Recently from the Baghdad neighborhood of Al Shaab came cries of anger and despair. The first day of Ramadan, Islam's holy month, began with destruction. Civilian casualties were among the highest since the war began. One victim in a hospital adjusted his bandage and commented, "It's all up to God. Only God will help us."
I spoke with some friends after that story broke, and they were despondent. Day after day of gloomy reports from Iraq - and now this. What was next?
One of the words that came up in our conversation was inconceivable. Given the present situation, and given the mix of ambushes and bombings, international sentiments, politics, media coverage, the financial cost, and everything else brought to bear on the process of rebuilding the nation, it was inconceivable how - or if - this difficult and dangerous process could be completed.
As I drove home from work thinking about that conversation with my friends, I remembered a couple of important lessons I'd learned years ago. First: Inconceivable shouldn't be confused with impossible.
That's what stood out to me after reading in the Bible about an incident in the life of Peter, an outspoken disciple of Jesus who was apprehended by King Herod and put into prison to await execution. The possibility of Peter simply walking out of the place was inconceivable. Both Peter's wrists were chained, a soldier stood at each side as he slept, and four quaternions of soldiers (a total of 16 guards) were charged with keeping watch over him.
What Herod and his men were not expecting was the effectiveness of the round-the-clock prayers of Peter and his fellow Christians. Prayer that obviously rejected the notion of impossibility. As a result, Peter awoke in his cell to a message from God, an "angel," telling him to get up, put on his sandals, and walk out.
The "inconceivable" was happening. Chains fell from Peter's wrists. The soldiers continued to sleep. Prison doors and an iron gate opened up, and Peter walked out. He was delivered from the deadly grip of Herod. Not only that, Peter was delivered from "all the expectation of the people" (Acts 12:1-19).
Imagine their disbelief. People had expected the chains to be binding, the guards to be alert, the prison doors and gate to be impassable, and the ruthless king, who was bent on Peter's annihilation, to follow through with his deadly intent. But the knowledge that had shaped those expectations, assumptions based on what the physical senses and ordinary experience told them, proved to be inadequate.
And that's the other lesson: Don't mistake human knowledge for wisdom. The two can be as different as night and day.
We're all aware of occasions throughout the Bible when divine wisdom - what God knows as true about His eternally perfect universe - turned upside down what people were expecting. Those expectations were based on limited knowledge. Yet, stormy seas were calmed, crippling diseases were healed, thousands of people were fed and kept safe. The inconceivable happened despite people's expectations and fears, because divine wisdom carried the day.
It's understandable why the founder of this newspaper, Mary Baker Eddy, wrote: "The wisdom of man is not sufficient to warrant him in advising God" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," page 3).
The prayers of all of us for the citizens of Iraq and for all those involved in the security and rebuilding effort must continue, and they will help. Even if we can't imagine how, or if, the rebuilding will succeed, wisdom reassures us that there is a way. In words from the Bible's book of Isaiah, "I will lead them in paths that they have not known" (Isa. 42:16).
That's a good reason for having higher expectations.