Robert E. Lee trusted few men more than Major General James Ewell Brown Stuart, or “Jeb” as he came to be known. Lee and Jeb had been friends for years before the Civil War began, serving together in the US Army in numerous military campaigns throughout the 1850s. Jeb was trustworthy, unflinchingly brave, and an expert in reconnaissance. Despite his peculiar flair for the dramatic (he would often lead his men into battles sporting a red cape, an ostrich plume, and drenched in cologne), Jeb was a serious soldier. General Lee said that Jeb was the only commander he trusted to bring him infallibly reliable intel. Lee called Jeb his “eyes.”
Jeb literally ran circles around the Union’s Army of the Potomac and reported every detail of their movement back to General Lee. Jeb’s intel gave Lee the advantage at Second Bull Run, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville. By the summer of 1863, momentum in the war was swinging toward the Confederacy.
But in the moment Robert E. Lee needed him most, Jeb didn’t show.
In June of 1863, Lee embarked on an audacious march north into the very heart of the Union. He ordered Jeb to parallel his march in the west, through the Shenandoah Valley. Instead, following a hunch, Jeb went east. He was attempting, against orders, to outflank the Union Army once again. But his decision left General Lee in the dark for eight days. During that time, Lee blindly stumbled across a group of soldiers in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, who he assumed were a rag-tag local militia. Because Lee’s “eyes” were off wandering miles away, Lee had no clue that he had just encountered the western tip of the primary Union army.
By the time Jeb’s cavalry arrived in Gettysburg on July 2, he was too late. The battle of Gettysburg was nearly over. Furious, Lee called Jeb into his headquarters. All Lee could say was “General Stuart, where have you been?”
Had Jeb arrived when Lee expected him, historians say the battle of Gettysburg might have gone differently. Instead, Gettysburg marked the turning point in the war. General Lee must have asked himself again and again: “General Stuart, why were you late? Where were you?”
Where were you? It’s a question we’ve all asked of somebody. Their absence or tardiness left us feeling abandoned, helpless, confused, and angry. If the stakes were high, we wondered if that person actually cared about us at all. Those moments when someone I depended on let me down have left me feeling helpless. When friends forget to call. When a trusted colleague doesn’t deliver. When a teammate doesn’t show up.
When the one who fails to show up as expected is God, it does more than disappoint. It can knock your faith off the rails.
“LORD, IF YOU HAD BEEN HERE . . .”
Mary and Martha felt this way about Jesus when their brother Lazarus got sick and died. Jesus, their friend, was not far away, and they had sent an urgent message for him to come straightaway.
“So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days” (John 11:6).
They waited. And waited. And Lazarus died. Then Jesus showed up. He offered no excuse.
Why hadn’t he come? Didn’t he love them? They thought he did. Everyone referred to Lazarus as the one Jesus loved (John 11:3). Did he not care after all?
Haven’t you felt this way? — Greear and David Jeremiah, Not God Enough: Why Your Small God Leads to Big Problems (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2018).
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