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The Bad Thief April 1, 2008

Posted by docgrubb in christianity, religion.

“But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold.”

A couple of weeks ago I headed to church on Palm Sunday in what was the latter stages of one of my spiritual “funks” (possibly my third this year, and I don’t call them that inwardly – I don’t know that I call them anything).   These funks are, quite frankly, the result of self-pity, that old sin which any evangelist worth his salt will tell you is straight from Hell.   I can be cruising or even climbing in my faith, when, out of the blue or as a result of a disheartening conflict or setback, I begin, like Eve, to lend an ear to the old archliar, rehashing all the apparent injustices surrounding me or the (to my mind) unnecessary trials God has sent my way, and before long he has me bitter enough to shake all confidence in God, and forthwith I give God the cold-shoulder.   During the descent into a funk, before ‘communication is broken off’,  I may ask the Truth why He needs to make every area of my life – relationships, marriage, finances, health – into a trial.   Can’t one or two accomplish His goals?   “All day long I have been plagued.”  Or, temporally, why must trials overlap one another – can’t a break be on the agenda now and then?  “I have been punished every morning.”  Or, at my worst and most unreasonable, why trials at all – do earthly fathers engineer tests for our children?

Then come the deeper stages.  “When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant;  I was a brute beast before you.”   Reader, have you ‘been there; done that’ ?

Then, invariably, Someone shows up:  Love-That-Will-Not-Let-Me-Go.   That Palm Sunday morning I listened with slowly thawing heart.  The pastor reviewed how those fickle Passover crowds shouted ‘Hosanna’, anticipating a military solution to Roman oppression.  Their own sin and its remedy were not on their radar screen.  And likely neither was the sobering concept that the occupation itself was the consequence of their fathers’ sins, as Assyria and Babylon were in times past.  But like all sons of Adam, these crowds wanted relief from the consequences without dealing with the root cause.  They and we may not only be complacent about our sin, but may even cherish it.  We certainly don’t want to talk about it, and spare us any spiritual mirrors that might reveal our true condition.  We want rescued, but we don’t want to change.  So when these crowds saw the Nazarene in chains, and no one even coming to his defense, their worldly, selfish hopes were dashed, and they turned on him en masse.  When He did not do what they expected, they abandoned Him. 

The pastor then explained that we do the same thing.   And here I paraphrase him:  we expect God to fix this or that – the troubled marriage, the ruined finances, the broken health – and when He doesn’t, we lose heart at best, or grow bitter at worst.   We err because we lose perspective, that is, the fact that He has already done the most gracious thing possible for us – the rescue of our souls from the eternal consequences of our law-breaking and rebellion.  As the hymnist wrote, “That Christ has regarded my helpless estate, And hath shed His own blood for my soul.”

When the pastor spoke his three examples – marriage, finances, health – it was as if he, or rather God, were speaking to me personally.  “Yes, I’m talking to you.”  “Shannon, quit being an ingrate.”  “Shannon, don’t be like the Jerusalem crowds.”   Previously, “when I tried to understand all this”,  these trials, injustices, all consequences of the Fall, “it was oppressive to me.”   Until LTWNLMG shows up again.  “Till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I under- stood…   You guide me with Your counsel…   …it is good to be near God.”   Christ came to save us from our real  peril: eternal separation from our own Creator.  Everything else is inconsequential, or even a part of the saving and refining: “yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation.”  Even my comfort or that modern god ‘happiness’.

But even as the shouts arose favoring Barrabas, Christ was not finished with being accused of failure, He was hardly finished with humiliation.  Nails and thorns were not the final pains, but human words.  In the throes of bearing the consequences of the Fall to the full, in the midst of repairing the ruins, in reconciling creation to God as the real Second Adam, Christ did not satisfy the demands of the bad thief:  “Save yourself and us! ”  The bad thief was unrepentant for his sins.  But his error went beyond that.  It may have superseded unbelief itself.  For even if his mocks had a kernel of belief within them, he would not accept a God who would not fix the here and now, the immediate peril.  “If you are God, do what I say.  Otherwise, you ain’t God, and I won’t believe in you.”

We are all ‘bad thiefs’ from time to time.  Our hope comes in listening to the rebukes of our good thieves (in my case the pastor) and in grasping the grace from LTWNLMG when He sends it our way.

(All scripture quotes from Psalm 73)


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