiet. At least 50 people heard about the slavery she found herself in as she lived for herself, and the freedom she found when she gave her life to Christ. One woman commented later, “You could have heard a pin drop.”

But another feature of that courtroom was noticeably different. The prosecuting attorney, no longer soft spoken and monotonistic, responded with an impassioned plea to deny this woman her parole.

Two weeks earlier, a local Christian television station decided to highlight the women’s prison. It is the first prison in the country to model the concept of rehabilitation. As a result the women have opportunities to take various classes to learn skills such as sewing, hairstyling, cooking, music, English and others. About fifteen in-mates were selected to come to the TV station to talk about their experiences and show off the clothing they sewed and crocheted, and also food they prepared. Our daughter was among these women who came because she was part of the choir of women that sang. The television host, an older man with a compassionate heart, singled out our daughter during the program to share her experience. For a few minutes she shared the gospel through her testimony to the television audience. This program was so widely watched and commented on that they repeated it again the next week. Because of the small size of the country, it was broadcast throughout the entire Dominican Republic.

During her testimony, she made a comment which the prosecuting attorney did not like. She had said that she was confident that the Lord was going to give her freedom soon. The prosecutor argued that if she were released after so many people on the island heard this “boast” that it would send a message to people that the justice system can be (or had been) manipulated by these Christians.

In an animated response, the defense attorney argued that this was simply a statement of faith made by a woman who believed in God. Nevertheless, the damage was done. The judge ruled that it was a valid point to consider and that she needed to stay in prison while he considered his decision.

On April 3rd we will hear his decision. The worst part about this is that because of the language barrier we are in the dark. When we asked the Spanish speaking people to translate what happened we heard several different stories. So I suppose that we will never know the actual truth of what was said and what happened. Many of our daughter's friends are Christian people who are well meaning and want the most positive results, so it is hard for us to sort out what was actually said from what these people believe will happen.

So Cherish is still in prison and we are still waiting — and in our human frailty questioning why. Why couldn’t the judge simply have slapped the gavel and said “you’re free” like he did for the prisoner before her. And what will eight more days accomplish? Or 3 ½ years?

Without being presumptuous I think I know the answer. She will stay in prison “until thou knowest that the Most High ruleth.” Over the years I have learned that I have a very stubborn heart. I learn lessons quite slowly. A month ago when I heard that the judge called Cherish personally to advise her not to go to court on her appointed time because he wasn’t going to be there, I began to project future events. Hmmm … the judge is on her side. This is in the bag! I also mentally rehearsed how much my wife and I have given up in order to be here and how much we’ve prayed and worked for this. I quietly reviewed all the places in Scripture where God seems to honor faith and prayer and sacrifice.

My confidence subtly shifted from “the Most High that ruleth” to looking at a set of favorable circumstances and focusing on my own efforts (however spiritual they may sound). So God has to remind me that the future is His not mine. In the book of James this attitude of thinking I am in charge of my future and that I can manipulate God by praying hard enough or working hard enough is condemned.

“Go to now, ye that say, today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a
city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain; whereas
ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is
even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.
For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live , and do this,
on that. But now ye rejoice in your boastings: all such rejoicing is
evil." James 4:13-16.

So what will eight days accomplish? Maybe we will be a bit more sanctified by the truth (John 17:17), maybe a bit more purged by the Word (John 15:2,3), maybe a bit more renewed in my mind (Roman 12:2), and maybe a bit more:
“found in Christ, not having my own righteousness, which is of the law
but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which
is of God by faith: that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection
and the fellowship of His sufferings being made conformable unto His death:
if by any means I might attain unto the resurrection from the dead.”
Phil 3:9-11.

After all, isn’t this what it’s all about? --- learning how to live by faith in the reality that “the Most High ruleth.”

1 comment:

Naomi Widmer said...

I just read this, James. Wow - what a wonderful story of Ebenezer= "Thus far the Lord hath helpd me"
Did you ever write the rest of the story - how she got out - what she is doing now? What a wonderful story of rescue - God is always in the busines of "rescue" - in His timing. So proud of you and Carole! Love, Mark and Naomi