When I was a teen-ager, I used to roll my eyes when my parents would give Bibles as a Christmas present. The irony of course, is that as a teen you think you know everything, as as Mark Twain observed, your parents just get smarter, the older you get. There is some kind of profound irony about being angry when gifted with the theme book for the holiday… HOLY day, wherein we exchange gifts.
The gift of the Gospel… it rolls so easily off the tongue that we cease to think about it. We may write about it, but books may be feeble in the end. Like the Gospel of John observes, if he were to record the noteworthy things he could pass on about Jesus, books would not contain them.
The Gospel - we are trying to contain what is uncontainable, without fetter, and without the need of our help. Even writing a blog… this stuff I think about way too much, is it in the end just a way to justify myself with my own words? What’s deserving got to do with it?
Lucky people are simply that, lucky. They somehow dodged the storm that seems to fly at some people throughout a lifetime, and unlucky people, they get bogged down with things to solve that make you wonder. If they started with a lighter load, would they get a better “mark” by default?
There is a portion of scripture that has come up for scrutiny here and again, the part in Exodus where Moses is trying to get Pharaoh to free his captive Hebrew slave population. The text says that God “hardened Pharaoh’s heart”. So… it’s God’s fault?
Good question. God himself seems to be blinding our eyes. Why? Isaiah actually quotes God on this. “Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving. Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.” Isaiah 6:10
It seems like an on-purpose kind of deal. What truth could this possibly serve, when people do not see the truth?
Paul picks up on this too, the bit about God “hardening peoples’ hearts”. It’s a chicken or the egg kind of thing, what came first? What is the progenitor of the condition? Is God simply foreseeing what evil is already there, or is he the cause?
In the book of Romans, where Paul is talking about the arbitrary nature of God, he goes back to that curious passage from Exodus and repeats it. How Paul phrases things however, flips the meaning around. Paul quotes God as saying “I will have mercy on him who I will have mercy”. You might just add in... even the undeserving. Even.. YOU. What’s deserving got to do with it?
God being merciful is a theme that runs throughout scripture. Abraham runs into it when God talks about destroying Sodom and Gomorrah, where wickedness abounds. Abraham bargains down God into agreeing that he will not destroy the land, if Abraham can find just one righteous man. God is in the end, merciful.
Jonah runs into the same deal. Jonah has seen up close the cruelty that comes when the Persians overrun your land. They used to bury people neck deep in the sand, to practise their horsemanship. The best warrior, would navigate the course, with his horse successfully crushing as many heads as possible en route. Nice. Jonah thought so. When he finally agreed to preach repentance to the Ninevites, he is truly vexed to discover that God is planning to spare them. Jonah is a fire and brimstone kind of guy. He is not pleased that God is merciful. The Ninevites do not deserve it, if deserving has anything to do with it.
James and John, the sons of thunder, even echo this holier-than-thou kind of revenge in the New Testament when they leave a Samaritan town that refused to listen to their message. They ask Jesus if he wants them to call down fire and brimstone from heaven, to destroy the town and Jesus rebukes them.
Deserving or undeserving? The question looms over all of human endeavour. Some people luck out and some do not. The line through it all, is that “deserving” has little to do with anything. If we got what we “deserved” be had better not call in the witness of all those who watch us throughout a lifetime. Hubris looms large here, lest anyone who lives in glass houses starts to throw stones.
We often get the fate we do not deserve. Deserving has little to do with anything. It rains on the just and the unjust alike. We don’t deserve the bad, as equally as we do not deserve the good. If we go through life like a slot machine, looking for that big payout, it is unlikely that any good will get done that requires sacrifice. Doing the right thing is never the practical option.
Sacrifice. Takes us back to God. The scandal of the Cross. Paul talks about this in the first chapter of Corinthians. He wonders aloud what we some are already thinking “Anybody who ended up on a cross must have been doing something wrong”, if deserving has anything to do with it, and if God is just.
Exactly. There is justice, and then there is mercy. Mercy and grace is the deal we get, with the scandal of the Cross, a stumbling block for those who are looking for the judgement of fate, and offensive to those who like to base their lives on reasonable propositions.
Best to end with a quote from God. Maybe we will get it, maybe we won’t just like the affirmation of fate, that can be elusive and arbitrary. Looking for a reason? Don’t look in human beings. They try to create logical systems, and structure of power in which to advance their goals. They build religious systems on the best of these efforts and seek to justify them.
“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate. Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God, the world through its wisdom did not know Him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.”
Through faith alone, justified by grace. Because it pleased God that all our our foolish endeavours would come to naught so that we would have to rely on the power of God’s grace alone. That’s God’s big punch line. None deserving, no not one.