Sunday, 7 April 2013

Are You Nursing A Grievance Against God?

Have you ever “nursed a grievance against God?” (Watchman Nee)

Grievances against other people are common; we’ve all done it from time to time. But nursing a grievance against God? I know some people who have done just that. Theirs are sad and tragic stories that often had their genesis in an event or two in which the person’s theology seemed to crash head-on with reality and expectation. Suddenly when God did not respond in a way that they thought that He should, their faith-world collapsed and the grievance was born. Perhaps you know a few of those stories too from within your own circle of relationships. Perhaps you’ve even authored one of them yourself.

Many of us have had life-shattering experiences where our whole world was suddenly turned on its head. Sometimes these events are consequences from our own misguided choices; other times they are simply fluke events that appear to have happened quite by chance. Perhaps one of the worst of those kinds of events, however, centers on the death of a child.

A couple of biblical stories come to mind of individuals who have lost children; one through no fault of his own, the other as a direct consequence of the father’s own sin.

The first is the story of Job. He was a godly man simply minding his own business and regularly worshipping the Lord. One day a messenger arrived and announced, “Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house, and behold, a great wind came across the wilderness and struck the four corners of the house, and it fell upon the young people, and they are dead, and I alone have escaped to tell you.” (Job 1: 18-19; ESV)

Try and put yourself in his shoes for a moment. Can you feel the pain? Can you feel the gut-wrenching anguish of this godly man who lost not just one child (which would be bad enough), but who lost all of his children at the very same time? What’s going through your mind as you try to make sense of this? Would your faith be tested? Would you blame God? Job’s wife ultimately suggested that he should “curse God and die” (Job 2:9). Would such a tragic event cause you to curse God and renounce your faith? Would losing your children cause you to nurse a grievance against God?

The second is the story of David. We all know of his adulterous affair with Bathsheba and how, upon hearing of her pregnancy, he arranged for the death of her husband Uriah. When confronted of his sin, David repents. Still, the prophet Nathan announces God’s judgment: “Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord, the child who is born to you shall die … And the Lord afflicted the child that Uriah’s wife bore to David, and he became sick” (2 Samuel 12:14-15; ESV). Though David fasted and prayed for the child, seven days later, the child was dead.

What are we to make of that? An innocent child loses his life, essentially by the hand of God, because of the sin of the father? Again, put yourself into the shoes of the character. For a moment, you are David. How would you respond to the news from the prophet Nathan? Would you shoot the messenger? Would your faith be challenged? Would you make the connection between your sin and the child’s death, and if you did, could you accept such a form of divine justice? Would you fail to take responsibility for your own actions and, as we often tend to do, lay blame of someone or something else? Would you nurse a grievance against God for allowing your innocent little child to die?

Like Job and David, I know others who have suffered the pain of losing a child; even my wife and I have been down that same dark road. The proverbial, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” comes to mind. Who hasn’t asked that? Why, why, why? I cannot answer that question.

When that happens, though, it is easy to play the blame-game. If only he didn’t drive so fast, the accident would not have happened and the baby wouldn’t have died; if only she didn’t drink during pregnancy, the baby might have lived. If only God were ‘really’ a God of love, He would not have allowed the child to die. But since the child did die, some might argue that God either does not exist, or He is not really a God of love after all. Who hasn’t heard arguments like that? The fact is, we love playing the blame-game, and we love nursing grievances.

Perhaps you’re thinking, “Yes, but that’s the Old Testament and today we live in the age of grace and love and forgiveness and Jesus. Since Calvary, God isn’t like that anymore.” While there is some truth to that, I would like to suggest that if we were to rest on that premise alone, we would still be missing and important piece of the puzzle. Watchman Nee alludes to it in his little devotional classic, A Table in the Wilderness. In it he writes:
David’s son died because of David’s sin. True, David had repented, and being a man of prayer had fasted and prayed earnestly for his son’s life. Nevertheless the child died. A man of less humble spirit, ignorant of divine discipline, might have been offended and have nursed a grievance against God. David did no such thing. Told of the child’s death, he arose at once and worshipped. Sometimes God has to vindicate His own holiness in this way, putting His servants into the very fires of suffering. The great test in that hour is their reaction to His governmental hand. Of course David felt the sorrow keenly – he would scarcely have been human not to. But when at length he realized that this was God’s way with him and there was no relenting, he bowed to it and worshipped the will of God. Should such an occasion arise, could we do this? It marked David as a man after God’s own heart.
Did you catch that? Watchman Nee said, “Sometimes God has to vindicate His own holiness.” No, on the one hand, God doesn’t “have to” vindicate Himself, in the sense of needing to prove or justify His actions to us. On the other hand, He sometimes does “choose” to vindicate Himself to His creation when they foolishly put Him on trial and nurse a grievance against Him. Why does God bother? I believe that the short easy answer is that God loves us. Having said that, He also wants to remind us that He is also holy and that holiness and sin do not mix.

I do not pretend to fully understand this. I get that God is holy, and that God calls us to holiness as well. I know that the Bible says that without holiness no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14), but that doesn’t mean that I fully understand the holiness of God. I also know that the cross of Christ says that I am already made righteous (holy) in His sight, but I also know that I am still prone to sin. Combine that with the apostle Paul’s, “For now we know in part … For now we see in a mirror dimly” (1 Corinthians 13: 9,12; ESV), and we have to admit that we do not see the full picture. And it is precisely therein that I think the answer to the problem of our nursing grievances against God really lies; we do not fully understand the mind of God.

What are we to make of stories like that of David and Job and the loss of their children? Did the children die because of some sin of the parents? The thought of that no doubt raises so many theological red flags that we may think we’re in downtown Beijing! Still the story of David, as recorded in 2 Samuel 12, does seem to suggest that. Or maybe the children were permitted to die simply because God is holy and sovereign and, by default, because He allowed the tragic event to happen when He gave Satan permission to afflict Job.
What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. (Romans 9: 14-15; ESV)
Does the death of my child all those many years ago change the fact that God loves me intensely? Of course not! I may never know why He permitted it, but hopefully I will never take the advice of Job’s wife and “curse God” over it. Hopefully I will never nurse a grievance against God simply because I don’t understand why He sometimes moves beyond the theological box that I often tend to relegate Him to. God remains merciful and God remains loving, despite my lack of understanding of His ways and despite my propensity to sin. At the end of the day, God remains God. The only question that remains, then, is can we rest in that?

And one day when my life is over, may it be said of me that, like David, I too was “a man after God’s own heart.” 

Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons

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