Thomas Lane Butts: It All Comes Back

This is that beautiful time between Thanksgiving and Christmas when the best impulses of human nature tend to come to the surface. When we reflect on the nature of generosity, we become increasingly aware of the strange ways in which what we give tends to come back to us. Edwin Markham said it with such beauty and clarity many years ago:

"There is a destiny that makes us sisters and brothers,

None go their way alone.

All that we send into the lives of others

Comes back into our own."

Let me tell you two stories that illustrate this beautiful truth.

Newspaper columnist, George Plagenz, wrote about a young physician who delivered a baby to a poverty-stricken family in Montana. The child had a severely deformed leg. He also had difficulty breathing. The doctor thought to himself, "This child's life will be miserable. If I do nothing for his breathing he will die. Perhaps that would be better for all concerned." But the doctor's commitment to the Hippocratic Oath kicked in and he started breathing into the mouth of the baby. Soon the child's lungs were responding normally, and the child gave his first cry.

Many years later that doctor's daughter and her husband were killed in a tragic automobile accident, leaving their only child, a ten-year old girl, an orphan. The grandfather physician took her in. Later his granddaughtger was stricken with a rare, crippling and seemingly incurable condition. The doctor learned of a young physician in the mid-west who had been getting excellent results in the treatment of this particular disease. He took his granddaughter to see this doctor. As it turned out this young doctor was the deformed baby into whose mouth the elderly physician had breathed life some thirty-five years earlier. Because of the young doctor's own infirmity he had specialized in this specific disease. The treatment of the little girl was successful and in time she returned to normal health.

Some call that "coincidence", and I can agree with that term as long as you understand that "coincidence" is God's way of remaining anonymous.

Several years ago the Denver Post carried the following story of a strange experience. One Sunday morning, two weeks before Christmas, the minister told his congregation of a family that was having a difficult time, and asked if anyone would like to try to help them have an enjoyable Christmas. A young father and his family accepted the project. The week before Christmas they loaded their pickup truck with a fresh evergreen tree, food and gifts for the needy family. The family in need lived several miles outside Denver. On the way, a rock slide.caused a large boulder to hit the truck and nearly demolish it. The father was fine, but his little boy received a bad cut from a piece of broken glass. He was bleeding severely. The father got out on the highway and tried to flag down help. Tne father counted as one hundred and ninety-nine vehicles passed him by before one stopped.

The couple in the car took the father and the boy to the emergency room of the local hospital and stayed with them until the E R doctor finished treating the boy. Then they drove the father and the boy home. After they left, the father realized he had not even asked the names of the strangers who helped them.

On Christmas Eve the minister called the father and said, "I know what happened last week when you tried to help the needy family, but we have gotten together gifts and food. Would you be willing to try again?" The father said "yes". When they got to the house and knocked, the door opened. (And you know who was there, don't you?). You are right. It was the couple who stopped to help, the angels in the two-hundredth car whose names he did not think to ask, the kind people who had taken them to the emergency room and then home.

Here is that "coincidence" business again!! I cannot explain it. I am not sure that I even want to try, but I do find the concept to be encouraging. What we do does not always come back that quickly or that clearly; sometimes, as far as we can tell, it never comes back at all, however the Bible teaches that there is a kind of universal and divine justice that works itself out in the long run, in the greater scheme of things. The idea that this is true is very encouraging.

Divine justice. Are you comfortable with or fearful of being in on that kind of providential reciprocity?