Archive for June 2007

The injustice of grace

June 28, 2007

One of the coolest things about the gospel is that through the life and death and life of Jesus, God creates a way to be simultaneously just and gracious (Romans 3:23-26). I don’t think this concept staggers us nearly so much as surely one day it will.

On one level, we seem to prefer justice to grace. Look at your children. Joey and Jordan take turns clearing and loading the dishwasher; one day Jordan clears and then Joey loads, the next day Joey clears and Jordan loads. Today Jordan is loading. He opens the dishwasher door and finds a single fork in the tray, left behind by Joey; what is his reaction? Justice demands that Joey leave, immediately, whatever he is doing, and march in here and remove the offending fork! Grace isn’t even in the picture.

So we begin to think that justice is ingrained, and only grace needs to be learned with gospel attention.

But the problem is actually worse than that. In the above example, if we’re Joey, we’re not too happy with “justice” either. In fact, its application to us seems a tad unjust. The justice we love is only the justice that serves our love of ourselves. We’re quick to point out that we’ve faithfully cleared much bigger loads than Jordan has had to clear, and that since we had KFC tonight he has hardly anything to do, and that he’s being waaaay unfair. Note that we’re not asking for grace — no, grace, which requires us to be unworthy, is still not our friend. We’re asking for Joey Justice, as opposed to Jordan Justice. Justice my way.

It’s self, really, that is the god we will serve. Both grace and justice are welcome, but only on the condition that they worship with us in this same temple.

Take the parable of the workers in the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16). At the end of the day, all the workers were paid the same amount, the amount that had been agreed to for an entire day’s work. Those that worked all day received exactly what they had contracted for — a just wage. Those that had worked only an hour received the same amount — a gracious gift. Guess who complained, and complained loudly? In this context, grace served the 1-hour workers, but not the 1-day workers — so that’s not, for them, good grace. It would appear, then, that they wanted only justice — but there was nothing unjust in the employer’s treatment of them. They got what they had contractually earned. Still they were unhappy and bitter! It was neither grace nor justice that interested them. What was it? They weren’t harmed by the windfall the 1-hour workers received…were they? But it seemed to them that others were being more highly valued than they were. This is the crime. If you value them more, you thereby undervalue me — and that’s an assault on my religion (my idolatry). When “value me” and “applaud me” are the hymns of worship in our temple, this behavior introduced blasphemous lyrics, sung out of tune. Neither justice or grace is keeping time.

This all comes to one of its worst representations in the life Jonah. God sent him to preach to Ninevah, a wicked city, and Jonah tried not to go — because he was afraid God would be to them, not just, but gracious. Jonah was all about justice if it came to fiery judgment on these wicked people, but could also become very angry with God if God decided to give them grace — which Jonah expected was the whole point of sending him there. Jonah considered such grace unjust.

This brings me, finally, to two strands I want to tease out. The first is one that takes us back to Job, his friends, and the lessons about justice and grace that are being worked out in that book. The second strand is directly gospel centered: how does this work out in our own responses to Christ and the gospel preached?

So we’ll tackle them next…

Another reason to hate flying

June 28, 2007

Caught this on the web earlier. Are you old enough to remember when flying was an adventure to be anticipated, rather than dreaded?  6+ hours on the tarmac!  (HT:  My (Im)mortal Life)

clipped from

  blog it

Are you a man or a mouse?

June 27, 2007

I’m working on some thoughts in the book of Job. This is old and familiar territory, but I always find obstacles to feeling like I have a good grip on this book. I’m trying to get a handle on the different viewpoints the various characters have — including God and Satan, Job, his wife, his friends, and Elihu.

First, some quick thoughts on Job’s wife

So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD and afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the top of his head. Then Job took a piece of broken pottery and scraped himself with it as he sat among the ashes.

His wife said to him, “Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die!

He replied, “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”

In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.

Job knows this trial is ultimately from God. We might think that Satan is responsible for all the bad in the world, and God for all the good, but Job knows enough of God to know He is sovereign over all of it. And it’s clear from the text: it is God who initiates the dealings with Job. The accuser is casting about, looking for trouble, and God says, “Look over here…”

Job’s wife knows, also, that God is ultimately responsible here. She knows this “shouldn’t be happening”, and, like Job, she knows it is ultimately from God. Since she knows Job has loved and served God, this seems monstrously unfair. In the brokenness of her heart, the bereft mother of ten children all suddenly dead, the keeper of a house suddenly gone empty, has no one but her husband. And she sees him now going away, covered in boils and twisted with pain, sitting outside as a broken man among the broken shards. His head is bowed, his manner meek, as he scrapes at his sores. God did this. God is a monster. Curse him, husband. Don’t take it sitting down. Go down like a man. Rage against the night.

There’s a similarity between her thinking and that of Job’s friends. She knows that Job is pious and “righteous”, and she knows this is “punishment” is undeserved. This isn’t fair. Fairness requires God to act differently. He is an unjust monster.

Job’s friends are also concerned with the fairness of God, and the fact that he cannot be unjust. So they suspect Job is not pious at all. We’ll come back to them tomorrow. But beneath the thoughts of both sets is this idea: we know how God works. He does — or should — treat people according to what they deserve.

Is this early book bringing to us this first, elementary lesson in grace? Treatment that is not merited? Something beyond justice, something greater than retribution?

Do we want God to treat the world fairly? Seriously, do we really?

Think of Job. Think also of Jonah, and the workers who worked all day in the vineyard…

More thoughts later.

Cool, clear water

June 25, 2007

I’ve heard stories — they may be legends, I’ve never verified them — that in the days of wagon trains on the Oregon Trail, the wagons would toil long days through the desert, the oxen growing increasingly thirsty and weary, and finally, near the end, get scent of the river ahead. Oxen that moments earlier seemed as though they could barely move would begin running hard for the river, so much so that the wagon-masters had to be ready to try and control the mad dash and save the wagons from crashing.

If we grant that we sinners are thirsty for living water;

And if we grant that Jesus is the sweetest solace a thirsty sinner can know;

Then it would seem our time as pastors should be greatly spent wondering how we can keep up in the mad dash to know Him and love Him and serve Him. Steering would be our concern, and balancing… not getting the herd moving.

If this is not the case, then either our people haven’t sensed their thirst, or they haven’t yet scented Jesus. Prodding them, coaxing them, showing them how to place their weary feet — these are not the things that will help. Preach their desperate need (of which they may or may not be aware) and then unveil Jesus, in all his person and work — let them get a whiff of him.

Then, just try to steer.

Stammering the promises

June 25, 2007

This blog started as “Stammered Life”, taken from a Buechner phrase that “His holy story is stammering itself out in our lives”.  It seemed to fit, given all the fits of weakness in my life, and my interest in weakness itself as a “God-attractor” in the gospel story.  But I wasn’t easy with the emphasis on His story being revealed firstly in me, rather than the Word.  There’s truth in Buechner’s statement, but it’s not the truth this blog wants most to emphasize.

Truly, my heart’s greatest fascination is in the unfolding of redemption and the stunning work of our Great Rescuer.  This blog isn’t about me keeping my promises — to my shame, I haven’t done that — it’s about all the promises kept and fulfilled in Him.  Jesus Christ is worthy of all our delight and adoration and hope.

So we’ll concentrate on Him, and on the gospel.

I’ll still stammer. This blog will stammer. Irregular posts. Some ideas not always fully formed. Weakness in abundance. And it’s all cool, because that’s a mirror of my life, and because the Great Hobby is tracing out in Scripture and in experience how God shows his power in weakness and uses infants to defeat his enemies (Psalm 8).

If you’ve got the gospel all figured out, you won’t enjoy it here. But if every day you’re amazed at mercy, astounded at your own sin, humbled by grace, stupefied by the gospel, and blown away by Jesus… you’ve come to the right place.

Why not pull up a chair and stammer out your own story for a bit?