Greater Than the Mess

Several days ago, during my morning devotional time with my wife, we were talking about some disturbing things in our domestic life and in the nation, and I ended up saying, “Boy, what a mess!” I then opened up a book of daily readings that I use, and the headline for the meditation of the day was “Greater than the Mess!” We both responded with a laugh and a rush of amazement at how God often gives comfort and instruction in unexpected ways. We talked later about personal and biblical experiences of God’s showing Himself to be “greater than the mess.” The most notable of these in our life was the time in the mid ‘90s when we were under great stress from caring for our emotionally troubled daughter and her young child, whom we had adopted at birth. Our home was in disarray because of the complexities and pressures of our situation, and we were desperate for relief. As my wife commented, “One of us is going to wind up in an institution. We just don’t know yet which one.” Then, when it seemed we couldn’t cope anymore, the Lord supplied a politician who had a word with a mental health director, who cut through the red tape and supplied us with an adult foster care home for our afflicted daughter within a week. Our daughter’s psychological counselor told us she had never seen such a fast placement. God was greater than the mess!

Scripture is full of examples of this truth. The Israelites were caught between the Red Sea and Pharaoh’s terrible chariots—what a mess! But God opened the sea for them to pass over and closed in on Pharaoh’s army. God was greater than the mess!

Elijah destroyed the prophets of Baal while Jezebel was away, but when Jezebel came back she sent her soldiers in hot pursuit of him, so that he had to run and hide in a cave—what a mess! But God showed Elijah that 400 other prophets were also on God’s side, and He sent Elijah out in renewed hope to anoint his successor, Elisha. God was greater than the mess!

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego dared to refuse Nebuchanezzar’s order to bow down to his golden idol, and the king in his wrath cast them into a furnace so hot it killed those who put them in. Quite a mess! But a fourth figure was seen in the furnace with the three faithful Hebrews, and they came out of the furnace without even a singed hair. The God they had trusted to deliver them was greater than the mess!

Paul and Silas cast out a prophetic demon from a poor, exploited young woman, and they were seized and arrested and beaten for their merciful deed. What a mess! But while they were singing in jail at midnight, God sent an earthquake and broke them out, so that they could preach to the jailor and convert his household. Once again, God was greater than the mess!

All of us who have served the Lord any length of time have personally seen many instances of His being greater than the mess, and the Scriptures are full of illustrations as well. Why, then, do we find it so hard to feel that truth when we are still in the midst of some mess? I will suggest three reasons. First, although we rejoice in the times when God has shown Himself to be greater than a particular mess, we forget that God is in His essence greater than any and all manifestations of evil and suffering. In a sense, He does not have to prove Himself in each instance to be Master of the Mess, for He is the one than whom no greater can be imagined. His power simply has no rival, and there is no threat He cannot overcome.

Second, we find it easy to focus on the particular mess that we are involved in, and we lose sight of the many other personal, social, and environmental messes in the world at large. Therefore, we aren’t aware that our suffering is interlocked with the larger suffering in the world around us. As my high school principal used to say, “If you’ve got a boil on your neck, it’s hard to be concerned about starving people in Africa.” But God, of course, sees the whole picture, and His timing in solving our particular mess may be connected with what’s needed to remedy some other mess or messes. That larger concern is illustrated in II Peter 3:9, in answer to the question of why God delays his righteous judgment on an evil world: “The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (ESV).

Third, our difficulty in seeing past our immediate pain may blind us to the possibility that God is in the process of transforming us in ways that we don’t even see the need of. As the writer of Hebrews says, “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Heb. 12:11).

At the center of the “peaceful fruit” spoken of in this verse is the sure hope we have as children of God that Father will complete the supreme and overarching example of His being “greater than the mess.” His ultimate solution has already been launched in the coming of Jesus Christ, His own Son, who was sent to die the sacrificial death which would take care of the systemic mess of sin and death for which Adam and Eve were the catalysts. Therefore, we endure in confident faith that, although we still live in the weakness of our own mortal flesh and exist in a sin-stained and disordered world, these bodies we live in, the scarred planet we inhabit, and the corrupt society in which we carry on our daily lives will be gloriously replaced by immortal bodies in a perfect world, living in the harmony of full communion with the eternal Master of the Mess—Jehovah Jireh, the God Who Provides.

Image: By Andreas F. Borchert, CC BY-SA 3.0 de,

Elton Higgs

Dr. Elton Higgs was a faculty member in the English department of the University of Michigan-Dearborn from 1965-2001. Having retired from UM-D as Prof. of English in 2001, he now lives with his wife and adult daughter in Jackson, MI.. He has published scholarly articles on Chaucer, Langland, the Pearl Poet, Shakespeare, and Milton. His self-published Collected Poems is online at He also published a couple dozen short articles in religious journals. (Ed.: Dr. Higgs was the most important mentor during undergrad for the creator of this website, and his influence was inestimable; it's thrilling to welcome this dear friend onboard.)