Tuesday, January 28, 2020

More Than One Blessing

“Have you but one blessing, my father?”

Mature Christians will tell you the answer to every problem in life is Christ. They are not wrong. The most complex interpersonal disasters, the most dysfunctional families, the biggest crimes and misdemeanors and all the fallout that comes from them — in one way or another, Jesus Christ is the answer to all these things.

When you have smashed all the dishes, Christ is the answer. But he will not mend them for you and put them back on the shelf. When you have blown up your marriage, Christ is the answer. But he may not magically transform your ex-husband into your best friend. When you have raised an ungrateful, spoiled, crazy child, Christ is definitely the answer. The child may still decide to go to hell.

These are hard realities we face every day. For most of them the world offers no viable solutions. Christ is always and only the answer. But he is not always the answer in precisely the same way, and he does not come with a bag of magic tricks or a rainbow sprinkle of fairy dust to make everything copacetic on demand.

Wasted Potential

Esau had well and truly trashed his life. He had wasted his God-given potential. He was spiritually insensate, and his dullness came out in everything he did. His brother Jacob negotiated him right out of his birthright, but that was all his fault. Esau was the one who despised the blessings of God and preferred a bowl of lentils.

But Esau also had some serious dirt done to him by Jacob for which he was not responsible. Jacob stole his father’s blessing by pretending to be his brother, and when Esau found out, he was greatly grieved. “Have you but one blessing, my father? Bless me also,” he cried.

His father had indeed reserved a blessing of sorts:
“Behold, away from the fatness of the earth shall your dwelling be, and away from the dew of heaven on high. By your sword you shall live, and you shall serve your brother; but when you grow restless you shall break his yoke from your neck.”
It wasn’t the ideal. It wasn’t what Esau had expected or had been entitled to by birth. But it also wasn’t nothing.

Smidgens of Grace?

Hey, we are grateful for even smidgens of grace when things are tough. But when we have really, genuinely repented, why doesn’t God mend the dishes and put them back on the shelf? Why can’t we have things back the way they were? Why couldn’t Esau ever get that blessing and birthright back?

Well, in a world where actions have no real consequences, I’m sure we could. In a world where our choices and those of others — crazily spontaneous, well-considered, moral and immoral — meant nothing at all, I suppose we could just time-warp back to the spot where we went wrong and play the whole thing out again right this time. In a world where God only pretended to grant authority but in reality reserved the right to overturn every single decision we ever made that didn’t please him, I have no doubt the dishes would still be sitting on the shelf undisturbed. Maybe our memories would be wiped too, so that we wouldn’t feel regret or grief for all the mistakes we have made and all the mistakes others have made for us.

Would you like to live in a world like that? You’d lose a lot of hurt and sorrow in the bargain.

That Not-So-Perfect Perfect World

But I’m not so sure I would. In that world, nobody ever learns anything. Nobody participates. Nobody grows. Nobody submits, because nobody really has a choice about it. In that world, nobody develops the ability to resist evil. Why would you fight it? Evil has no sting. In that world, nobody sacrifices for anyone else, because the outcome is no different when you don’t than when you do. Nobody becomes like Christ because Christ-likeness has been effectively imposed by fiat — except of course the aspect of Christ-likeness that involves intelligent decision-making, voluntarily doing the will of the Father, meriting reward or approval ... all these are effectively done away with in a world in which God pushes the reset button every time we fail and patiently fixes every mistake we have ever made.

And anyway, whether we’d like to or not, that’s not the world we live in. In our world, Christ is the answer, but not always in the most obvious way.

Not-Fixing the Dishes

So maybe Christ does not fix the dishes. The new set is not so bad, and you have now learned the futility of hurling the crockery around the room. Sometimes when you see them sitting on the shelf, you find yourself thinking Hey, I don’t do that anymore ...

So maybe Christ does not fix your broken marriage, but he enables you to learn from it. He gives you the grace to ask forgiveness for your part in it. He makes you grateful for the good things you have despite it. He equips you to relate to others more graciously, more lovingly, and more sacrificially, even if you happen to live alone. He gives you his wisdom to share with others so they don’t make the same mistakes you did. He fills your time with different things; some better, some worse, but all different.

And maybe Christ does not go back and forcibly undo years of awful parenting. But Christ is still the answer to your heartache over that child. Maybe it is only in allowing you to let the past go. Maybe it is in allowing you to receive his forgiveness so you don’t wind up in an old folks’ home one day reliving regrets thirty years in the past.

There is not just one blessing. Our Father’s mercies are never exhausted. Who knows, maybe he’ll even transform that wayward child. After all, it is in his nature to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, though rarely in our time frame, and almost never in precisely the ways we imagine.

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