27 June 2011

Uncommon Grace

“Don't you have better things to do than pick on me?” —Job

Job's Complaint, William Blake (1793)
Some time ago, a well-established middle-aged man entered into what seemed to everybody around him like a curse. He was known for being an honest man, filled with integrity in all his dealings. His investments portfolio was strong; he had many resources, and much capital besides. Even more striking, he was a man of God. He was truly committed to him, so much so that he was not only mindful of his own holiness but for the holiness of others as well. In fact, he was known to intercede on behalf of his family, so concerned was he for their right standing before God.

But then his skies darkened—and all at once too. In no time, his investments had plunged, and his remaining surplus was spent on just staying afloat. Then the real tragedy struck. One evening, while his children and their friends were all gathered at his eldest son’s house, a tornado swept through town and completely flattened it. When the chaos had cleared, the extent of the horrors became clear: not one of his children had survived.

Despite all this, he remained, at least on the outside, steadfast. It wasn’t much longer, however, before his health began to give way. In time, the man could only wallow in his newly cursed life, fatigued as he was and unable to move because of the pain. A few friends ventured to visit him, to console him, to sit with him, to listen to him and, of course, to offer their advice. Some of it was good; some of it was bad (some of it was real bad). He became indignant. Believing in his integrity with which he followed God, he began to wonder just what had gone wrong. He began to seek his day in court, as it were, with the great judge himself. Anger began to creep in, until one day he looked up (to God) and said, “Why are people so important to you? Why pay attention to what they do? You inspect them every morning and test them every minute. Won’t you look away long enough for me to swallow my spit? Are you harmed by my sin, you jailer? Why use me for your target practice? Am I so great a burden to you?” (Job 7:17–20).

At one time or another, we all face trials. Call them what you will—unexpected deaths, heartbreak, depression, financial instability, sheer discontentment. Almost equally universal is our penchant—whether we’re Christian or not—to think that God is against us when painful experiences come our way. We think that there's a big, cosmic bully up there stepping on our backs and spitting in our faces, that he has made it his priority to pick on us (as Job thought). Put another way, we’re thinking that God doesn’t love us.

But despite all appearances at times to the contrary, such is not the case, and those who are united to Christ, who have been baptized and confess with their mouths and believe in their hearts that Jesus is Lord and that God raised him from the dead (Rom. 6:1–14; 10:9), of all people ought to know and practice this reality. The fact that we don’t tells us a lot of things—about our thoughts, lives, churches and society. In reality it just shows us that “the world is too much with us” (as William Wordsworth wrote in his poem of the same name).

Thinking that God doesn’t love us when trials come simply won’t do, especially since, at least in one important sense, God loves everything he has created. In seeking to undo such misguided, knee-jerk reactions to life’s trials, we might as well start with the first act in recorded history: the creation of the earth (which we'll look at in the next post in this series). In it, we see God’s beneficence, or kindness, toward everyone and everything.

*This is part one in what I'm thinking will be a five-part series.


Anonymous said...

Wonderful retelling of the Job account; it brings the story close to home. Maybe too close.

If suffering causes us to think "that God doesn’t love us," perhaps this reveals yet another glitch in our understanding of the gospel, i.e., God punishes the wicked, therefore I must have done something to deserve this suffering.

Looking forward to the upcoming series!

Chris Donato said...

Thanks, Lazo. And thanks for taking the time to read and comment.

We're all about avoiding suffering in the West—isn't one of life's major pursuits that of happiness?

Chris Donato said...

The retelling of Job gets me thinking further. How do we retell the story for the sake of the younger generation without trivializing it?

Lazo said...

Oh yes, the "unalienable rights...of the pursuit of happiness" - United States Declaration of Independence.

Retelling a story is probably the biggest thing I wrestle with when I'm teaching or preaching. I've dumped paragraphs of theology and doctrines on people, but it always seems to be theology told through stories that gets people thinking deeply. Which is why I am a closet New Living Translation fan, ha.

By the way, I'm sorry that my name came up as a URL. I didn't mean to put that shameless self-plug in there. :-)

Chris Donato said...

With you on the NLT. And not a closet fan anymore. Also the TEV (Good News translation). Love it.

Btw, used to seeing "christopherlazo.com" so it didn't strike me as odd at all. I don't mind self-plugs in the course of conversation anyway.

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