I got into a discussion about the wrath of God today. A friend from church and I are trying to forge a partnership with another ministry group in the community. Before agreeing to our partnership, they asked us to go to their website and read their statement of beliefs. If we were in agreement with them, great; if not, perhaps the partnership was not such a great idea. The last statement was about God's wrath and I confess, I squirmed. It was stated so strongly, so opposite to the my understanding of God's love, that I knew I could not embrace it. Yet in the name of connecting with people who were looking to connect with God (not the "organization," but their clients), I convinced myself that "wrath" is just their take on God's judgment; whereas my take on God's judgment is one of justice, mercy and love.
I think there are a lot of people in the world who are confused about God's character; and that bums me out. Usually this confusion comes not from reading the Scripture under the direction of the Holy Spirit, but by accepting sight-unseen the teachings of the well-intentioned. The prophet Jeremiah quotes God as saying there will be a day when a man will no longer have to teach his brother about God, because we will know God ourselves (this is a paraphrasing of Jeremiah 31) . That day has come ... we have the ability now to know God. Yet many of us continue to rely solely on the words and teachings of others. I think that's a little dangerous.
Wow, I really wanted to post on Matthew 11:28-30, but my how I digress! Let's see if I can find my way back home again. Here's the passage, as rendered by the New International Reader's Version: "Come to me, all of you who are tired and are carrying heavy loads. I will give you rest. Become my servants and learn from me. I am gentle and free of pride. You will find rest for your souls. Serving me is easy and my load is light."
Some translations use the word "yoke" for "serving me." You'll hear all kinds of interpretations and explanations on this passage, especially where the word "yoke" is concerned; about being unevenly "yoked" or "yoked" to things we shouldn't be yoked to, or that the word "yoke" is a word the rabbis in that day used when they meant their individual teachings. Regardless, I don't want to focus on what it's like to become a servant of Christ. I want to focus on what God is like, based on the revelation of Jesus Christ.
"I am gentle and free of pride."
Try to connect these ideas to that of an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-encompassing God. It just doesn't make sense to our human brains. How many people in powerful positions are gentle and free of pride? Nearly zero. Yet our Heavenly Father and our Lord are described in this puzzling yet soothing manner ... gentle and free of pride.
I've been using this as a yard stick lately, thinking about my words and actions and thoughts and motives and honestly asking myself, am I behaving in a manner that shows me to be gentle and free of pride?
This week, I taught on living a life of moral significance. One of the key concepts I stressed was that of desiring goodness, not just "being good." Desiring goodness and expressing this desire to God places him in the driver's seat of possibility. Even if I fall short of doing good (correction, when I fall short), I can still continue to desire goodness.
Likewise, in the name of desiring goodness, I can desire to be gentle and free of pride.
And if I am to be gentle toward others, I first have to learn to be gentle toward myself. What do you suppose would happen if every person in the world would spend one 24-hour period treating themselves in a gentle manner? One full day of loving myself and cutting myself some slack. What would that manifest?
I'd like to find out.
So I won't beat myself up when I fall short of my preconceived notion of the ideal. I have learned recently that when people disappoint us, or when we disappoint ourselves, sometimes we simply need to lower our expectations. This is not to say we "run the race" in a meaningless, erratic manner (to borrow Paul's metaphor). It means coming to the understanding that just as we can never disappoint God, who after all knows and loves us so completely that his expectations for us are always individually perfect, we can never disappoint ourselves. If we embrace our frailty, feel sorrow for our shortcomings, yet understand that our desire for God's goodness can remain steadfast, we can learn to live abundant lives with ourselves and those around us.
To be gentle and free of pride.