Everything Before “But”

The candle standing in the middle of the table established an ambiance of romance and possibilities. The tantalizing aroma of the tenderloin seemed to match the same enticing aroma of potential that appeared to emanate between the two new lovers as they gazed into each other’s eyes. A single crimson rose lay perched at the edge of the table. The man inconspicuously glances over at the rose in anticipation.

“You are an amazing man,” the woman begins. “When we first met, I wanted to spend every second with you. We connected on every level. Our chemistry was amazing, and you are so easy to talk to. Our conversations were incredible. Any woman would be lucky to have you, but…”

“Ouch!”

The previous illustration is a pretty accurate description of an episode of the Bachelor or Bachelorette…no matter what season. It’s very typical. In fact, before meeting my wife, this scene could have easily been procured from a myriad of my own personal experiences. Nevertheless, every single person who’s ever been dumped doesn’t care what precedes the word “but”! The dumper could say anything they want to soften the blow, but it is never soft for the dumped. Once we hear the word “but” everything that comes before it is null and void.

“I understand the rules of this house, but…”
—One of my children
“I did study for my test, but…”
—One of my children
“I realize that I hit him in the face, but…”
—One of my children
“I know I passed a huge yellow school bus, with a stop sign fully extended, while flashing its red lights, but…”
—Shawn Vander Lugt
“Everything before but is bull”
—Jim Quinn

Not only is this last quote literally (a very overused word by today’s generation by the way) true, it is also metaphorically true. Once we say “but” it completely invalidates everything we say before it. The “but” signifies opposition to, and instills doubt in, the validity of whatever comes before it.

Gideon is one of my favorite characters in Scripture. Not because Gideon was a mighty warrior and defeated the Midian army with only 100 combatants. Gideon is one of my favorite characters because he was a realist, and I like realists. Like most skeptics and atheists today, Gideon also didn’t accept anything at face value, and I like skeptics and atheists for the same reason. Gideon was polite, “but” he followed that courtesy with a “but” and we know what that means.

When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.”

“Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our ancestors told us about when they said, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.”
—Judges 5:12-13

Gideon didn’t stop there. The angel tried to convince him that God was going to send Gideon to deliver the Israelites from the Midianites. Gideon responds with, “Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family” (Judges 5:15).

He goes on to doubt God and requests three more signs before finally accepting his calling. But, But, But.

I must admit, whenever I feel God tugging me one way or another, almost every time my initial response is, “Pardon me, my lord, but…”

“Pardon me, my lord, but I don’t have the time or money to do that.”
“Pardon me, my lord, but I don’t have good skills to do that. You know like nunchuck skills, bow hunting skills, computer hacking skills.”  
“Pardon me, my lord, but I’m doubting your goodness and faithfulness right now.
“Pardon me, my lord, but it appears you don’t keep your promises.”
“Pardon me, my lord, but look who you allowed to become president.”

Lately, I’ve been worrying that my doubts and cynicism are detrimental to my faith. Then I read a passage like Judges 6 and I’m relieved and encouraged. In fact, today, I’m convinced that blind faith imparts stagnancy. Without ever questioning God or God’s intentions, we find ourselves in suspended animation. Gideon didn’t take God’s word at face value. Should we?

In Dynamics of Faith, Paul Tillich writes, “Doubt is not the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith. Faith, by its nature, includes separation. If there is no separation from the object of faith, then it becomes a matter of certainty, and not of faith.”

I don’t know if I’m right or not about doubting or questioning God, God’s purposes, or God’s good and faithful intentions. See, I’m even doubting that. Regardless of whether I’m right, I know that through doubting God, questioning God, and fighting with God, I’ve always come out on the other end in a more solid and meaningful relationship with my Father. That alone is a testimony to the power of doubt. I frequently doubt, question, and fight with God, “BUT” I always come out of those bouts stronger and more faithful. The truth of our hearts always comes after the “but” not before it. Because everything before “but” is bull.

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