life is hard, but God is good

I am not for trite, predictable sayings, but I have to admit to thinking that this one is good. We need to hold on to both. The reality is that life is indeed challenging on a good number of levels. As a follower of Christ, one has to keep praying, and doing what one can, trying to stay on top of so much. But the bottom line, when all is said and done is that God is good, period. As my sister reminded me, God is on top of everything.

Just the realization that God is good helps relieve the distress. The trials and troubles may not go away, and likely there will always be something of that in this life. But to know that God is present, at work, and our helper, means a lot. And that no matter what happens, God is there in the end to take care of it. That ultimately everything will be alright.

Words I need today, and everyday, as I consider my loved ones, my own life, the life of others, and the promise given to us in Christ.

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the seeming uneven hand of God

There is no way you can live very long and thoughtfully, and not find the unevenness of life perplexing, even troubling. Why does life happen the way it does? In terms of circumstances, as well as in one’s lot. There are the crack cocaine babies, those born in places that have never heard the gospel, others having to flee their homes in war zones, not to mention atrocities from which people can never fully recover. That’s only the beginning of what we could say. I’m sure the list could go on and on.

Although we can’t say God caused these things—of course some would question whether God caused anything—the Hebrew Bible, First Testament attributes to God everything, since nothing can happen outside of his will. God could stop or prevent anything from happening. We could live in a different world. Everything would make sense to us in that world. No one would tell lies and mislead people. No one would harm people for their own self-interest, or who knows what for?

I have experienced plenty of blessing in my life, but like everyone else, I live under the curse (Genesis 3). The world is far from an agreeable place to live if one is going to take out the fairness, justice card. This is much more the case for some people other than myself, people whose progeny have suffered injustice over generations, and who still do to this day. And the syndrome that comes with that; there are some things most people never gets over at least in the way of shaping them, sometimes actually in good ways.

Turning to scripture can help us here. I think particularly of the story of Job. It is a great help in looking straight in the face the unevenness of the world, and the seeming unevenness of God. Life is messy at best, and traumatic or even catastrophic at worst.

This is where faith comes in. Do I believe in God, even in a good God in spite of the fallout of life? Do I hold on to that belief for dear life, in spite of my numbness, and even anger, in spite of unresolved questions and the reality which flies in the face of easy answers, and wooden empty platitudes? Yes, in the midst of it all, someone can say Romans 8:28 instead of simply being present with us and praying. A handy out for them, it would seem, even if they are completely sincere and only want to help.

But looking at life as it is, we do need to get back to the bedrock of our faith. We need to look both at the details of scripture, and to the gospel, the good news in Jesus. God’s ultimate answer is Jesus, and the cross. How everything shakes out in the end is with reference to that, and how God is at work in the present, as well. We do well to lay hold of the promises of God, like in Proverbs 3:5-6 with that in mind. And as Job would remind us, mystery is a major player, as well. Who can understand what only God can fully understand, if the God of the Bible exists?

Life is uneven now, but there is God in Jesus. We need to stop there, no matter what. That is where we need to take the broken, shattered pieces of our lives, our own brokenness, indeed, ourselves. And in prayer, others, as well.

We look toward an end when all will be grace, flourishing, shalom. When the end will make good sense, even if we never do understand fully what preceded that. All of this always in and through Jesus.

always pray

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’

“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”

And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

Luke 18

Jesus seems to present two alternatives in this parable told to his disciples. We either pray or we give up, one or the other. And the plea here is for justice, for what is right, and I would add to that, what is good. Shalom is the transliterated Hebrew word for peace which includes prosperity and flourishing, along with the absence of conflict. Certainly justice and righteousness are at the heart of that.

The need to always pray implies that there will always be a need in this present life for justice, in this context in terms of getting one’s rights, and usually in scripture always inclusive of others, especially those who are often on the short end of that, in scripture that being orphans, widows, and refugees (or strangers/aliens).

And so our call is to pray, and not give up, not lose heart (NRSV). And Jesus clearly suggests that to pray is to have faith, and to not pray is to be lacking in it, to have little or no faith at all. And along with that is an implied contrast. The unjust judge reluctantly provides justice in the story, actually out of self-interest. Since that is the case, the question is asked, how much more will God provide the same to his people, who continue to pray to him? But Jesus then suggests that even though this is the case, it is not certain that even God’s people will pray at least as they ought to.

This helps me see both the importance, as well as the difficulty in continuing in this kind of prayer. In this world one can look only to God for a final resolution to everything. And even for the grace to carry on when one is shortchanged in this life. That is the challenge for me: to pray at all, and to keep praying. It is easy either to drift along thinking all is well enough and under control, or to be overwhelmed with problems to the point in which one is tempted to give up. Instead God wants us to pray, and to continue in prayer. A true test of our faith. In and through Jesus.

 

 

toward greater things

I sometimes wonder, and this is true even when I read the psalms, but all the more true when I look at my own life, just what value there is in being taken up with troubles so close to home, when the world at large is suffering so horribly. The problems I’m absorbed in can be just as threatening at times, but by and large they pale in comparison with the trauma the world is suffering in so many places.

And yet I believe that God wants us to do well with the problems at hand right in front of us, in faith and reliance on him. With a special emphasis on loving God and loving others, especially those God has entrusted to our care.

Although we should bear the weight of our own responsibility, we can’t carry the weight of the world on our shoulders. And we’re not even required to carry any burden at all which weighs heavily on us. We’re told to cast our burdens on the Lord, and to cast all of our cares on him as well. To come to him when we are burdened and weighed down, with the promise that he will give us rest. That is hard for some of us, because we can be prone to take more responsibility than is reasonable. It is not always easy to figure out just what responsibility we have, and where it ends. And we are told to help each other at times, to carry one another’s burdens, and thus fulfill the law of Christ which is love.

Nothing is foolproof in this life, except seeking to live in God through Jesus. Although that in itself seems deceptive to us, since we’re at least prone to be bent in the wrong direction. And we never arrive in this life, as if its struggles and dangers are over. We await our Lord’s return with God’s promise of a different world in which all troubles will be gone.

What is certain is God’s promise of help for us now in and through Jesus. We keep pressing on, even in the midst of trouble, believing that God is good and is at work, and that we can be recipients of that work. And as we receive God’s help, our heart can be set free to yearn in prayer for the help of others in the world. And especially for the salvation of all, beginning in this present life in and through Jesus.

letting God be God

Sometimes, I’m afraid we lose hope or vision, or kind of throw in the towel so to speak, because we have been trying to take matters in hand ourselves, or thought somehow an outcome depended on us. And part of this problem may have been with reference to timing; we don’t see what we want to see, or any sign of it, and so we give up hope. A big part of this can be control.

What we need more than anything else is the faith to step back and simply let God be God. We may well have our role in what might unfold, but more often than not we are likely getting in the way of what God is doing, or wants to do. Yes, again we may be involved in what God is doing, but that can only be the case if we step back first and wait and pray. We then might see enough light to move forward and do something, but until then, we best remain still. Better yet, we should do nothing until it becomes clear to us what we’re called to do. It’s not like we can’t make mistakes in this endeavor. It’s only that our number one priority should be to make sure we’re not getting in the way of what God may be doing.

We need to check our attitudes, and then some of them we will have to check in the door. God is great and God is good, and God is a God of grace, all in Jesus. Before we apply quick judgments against others, we need to remember God’s grace in our own lives. Do we believe that God is active in the world, and that God cares about each person he has made? It’s not like it all depends on us; God is at work. But God wants to use us as his witness and instrument of peace and love. Most of us need to learn a kind of passivity of faith, which will enable us to become active in ways that our helpful in harmony with God’s working. The same kind of help that has made a difference in our lives from others in God’s working in and through Jesus.

God’s judgment as good news

In the Bible, judgment mostly comes across as good news, or at least that’s a large swath of its teaching. One sees that over and over again in the psalms: God is going to root out the wicked and destroy them, maybe even in a way which not only brings them shame, but actually causes them to seek his face, whatever that might possibly mean in the hidden scheme of things. The backdrop of this is God’s care for the poor, the oppressed, the bereaved, as well as for his people. The day of God’s judgment, called the day of the Lord (LORD, or Yahweh in the First/Old Testament) is coming.

In the Bible, judgment always precedes salvation. We all end up being judged in some way, but God in Jesus takes the judgment for sin on himself by suffering death, even at the hands of sinners, and through that death providing the way for forgiveness and eternal life for all who believe. When Jesus returns, he will rid the earth of all evil to bring in the full salvation, somehow all of this being a new creation in the fullness of the kingdom of God.

We were raised on the version of God’s judgment as something to fear and even be ashamed of. How could a loving God pour out judgment on the earth? Admittedly some of the lines and passages in the prophets show a passion on this which seems extreme. Though one has to remember the nature of prophetic writing, how exaggeration to make a point is accepted, and not to be taken strictly literally. We in this culture with any knowledge of Christian history remember Jonathan Edwards’s famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” Heaven and hell once dominated the American Christian theological landscape in the Christian understanding within the churches. At least it was a dominant theme.

But we do much better to let that recede, and what actually is in the wave of biblical teaching appear. It may not appeal to the world, or to those coming up with some kind of new theology, but it will deal forthrightly with things as they are by a God who is completely good and pure love. As we remember the salvation provided in Jesus from all of the destruction to come, to bring us into the goodness of God’s judgment, both for ourselves individually and for the world in and through Jesus.

gently leading others

He tends his flock like a shepherd:
    He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
    he gently leads those that have young.

Isaiah 40

Isaiah 40 is truly one of the great passages of scripture, like Romans 8. I hesitate to say that, because I believe we should consider every part important, even the most obscure passages that we might not understand well, if at all. But this passage comforts God’s people both with God’s immense greatness and immeasurable goodness and in terms of God’s great salvation.

What seems especially helpful is the idea of God’s gentle leading. Oftentimes when people, when any of us think of God, we think of an extension of our experience with authority figures, which too often has not been encouraging, but quite the opposite. Or perhaps for some of us, those people were largely absent from our lives. The picture of God given to us in scripture is that God is beyond everything and yet nearer than the breath we breathe. That God is just as much intimate as God is transcendent. That means that the God who is not overwhelmed in the least enters into the picture for humankind, for the world, yes, for us. And God cares for us.

I love the imagery quoted above (see NRSV in link, “[God] will gently lead the mother sheep.”) That God leads the sheep, us, gently. We need that. And in turn, that is how we’re to help the young among us. Not pushing them, or being gruff with them. But gently leading. In fact, we can take that as the cue on how we’re to influence each other. Not that we’re in life to manipulate, but instead we want to learn to follow God’s leading, and hopefully help others to do the same, since we know that is best, and in fact is wonderful.

When one looks at the entire Story in scripture, one also sees that God leads out of weakness, that actually God’s weakness is strength. It is the way of the cross, the way of suffering love for us and for the world. And a part of our salvation for us now in this world, is to learn in and through Jesus to take that same road for others in our commitment to Christ and the gospel.

Let’s pay attention to those who gently lead, and especially to our Lord God, and then learn to follow in those steps. In and through Jesus.