I’ll never forget the day the Lord taught me a beautiful lesson about His grace–a tangible, glorious lesson so simple that I should have understood it by the time I was four, yet so profound that it almost escaped me altogether.
The setting was simple enough: me turning from the oven, out of which I had just taken a pan of corn muffins. Moving slowly toward the kitchen counter. Hearing my dog, Natasha, come to investigate. She’s capable of quite a bit of stretching and sniffing when the moment suits–just enough to qualify as investigation, but not enough to count as outright jumping or gobbling. Even so, I was concerned for her poor snoot and automatically put out my left hand to push her gently away. In the process, I grazed my bare fingers on the pan I had been holding in my oven-mitt-clad right hand.
“Ouch!” I cried. Admittedly, I was overreacting to the situation, but I was annoyed. Frustrated. Agitated. Irritated. All right–why bother to clean up my semantics? I was angry–plain and simple.
Hearing the over-inflated distress in my voice, my sister came into the room. “What happened?” she asked.
She’s probably sorry she did. As soon as I caught the slightest trace of sympathy in her voice, I launched into a diatribe that would have caused most people to make a hasty retreat. “I burned myself, just to protect Natasha! And you know, she shouldn’t even have been in the kitchen! She knows better! And we don’t have any aloe in the house, just when it would be handy! And, really, I’m not sure it was worth it. Is burning my hand worth it, when Natasha would have gotten out of the way just in time? And–”
Just then, the Lord impressed on me what I was doing, what I was saying… In an instant, I knew that a tiny burn on my hand was nothing compared to what Jesus Christ did for all mankind when He gave His life for us–and that He had given it as a gracious gift, without anger and not out of obligation but out of love.
I had forgotten this. Somewhere along the way, a grievous idea had taken root in my heart–the notion that, while Christ’s sacrifice was a gift, it was somehow given out of a combination of love and anger/obligation–“if humanity is going to be this sinful and disobedient, I’m going to have to help them, even at a price…” Somewhere in my heart, I thought God was thinking of me: “Why did Nicole lose her temper and say that horrible, heinous, hateful thing? Why can’t she ever keep the peace? Why doesn’t she ever learn? Why doesn’t she think before she speaks? If she read my Word more thoroughly, she would be slower to wrath! She should know better! I’ll forgive, and save, but…”
To think, that’s who I thought I was serving!
Please note: the lack of pronoun capitalization in the previous two paragraphs was entirely intentional. Since those thoughts are not Biblical, the one to whom they pertain is not the One I serve, and therefore should not be capitalized lest I be glorifying ideas of my own making rather than magnifying the one true God. I hope this makes sense…
Anyway, my way of thinking at that time was not even close to being reflective of the Father, the Son of God, or the Holy Spirit. It is an idea found nowhere in Scripture, and I suddenly realized that day with those corn muffins that I had been thinking of God’s most precious, wondrous gift in very human terms. In that moment, I saw that I had been upset at the idea of protecting Natasha because I had lost sight of how God sees me, and the rest of His creation. I assumed that God must be angry with me–even at the same time that He sent His Son–and my own fear trickled down to Natasha and my family in the shape of anger.
Readers, may you understand the heart of God more quickly than I did. His perspective when He sent Jesus to die for the sins of mankind two thousand years ago was never one of displeasure and obligation–“let’s-get-humanity-out-of-this-mess”. That perspective is nowhere in Scripture. Instead, He is indeed the Good Shepherd, willingly giving His life for the sheep, though we go astray and turn aside to our own ways (see John 10, and the book of Isaiah). “Greater LOVE hath no man than this, that He lay down His life for His friends” (John 14, emphasis added). “For God so LOVED the world that He gave His only begotten Son…” (John 3:16, emphasis added.) Throughout His ministry on earth, Jesus spoke of the gift He would give, the work He would finish, in terms of how much He loved us–in terms of grace and mercy and cleansing from sin, of freedom for the captives and good news for the poor and recovery of sight to the spiritually blind and of healing for the brokenhearted. And, aren’t nail-pierced hands and feet (Psalm 22, John 19)–isn’t the weight of the sin of all people, and His willingness to bear our infirmities and carry our diseases (Isaiah 53)–is not all of this so very, very much more sacrificial than a silly little act intended to protect my dog?
Ever since I discovered it in 2009, a glorious worship song has saturated my soul. If you don’t already have it, add Sovereign Grace Music’s “Jesus, Thank You” to your collection–a live version, if you please. Never have I heard something so theologically accurate or so tender:
Your blood has washed away my sin–
Jesus, thank You.
The Father’s wrath completely satisfied–
Jesus, thank You.
Once your enemy, now seated at Your table–
Jesus, thank You!
Now, does that sort of Ephesians-II spiritual reconciliation represent mercy or judgment? Grace, certainly, for “mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13). How can I wonder about God’s great gift in the light of that rich and abundant grace? And if Jesus gave His life so freely, if and because God sent His only begotten Son into the world, should I not be willing to serve? “No student is greater than his teacher, and no servant greater than his master”, but seeing what I do of the Trinity’s love, should I not strive to be like my Master? Yes, I should–I should, and I will. Next time I’m called upon to do something unpleasant for someone else–be he dog or human–may I see His love for me, His grace poured upon and into and around my heart, enough to show that same love and mercy to others. “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36). Yes, Lord, by your grace, I will try.