Last week I wrote about Elkanah and his family situation as described in the Old Testament book of 1 Samuel (chapters 1–2). We looked specifically at the fact that Hannah, one of Elkanah’s wives, had both internal (she could not bear children) and external problems (she was ridiculed because of it), and that both of these problems were directly linked to one another. We noted that the way out of Hannah’s external problems was by letting God deal with her internal problem. The conclusion we drew was that the best way to resolve our external problems by first dealing with our internal problems and letting God deal with them.
There’s yet another dynamic at work in this story, and that is only God can resolve the root of the internal problems.
There’s an interesting point in the story in which Elkanah is frustrated that Hannah is unhappy over the fact that she can’t bear children. He says to her, “Hannah, why do you weep? Why do you not eat? Why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons?” (1 Sam. 1:8). Samuel is frustrated because he feels as if he has done everything in his power to resolve her internal problem, yet she is still unhappy.
This demonstrates for us that we can never ultimately resolve other people’s internal problems. Other people’s problems can only be resolved when they lay them before the Father.
I’ve been in full-time career ministry now for eleven years. In those short years, I still have a hard time grasping the fact that I cannot change people. Who people are—better yet how people are—is the result of the combination of nature and nurture (genetics and experience). People are complex. They are wounded. They carry baggage. They have fears, anxieties, complexes, short-comings, and gross imperfections. Of course, as divine image bearers, people also exhibit magnificent beauty as they point to the intelligence and creativity of God. Because of the complexities of people’s histories and genetic makeup, what we have to offer people will always fall short of bringing complete healing into people’s lives. There is more there than can be calculated or imagined because of depth and mystery of human complexity.
We must not frustrate ourselves over the fact that people aren’t changing no matter how hard we try.
The only thing we can do, however, is point them to the temple: to Jesus (Jesus redefines himself as the temple—the presence of God in the world—in John 2:20). It is there, in the presence of God himself, that people can begin to make real progress towards complete healing. It’s only there people are made new.
This is not only true of others but also true of ourselves. Too often we think that it is this friendship or that relationship that will bring ultimate healing and satisfaction to our inner world. Hannah knew this wasn’t true. Elkanah was rich, cared for her, loved her, and favored her, but he could not resolve her problems. Her problems were beyond a good husband and a stable home. Her problems were God-sized. Hannah knew that only in going to God she would find resolve.
This, I think, is part of what Jesus means when he says, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whosoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:35). Let me reiterate, Jesus is the bread of life. We can never be the bread of life for other people, only Jesus can.