John Vanier, co-author of "Living Gently in a Violent World."
For most of my life I found the story of Adam and Eve perplexing for a number of reasons. Beside the talking snake, the seemingly silly command of God not to eat from a tree, or the woman being made out of Adam's rib - one of the most puzzling elements to me was our forebear's first response to sin. The first response wasn't to hide, to repent, or to run. Their response was a recognition of their nakedness. Talk about a weird story. But as I've learned more about the Bible, I have come to recognize that these odd details are often some of the most important details, because they indicate something profound. Such is the case with the nakedness of Adam and Eve.
Ice age upon catastrophic ice age of selection
And only one result has trickled in
The house wins, oh, the house always wins
If evil were a lesser breed than justice after all these years
The righteous would have freed the world of sin
The house wins, oh, the house always wins
You don't have to be alone to be lonely
You might as well give in
You don't have to be sick to be dying
You might as well give in
You don't have to have lost to be lost
Oh, give in
"*Jean Claude! *Fran!" I yelled through the cold, morning air. I was yelling because my voice needed to travel through the haze from the still smoldering campfires and all the way through the slats in the small, wooden shanty to the seven occupants who resided inside. Without a door on the shack and with only blankets for windows, I didn't need to yell all that loudly for them to hear me. But my voice was the "doorbell" to make my presence known, and I wanted to ensure that I was heard. I didn't want any of my future visits to end up like my first, unannounced visit, when *Sam, Jean Claude's older brother, took me into the shack while the rest of the family were all still huddled in the same bed trying to keep warm.
The story of "The Prodigal Son" is a seemingly familiar story for most of us. However, as our men's group goes through this story again, guided by Tim Keller's book, "The Prodigal God," I am finding it more beautiful and convicting than ever before. In the first place, simply reading this story in Romanian has illuminated the passage. In our culture, the notion of "prodigal" has always (at least in my mind) meant "wayward." A prodigal is someone who has lost their way. However, in Romanian, the story is of the "wasteful" son. That makes sense, as the son wasted the love of his family and his full inheritance on that which was fleeting and meaningless.
This revised understanding of the meaning of "prodigal" opens up Keller's book title as well, as we understand that Keller wants to clue us in to the "wastefulness" of God. At first this notion perhaps comes across as blasphemous. But as Keller expounds on the story of the Prodigal Son, highlighting Christ's audience, Christ's character, and the overly generous love of the father, it becomes clear that God is "wasteful" in his love, at least in the eyes of the world. The Pharisees couldn't understand how Jesus wasted his love and attention on the sinners and tax collectors. Such a message is just as important for us today, as we likewise horde the love and forgiveness of God which we believe we have obtained through our merit, refusing to dispense any of it to those who we perceive to be less than us.
What's the difference between a lost cause and a noble one? When does another chance turn into the last chance? If we're supposed to forgive someone seventy times seven, as Jesus said, how do we respond to the 491st offense? These are difficult questions all Christians must ask themselves. As I ruminated on such questions over the past few years, I was never able to arrive at a solid conclusion. In fact, I don't know many Christians who have nailed these issues down. Whether the answers are just too difficult to see, or our hearts too hard to accept the Christ-like answers we really know to be true, most of us, most of the time, seem to meander away from truth or certainty. In such a pragmatic society as ours, we are strangely content with labeling Christ's hardest exhortations, like those on forgiveness and mercy, as conundrums - gray areas we're happy to keep gray. Instead of working hard to discern God's Word and align our decisions with Christ's teachings, we instead tend to choose to be guided by our subjective, situational feelings rather than the objective truth our savior brought, and the tangible truth our savior lived out. Instead of embracing grace and forgiveness apart from merit, we all too often choose to forgive - or not, based on who has wronged us, how many times they have wronged us, or how severely they have wronged us. Our feelings are often the determinate standard for our actions, not God's decree.
A few weeks ago, our youth group played an interesting game called "Courageous or Stupid." The leader provided a number of scenarios and the kids had to discern whether the action was courageous, or stupid, as the name of the game implies. Give it a try.
- Walking into a fire
- Jumping into freezing water in the middle of winter
- Running across a busy highway
"Ce e bun, e rar."
That which is good, is rare. I was introduced to this Romanian phrase the other week at Bible study, when our Romanian leader for that week put this idea forward and asked whether everyone agreed with the statement. Such a statement seems true on its face. Yachts, diamonds, vintage wines, and front row seating at a concert are wonderful things, but extremely rare. They're something you savor when you experience them, and often pay a high price to obtain them. The more magnificent something is, the rarer and harder to obtain it will be.
For the most part, all of us agreed with the phrase. While I typically shy away from universal statements, it at least seemed generally true. It does seem like the best things are rare. After discussing the Romanian phrase, our leader then asked a tough follow-up question. "If the love and grace of God is so wonderful, how could it be so plentiful?" The implication, of course, was that if God's love was so amazing, it would be rare and difficult to obtain, but we know that God's love is endless and readily available. Our leader pointed out that a grace like that presented in the gospels seems like something that would devalue itself. Flooding the spiritual market with grace, like flooding the economic market with money, would make the value, wonder, and power of grace diminish. I appreciated this question, as our Romanian leader had grown up with a very strong emphasis on merit. This notion of free, unmerited grace was new to him. It seemed like he found it interesting and compelling, but couldn't figure out how such a thing could be real.