A friend recommended a book, God Behaving Badly: Is the God of the Old Testament Angry, Sexist, and Racist? by David T. Lamb. In it, the author answers the seeming contradictions in God’s character between the Old Testament and the New. (A great book so far, by the way.) In the chapter I’m on, Lamb is answering the question of God being angry or loving. And he’s talking about my favorite Hebrew word, hesed, which can be translated as steadfast love or mercy. It’s my very favorite word, so Lamb’s walking close to my heart when I read this:
“Yahweh also waited to punish the Canaanites because, even though they were guilty already, their sin was not yet finished (Genesis 15:16). So God waited four hundred years to punish the Egyptians and the Canaanites, and during this period his own people paid the price. Because Yahweh is slow to anger, his people were not only homeless but also slaves and victims of oppression. Eventually, Yahweh got angry at the crimes of Egypt and Canaan, and he finally delivered Israel from enslavement and provided them with a homeland. However, for four hundred years in Egypt, they paid the price for Yahweh’s slowness to anger.” (p41)
The thought flashes across my mind that some of the crap I endure might be because God is showing mercy—hesed—to other people.
Well that sucks.
– is my first, not so saintly reaction. I always try to figure out why or where the crap in my life came from, in order to get rid of it as quickly as possible. None this four hundred year stuff, thanks. So I ask, “What did I do wrong? What lesson is God trying to teach me?” Because if I can identify the wrong, then I can correct it. If I can identify the lesson, then I can learn it. And then the crap leaves. Or that’s how I’d run things. But the crap in my life might be God showing mercy to someone else. In which case there is nothing I can do to get rid of it any faster!
While these thoughts are hitting home, I remember that God tells us to be like Him—“be holy as I am holy.” (Leviticus 19:2; 1 Peter 1:14-16) We’re to imitate Christ. The word Christian even means "little Christ". Some parts of God’s character are that He is long suffering, slow to anger, and merciful. Which means that I am suppose to be long suffering, slow to anger, and merciful. And I think, "I just want to not have to deal with crap. I don't want to be long suffering."
So I wonder, well, how can my crap be related to another’s mercy, anyway? And I decide that I don’t know. In the midst of it, the Israelites didn’t know that their period of four hundred years of slavery was actually God showing mercy to the Egyptians. On the flip side, neither did they know that at the end of it they’d have their own country. Which is amazing, since before ending up in slavery, the Israelites were nomadic foreigners, with no land they could call their own. Next I remember the verse that tells us to trust in the Lord and not rely on our own understanding of things. With this new take on God's mercy, trusting is a bit more difficult. In the The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, one of the girls asks if Aslan is safe. She’s told, “'Course he isn't safe. But he's good.” Trusting God isn’t safe, but He is good. Trusting God doesn’t mean that I get to be comfortable.
After Jesus said something particularly difficult for people to swallow, He asked Peter and the disciples if they were going to leave him like the crowd did. Peter said, “Where could we go? You have the words of life.”
I just figured out that God thinks showing mercy to people is more important than my comfort—to the point where His “chosen people” are subjected to four hundred years of harsh slavery so that He could extend mercy! So I could choose not to follow this God who sacrifices my comfort, my happiness even, so that He can show mercy to others. He may even have me endure crap so that he can show mercy to people who won’t respond to that mercy! But where else could I go? I am convinced that this God has the words of life. It’s not worth it to go elsewhere. And, on a practical level, there is no guarantee that I wouldn’t suffer if I didn’t follow Him. At least here I have the assurance that the crap will have meaning.
So if you’re dealing with crap in your life, there could be many reasons for it. I know that I’ve had a hand in creating a lot of the crap I’ve had to deal with. But one reason I had never considered was that the crap in my life and yours, may just be because God wants to show mercy to someone.
What do you think? Does ring true to you? Am I full of crap? :o) Leave a comment and let’s dialogue.