Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Psalm 51: Broken Bones

I must admit it, I have a low tolerance for difficulty. I am a project-oriented person, so I tend to have an agenda for every day. I know exactly what I want to accomplish and what a successful day will look like. I don't want to have to deal with interruptions or obstructions. I want the situations, locations, and people around me to willingly participate in my plan. All of this means that it's counter-intuitive for me to view difficulty as something beneficial. I've little time and tolerance for "broken bones."

My problem is that my Redeemer is the redeemer of broken bones. Maybe you're thinking, "Paul, what in the world are you talking about?" "Broken bones" is a physical metaphor for the pain of redemption. In case you've not noticed, God's work of delivering you from your addiction to self and sin and molding you into his image, isn't always a comfortable process. Sometimes, to make our crooked hearts straight, God has to break some bones. I gotta confess, I don't like broken bones.

I love the way the prophet Amos talks about this in Amos 4. It's a bit of a disconcerting passage until you wrap you brain around what the prophet is saying about why God is doing what he's doing. Listen to the "broken bones" phraseology of this passage.

"I gave you cleanness of teeth in all your cities,
and lack of bread in all your places."

"I also withheld rain from you
when there were yet three months to harvest;
I would send rain to one city
one field would have rain,
and the field on which it did not rain would wither;
so two or three cities would wander to another city
to drink water and would not be satisfied."

"I struck you with blight and mildew;
your many gardens and your vineyards,
your fig trees and your olive trees the locust devoured."

"I sent among you a pestilence after the manner of Egypt;
I killed your young men with the sword,
and carried away your horses,
and I made the stench of your camp
go up into your nostrils."

"I overthrew some of you,
as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah,
and you were as a branch plucked out of the burning."

Now, you have to ask, "Why would a God of love do this to the people he says he loves?" Well, there's a phrase that's repeated after every stanza of this scary poem that's the answer to this question. Pay attention to these words, "yet you did not return to me." These acts that seem like the product of vengeful anger are actually acts of redemptive love. You see, in doing these things God is actually fulfilling his covenantal commitment to satisfy the deepest needs of his people. And what is it that they need most? The answer is simple and clear throughout all of Scripture; more than anything else they need him!

But this is exactly where the rub comes in. Although our greatest personal need is to live in a life-shaping relationship with the Lord, as sinners we have hearts that are prone to wander. We very quickly forget him and begin to put some aspect of the creation in his place. We very soon forget that he's to be the center of everything we do, and we put ourselves in the center of our universe. We easily lose sight of the fact that our hearts were made for him, and also that deep sense of well-being that all of us seek can only be found in him. We rapidly forget the powerfully addicting dangers of sin and think we can step over God's boundaries without moral cost. So, God in the beauty of his redeeming love will "break our bones." He'll bring us through difficulty, want, suffering, sadness, loss, and grief in order to ensure that we are living in pursuit of the one thing that we desperately need, him.

It's time for us to embrace, teach, and encourage others with the theology of uncomfortable grace. As long as sin still lives inside of us, producing in each of us a propensity to forget and wander, God's grace will come to us in uncomfortable forms. You may be wondering where the grace of God is in your life, when actually you're getting it. But it's not the grace of release or relief, no, you're getting the uncomfortable grace of rescue, relationship, and refinement.

So, if you are God's child, resist the temptation to doubt his goodness in the middle of your stress. It's time for us to stop thinking that our difficulty is a sign of his unfaithfulness and inattention. If you are God's child and you still recognize the battle of sin within, then those difficulties are sure signs of rescuing redemptive love. God isn't withholding his grace from you. No, you're experiencing uncomfortable grace; grace that's willing to break bones in order for your heart to be true. This grace is unwilling to give up. This grace won't turn it's back. This grace won't accept the status quo. This grace won' compromise or grow cynical. God hasn't forgotten you. He's loving you with real love and he's giving you real grace. And he'll continue to do so until you're finally free of your propensity to wander away. Now that's real love!


At 7:35 PM, Blogger padivan said...

It's interesting how many Christians will not believe that pain would come directly from God's hands, even when you show them scriptures like this. Why do you think that is?

At 6:50 AM, Anonymous Marshall Malone said...

"Contentment by subtraction" is a thought from Jeremiah Burrows in The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment. Your post is a delightful commentary on the same theme.

It is my desire to write a book about God's discipline/Church discipline. I hope it to be refreshingly uncomfortable.

At 10:38 PM, Blogger Bill Reichart said...

As evangelicals, we need a thoughtful theology of suffering...

this is good stuff - in that I mean profound.

bill from ProvocativeChurch

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