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Catch-22…It’s the best there is!

October 02, 2017
By Mr. Eric VanDerhoof - Head of School

In Joseph Heller's 1961 novel, Catch-22, a paradox is presented as the trap that confined members of the US Air Force. In logical terms the 'catch' was that, by applying for exemption from highly dangerous bombing missions on the grounds of insanity, the applicant proved himself to be sane (after all, that's what any sane person would do). If anyone applied to fly, they would be considered insane. Either way; sane or insane, they were sent on the missions. As one of the main characters, Yossarian, questions the situation, the following dialogue takes place:

"You mean there's a catch?"

"Sure there's a catch," Doc Daneeka replied. "Catch-22. Anyone who wants to get out of combat duty isn't really crazy."…"That's some catch, that Catch-22," [Yossarian] observed.

"It's the best there is," Doc Daneeka agreed.

Sometimes we find ourselves in situations with “no way out!” We feel trapped! Have you ever uttered these despairing words…'damned if you do and damned if you don't', 'the vicious circle', 'heads I win, tails you lose', ‘between a rock and a hard place’. While it is actually a misapplication of the original phrase, that is a Catch-22!

Christians don’t need to despair and feel trapped. Throughout history God has demonstrated His “sense of timing” as He swoops in to rescue His people from impending destruction using the most unusual means. In one such instance, the account of the Red Sea Crossing recorded in Ex.14 provides hope for those times that seem hopeless. While Doc Daneeka intended his statement to be one of resignation, with God a “Catch-22” can really be the best there is!

Time after time God had performed on behalf of His people. Finally, Pharaoh relented and God led them straight out of slavery, away from the cruel hand of the Egyptians. He set them free. Free from oppression. Free from captivity. Free from bondage. However, God didn’t lead them on the road that made most sense.

Exodus 13 states that although the path was shorter right through the Philistine country, God said, “If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” So God led them around the desert road over towards the Red Sea. Hot, dry, barren wasteland. As questions loomed, doubt and fear set in, and the Israelites felt trapped. The great Red Sea was to the east and Pharaoh’s mighty army was advancing from the west. They were in a Catch-22…move forward and drown, or stay put and be massacred!

It was at this point in the story that God revealed the tertium quid…the third option. The Israelites had fallen prey to the illogical “false dilemma” by forgetting the eternal lessons that God had already demonstrated in their rescue from slavery. No matter the circumstances, God’s people must live by faith and trust God’s Sovereignty, consider God’s perspective, and enjoy God’s glory.

Trust God’s Sovereignty: God is in control and knows what He’s doing. God spoke directly and clearly to Moses, and He also “led the people around by the desert road toward the Red Sea...” It appeared that they were moving from safety as they left path of sure escape to camp in a trap. The narrative states that this was God’s strategy to entice Pharaoh to pursue the Israelites. Pharaoh was frustrated at being out done by God; He had them for sure this time! In His sovereignty God is able to turn the hearts of kings. Exodus 14:4 says, “And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them. But I will gain glory for myself through Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord.”

Commenting on this passage, John Calvin said, “God, by closing up all the ways by which the Israelites might have escaped, now opens a course for His wonderful power, and by bringing them for one moment to despair, provided for the safety of His Church through a long period of time. This final act, then, marvelously illustrated the grace of God, so that the people, however ungrateful and disaffected they might be, should still acknowledge God as their deliverer.”

What’s going “wrong” in your life? As you comprehend God’s sovereignty, you will begin to see His plan. Trust His leading.

Consider God’s Perspective: As the Israelites looked around them, they clearly saw the obstacles – the Red Sea and the Egyptians. Far too often we act in the same manner and focus on the problem rather than trust God. And while the Israelites resorted to a form of “prayer” (“Why are you crying out to me? v. 15), God reminded them it was time to act! As the monastic motto reminds us, ora et labora…pray and work. Prayer is vital, but sometimes God says, “it’s time to get moving!” God works powerfully on our behalf, but He demands our obedience. It is important to remember that it’s not about us, it’s about God.

Does your life seem confusing and in upheaval? Great…God has you right where you need to be so that you will trust Him. Be still, and ask God to help you see the situation from His perspective. It’s quite a view!

Enjoy God’s Glory: God will stand between His people and the enemy. We never fight alone. It doesn’t mean we won't ever face the battle, but we can know that He is surely with us in the midst of it. Daniel and his friends are among the numerous historic events that should instantly come to mind to illustrate this truth. Our God is a God of miracles. This same God who divided the Red Sea so the Israelites crossed on dry ground, and covered up the enemy in the depths of that same sea, bringing salvation to His people—this is the same God who works on our behalf today. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever so that all people will fear Him…either in reverent respect or arrogant unbelief.

Paul reminded the Philippians that at the name of Jesus, every knee will bow and ever tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. (Phil 2) Eventually everyone will believe in Christ; but only those who fear by faith in God’s promises will enjoy His blessing. God’s plans will seem ridiculous and trivial when compared to man’s deceitful schemes. God’s approach to resolution is contrary to man’s approach because the natural man is in rebellion against God. (Gen. 1; Rom. 1) When people are able to stop glorifying themselves through the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, then they are able to able to bask in the glory of God and enjoy what was previously seen as foolish and disgusting.

Do you enjoy God? Is there joy in your life that is not simply based on your current circumstances? Be still, know that He is God; glorify Him and you will enjoy Him forever!

Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 continues: “Yossarian strode away, cursing Catch-22 vehemently even though he knew there was no such thing. Catch-22 did not exist, he was positive of that, but it made no difference. What did matter was that everyone thought it existed, and that was much worse, for there was no object or text to ridicule or refute, to accuse, criticize, attack, amend, hate, revile, spit at, rip to shreds, trample upon, or burn up.”

Likewise there is no “bad situation” for believers! It’s a lie created by the Father of Lies!

Oh, there are tough situations! We may be facing our own Red Sea moment this week. We may have an uncertain job situation, a BIG decision, troubled relationships, upended plans, or an unsettling financial situation. We are in a Catch-22 and don’t know what to do! Every turn seems to offer a bad option. But there is always a way of escape. God’s plans for our lives will never be thwarted by the enemy’s attacks. Though it may seem like he’s winning at times, he does not have full control. God is still in control and much greater: trust God’s sovereignty, consider God’s perspective, enjoy God’s glory.

Embrace your Catch-22…it truly is the best there is!