We have a friend who is going through tremendous difficulties with schooling, jobs, and geographical moves but is doing a valiant job of keeping his family together during these complex circumstances. A few times he has looked at us and said, “I wonder what God is trying to teach me.” When he’s done that, I’ve wanted to weep because I thought God wasn’t designing lesson plans for him but was weeping for his circumstances just as we were. Some of the things that were happening to him were the result of others’ lack of integrity, something that is never God’s will.
This idea God initiates terrible things to teach us lessons needs some rethinking. God is not behind others’ sinful behavior; indeed, God weeps over it. God’s way of teaching us a truth is not to make us bear the brunt of other people’s sin and then play guessing games about what lesson we’re supposed to learn. That would be counterproductive.
When difficult things happen to us because others sin (or we sin), God helps us move through these things and grow. God is beautifully redemptive, taking anything that causes us pain and suffering and helping us grow from it.
Jesus’ coming (which we celebrate this month) illustrates that God’s primary way of relating to us is to speak to us, giving us guidance in everyday life, as Jesus did. That’s what discipleship to Jesus is about. We learn to live an interactive life with God in good times and bad times. A person who is attentive to God will also learn from every circumstance of life – even good ones. That’s a matter of having a teachable spirit.
Seeing God as one who’s always ready with a lecture or a lesson plan ruins our view of God. As N. T. Wright wrote about the passage, “Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:30-31), he said that “Jesus’ point was not to provide his followers with a new list of dos and don’ts that you could tick off one by one, and sit back satisfied at the end of a successful moral day. These instructions have a fresh, springlike quality” with a “lightness of spirit” and “new life bursting out energetically.” We are to be like this “because that’s what God is like. God is generous to a fault: God provides good things for all to enjoy”; God is “astonishingly merciful… Compare that to the common view that God is behind every bad thing that happens, always trying to teach people lessons… some see God as a gloomy God who wants only to make life difficult.”
Consider the above ideas of what God is like:
- astonishingly merciful,
- new life bursting out energetically,
- so glad to provide things for us to enjoy.
These three ideas are also found in Psalm 103:4-5: that God redeems our life from destruction, crowns us with love and compassion, and satisfies our desires with good things so that our youth in renewed like the eagle.
Such ideas about God are lessons I need to learn!
Grace and peace,
© Jan Johnson – For permission to reprint, Click Here