accepting one’s lot in life

Moreover, when God gives someone…the ability…to accept their lot…—this is a gift of God.

Ecclesiastes 5:19

It may seem strange to read that someone in their 60’s, approaching retirement age struggles over accepting their lot in life, just how it turned out. But that’s me. After all, I have two academic degrees. Yet it turns out that I worked in a factory setting, for decades now, and where I’ll end Lord willing, albeit in a wonderful ministry until “retirement.”

I have struggled with “what ifs?” and “if onlys?” off and on. Those thoughts will probably hit me at least now and then the rest of my life, but hopefully they’ll ebb and become less and less as I learn more and more to simply accept and learn to embrace where my life is today.

There are some things that I can understand from my past, even important things to remember both in what became not helpful attitudes and actions. It’s not like I’m immune to such now. Not at all. But I believe by God’s grace that the Lord has helped me to come a long way, and in some respects 180 degrees from the worst or critically bad of that. And that wasn’t easy and took time. It’s one thing to confess one’s sin, it’s another to become a person who never would do such a thing as a rule, because their character has changed (1 Peter 4:1-2).

But there’s much of my past I don’t really understand. What comes to mind now is what some evangelical theologians have termed as “middle knowledge,” the idea, whether it has much merit or not, that God knows the entire range of possibilities in the life of the world, and specifically in an individual’s life, and moves accordingly. On the face of it, that makes plenty of sense to me, but in the end I want to remain in the testimony of Scripture along with what the church by the Spirit holds as truth. So when it comes to some theology, I just don’t know. But I have so many thoughts and questions, along with regrets. I have my own ideas, not that far removed from what they’ve been for many years, but I hold them more tentatively now. And I know in an important sense for me, none of that probably matters anymore. At best it’s water over the dam, or it could even be a mistaken notion on my part.

As my wife has told me time and again, there’s no sense rehashing the past, all the mistakes I’ve made, many the kind which most everyone makes. Do we trust God for the present as well as the future, even in spite of the past? That’s an apt question to ask.

We all have our limitations, along with the gifts God has given us. We might be able to get some help in this life to overcome or do better with illnesses we have, be they physical, or even in some measure mental. Such help should be considered a gift from God, to what extent it’s God-given. And above that, the blessing that is ours in Christ through the gospel. We find helpful for us the words of Scripture as we read it, prayerfully meditate on it, and study it.

The bottom line is to accept one’s lot in life as given from God. I think we can argue in the context of the passage quoted from Ecclesiastes above (click link to see NIV paragraph) that it’s about learning to live as humans, the humans God created us to be. And we learn from the gospels and the rest of the New Testament that we are restored into the fullness of humanity through the God-Human, Jesus (Romans 8:29; 2 Corinthians 3:18; 1 John 3:2).

Despite my past failures and above all, lack of faith, or thoughts that I wish I would have done this or that differently, I have to learn to let go of all of that entirely, and learn to accept and thankfully appreciate where I’m at, seeing the good in the present circumstances as God’s provision for us, for my wife and I, along with our ongoing natural concern for our family. And seek to be faithful in serving Christ in the place and with the service he has given me. In and through Jesus.

God understands

We say in Christian theology that God knows all things, the end from the beginning, in every minute detail with the big picture in mind. Precisely what that means might deviate some. Like I might ask, “Can God know what isn’t already in existence?” Surely yes, in that he can create and control all of that, but maybe no if he chooses not to control it at every turn, I am thinking of human volition. All of existence is out of God’s doing. And God can force us to choose or do whatever, if God so chooses, but it seems on the surface at least, that there’s a real give and take in life between the individual, as well as people, and God. Maybe some of this we do best to chalk up to mystery, and leave alone. But it does seem that God invites us to grapple with all he has revealed, while the hidden things remain with him, indeed surely outside of our limitation to grasp.

We can be at a place in which we’re challenged to know what to do. In small ways that happens a lot, and is usually fixable. In larger ways, sometimes that can be quite difficult, beyond our ability to navigate well, if at all. It is good during such times to be in prayer and in the word, looking to God to give us the understanding we need, and proceed from there. That is usually incremental, and one step at a time. God can be trusted to be present through all of it, but it seems to me like God leaves plenty of room for variation on our part, including even failure. God has the big picture in mind, but also wants to be present interactively with us through the small things, as well. That is lived largely in context of our day to day existence as individuals, but is best worked out in community with others in Jesus. Not to say that God might not use the broader human community as well, and another friend who does not yet know him.

I look to God for his wisdom, believing certain things are beyond me, really many things. Essentially what concerns God in us, I believe, is a character transformation rooted in God’s grace and kingdom in Jesus by the Holy Spirit. It’s not like other things are unimportant, all within the old creation is included in the new creation in Jesus. Salvation extends to every part, but perhaps its outworking is strange to us. And the fact of the matter is that we may not be necessarily included, if we don’t look to the source which is found in Jesus. There might be some major bumps on the road, and brokenness on the way to that salvation.

God understands. And can be fully trusted. In and through Jesus.

love’s priority over knowledge

Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that “We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know. But whoever loves God is known by God.

1 Corinthians 8

Discover the Word had for me what was a rather convicting program on love’s priority over knowledge. There is no doubt that knowledge is important, and that it can make the difference between success and failure, even between right and wrong. It’s not like we can simply toss it aside as unimportant, or unmeaningful. But it must be coupled with love to amount to anything. And that reminds us of what is called “the love chapter” in the same book, 1 Corinthians 13, which tells us the very same thing.

It is relatively easy to accumulate knowledge over time. Some of it is basic, yet important for life, and wears well, lasts. But other knowledge is certainly subject to revision, I think of science’s current adjustment from the theory of relativity into quantum physics. That’s an extreme example, not something most of us ever think about.

But much of what we know includes elements of the unknown. The problem for us is that we never know what we don’t know. It’s simply unknown to us. So that a big part of true, good knowledge is to acknowledge that there’s much that we don’t know, and that we know nothing at all in the way God does, completely and perfectly. Not that God doesn’t reveal knowledge to us, nor that we don’t have certain basics down well enough to carry on in life, like how to drive a car to work.

But to love is another story. Is that something we think about, and occupy ourselves with? Scripture says that in the last days people will be lovers of themselves. There is a proper love of self, but not the kind spoken of there, in which all that matters to people is what matters to them, and others are good only insofar as they fulfill that. No, the text quoted above says that we’re to love God, and we know elsewhere that we’re to love our neighbor, even including, according to Jesus, our enemies.

So love, beginning in the sphere of God’s love for us, is to be coupled with our knowledge, and is indeed to have priority over what we know. We don’t violate love ever. There is a place to put what we know (or think we know) aside, but never a time or place to put love aside. And this needs to be at the forefront of what we do, not on the sideburner, as we supposedly get the real tasks of life done. The priority in the midst of all we do, and all our work must be love. Because that is where God lives, the God who is love, and who we know in and through Jesus.

it’s more complicated than that

I used to be rather mocked when in gatherings I would point out the complexity of problems. And in keeping with that thought, I think there was some justification in the criticism, which I think I largely avoid now by being more or less silent, or accentuating my agreement with others.

I distrust easy answers, no matter where they come from, and find life more like an ongoing process, rather than an arrival in which one thinks they have their ducks lined up in a row for an easy killing.

Life lived tends this direction, I think, and the Bible read mirrors that. It tells a story which often leaves one with more questions than answers. Evidently that’s the way God wants it to be, so that, yes, we keep going back to the Bible as God’s word, day after day, but we become more dependent on God himself in and through Christ.

As we go on in life, year piling on year becoming decades, in a sense we know more, but in that knowledge, in another sense we know less. It’s a realization which more and more dawns on us. Along with the growing faith in God’s promise in Jesus, that all will be well in the end, that the one who does know, is the one to whom we can turn and entrust ourselves, our loved ones, even the world, completely.

trusting in the Lord

Last evening I was watching what has become my favorite program as of late (in fact, my only program; I don’t as a rule watch television, in fact I can’t remember having one favorite program), Cosmos. This program was both encouraging and astounding. We like to think we have some sort of control, or that life somehow depends on us, at least to some extent. But this program (well worth the watch) is a reminder that so much is really beyond us. How we came into being in the first place, made of star dust along with our wonderful world, earth. Of course we believe all from the hand of God. Just as scientists can tell something, and actually more and more, helping us all see something of the immensity and complexity of it all—what constitutes the material realm, and how it carries on—so by faith we can actually be taken up into something of the Creator’s plans, God’s loving work in and through Jesus.

The Lord wants to lead me personally within community, to be sure. But I need to have something of a grasp on just how little I have a grasp on anything at all. Paradoxically we find strength in weakness, light in darkness, knowledge in our ignorance. What I’m trying to get at is just how much we need to realize that this life—both the big and the small—is really quite beyond us. Instead of thinking that we have something figured out, and we’re expected to corral the matter, and take care of it, we would finally learn some wisdom and apply the same by backing off, and finding something of the Lord’s peace and direction. I speak from experience, although not much in the way of really doing well in this, I’m afraid.

Not that the Lord won’t have something for us to do, or that we won’t have some part in solving a matter, because often we likely will. Although in answer to prayer, we will see solutions we never would have seen otherwise. Part of the answer might be to wait. To back off and not jump to conclusions as to what needs to be done. There is after all so much we don’t know.

And so I want to grow in simple faith, simply trusting the Lord, which means not relying on my own understanding. Knowing he knows and is at work for good. In and through Jesus.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.

our limited perspective

We look at life from a limited perspective. It is good if because of that, we don’t put all our weight on our take on things. This is true across the board in all kinds of areas. Really in everything we consider. This doesn’t mean that we can’t know quite a lot. We may understand a good number of things which are helpful to us, and do enlighten what is going on, or a particular subject. But we always do well to realize that we will never have a full, complete understanding of anything in this life. That at best we know in part.

Again, this doesn’t mean we should despise what we do know. It is often important and helpful. In fact we may know all we need to know to do well, though at the same time being open to more knowledge so we can do better.

I think this is true across the board, as stated earlier. So that as I get older I seem to be more firm on certain basics, but less certain in a sense even in regard to these basics, I mean how they are to play out. I end up being more settled, but where I am settled is a bit different. It is with more of a readiness for change, and hopefully a deeper and more steady trust in the Lord to guide us.

Contrast this to the attitude that one has all the answers, or at least all the answers necessary to navigate well through life. That kind of knowledge does not seem to fly with the kind of knowledge prescribed in scripture. We know within a relationship that is rooted in Jesus and is by faith. This kind of knowing is unsettling if one is looking for a plan that maps out everything in advance. This does not mean that we cannot, or even should not plan ahead. We should, but with the prayer that God will guide our steps along the way. Even as hopefully he has guided our thoughts ahead of time.

And so in humility, let us own our own ignorance. That we don’t know, ourselves. That we are ever dependent on the Lord for everything we do know. That in a sense it is enough, enough for now. But that it is not the end all. In fact only God ever possesses that kind of knowledge. As we go on together in Jesus for the world.

who is right?

It is amazing today the degree of certainty people have over matters which are surely debatable, myself included. And yet case is closed on so many of these subjects for many.

We all have positions on nearly everything, even if it’s an admission of not knowing, all the way to a reasoned position. Of course we approach everything from a paradigm, or worldview, and take in factors, before coming to our own, I would say in most cases hopefully tentative position.

Scripture is not so much an answer book, as a book to help us grow up in maturity in Christ, so that we can think and act as spiritually adult children of God. That means certain priorities in Jesus come to the fore: love, community, mission–among them. While acknowledging that it is never right to commit adultery, to steal, etc.

In the end it is God who is always right on everything. We are not entirely right on anything, but right enough on many things, such as the need for salvation, and Jesus as Savior, etc. Whatever rightness we have is a gift from God.

This does not mean that we in Jesus don’t know, or have no sense of being somehow in what is right. That is all a gift of God’s grace through our faith. By faith we are justified in and through Jesus. By faith we understand that God’s word is true.

We need to hold rightness in a much humbler place than our culture does. It is dependent on God, and is much less certain in so many areas in which humans take positions and draw up battle lines.

That being said, there are of course hard areas in which good, intelligent people are going to disagree. Including devoted Christians. When this occurs we need to listen all the more, and move toward a respectful dialog which accepts differences which may remain.

And we need to keep working at growing in thinking well, loving God with all our minds. Humility being certainly a most important characteristic of that. It is so true that the more people actually do know, the more they realize just how complex life is. Along with knowing that the salvation in Jesus is full in large as well as small ways.

Who is right? In the end only God. And any rightness we ever have, including those who don’t know God, is a gift from him in and through Jesus.

not knowing

It is good for academics to engage in deep study and work on this and that philosophy, and come up with ideas in best trying to understand the life which we live. I especially appreciate it when those who are learned put the cookies on the lower shelf. In other words make it clear, while hopefully not losing much if anything of the original thought. Though every matter has complexities beyond any easy accounting.

Some Christians, and for that matter some people think they have the answer for everything. That they know full well what needs to be known. I don’t see that as really possible in this life. Not in terms or ways in which it is done, anyhow. When this is done, what is missed is just how hard it is to know what evaluation to give to so many things. In part because we likely don’t know all the factors that are involved.

For the Christian there is a certainty by faith which is important. But what does that certainty bring?  Surely the basics of the faith given in scripture and through the church concerning Christ. Other matters which Christians often hang their hats on and consider important enough to divide over are not in this category of certainty.

There are issues over which Christians divide which we may think are important. I think a Christian pacifist position is important, and part of the gospel, or the outworking of the gospel. And yet Christians who are equally sincere disagree. I think I know on that issue, and so do they. That is where we can dialog and try to persuade each other, and then agree to let it go at that. Even though at least one of us is likely wrong, we potentially can learn from each other.

It’s what remains, which in Jesus we are to embrace, and walk in. It has well been said that we likely aren’t completely right on anything. On a certain level we are, but only God knows anything completely. Therefore we need to be humble without surrendering the kind of knowledge which comes from God through faith. By faith we need to be fully committed to the truth as it is in Jesus. Knowing enough to follow. A kind of knowledge that includes mental assent, but is more than that. Realizing that the intellectual knowing part in itself while having it place is not enough in more ways than one.

we know in part

Knowledge is a big subject nowadays, although it likely always has been in the west, inheritors that we are of western philosophy. Called epistemology, which is the study of knowledge, I’m sure it can be quite an interesting undertaking. At my age, I’m not really too interested in spending too much time on it, except to say that I think I probably would fall out somewhere within the scope of what is called “critical realism.” Knowledge in this scope is real, not just apparent, but it is according to each one’s perspective. So that the best knowledge comes from wider perspective. And yet, while that helps, we are limited in that it is us as individuals who each seek to take in what whole there is. Colored by our own understanding and lack of that, experience, all that we are as human beings.

Scripture tells us that “we know in part.” Referring to those who have the Spirit and the mind of Christ both individually and collectively, I take it. Even with reference to the gift of knowledge given by the Spirit in the Body of Christ to some, as well as knowledge in general, particularly what we might call spiritual knowledge. We know in part.

Therefore it is easy to understand why when we have a human document, as well as divine: scripture, itself the word of God to be sure–we can understand why good, equally knowledgeable people can interpret matters differently, while agreeing over the essence of the story and truth in Jesus.

We know in part. Actually I take consolation in that. In some sense we will know fully someday, even as we are known–in Jesus. But even then, we’ll still be learning. Never equal to the all-knowing God. So that we can trust that there is one who fully knows, who understands, and does so in perfect love.

We have to go on what scripture says, on our understanding of that along with tradition–gathering what others in the church have said and are saying. God gives us what we need through his word by the Spirit.

I think we often become restless over what we do not know, instead of resting in what is made known. Not to say that all that is made known is comfortable to us, but in the end it should indeed be comforting to know that God knows. And that he gives us individually and together all we need to know now and forever.

trusting God

Trust in the LORD with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 3

At times I think we unwittingly usurp the place of God. We take on ourselves burdens and responsibilities that belong to God alone.

There is no doubt that we are responsible before God and others. We are called to love God with all our being and doing, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. That involves much, of course. We need to be thoughtful and active, as well as wise- all in ways that are human, as humans are meant to be and become in Jesus. So that in this we end up dependent on God to fulfill this in us through Jesus, even as we endeavor to work this out in our lives.

The following verse of the passage above tells us not to see ourselves as wise, but to fear God and shun evil. In taking on too much so that we take the place of God we can assume we know all that needs to be known, or all that we need to know. But God alone knows all things inside and out from beginning to end. I speak of reality, but not of what God in his wisdom may choose not to know*, aspects of the future God leaves open, though we know that in everything God is in control, and that God knows where the Story in Jesus is going, and how it will carry the day, and forever. I conjecture in that last sentence.

What are we to do in light of this? We need to bring our cares and concerns, indeed enigmas, or even our own thoughts and solutions before God. We indeed need to let God be God, and step aside from thinking we somehow are an insider. Not knowing is in a sense the mode in which we should live. Of course we know what God has revealed in scripture and in Jesus. And we continue to learn that. What we don’t know is just how we’re to live that out at times in certain situations, or with certain questions and issues. God is the one who knows and is ever in control always in everything. Our ways and lives are ever dependent on him.

Therefore we need to simply bring everything before God, and keep doing so. We have the promise that as we submit to him, he will make our paths straight. In other words he will direct us. And often God does this through others. God makes it so we’re dependent on him, and interdependent on each other. We’re all in this together in the community of the redeemed in the world. Of course we need to look for wise counselors. Our pastors should certainly fit that bill, as well as others in the church, for godly wisdom and counsel. Certainly in the world we can find people with a certain kind of wisdom to be valued.

So let us beware of confiding only in ourselves, in what we think we know. As if we were God. Let us cast our burdens and cares on him, knowing that he cares for us and will sustain us. He will never let the righteous be moved. May others see our faith in God through Jesus, so that they may trust God to be their God as well.

*Or all that by nature perhaps can be known. Something may not be knowable because it is nonexistent in any mode.