Note: This is yet another post that was intended to be only mildly long, but turned out to be very long. Hopefully it will be worth your while, but know in advance that you have been warned.
The last several months I have been reading (albeit slowly) through 1 and 2 Samuel. At first I had a hard time relating to the culture of Israel and all the war and battling that was going on.
What has bothered me even more than the violent nature of the men depicted are the hard-to-pin-down responses of God. I have really struggled to see Him as consistently loving when I compare His actions in the Old Testament (smoking people in judgment or letting them go off in their own sin) with the stories I read about Jesus’ mercy and grace.
People like Saul, David and Absalom really messed up their lives with all kinds of bad behavior. But beyond that, the bigger questions in my study arose regarding the character of God: “Why did God allow them to sin so much? He could’ve intervened but He didn’t. He’s a loving God, He says He is, so why didn’t He?”
These questions are easily translated into my life: “God, why do you allow me to sin so much? Why couldn’t certain sins of the past been avoided? Why didn’t you heal me and prevent me from [fill in various different life struggles, past and present]?”
My questions about God intervening or choosing not to are really doubts about the goodness of God. This is an issue that goes far beyond my study of 1 and 2 Samuel. It pervades everything in my life. It is something I am struggling to believe wholeheartedly in times when I do not understand His definition of goodness or why He does what He does.
I am also realizing that these questions are just a denial of sin truly being sin in my life, and my sin. It is not God’s. I came across Romans 9:20 this morning and found it to be very fitting: “But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?”
I have read this verse before and not found it to my liking. It has seemed like a trite answer, letting God off the hook. But I am starting to see a change inside of me. It has come as of late because I have been thinking a lot about consequences.
In God’s perfect wisdom, He has set up a world in which there is cause and effect. Not only is this helpful in a practical sense (I know that if I heat this water to cook my egg it will boil at 212 F) but I am starting to see that there is a huge spiritual realm to it as well.
Characters of the OT have been great muses for me when thinking about this. Saul sins–his emotional volatility causes an awful rampage. David sins–he cheats, steals, kills. His son Absalom sins–murder, coveting, deception, divisiveness. A whole nation follows these men in their ways, year after year. This is generational sin.
One of the reasons this bell has rung so loudly for me is because I am soon approaching a child in my arms, who more and more with each passing day of his life will look to me and what direction my footsteps are headed. There is immaturity and foolishness in me that I do not want to pass on and the clock is ticking.
For most of my life I have tried to avoid dealing with the unpleasant results of my actions. Unfortunately, this has worked quite well for 26 years. My flesh would blame something or someone else for my sin. This ultimately has led to blaming God, since eventually all arguments about the state of one’s heart stop there.
At the same time, my spirit would tell me, as it should, “it’s your sin”, but the emotional discomfort that followed would tempt me to do whatever it took to relieve the guilt or anxiety I felt. With God, it has been trying to earn back His favor with Bible study, acts of service, evangelism. With others it has been trying to reconcile for the wrong reasons–to relieve my pain, not to set things truly right with God and man. Obligatory actions have gotten me nowhere but more self-obsessed, thinking that I can continue my sin without dealing with the consequences.
As I have been thinking about generational sin, I listened to a sermon by Matt Chandler yesterday that shed even more light on things for me.
Chandler uses the example of his daughter. When she was two years old she didn’t understand that there were rules to the game of hide and seek. She made up her own rules–she would tell you where to hide and then she’d come and find you. If you didn’t hide where she told you to she would lose interest in the game and go off and find something else to amuse her. And you’d be left in the closet.
No amount of trying to explain to a two year old that there are rules to a game will help. A two year old just needs to grow up. In a few years they will understand that the rules are there to make the game more fun and enjoyable for everyone.
This has to do with consequences–play by the rules and things will go well for you. Don’t and you’ll be playing by yourself. And at some point playing by yourself will get really boring and eventually quite miserable.
[What I must clarify at this point is that I do not believe that dealing with consequences is the alternative to grace. I know (though I admittedly struggle to believe) that grace is always there for the Christian, no matter what the sin is or the effects of the sin that follow. For example, I may get caught stealing a cookie from the cookie jar and be forgiven by my mother, having all things be well between us, but the natural consequence may be that I do not receive dessert that night.]
What was most convicting about all this was when Chandler said “It’s one thing for a two year old to throw a tantrum when they don’t get to play by their rules. It’s another thing for a ten year old, a 15 year old, a 26 year old . . .”
I am 26 years old. And ashamedly I still throw tantrums. I am realizing that I have wanted to play by my own rules for a long time, ones where I don’t have to deal with the consequences of my actions.
I didn’t have to think back very far to see this kind of behavior. Just the night before I was self-righteously angry with Jason about something. I pulled a container of yogurt out of the fridge and as I did I dropped it and a mess went all over the floor. I yelled and stomped off in a fit of rage. I guess at that point, I even wanted gravity to play by my rules. How stupid.
Normally, if I accidently spill something Jason comes to my aid and helps me get it cleaned up quickly. But this time I had to go back and pick up the mess alone, since obviously my behavior proved that I did not want to be in relationship with him at that point. Since I had left it, even more yogurt had poured out onto the floor. More unfortunate consequences to my actions.
Strangely, this was God’s goodness to me. God did not intervene in my anger. The most loving thing for Him to do was to let me deal with the results (which was more than just picking up the yogurt, but also confessing to Jason about why I was angry in the first place and repenting).
If my sin had stayed inside of me, I would not be in closer fellowship with God, as I am today as I write this. I would not have been open to what God had in Chandler’s message for me the next day. Saul, David, and Absalom would still be “those people back then.” And I would not have the strange joy of discovering that my ways are miserable and that I am asking the wrong questions.
God is on a mission to change me and the generations that follow me. That may mean intervention sometimes, while other times stepping back, working a heart change in me and anticipating my arrival back into His arms.
Sometimes I get scared thinking about what kind of sin may come out of me and what consequences I may have to face in the future. But God’s goodness to me is in all His ways. I have tasted that and in that I can find comfort.