Last night I realized that I’ve been slapping God in the face.
It’s a harsh metaphor, perhaps. But that was how strongly I felt it.
I was at Bible study and we were talking about the blessings that are ours in Christ. Righteousness. Freedom. No condemnation. Redemption. Eternal glory. Verse after verse after verse…”for those who are in Christ…yours in Christ…in Christ.” And then the question was posed: which of these do you find the hardest to accept? And in the few minutes of silence that followed, I realized my first answer wasn’t on the list:
“No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly…”
No good thing does He withhold. It’s true. It’s just as much a promise as all those others. And struggling to believe it, or flat out choosing not to, is in some ways the greatest insult of all. Because in doing so I look at this list…this incredible, undeserved, overflowing list, and I say, yeah…I get all that. I accept it. I’m thankful for it. But it’s not enough.
It’s like I’m weighing His gifts as if they’re an offer on the table. In the ultimate arrogance, I lean my chair back on two legs, eyeing it, considering… “yeah, that’s pretty good, but can you throw in this one thing more?” It’s a game for control I’m playing with myself, all the while failing to realize I have no leverage whatsoever, nor anything to counter-offer or barter. A pile of filthy rags. And not only that, but the great irony is that I’ve already accepted the gifts. In fact my very life depends on them. By all rights, my greedy demand for more should be met with a furious withdrawal. But God’s not playing by the rules, to my eternal gratefulness, and He is leaving the table with a different response. “It’s yours.” He says. “And trust me, I’ve counted it. I’ve held nothing back and I’ve left nothing out. It’s enough.”
Oh and yes, you are in Christ. All this is yours because you are in Christ. You are Christ’s…and Christ is Mine.
It reminds me of Abraham and Isaac. It may be one of the most important stories in the Bible, but it’s also hard, and often the question arises: how can a loving God possibly ask someone to sacrifice their son? There are two truths we must let shape this question and its answer, or we’re at risk of misunderstanding the whole story. First, God didn’t ask Abraham to sacrifice his son; He asked him to be willing to. He asked him to be willing, and to execute that willingness through action all the way to the point of sacrifice. But we must not forget that this story ends with a Ram.
And here’s the other piece, and perhaps we don’t like it. Perhaps I don’t like it: God had every right to ask Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. We don’t often put those words together, talking about God’s “rights.” But we must shift our eyes sometimes from asking how a God of love could ask hard things of us to how a God of justice could not. It is every moment astounding that a perfect God, who deserves first our death, and sees Christ’s life instead, and then deserves all of our life in response, could give and give and give of blessing. That He does not rise up in impatience against our whimpering attempts to pretend we still hold onto the rights of anything at all. That He does not explode in anger at our vain self-righteousness to think we sit across the table as a fair player in the game. The truth is that God has the right to ask absolutely anything of us in this life, any depth of sacrifice, and it will not match what He has already given. That is the truth. The grace is that He usually asks so gently. Again and again until we finally hear, or listen, and, like Abraham, give willingly.
Yeah…back to Abraham. Just two days ago I read those astounding words about Abraham’s willingness. “[Abraham]…in the presence of Him whom he believed…contrary to hope, in hope believed.” Abraham lived in a world where no one had been raised from the dead. No one, ever. Despite how difficult we may find it to believe today that being raised to life again could ever happen, we have historical proof that God is able to do so. Abraham didn’t have that proof. But he believed anyway. And can you think of a more ridiculous thing to believe in without proof? Andrew Peterson captures what must have been the aching heart of Abraham so powerfully in his words…
“And even if you take him, still I ever will obey.
But Maker of this mountain, please, make another way.
Holy is the Lord, Holy is the Lord,
and the Lord I will obey.
Lord, help me, I don’t know the way.”
Abraham’s willingness did not come from a heart without a longing for another way. And His belief wasn’t based on the feasibility of the promise, it was based on the character of the One who made it. And that knowledge was enough.
Enough. It’s a misleading word in English, actually. We can play it off to mean simply “sufficient.” Enough for needs to be met and that’s all. But Scripture uses multiple words to make sure we don’t misunderstand: No good thing withheld. Fullness. Abundance.
Have you ever walked on a forest trail just after the rain, when the branches are so heavy with moisture they droop over the path and fall on you from above? Or have you made your way through a field of tall grass thick with early morning dew? You can’t help but get wet. It’s impossible to avoid. Your shoes are soaked and the branches use every slightest brush as an excuse to shower down wetness on you. “Your paths drip with abundance,” Psalm 65 says. They drip with it. It’s unavoidable. To be in Christ is to have immeasurable abundance of blessing, even in the driest of deserts.
John Piper, in an incredible sermon called “Getting to the Bottom of Your Joy,” re-tells a parable of John Newton’s about a man on his way to a faraway city to collect a huge inheritance. After weeks of journeying, just a mile outside of the city, the wheel falls off his chariot. And instead of running down that road, doing anything to get to that city and the inheritance, the man sets off begrudgingly on foot, all the while grumbling and crying out to anyone who will listen, “My chariot is broken! My chariot is broken!” What? In light of what awaits him, who cares? And so Piper says… “You’re just this far from home, right? This life is called a vapor’s breath. You’re that close to your inheritance. You really are. It’s that close and then forever…why would you need to have it now?”
Oh Lord, forgive me. Here’s the truth:
If my chariot wheel is broken, it needed to be. And that is a good thing.
If it isn’t fixable, I needed to walk. And that is a good thing.
If I never have a chariot at all, or if I never get to travel through exotic places in it on the way, or if people never stop and take notice of it, or if I am never very good at driving…
…or if I just abandon this chariot metaphor altogether…
If I have, it is good given. If I lack, it is nothing withheld.
No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly. There is no nuance to hide behind in those words. I either believe it to be true because of the character of the One who said it, or I don’t. I either submit to His right to ask for my life, or I don’t. I either redefine my understanding of good, or I don’t. And the longing-yet-believing and Him-taking-me-giving may leave me with some tension of reality that will not always seem like enough, but it is. It is enough.
Really we don’t need much, just strength to believe
There’s honey in the rock, there’s more than we see
These patches of joy, these stretches of sorrow
It’s enough for today, it’ll be enough tomorrow