Christianity 201

October 8, 2014

God’s Not Fair?

Today regular contributor Clarke Dixon returns with a look at God’s fairness. To read this at source click on the title below.

How Being Fair Can Kill Your Generosity

God's justice and mercyBeing fair can kill our generosity. How so? Because being fair gives us an excuse to not be generous toward those we think do not deserve our generosity. And being ingenious people, we can always find that reason!

But isn’t being fair a good thing? In fact when we are being fair are we not being godly? Let’s take a look at a few examples of where God could have been fair:

  • At the time of the first rebellion. Had God been fair with Adam and Eve they would have not have made it out of Eden alive. Instead of being fair God acted with grace, banishing them from Eden, yes, but not fully from His presence or provision.
  • At the first murder. God could have been fair when Cain killed Abel, taking his life in return. Instead of being fair He acted with grace and made provision for Cain’s protection.
  • When violence was overwhelming the earth. God could have been fair when humanity descended into great violence ending all with a flood. Instead of being fair He acted with grace and saved Noah and family binding Himself to the flourishing of humanity with a covenant promise.
  • When violence continued to flourish despite the second chance. Though promising to not actively destroy humanity, God could have been fair and walked away from humanity allowing for their self-destruction. Instead of being fair He acted in grace and called Abram, Isaac, and Jacob, calling into existence His people who would be a light to the world.
  • When God’s people were in slavery but were really no better than their masters. We know this from the violence that Moses, and of course God, witnessed. God could have been fair and walked away. Instead of being fair He acted with grace, hearing their cries of distress, putting into action a plan of rescue.
  • When God’s people rebelled and worshipped a golden calf at Sinai. God could have been fair and left them alone to die there. Instead of being fair, He acted with grace and far from destroying the nation, He gave them the law to build them up.
  • In the days we read of in Judges when “everyone did what was right in their own eyes” instead of sticking to God’s law. God could have been fair and left them victim to the surrounding enemies . Instead of being fair, God acted with grace and anointed judges to rescue the people and get them back on track.
  • When God’s people asked for a king, thereby rejecting God as king. God could have been fair and walked away leaving them to really be like the other nations, lacking His provision and protection. Instead of being fair, God acted with grace and appointed kings, in fact graciously promising that through the line of kings, His Kingdom would come.
  • When the kings and people rebelled against God. God could have been fair, sending a plague or army to wipe the nation out. Instead of being fair He acted with grace and sent prophets to warn and to encourage.
  • When the warnings of the prophets were not heeded. God could have been fair and sent a foreign army to destroy the nation outright. They abandoned their side of the covenant, He could do the same with His. Instead of being fair He acted with grace, allowing the nation to go into exile, but with encouragement to look again for His presence, His rescue.
  • When God Himself came to us in Jesus Christ and then was rejected, mocked, whipped, tried, unjustly condemned and killed. God could have been fair and arrived to condemn. Instead of being fair, He acted with grace. Instead of grasping a sword of judgement, he offered His hands to the nails. And in the single most unfair moment in the history of the world, love reigned supreme.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. John 3:16-17 NRSV

If God had been fair at any one of these moments, it would have really messed with your salvation, there might even be nothing of you in existence to save. Is God being fair in offering salvation to you? No. He could have been fair and rejected you. But instead of being fair, He acts with grace toward you and offers you life, eternal life, abundant life, reconciliation, mercy, friendship, guidance, protection, provision, and so much more. Instead of being fair, God has been generous.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life (Romans 5:6-10 NRSV emphasis mine)

Are you known as a fair person?

Lord, help us to be more like you, to be known as generous. And to do that, help us lay our zeal for what’s fair at the foot of the cross! Amen.

January 13, 2012

Psalm 6: I Drench My Couch with My Weeping.

Two days ago I shared a passage from The Jesus Way by Eugene Peterson.  For those of you who know Peterson’s Bible translation, The Message, I hope this leaves you wanting to read some of his other writing.

After a section on the life of David which deals with the narrative of David’s story, Peterson moves on to deal with the prayers of David, particularly the penitential Psalms, beginning with Psalm 6.

(NLT) Psalm 6:1 O LORD, don’t rebuke me in your anger
      or discipline me in your rage.
 2 Have compassion on me, LORD, for I am weak.
      Heal me, LORD, for my bones are in agony.
 3 I am sick at heart.
      How long, O LORD, until you restore me?

 4 Return, O LORD, and rescue me.
      Save me because of your unfailing love.
 5 For the dead do not remember you.
      Who can praise you from the grave?

 6 I am worn out from sobbing.
      All night I flood my bed with weeping,
      drenching it with my tears.
 7 My vision is blurred by grief;
      my eyes are worn out because of all my enemies.

 8 Go away, all you who do evil,
      for the LORD has heard my weeping.
 9 The LORD has heard my plea;
      the LORD will answer my prayer.
 10 May all my enemies be disgraced and terrified.
      May they suddenly turn back in shame.

The trouble that we are born into “as sparks fly upward: (Job 5:7) provides the content to this first penitential prayer.  We are not told what the trouble is:

  • God’s anger provoked by sin (v.1)?
  • Sickness? (Healing is mentioned in vv. 2-3.)
  • Persecution? (Foes, workers of evil and enemies are referred to in vv. 7-8, 10.)

Probably all of these, but more.  The sin in the world breaks out in troubles all over the place.  Every once in a while one of the the troubles triggers an avalanche of dismay and sorrow that simply overcomes us.  There are times when an accumulated sense of the sheer mass of trouble in the world just knocks the wind out of us, knocks the prayer out of us –

  • all the sin,
  • all the sickness,
  • all the meanness:
  • damaged lives,
  • broken hearts,
  • child abuse,
  • raped women,
  • rampant hunger,
  • torture,
  • the grinding poverty of the poor,
  • the unchecked greed of the rich,
  • desecrating violations of our land and water and air,
  • brutal arrogance in high places.

Details pile up.  There is a lot wrong with the world.  We have moments when the apocalyptic brutality and blasphemy loose in the world tramples our life to the ground (Ps. 7:5).  Those moments are compounded when we realize that some of the wrong is in us – we are not just observers of it, we are part of it.  Sin is not a Them thing; it is also Us.  When the two moments come together – the Them wrongs and the Us wrongs – the hurt and hate, the guilt and sin catalyze an enormous sorrow.  We find ourselves in the middle of Psalm 6 weeping our prayer:

I am weary with my moaning;
every night I flood my bed with tears;
I drench my couch with my weeping.
My eyes waste away because of grief,
they grow weak because of all my foes. (Ps. 6:6-7)

The language is extravagant – crying every night and waking up with pillow and mattress tear-soaked.  But is it exaggerated?  Maybe not.  Not at least if this prayer comes out of a heart that is in touch with the catastrophic dimensions of sin and all the tears of despair and (sometimes) repentance that flow night and day, year after year pooling into a great salt sea of sorrow:

  • the tears of the lonely,
  • the tears of Rachel weeping for her children,
  • the tears of Paltiel weeping for Michal,
  • the tears of David weeping over Absalom,
  • the tears of Peter weeping outside the court of Caiaphas,
  • the tears of the women on the Via Dolorosa,
  • the tears of Jesus – weeping over Lazarus,
  • Jesus – weeping over Jerusalem,
  • Jesus – weeping in Gethsemane.

Tears, Tears, Tears.  We find ourselves swimming in a sea of tears.  **

The way of imperfection takes us through slums and suburbs, across battlefields and into refugee camps, to hospitals and homeless shelters.  We find common ground with the addicts and the abused, the victims and victimizers, the down and out and the up and out.  On the way of imperfection we find ourselves following Jesus to the well in Samaria, the sycamore tree in Jericho, the pool of Siloam, the cross on Golgotha where “Christ is in agony to the end of the world.” ***

There is much laughter and singing and dancing on this way, palm branches and hosannas.  But there are also tears and laments, rivers of them, every tear a prayer and not one unnoticed – “my tears in your bottle!” (Ps. 56:8).

~Eugene Peterson, The Jesus Way pp 93-4

** The verb translated “flood” is litteraly “I swim…”  We can translate, “I swim in a river of tears.”  See Isaiah 25:11 and Ezekiel 47:5.  Charles Briggs, The Book of Psalms (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1952), vol. 1, p.50.

***Blaise Pascal, Pensees (New York: Random House, 1941), #552, p. 176.