"What sin did you commit that caused God to punish you like this?"
Now that may seem to be a completely inappropriate and unthinking question to ask a man who had only recently had bypass surgery, but it doesn't come close to the following question I was asked after the death of our second son:
"Why do you think God took your son?"
I must confess that I did not answer that second question very well...in fact, I unloaded on the person who asked me that question. I have asked the Lord to forgive me many times for my attitude toward the person who asked me that question.
Let me answer those two questions in the order I have listed them.
First, it was not a "sin" that I committed that caused God to punish me with heart problems. My heart problems sprang from diabetes, hypertension, obesity, and genetics. My choices, and my choices alone are the causes of my heart problems.
My sons (our first and second) died from immaturity. That means that they were born too soon in the pregnancy to survive. They died because their lungs and hearts were not developed enough sustain their tiny bodies. It is bittersweet to me that if they had been born today that at least one of them would almost certainly have survived.
Those questions reveal what I call an Old Testament understanding of how God works. When reading the Old Testament it is easy to draw the conclusion that God zaps people immediately when they step out of line. That's a wrong conclusion, but easy to draw nonetheless. But the truth is something altogether different.
God is always gracious, seldom pouring out on us the justice that we deserve immediately. I remember a song from a number of years ago titled "God of the Second Chance." The truth is that our Heavenly Father is the God of another chance. I like to believe that as long as there is breath God gives another chance.
Be even more than an Old Testament understanding of how God works I think those questions reveal the innate ability man has for creating additions to the way God does things. The Pharisees were masters of that....adding to what God says is enough. The sad thing is that Pharisees are not the only ones who do such things. We are all guilty of this practice.
I was reading an article recently in which the pastor of a large church was talking about all the things that would disqualify someone from serving in his church. My first problem with the article was his constant reference to "his" church. Now I know that I'm majoring on a minor...but I've seen and been around enough pastors to know that some, if not many, have come to believe that they are the ones responsible for the church. The last I checked the church belonged to the Lord and I don't know a single pastor anywhere who gave his life for the church. I know I'm ranting, but I've got a feeling that this rant is probably more true than any of us realize.
The second problem I had was the apparent lack of grace involved. There are so many Christians who have forgotten where they have come from...that we are all sinners with no redeeming qualities of our own. I've worked in some churches that were like that; unforgiving of any mistake, unwilling to extend grace, legalistic while proclaiming that they are loving.
Please don't misunderstand me...I am not saying that there should be no disqualifiers when it comes to serving in ministry. The Bible is quite clear about the qualifications. But I am saying that we must be very careful not to take on a responsibility that is not ours. None of us, no one, is the Holy Spirit for another person. The truth is that we are all messed up and that we will be messed up all of our lives. It is only the grace of God that redeems us, not our goodness, real or perceived.
Questions like those at the beginning of this blog and articles like the one I read recently only serve to fuel the misconception that we have to have our acts together before God can love us or even do anything with us. Nothing could be further from the truth. God loves us and has loved us long before we ever thought about our unworthiness. It seems that we've forgotten that fact.
Maybe it's time to remember.