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Predicament and Provision

 
 

Published in The Free Methodist Herald,
(Mississauga, Free Methodist Church in Canada, Feb. 1998)

 PREDICAMENT AND PROVISION


“God gave them up!” These have to be the most chilling words that describe the human predicament. Three times in five verses (Romans 1:24-28) Paul reiterates, “God gave them up.” He means that God has handed us over. Handed us over to what? Handed us over to what we keep telling God we want. We don’t want him? We don’t have to have him. He’ll give us exactly what we want. (Satan, we should note, is never this generous; Satan invariably gives us what he wants.) We don’t want God’s truth? We don’t have to have it — which is to say, of course, we’re going to be left with falsehood and illusion. We don’t want God’s claim on our obedience? Then we shan’t have to obey him. But then we’re going to have a pretender claiming us, and this claimant won’t be the slightest bit benevolent. At bottom humankind keeps telling God it doesn’t want him. Then Godlessness is what we want. Godlessness is what we have. God gives us up to it, hands us over to it, abandons us to it.

Needless to say, there are consequences to what we have or want, anywhere in life. Not to want God is to be stuck with the consequences of not wanting, not having him. Paul lists the features (or at least some of them) of the human self-expression that displays itself as God hands us over to the Godlessness we crave: slander, murder, ruthlessness, covetousness, boasting, gossip, deceit, parent abuse, sexual perversion, and so on. (Rom.1:28-32) This is the sorry state to which God “gives us up, gives us up, gives us up….” It reverberates like a bell tolling the death knell of the entire human race.

But it isn’t the death knell! By God’s mercy it’s the wake-up call. It’s the huge electric shock administered to jar the heart-patient back to life. Because God is love, because love exhausts God’s nature (1 John 4:8), God can never be indifferent. (Indifference is the opposite of love, not hatred, contrary to what most people think.) While God abandons us to what we want — together with its consequences — he doesn’t abandon us. In fact he “gives us up” just because he has never given up on us. God gives us up to the miserable consequences of our disobedience and defiance just because he’s never ceased loving us and wants to bring us to our senses. At no point in the downward spiral has God given up on us. To be sure, our predicament is evidence that God’s anger has been aroused. But since his anger is only his love burning hot, his anger is simply his love shaking us awake. (We must always remember that since God is love, his every attitude and act are actually expressions of his love for us.)

If God were indifferent, the human predicament would now be hopeless, since indifference would simply not bother with us henceforth but simply leave us alone in our self-willed mess. An angry God, however, plainly cares; his caring means that he bothers; he bothers in that he not only shakes us awake to our predicament, he also awakens us to the provision his love has made for us. He has given us his Son, given us himself in his Son. In the words of the Anglican Prayerbook, our Lord was given us to make “by his one oblation of himself once offered a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world.” God’s provision blesses all humankind in that atonement which Jesus Christ has wrought as he makes “at one” a wayward human race and the God who can’t bring himself to give up on us, and can’t bring himself to give up on us inasmuch as he can’t will himself out of his nature, love.

As eager as God is to bless us, however, he won’t bulldoze us, won’t tyrannize or coerce. Everywhere in his provision for us his self-giving sounds the note of the tender, the wooing, the winsome. Centuries before the event of Incarnation and Atonement the prophet Hosea overheard God, whose wrath had just flayed the people Israel, sobbing in God’s own innermost heart, “How can I give you up?” Centuries later provision would be made for us just because he who has already given us up to all that our depraved hearts crave has never given up on us — and can’t. In Hosea’s era God had said to Israel, his wayward people, “I will allure her…and speak tenderly to her.”(Hos. 2:14) It is love’s plea. “I will betroth you to me in faithfulness, and you shall know the Lord.”(Hos. 2:20)

The human predicament is remedied in love’s provision, the crucified Son. The spiritually quickened see him now and are destined to glory in him eternally.

Victor Shepherd
December 1997