I just received an email from Doug with the news that friends of ours who just had a baby (born prematurely but thankfully healthy and able to go home) are now facing a new crisis: she is in the hospital in the ICU receiving treatments for blood clots in her lungs. I shuddered reading the email, reminded again of those horrible days after Mercy’s birth.
It reminded me too of how comfortable I can become in my “do this and you will be blessed” approach to life with God. There are plenty of places in scripture that commend this way of thinking, and yet there are as many, it would seem, that defy it. Like my good friend, John Goldingay, likes to put it: the Proverbs say, “live this way and you will be blessed”, then the Psalms, Job and Ecclesiastes say, “we tried it and it doesn’t work!”
At some point, the transactional approach to life with God simply breaks down.
I am thinking of a family friend who, as a very young and newly married woman, decided with her husband to adopt a baby whose mother had been a serious drug abuser during the pregnancy. They were prepared for any number of physical impairments, disability, and challenge with this child. The baby was born healthy and has had not a single health concern as a result of his mother’s abuse. A few years later, this same couple conceived and gave birth to another baby. She did everything right during her pregnancy, and yet it was this birth and this child that were marked by physical challenges and suffering.
Life with God can never be boiled down to a “terms of agreement”. It is not like those online forms where you rapidly scroll through a bunch of text to click the “I agree” button at the end. It is always, and has always been, about a relationship. The thing is, the transaction is safer than the relationship. The transaction allows us to live with a high level of confidence and control. I would also suggest that the transaction can drastically inhibit humility and impede grace: “Thank you God that I am not like…”
I am guilty of living an entitlement faith. Often enough these past four years, I have seriously challenged God over things that have happened to us here. I have clamored after and disputed what I think we “deserve” and I have been quick to cry foul. Like when I was lying in an ICU bed, separated from my newborn baby, facing a condition that most often kills. That was not a “blessing” that I had signed up for.
And yet at the center of my faith is a God who gives me exactly what I do not deserve. Will I dare to choose a relationship, or will I continue to demand a transaction…