The word “but” can be a very depressing word to hear.
“I can absolutely fix your car,” the all-to-eager mechanic says, “but it will take a lot of time and the parts will be reeeeally hard to find.” Translation? ¡Esta reparacion va a costar mucho dinero! Obviously, that’s not an uplifting “but” to hear.
But “but” does not always indicate depressing news (see how I did that?). Unlike gravity, the word “but” doesn’t have to drag you down. In fact, a well-placed “but” in a sentence, can do just the opposite. In his masterpiece work, On Writing Well (which I highly recommend to anyone wishing to pursue English or writing for a career), William Zinsser describes the literary power of a well-placed “but” in literature. He writes:
Many of us were taught that no sentence should begin with “but.” If that’s what you learned, unlearn it – there’s no stronger word at the start. It announces total contrast with what has gone before, and the reader is thereby primed for the change.
As Zinsser points out, the word “but” indicates a stark contrast, the hint of something very different than what has just been said. The contrast can be a bad one (like the mechanic’s news), or it can even be a good contrast as well. When the doctor says, “I’m sorry to tell you that you have a severe illness,” that’s a kick-in-the-gut kind of statement you never want to hear. When that phrase, though, is immediately followed by the little word “but,” the patient has a glimmer of hope that the next words will be “there’s a very simple cure.” The word “but” is the grammatical version of Paul Harvey, it usually introduces the rest of the story.
The Bible records many bleak and painful situations that pivot dramatically upon the simple phrase, “but God.” It is one of the most exciting and uplifting moments in the biblical story. To read the depressing, sinful, shameful, or tragic experiences of a person and to unexpectedly see the intervening, life-changing hand of God reach down from heaven and change the presumed outcome is incredible! Consider just one of my favorite examples of this powerful phrase from the life of Noah.
As “the rains came down and the floods came up,” Noah and his family, no doubt, wondered how long this torrential Divine downpour would last. With Noah and his family pacing the length of the ark like caged panthers, Genesis 7 closes with a bleak and monotonous picture, “The water prevailed upon the earth one hundred and fifty days.”
Can you imagine that? Day after day after day after day – the boat rocked, the animals smelled and the “gopher-barkey” walls of the ark closed in on these soul survivors. Noah and his family were on that rickety, wooden ship, all by themselves, longer than an entire NFL season – playoffs and all! With no one alive outside, they must have felt like they were living in a giant, floating casket. No doubt, they were
lonely, scared, uncertain, isolated and even felt forgotten. Then, like a ray of sunshine on a dark, cloudy day, Genesis 8:1 declares, “But God remembered Noah…” He was NOT forgotten! He was not alone! This solitary confinement would soon be over. And that hope arose from one little “but” followed by one very big “God.”
That’s just one amazing instance from Scripture. Here are a few more:
Joseph speaking to his traitorous brothers who meant harm and evil against him:
” but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result to preserve many people alive.” (Gen 50:20)
Samson, afraid that he might die from thirst, discovered:
“but God split the hollow place that is in Lehi so that water came out of it. When Samson drank, his strength returned and he revived.” (Judges 15:19)
The Psalmist anticipates the early grave for foolish men, but for himself he knows:
“but God will redeem my soul from the power of Sheol.” (Psalm 49:15)
Asaph declares that life makes him feel weak, weary and drained…
” but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (Psalm 73:26)
Peter declares that Jesus was brutally murdered at the hands of godless men…
“but God raised Him up again, and put an end to the agony of death…” (Acts 2:24)
Paul, showing God’s grace, argues that while a lesser man might die for a better man…
“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom 5:8)
The world might value the wise and laugh at the foolish…
“but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise.” (1 Cor 1:27)
In ministry, Paul planted – yes; Apollos watered – yes…
” but God was causing the growth.” (1 Cor 3:6)
At times Paul was distressed, troubled, stressed, and down..
“But God, who comforts the depressed, comforted us by the coming of Titus.” (2 Cor 7:6)
Even though (as unbelievers) we were cut off from God, even dead in our sins…
“but God…made us alive together with Christ, and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus…” (Eph 2:4-6)
Epaphroditus was sick, on his deathbed, soon to die…
“but God had mercy on him…” (Phil 2:27)
Think about all the “but God” moments in your own life? Give Him thanks today for all that He’s done. If it weren’t for these moments, where would we be?