Sunday, May 12, 2019

My Besetting Sin


-->
I have a besetting sin. It's lack of trust in the God who has faithfully provided for me and carried me through my life to this day.


I am not in financial need. I am not in debt. I have a steady income. I have a savings buffer in the bank. And I worry about whether or not it is enough. 

It is plenty. But it seems the more money I have, the harder it is to trust it will be enough.

I think about the rich young ruler and I understand how hard it must have seemed to him to sell all he had and give it to the poor. I doubt that I could have done it.

This is a sin, for sure, because God has continually provided for my financial needs. My mother's diary from when I was first born contains these entries:

"Well, Lord, we have no milk for Virginia's bottle in the morning. Will you provide for us?" 

And then, the next day,

"Thank you Lord, for the bottle of milk I found at our door this morning!" 

For sure, someone who knew my parents were in financial need had left that bottle of milk there, but I know it was God who prompted that gift.

Once, when I was a young girl, we had unexpected company for dinner. My widowed mother counted her change and discovered she had only enough to buy the bare necessities for a spaghetti dinner. We couldn't afford the hamburger. 

We went to the store to buy the things we could afford, and as we were leaving, my mother saw something shiny lying on the hot concrete in the parking lot. I ran down and brought back a pound of cold hamburger meat.

When the savings I'd collected for college began to run out and my part-time work wasn't enough to keep me in school, the GI bill was passed in the States, giving me just enough additional monthly income to carry me through the next three years of university to graduation.

When Dennis and I were between jobs in our move to Oregon, and we came to the place, one day, when we had no money for groceries, some friends from church showed up at the door and unloaded bags of groceries on our doorstep.

These are a few examples of how God has met my needs in the past. There are many, many more. What makes me think God will abandon me in the future?

Worry, for me, under the circumstances, is wrong. I have every reason to trust and not be afraid.

And I will still be carrying you when you are old. Your hair will turn gray, and I will still carry you. I made you,and I will carry you to safety.  

Isaiah 46:4

Friday, March 8, 2019

If God is good. . .Why is the World So Evil?


So for the second time in the last two months I have been blind-sided by the flu.  I have spent the last four days in bed, with barely enough energy to stumble across the floor.  This is not fun.  

Whenever I am physically unwell, and therefore personally inconvenienced by pain, this dark, evil world appears even darker than usual.

My first instinct when this happens is to go over to the dark side.  I will obstinately ignore any small glimmer of light in the darkness in order to indulge in self-pity over my own misery. I forget all the lessons I've learned in the past about the triumph of Good over Evil. The evil is all I can see in the present moment, and I take it very personally.

Last night, desperate for some distraction from my enforced idleness, I languished in front of Netflix. The app opened to a movie called TheBoy Who Harnessed the Wind. * The movie is based on the non-fiction novel by William Kamkwamba, an amazing young man who rescued his village from starvation by building a windmill that provided water to their crops during the dry seasons of the year.  The story is inspiring, highlighting the virtue of human resilience in the face of great evil.

Of course, I was not in the mood to notice the human resilience. Instead I watched in shocked horror as the political regime in power at the time literally ran roughshod over the starving village people of Malawi, whose subsistence crops had failed because of environmental abuse of the land caused, as usual, by human greed.

On the upside, watching the extreme suffering of these people at the hands of their evil dictator did expose my puny four-day, flu-induced, self-indulgent pity-party for the shallow exercise that it was. But it also embroiled me, once again, in the great philosophical debate of the ages.

There's no argument that challenges the goodness of a sovereign God more than the reality of the massive global evil that oppresses the innocent poor of our world. And that massive global evil has been going on, apparently unobstructed, for millennia. 

Again I ask, where is the good God I believe in and cry out to in my pain?  Is he perhaps, as Elijah claims about Baal, ". . .daydreaming, or relieving himself?  Or maybe he is away on a trip, or asleep and needs to be awakened?"  

I am playing the devil's advocate here. I love that a good God gives me the freedom to question him--to rant against evil and injustice, and even to blame him for it. I can stand before him, rooted in the reality of his great goodness and compassion, and question the Creator of the universe about how he chooses to run his world. 

I suspect it's his intent all along that each one of us, like Job, should come to this place.  It's very possible that, until we crash up against the harsh realities of evil in this world, we cannot come to know anything significant or worthwhile about our Creator.

And what if that's his greatest desire? 
That we come to know him intimately and personally?
Could that be part of the purpose of his allowing evil in the world?

This theme of the problem of pain is persistently in my face right now, so I have decided to continue with my musings, turning the last few posts into a series that continues the questioning.

Once I drag myself out of this inwardly focused, navel-gazing perspective I'm currently caught up in, I'm going to take a leisurely walk through everything in my life that has led up to my conclusion that this mysterious God is trust-worthy, and will, indeed, bring us to a good place in the end if we let him.

Next post I will write more about the humble and naive beginnings of my discovery of the good God I have come to believe in with all my heart.

I have to confess I will be writing to myself. You may not find this interesting.  You have my permission to ignore my blog until I come back up out of the pit ready to talk about things more inspiring or of more universal interest.  But I think I need to do this.

*NB:  (I disagree with the movie reviewer in this link, by the way. I thought the movie was done exactly as it should have been. Understated, humble, matter of fact, reflecting real life, without the normal Hollywood hype.) 

Friday, March 1, 2019

If God is Good. . .Why is He so Mean and Angry?


For the last year and a half I've been reading through The Bible one book at a time.  



The Bible is a collection of 66 individual books.  Some of the books are small, but some are quite long. 

This morning I finished reading Jeremiah.  Yes, I did.  The whole thing.  And I'm proud of myself.  It's one of the long ones--52 chapters, 61 pages-- and I'm not talking about light, easy reading here.  The Book of Jeremiah is a deep, dark book.

Jeremiah has been called the weeping prophet. He suffered from what I'm sure would be diagnosed today as long-term clinical depression.  And it's no wonder.  God chose him to deliver a ranting tirade to His much-loved people, the Israelites. 

The tirade is full of threats of judgment because of all the evil they are engaged in, and, to make it worse, God tells Jeremiah, at the very beginning, that the people will not listen to him and that they will end up being judged.  Harshly. As in near total destruction. 

How's that for a life's career calling?

The Israelite kings hated hearing the message God told Jeremiah to give them, and they did terrible things to him.  (This was possibly the first recorded case of "shooting the messenger.") They once threw him into an empty cistern in the city and left him there to starve to death.  One sympathetic colleague finally pled for mercy and they hauled him up and threw him in jail instead.

Jeremiah is so miserable in his performance of this depressing assignment that at one point he says:

"Cursed be the day on which I was born! . . . .Cursed be the man who brought the tidings to my father, saying, 'A son is born to you!' . . .because he did not slay me in the womb, so that my mother might have been my grave, and her womb always great." 
(The is the second recorded case of "shooting the messenger.")

But then Jeremiah picks himself up and goes on to pronounce God's harsh judgment.

I have to confess that for most of my life I've been somewhat appalled and even embarrassed about how vindictive God seems to be in the way he treats the nations of antiquity.  He pours judgment out on every evil nation, including his own chosen one, whenever they rebel against him (which is quite often). God is poetically vicious in his prophetic proclamations against rebellious people in the Old Testament, and the history recorded there describes how God carries out his prophesied judgments in great and gory detail.

So what is this?  Is God a good god, or is he mean, self-serving, vindictive and evil?

I have struggled with that question, at least internally, for most of my life (see February 22 post), and much I've read in the Old Testament seemed to point me toward the second of those two options.

But I have realized this perception comes out of a superficial reading of The Bible. It is dangerous to jump into the middle of a book, read a random passage quickly, and decide on an interpretation of the words without seeing them in their context.

That's what I'd always done with my reading, especially in the Old Testament.  But this time, I slowed down. I plowed through the whole book, making sure the plow went deep into the mucky soil of the text, studying the vicious pronouncements of judgment in their context.  And it was an eye-opener for me.

I came away from this reading of Jeremiah being amazed at the loving patience of a holy God, and understanding more about the anguish of his holy heart as he sees his people resisting his love for them and slowly destroying themselves in the process.

Jeremiah 29:11 says,

"For I know the thoughts and plans that I have for you, says the Lord, thoughts and plans for welfare and peace and not for evil, to give you hope in your final outcome."

But they were not ready for his plans. They wanted to trust in their own. 

He is certainly angry in his rants against them, but he is not mean. I now see in the Book of Jeremiah the same heart that Jesus reveals when he speaks to Israel on his way into their City for the last time,

"Oh Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were not willing!"  (Matthew 23:37)

Jesus spoke these words on his way to the cross where he would give his life to redeem us all from the results of our determined waywardness. His pronouncements of judgment in Jeremiah are loving warnings, and the judgment he finally metes out on his people is designed to lead them back to Him. 

We see this pattern of rebellion and judgment throughout The Bible, but it doesn't end there. It always ends in repentance and rest for everyone who finally realizes that God loves them and has their best interests at heart.

I have come to the conclusion that God's judgment is not self-serving, vindictive or evil.  Not ever. Instead, the whole purpose of his outrage at evil is to draw us close to Him.  He longs to tuck us under His wings, where we will always find peace and rest.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Why?


My craft is small, my vessel weak, not fit for ocean gale.

Yet here I rush, into the deep, where wind and waves assail.

The swells are high, the troughs are deep, their darkness swallows me.

Yet blindly, fiercely on I sail, thrust forward, helplessly.

What whim or fancy guides my fate? What sure & steady will?
One lifts me up; one thrusts me forth, and I am floating still.

What purpose drives the raging sea against my bark so small?
What sighing wind speaks earnestly of hope despite it all, 

As if a portal just ahead, lies safe & full of light,
Awaiting, through the raging storm, my exit from the night?

for my dear friends, Sif Kadak and Alayne Adams 💗