A WORD TO SINNERS LIKE ME
I’m sorry if life is so painful for you now and I’m sad even if you’ve brought much of your trouble on yourself. I’ve dug a lot of holes for myself down the years and I’ve often thought that when you’re hurt by someone else’s wrong (and not your own) you can console yourself a bit by thinking you’ve entered into the kind of suffering Jesus experienced but when your guilt hurts you, that sort of stabilizing truth isn’t open to you.
There’s not a bit of doubt in my mind that God cares that we experience pain and loss even when we “deserve’’ it. Judges 10:15-16 explicitly says so. The book is all about Israel getting what they ‘’deserved’’ (I’m sure you’ve read it). God’s redemptive response is to bring judgment on them and when they turned to him he began the rescue.
The point of particular interest is that even while they were under foreign domination God saw it and didn’t like it. That is, found no pleasure in their pain even though it was the pain of “just punishment’’. It’s said of him that he “could bear Israel’s misery no longer.’’ Isaiah 63:9 (there’s a bit of textual debate about this verse) tells us in all their affliction he was afflicted. The Jewish Publication Version says, “In all their trouble he was troubled.’’
But beyond specific texts his incarnation in Jesus makes it clear he cares when we hurt. Your analogy with your children is legitimate—you’d feel their pain so why should it surprise us that he does. You’d go to rescue them so why would it surprise us if he did. The basics, I think, are beyond honest dispute.
The problem is the complexity of some situations. If for some good reason, a reason your children or your friends or observers couldn’t fathom, you judged that the immediate rescue of one of your children would prevent you doing good, a larger, more pervasive good, for your other children—if for that good reason you didn’t move to rescue him that would generate further pain.
But even if you didn’t move to rescue him it wouldn’t mean you were being vindictive or even harsh and it certainly wouldn’t mean that you didn’t feel pain about him.
I don’t believe, and I think the scriptures forbid us to believe, that God insists on dishing out a dollar’s punishment for a dollar’s sin all the time. [That’s a good legalist view but it isn’t God’s view.] A psalmist thought that God didn’t punish us as much as our sins deserve. I wonder what we’re to make of that? In our most contrite moments we feel the same way. Now and then we’re convinced he should simply bury us and go off and forget us. We’re often guilt-ridden and that may not be the direct action of God at all. A lot of our pain is self-inflicted though God has long lifted his hand off of us. [This generates further good questions for another time perhaps.]
I’m perfectly satisfied that we should ask God to help us out of our trouble. Get a modern speech version—loose as a goose—and read through the psalms without trying to understand them—no study, just a thoughtful reading—and see how often psalmists confess sin and ask him to be kind to them though they have not been faithful.
When you’re hanging by your thumbs it doesn’t matter after a while that you got yourself there. We can’t help wanting the pain to stop. Only the truly impenitent, only the people (whoever they are) who have no heart for God and don’t care that they have no heart for God and who want simply to use him—only they have no “right’’ to ask him for rescue. Those who are in covenant with him and regret their wrong, when they speak to God, speak to their covenant Father and ‘’expect’’ to be forgiven and helped. You’d want your wayward child to come to you even if you see in the end for good reasons that you can’t change things for him.
Will God rescue you from your present trouble? Who can say? But you’ve been rescued before and know it (Psalm 124) but you may have been rescued repeatedly and didn’t know it or recognize it. If things don’t change in that visible way we want them to change it won’t mean he’s holding a grudge or that he’s being the flinty “sin in—punishment out to the nth degree, come what may’’ type judge. He’s never that and he never was.
We want the pain gone, of course, but if we have a heart for him at all, it’s his good will we want and the marker that he’s taken us back to his heart is that easing of our pain and trouble. Some kids may not care what their fathers or mothers think about them so long as he/she bails them out of every jam they get themselves into. But kids with a heart want the good will and acceptance as well as the rescue that is an expression of the good will.
Still, they want the pain removed and however stupid they’ve been we feel their pain. All of these illustrations—true to life and even true to the life of God—deal with only one aspect of the father’s relationship to one child; his tenderness and affection. And here’s a truth we don’t always care to hear: he has a responsibility toward the child to help him grow in all the ways that would make him good for the family and whoever he works with. God has more than one child and they all have needs! That complicates things.