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Saturday, January 12, 2013

On Limping and the Contradiction of Grace

I am reading through Genesis right now. I would like to say that it is the beginning of my "read the Bible through again" in 2013, but for now it is just Genesis.  I am newly impressed at how unimpressive the people in Genesis are presented.  These people are deceptive, selfish, and mean. Most of them lie to each other and attempt to lie to God.  Adam and Eve blame each other as well as the snake. Noah gets drunk and then blames his son for seeing him naked.  Abraham passes his wife off as his sister to protect his own skin, Sarah laughs at God, Rebekah conspires against her husband, Jacob deceives his brother, his brother promises to kill him, Laban deceives pretty much everybody, Rachel lies to her dad after she steals his stuff.  And so it goes.

I don't believe it is an accident that the very first part of the Bible that most people read features enough intrigue for a mini-series and if a true-to-life movie was made out of Genesis, we couldn't let our children see it.  I am reading of violence, sexuality, treachery, and broken promises. Except that God keeps His promises. Every time God pronounces a covenant, it comes to pass.

I believe that a person who reads Genesis without much background as to the rest of the Bible--particularly the New Testament--is being prepared for the reality of grace.  One cannot read of the adventures, exploits, and not-niceness of the "people of God" without wondering why God doesn't just drown them all and start over. Oh wait, He did that.  Once. Then He promised never to do it again.

And after the flood--or for us whatever challenging or tragic event causes us to understand that God is Who He says He is--people returned to being mean, deceitful, promiscuous, and downright sinful.  But instead of wiping clean the dry-erase board called Earth, He continues in relationship with them.  He acknowledges their contentious spirits, but continues to be their (and our) God.

For me, an incident from Genesis and a verse from Romans  helps me to get some perspective. Jacob is one of Isaac's sons (and the one who stole both birthright and blessing from his brother Esau).  In Genesis 32, Jacob is getting ready to confront his brother (whom he assumes is pretty ticked off) with a goal to reconcile. He sends some herdsmen ahead to grovel a bit, then moves away from his family in case it goes badly.

Now, in his prayer time, he wrestles with God. Jacob has spent most of his life scheming, and I suppose he intends to bargain with God. Wiersbe suggests that "before we criticize Jacob, we need to examine our own hearts to see if we've ever been guilty of praying piously and then depending on our own schemes and resources." Instead, in what I believe to be an element of grace, God comes as a wrestler to help Jacob see that his pride and self-reliance are the stumbling block, not his relationship with his brother.

Jacob leaves the encounter with a limp.  I don't know how long he limped. Maybe he limped for the rest of his life, a "thorn in the flesh" to remind him of his dependence.  In Genesis 32:30-32, the scripture says,

So Jacob named the place Peniel, for he said, "I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved." 31 Now the sun rose upon him just as he crossed over Penuel, and he was limping on his thigh.

Isn't that how God is gracious to us? We make our plans and ask Him to bless us, then we cry out to Him when our plans go awry.  I promised you a verse in Romans. But God demonstrates His love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.  (Romans 5:8). While we insist on our way, God knew from the opening words of Genesis that He would have to wrestle us down with His love and mercy because we are too mean, deceitful, promiscuous, and downright sinful to realize that we cannot fix our lives apart from His mercy and grace.

A limp is not an entirely bad thing if it is a reminder of God's power and grace.  A limp is okay if it helps us see that we are pretty messed up. A limp is okay if it makes us aware of God's presence.