Do you ever find God to be confusing, both in pain and pleasure?
There is a mysterious quality to God’s grace. God sometimes just doesn’t fit what we would expect.
The pain of our lives sometimes seems unfair. Have you ever said or thought, “Surely a God of love would prevent this or that suffering?”
And the pleasure God pours into our lives can seem extravagant or even morally questionable. Remember it was Judas who criticized Jesus for allowing a woman to anoint Jesus’ feet with expensive perfume.
Lloyd Ogilvie said, many years ago, that if God is not doing something unexpected in our lives, maybe we aren’t allowing his grace into our lives. For God makes himself known precisely in unexpected grace.
Sometimes unexpected, confusing grace comes in times of pain. The Apostle Paul had some kind of undisclosed problem, and because it wasn’t defined, our pain can fill in the blanks. Paul prayed earnestly for relief. God eventually showed up in verses we love to quote but which I imagine Paul found at least confusing and probably irritating. He may have even felt betrayed by God. God said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). Or as it is expressed in The Living Bible, God said bluntly concerning Paul’s prayers for this problem to go away, “No. But I am with you; that is all you need” (2 Cor. 12:9, TLB). Gee, thanks, God. Ever feel that way? I have. But Paul eventually learned the lesson.
Sometimes unexpected, confusing grace comes in times of pleasure. Peter took a little nap one day, as recorded in Acts 10, while folks were preparing what I’m sure was to be a fine kosher meal. During his nap, Peter had a dream. In the dream God shockingly told Peter to “…rise, kill, and eat” some food considered unclean in Jewish dietary laws. God wanted to give Peter a good, Texas Bar-B-Que with pulled pork, pork ribs, and other stuff that was confusing at best to Peter’s dietary conscience. God was insistent that, confusing though his grace was, that gift was from God and it was time to get up and eat. It was as if God was giving something in his grace that violated God’s own rules. Peter later learned the lesson.
The lesson that both Paul and Peter learned is that God’s grace can not always fit into our prefabricated boxes. God’s grace came into Paul’s pain rather than removing it. And God’s grace came through Peter to the “unclean” Gentiles after God expanded Peter’s vision of God’s love.
If God’s grace is confusing you, take heart and give thanks. Confusingly unexpected grace is a good sign that you are in fact dealing with God’s grace in Jesus Christ. Or, rather, God’s grace in Jesus Christ is dealing with you!
There are two principles that can contribute to our understanding, receiving, and resting peacefully in this grace.
First, God is loving us into life that is more than our natural perception can imagine. If someone had told me thirty years ago that I would survive the loss of both parents, a serious brain surgery in my wife, my own liver cancer, deterioration of strength to climb big mountains, financial gain followed by huge financial expense, the development of friendship that would teach me unexpected dimensions of God’s love, that I would then write a book about it all and that I would become happier than I have ever been, I would have had a good laugh. Just like Sarah, Abraham’s wife, laughed at the idea that she was going to have a fine baby boy, at ninety-nine years of age! But then God asked, concerning this terribly confusing promise, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” (Gen. 18: 14). God smiles at the confusingly unexpected dimensions of his grace and says, “Ain’t it cool the way I do?”
Second, God is loving us into becoming like Jesus Christ. If all of life follows a predictable, well packaged shape, our hearts and relationships and values and work and play and pain and pleasure will not, could not ever grow beyond the humdrum lives of our human expectations. But the quality of life in Jesus Christ is beyond all our expectations. And the dimensions of a life growing up into Christ in all things are indeed confusing, unexpected. Why? Because it is the life of the fullness of God himself which is giving shape to our lives.
When we receive, and are received into, that grace, confusing though it may be, as a dear friend said to me recently, our only response, with Peter and Paul and Sarah, beholding the glory of the Lord, is a quiet, whispered, “Wow.”