What would you say if you witnessed a teacher screaming at a child with Down Syndrome because he or she could not work a problem in AP calculus? What would you do if you saw a coach berating a runner, standing over them and hurling epithets, because they could not get up and run after falling and breaking both legs?
These are simple answers; we would so something. We would step in and defend the victim, or at least get help. Maybe punch the teacher or coach right in the nose for being such an asshole. Yeah, that would feel good. Because who on earth would behave in such a callous, evil, deranged way? Who on earth would expect such impossible things? Only callous, evil, and deranged people. It’s ridiculous to even think about. We expect different things from handicapped people, we alter our expectations, we do not hold it against them and deride them, we do not accuse them of being unwilling, or stupid, or unmotivated. We do not believe the handicap is somehow their fault.
Yet we are all born handicapped. And we do exactly the above to one another, and to ourselves.
We are born handicapped in invisible ways, and hopelessly crippled. This is not our fault, any more than the Down Syndrome child is at fault for his or her genetic abnormality. Again, I assert this is not our fault. We didn’t ask to be born this way. We didn’t choose it. Heck, we didn’t even ask to be born at all, much less birthed onto such a terrifying planet!
But because we judge and sneer at one another and ourselves, we believe God to be doing the same. Because we try to make sense out of our twisted limbs and drag ourselves along the racetrack until we are bloody, we believe this is what God wants from us. Because we demand that He give us what we need so that we may run the race smoothly, and we don’t get it, we believe He is a deranged school teacher, beating us with a celestial ruler for being so hopeless, demanding that we try harder. And we teach this to our children, and we expect it from our leaders. We strap on prosthetics of works and clothe ourselves with self-righteousness so no one will know how badly we are failing. Yet all the while, we leave a trail of blood wherever we go.
He is not that merciless coach. He looks upon us with pity, with compassion. He grieves that we are so crippled, so broken, and that we don’t even realize it, but continue to try to run on bloody stumps. All He has ever wanted was for us to acknowledge our inability and turn to Him. All He wants is for us to turn to Him. And not because He has some divine ego that demands satisfaction, but for the simple reason that he holds the answer. He has the cure. He provided the way. He did everything that needed doing. When He sees us wallowing in our humanity, He does not despise us! He loves us. In fact, the only reason He continues to allow people to populate the earth is because He just can’t get enough of us. He delights in us, His creation. He loves us. He simply loves people.
Let me say that again.
God. Loves. People.
I don’t know if it’s just me, but this is a big deal. Because somewhere in my crippled brain I always felt that God had something of a sadistic streak. Like the Roman and Greek gods and goddesses, He was simply moving the important pieces about like pawns for His own amusement, callous to our suffering and indifferent to our pain. Some people, the really good ones, He used for His purposes. The rest of us, well, not so much. Maybe He saw us, maybe He didn’t. Maybe He cared, maybe He didn’t. Otherwise, why did He allow such genetic messes to exist? Why else would He make me, to get right down to brass tacks, when He knew what I was up against on this mortal, broken sphere? Why did He make my mind so flawed, my emotions so grotesquely large, my soul so unstable, if not to watch, and laugh with scorn as I try my best to work with what I have? My opinion just depended on the day, my state of mind, the current horrors on the news, and probably, to some extent, the seasons.
You may be thinking to yourself right now “wow, she really does not understand grace.” And I will tell you that no, I didn’t, and I still don’t feel that I do, not completely. In fact, I believe with all my heart that most people calling themselves Christians in this present age understand grace in an extremely crooked way, if they grasp it at all. I don’t believe that most of us with really get it on this side of heaven. Even if we spit out the words “unmerited favor!” as though we are on a game show with the winning answer, what the hell do we know about that? Do we really know what that means? More importantly, do we behave as though we know what it means?
Most people “know” the definition of grace, but they move and breathe and run and work as though His unmerited favor is so very, very merited. As though it must be won, again and again, on a daily basis. His mercies are only new every morning for those who earn them. What? Tell me that you don’t believe that. More importantly, tell me that you don’t behave like that. I am at least brave enough to own up to it.
But it occured to me the other day that God loves us, and it was suddenly different. For a moment, I believed in His love as more than theoretical, or theological. It blew my mind clean away. The possibilities were all changed. The conclusions were fundamentally altered.
Because suddenly I believed that GOD LOVES US not with an existential sort of detatched benevolence, but with a burning, passionate, horrible, heartbreaking, saving love. The kind of love that stoops down and lifts us from the bloody puddle we wallow in and gives us His own legs to run on. His strength. His life. His mind. Yet we accuse Him of perverse behavior towards us because we persist in slapping His hand away, shouting that we can do it ourselves, telling Him we don’t need any help, that His business was in directing us to the racetrack, not in actually helping us to run the race. We complain that He has something against us because it is so hard for us, that He plays favorites because so-and-so runs with such beautiful strides while we hobble and fall, and then we make fun of so-and-so and believe they are simply hiding a better grade of prosthetics beneath their clothing.
The only thing those beautiful runners have is more of His grace. More of His help. And why? Because they didn’t slap His hand away. They recognized their need, they didn’t stay buried under the weight of their pride and sensibilities, and they wake each day with a determination to do one thing only, and that’s lean on Him.
Lean on Him? Pshaw. What a bunch of wussies, I’ll do this myself, thankyouverymuch.
And that right there is my problem. Maybe it’s yours too. Yet, from the very beginning, God was not interested in pointing out our incapabilites for the sake of deriding us, but so that we might turn to Him. He is no sadist. He is not asking us to run the race with shattered legs. He is not asking us to do the calculus with scrambled brains. He does not scorn, but weeps with sympathy, because He felt the weight of flesh and knows exactly how many cards we have stacked against us.
In fact, we have the whole deck stacked against us, save the King of Hearts. And He waits and watches, not for the day that He can gleefully toss us into the fires of hell, but for the day that we will shed the works we clothe ourselves with and allow Him to clothe us with His grace. It doesn’t really matter if I understand it completely, He gives it completely. If I will admit that works aren’t getting me anywhere, He will show me the way to run. If I can grasp just a glimpse of the breathtaking love He holds for me, I will stop working and start worshiping.
And finally, run my race to win.
1 John 4:18-20