I turned 50 today. “50” sounds – and feels – so much older than “49”. I suppose it is only natural to think back on your life when you hit a milestone birthday like this one. So many memories are rushing in today, I can hardly sort them out before they are gone again, brushed aside by still more. And of course I have hopes for the future also – but today, there is this nagging voice in the back of my head that keeps whispering “You’re running out of time…”.
One of my favorite verses on fear has always been 1 John 4:18, which begins like this:
There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear…
I had that phrase memorized, and it came in handy anytime I needed to face my fears. I always understood it to mean that God’s perfect love would cast out all the fear in my life. I think that is the traditional way to understand that verse, and I have never heard it taught any other way. However, this verse also would occasionally trouble me, causing me to wonder something like this: “Seeing that I am afraid of x, does that mean I am not loved by God? And if God doesn’t love me fully (enough to drive away my fear), does that mean I am not saved?”
Fortunately, I no longer think that is what God is saying through John in this passage.
Perhaps the deepest and richest of Jesus’ parables is the one that starts off “A certain man had two sons…”. We commonly call this the parable of “The Prodigal Son”, but as you can see, the story is really about the father. There is so much to learn from this parable – I think we could read it our whole lives and never fully grasp its depth. But for this post, I want to concentrate on just one phrase the father speaks, almost at the end of the story. Andrew Peterson used this in one of his posts a couple weeks ago, and it has been rolling around in my mind ever since.
When tragedy strikes, Christ-followers often seek to process our pain by viewing the tragedy as a punishment directed at us by God. In an earlier post, I tried to make the case that we need not view tragedy in this way, because this is not consistent with God’s character. Unfortunately, the idea that God punishes through tragedy is ingrained in many people and has become a bedrock principle underlying their understanding of who God is and what He is like. I’d like to explore that mindset in this post.
If we choose to view God as the author of suffering through tragedy, those of us who feel guilty over our sins and shortcomings can easily find something that we need to be punished for – and so we readily accept the pain as being appropriately sent by God. Others of us search our own actions and our own hearts and find nothing there worthy of so severe a punishment, and so we become bitter and resentful toward God for having punished us unfairly. Sometimes, we swing back & forth between these two states – a guilt combined with sullen acceptance, or a bitterness always ready to lash out in anger.
As I look back, I am always amazed at how much my view of God changed after becoming a parent. Parenting gives us a whole new perspective on our relationship with God, and a much more accurate understanding of our Father’s heart. So it’s helpful to keep the parent-child relationship in view as we try to understand how God is working in our lives.
The issue of sovereignty vs. control that I referred to in the “Of Sparrows, Blue Jays and Tornadoes” post is a case in point. We can better understand that sovereignty and control are not the same thing when we take a look at our own households and our interactions with our children. Few would argue that in a healthy family, the parents are “sovereign” over the household. That sovereignty includes the authority to establish the rules of the household – for everything from how the family finances are to be handled, to whose job it is to take out the trash. Household rules & policies exist for several reasons: to keep order in the house, to teach children life skills, and at least in part to teach children intangible things like character and obedience (that phrase makes me think of about a dozen Calvin & Hobbes cartoons.) If the parents abdicate their authority and allow the children of the family to do whatever they see fit, chaos will soon rule the house. We have probably all seen families where the kids in some measure are in charge – at least in some area of family life – and it’s not a pretty picture.