Originally posted on May 21, 2012
Yesterday, I invited God to a whine-fest, “I’m so sorry! Why do you put up with me? I can never seem to get this human thing right.” Paul and I are like kindred spirits, “For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do” (Romans 7:15). Mea culpa, mea culpa.
And then, this morning – an AHA moment! That holy 2×4…WACK, “Pay attention, Linda. In the name of all that is holy – PAY ATTENTION”!
It began a few weeks ago as a presumed uneventful adventure into the Bible. I read a bit of Old Testament, Psalms, and New Testament daily. I would resist my usual habit of skipping over the begots, genealogies, and the “order of Creation.” This is why I avoid the Old Testament unless I am searching for a particular verse. You know, the short, profound, meaningful ones.
Despite myself, I have persevered. Almost to the end of Genesis now – whew – it’s like running a marathon! Suddenly, the reality of yesterday’s whine-fest smacked me silly. I act like I’m the only misfit God created, the only failure. God’s only recorded mistake – ever!
But, alas, realizing a common bond, I have found myself shaking my head and laughing at the characters in Genesis! I’m sure you know these stories well. But have you ever connected the dots between them and us? Here’s what I find so amusing (in condensed form), though I’m not so sure God was amused:
- God creates paradise. He plops Adam and Eve right in the middle of it. Eve barely gets her first morning stretch in before Satan offers her breakfast –THE APPLE! She bites (literally). Gives it to Adam. He bites. God shows up unannounced (he’s sneaky like that!). Adam whines and passes the blame off to Eve, “It’s not my fault! She made me do it”! (Genesis 1:1-3:24)
- Adam and Eve have sex, as the job of being “fruitful and multiplying” rested entirely on them at this point.
- So, Caine and Able are the first to arrive. Time lapses. Then, Caine, out of jealousy, kills his brother Able. God shows up unexpectedly. Again. He punishes Caine. Caine whines, denies any wrongdoing, and with an in-God’s-face retort, “I don’t deserve this!” – he pleads for his life. (4:1-15)
- Now, along comes Noah. He most likely didn’t whine. Well, maybe he complained about cleaning up after all those stinky animals, but we don’t know that for sure. Perhaps he kept his mouth shut because he was privy to God’s anger about all the stuff God had to put up with. He knew God was having Creator’s remorse and decided to wipe humanity out and start all over (6:9-8:19). (I don’t know. Maybe this would have been a good time to reconsider that whole free-will thing. Maybe.)
- Even though God promised not to wipe out all of creation ever again, he didn’t promise not to annihilate a small part. Just a sort of shot across the bow on Sodom and Gomorrah. God couldn’t even find ten faithful people there.
- So, Sodom and Gomorrah are no more. (19:1-25) Then, God asks anyone watching, “How do you like me now?!”
Okay, now, back to Noah…
- Noah and Mrs. Noah also have sex –a lot! Somewhere in all that begetting, Abraham is born, grows to manhood, and marries Sarah. And they have sex too, but Sarah can’t conceive. God promises them a son in their old age, but they do not believe it, and Sarah is even caught laughing at Him (18:10-15). Really!
- When Abraham told Sarah she would conceive at the age of ninety-five, she rolled on the floor laughing. God heard her, “Are you laughing at Me”? Sarah tries to deny it, “No, no, I wasn’t laughing…really”! God replied, “Yes, you were! Just for that, you’re not only going to conceive, but I will also give you, and every woman after you, stretch marks! Not so funny now is it?” But, really, I’m not sure Sarah grieved over her stretch marks. It’s not like bikini lines were an issue.
- Remember, in verses 16:1-6, the waiting got to be too much for Sarah. She failed to trust God’s promise. Whining to him for making her barren, Sarah takes matters into her own hands and gives Abraham her maidservant, Hagar, to conceive a child for her, and we all know how that turned out! Now, Sarah whines to God again. Hagar is making her life a living hell (16:1-6). Then, unbelievably (even though God promised), Sarah conceives Isaac (21:1-7).
- Okay, now here’s Isaac, a grown man. He falls in love with beautiful Rebekah who becomes his wife (24:62-67). Ahhh, a marriage made in heaven…NOT! They have twin sons, Jacob and Esau…awe…. Mom and dad play favorites. Isaac loves Esau, and Rebekah loves Jacob (25:27-28). And, you guessed it, Rebekah whines because Esau was born first and therefore had the birthright she wanted for Jacob. So, she and Jacob trick Isaac. It was an unfortunate and deceitful trick (25:29-34, 27:1-46).
- Jacob falls in love with Rachel but is coned by their father into marrying her older sister. Then, whining, he realizes he has no alternative but to work longer so he can also marry Rachel. And of course there was plenty of whining between the two sisters, now sharing a husband. They were each pumping out baby after baby, trying to win his favor (29:1-30:24). Whoever thought of that arrangement never knew about PMS! Yeah, I say Jacob deserved it. Can I get an AMEN, sisters?!
Okay, that’s as far as I have gotten in the Old Testament – the FIRST BOOK! And, of course, there’s lots more to come. We know that – deceit, murder, adultery, incessant whining – everything we’re seeing and doing today, they were doing then. Even those God loved and favored. This has been the reality of humanity throughout the ages. Yes we are sinners, grumblers, and selfish, self-centered creatures – the whole lot of us. But God refuses to wipe us out again. And because we have not changed one tinsy bit, what he did seems more ridiculous than ever, “Christ died for the ungodly. Scarcely for a righteous man will one die, yet perhaps for a good man, someone would dare to die. But God demonstrates his love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6-8).
If Jesus wanted to walk with the sinless he would have had to walk alone. If he was looking for someone, anyone, who was without fault, he would have had to look in the mirror. If he would only die for those who deserved it he would not have bothered to come.
We humans, we sinful, messy, prideful, self-centered, outcasts, are deeply loved by God in spite of ourselves. Why? It bears repeating that we were made in his image, and yet we beat ourselves up constantly for who we have come to believe we are, for only seeing our faults and assuming that’s all God sees too. Oh, he see’s our faults – don’t ever doubt that! But he also sees the beauty deep within when he gazes lovingly at us. Every stinkin’ one of us.
And how about this for a revelation! Do you think God “gazed lovingly” at the Pharisees in the Old Testament times, or their counterparts today? He shouldn’t have by our standards. Brood of vipers they were, self-righteous and arrogant. They denied to their last breath that they were sinners. They had no need of God! “The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector” (Luke 18:11). But, here’s the reality. The sun shines, the cooling rains fall gently, the mighty Oak tree’s shade covers – all – the good and the evil. It is not God’s loving gaze that distinguishes us from them, it is our response to him.
Unlike the Pharisees, we “Publicans” know we need God. I ask you, is that not what is going on every time we whine? Call that whine the canary in the coal mine. Something is happening in our life at that moment that is not right, and we know as Christians that God is the only one who can make it right. We grumble to the One who can take it and turn it around – it’s the Job story played out over and over again.
I would like to share with you an excerpt from a wonderful book by Henri Nouwen titled, “The Life of the Beloved.”
I would like to speak to you about the spiritual life as the life of the beloved. As a member of a community of people with mental disabilities, I have learned a lot from people with disabilities about what it means to be the beloved. Let me start by telling you that many of the people that I live with hear voices that tell them that they are no good, that they are a problem, that they are a burden, that they are a failure. They hear a voice that keeps saying, “If you want to be loved, you had better prove that you are worth loving. You must show it.”
But what I would like to say is that the spiritual life is a life in which you gradually learn to listen to a voice that says something else, that says, “You are the beloved and on you my favor rests.
Jesus heard that voice. He heard that voice when He came out of the Jordan River. I want you to hear that voice, too. It is a very important voice that says, “You are my beloved son; you are my beloved daughter. I love you with an everlasting love. I have molded you together in the depths of the earth. I have knitted you in your mother’s womb. I’ve written your name in the palm of my hand and I hold you safe in the shade of my embrace. I hold you. You belong to Me and I belong to you. You are safe where I am. Don’t be afraid. Trust that you are the beloved. That is who you truly are.
I want you to hear that voice. It is not a very loud voice because it is an intimate voice. It comes from a very deep place. It is soft and gentle. I want you to gradually hear that voice. We both have to hear that voice and to claim for ourselves that that voice speaks the truth, our truth. It tells us who we are. That is where the spiritual life starts — by claiming the voice that calls us the beloved.
Life can seem as painful as being pecked to death by a chicken. But live it we must if we are to fulfill our calling; our destiny. Claiming Christianity offers no trophies to set on a mantle, no promises of worldly success, no protection from pain, no surety of love from others. What it does offer, with surety, is a life unimaginable. It requires faith and trust in a God who loves us more passionately than we dare believe, even when we are sinful, even when we reject or ignore Him, “Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you.” (Isaiah 30:18) Beyond a simple wish, “longing” holds a tension between yearning and frustration.
God pleads with us and longs for us to claim His LOVE and believe it. If that were not true He would not have come to SHOW us, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings (not to be pecked to death of course), but you were not willing” (Matt. 23:37).
Here’s my “Tear-Out for Quick Reference” because I daily forget who I am. What would yours look like?
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
Tear-out for Quick Reference:
- Begin and end every day in prayer. Spend a good deal of that time listening.
- Stop my incessant whining and start living as the deeply and radically beloved sinner I am.
- Admit my faults and ask forgiveness from those I have hurt.
- Let go of my “right” to hurt others as they have hurt me. Forgive them.
- Follow this simple and straightforward path of Micah 6:8,“Act justly, love mercy, walk humbly with your God.”
- Live fully – laugh often – love unconditionally.
- Leave the world a better place than I found it.