Is it Okay to be Mad at God?

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During the recent Good Friday service at my church the pastors and a few others, including myself, reflected on the seven final sayings (or words) of Jesus. I had the opportunity to share on, “My God my God, why have you forsaken me?” I was, honestly, a little excited as Good Friday is always one of my favorite services and this is one of my favorite verses. There’s so much think about in these few words. Having only five minutes, I had to keep it pretty succinct. Here’s the manuscript of what I shared. I hope you are blessed by it.


At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).
Mark 15:33-34

“Is it okay to be mad at God?”

This was a question asked by my wife Kourtney on our way to San Francisco shortly after discovering we had lost our second child to a miscarriage during the second trimester. Being the seminary trained husband that I am, I felt some pressure in answering the question.

On one hand you have God who is sovereign and in our relationship with Him we are often told that we should accept whatever challenges are thrown our way because God is ultimately in control and working for our good. Like in the hymn It Is Well when we sing, “whatever my lot, thou has taught me to say, it is well with my soul.”

But, on the other hand, the scriptures are full of people wrestling (literally and figuratively) with God. Adam blames God for creating Eve, Jonah gets upset when God kills a plant giving him shade, Job and his friends debate the ultimate goodness and justice of God. Here on Good Friday we have Jesus, who only hours before was wrestling with God in prayer, pleading, “if it is possible, let this cup pass over me.” And now he cries out in anguish quoting Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Psalm 22 goes on to say, “Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?  O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest. Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. In you our ancestors trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them. To you they cried, and were saved; in you they trusted, and were not put to shame. But I am a worm, and not human; scorned by others, and despised by the people.  All who see me mock at me…” The Psalm continues bouncing between cries of anguish and remembering God’s promises.

“Is it okay to be mad at God?”

It can be tempting to look at people who stoically trust in God regardless of what happens in their life and see them as the epitome of faithfulness. Anytime we get upset with God, doubt or question his goodness or cry out can be seen as a weakness in our faith. Yet, over and over in the Bible, we hear from people who cry out and demand God show up and live up to his promises. Job demands that God give an answer for his troubles. The Psalmists are constantly pleading with God to remember his loving-kindness, mercy and promises to previous generations. The prophet Habakkuk is bewildered by the evil in the world and wants God to answer for it. And few would doubt Jesus’ faith as he cries out to God on the cross.

“Is it okay to be mad at God?”

Yes, I told Kourtney. It is. It is in those moments, in our anger, anguish and sadness, when we cry out to God, I feel, we are expressing the deepest faith in God. We go before the throne demanding an answer for our pain. Demanding to know what God is up to. Like the blind and the lepers crying out to Jesus, “Have mercy on me!” we don’t give up until we have an answer. The important part is that we are not turning away from God, denying that he exists or has any involvement in this life.

We are running towards him, vulnerable, bearing our soul and emotions, hoping he hears us.

Towards the end of Psalm 22 it says, “For He did not scorn, He did not spurn the plea of the lowly; He did not hide His face from him; when he cried out to Him, He listened.” God has not turned his back, God listens. God will hear us. Through whatever emotional, physical or otherwise upsetting excruciating pain you are going through right now…through the excruciating pain of Good Friday, Jesus demonstrates God can take whatever we throw at him.

Scream at God, demand he answer your questions, nail God to the cross, he will still hear you.

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Honesty in the Silence (Lenten Lectio Reflection for Holy Saturday – Psalm 31:9-14)

Mourning of Jesus, by Jacques Le Breton, & Jean Gaudin. Stained glass at Cathédrale d’Amiens, Amiens, France.

Have mercy on me, Lord, because I’m depressed.
My vision fails because of my grief, as do my spirit and my body.
My life is consumed with sadness; my years are consumed with groaning.
Strength fails me because of my suffering; my bones dry up.
I’m a joke to all my enemies, still worse to my neighbors.
I scare my friends, and whoever sees me in the street runs away!
I am forgotten, like I’m dead, completely out of mind;
I am like a piece of pottery, destroyed.
Yes, I’ve heard all the gossiping, terror all around;
so many gang up together against me, they plan to take my life!
But me? I trust you, Lord! I affirm, “You are my God.”
Psalm 31:9-14 (CEB)

This might seem a little macabre for some of you, but I confess that Holy Saturday has become my favorite day in Lent. Not because it is the last day of Lent and tomorrow the fasting and introspection is over. But because it is the most emotionally raw and potentially honest day of the Lenten season. Holy Saturday recognizes the day that Jesus laid in the tomb and nothing happened. Holy Saturday is the day when it seems like all hope is lost and all the miracles and work of Jesus were for naught.

Jesus is dead.

God never seemed to show up.

The Roman authorities are still in power.

Nothing changed.

Holy Saturday is an emotionally awkward day. There is a temptation to not think about it and jump to the hope and resurrection of Easter. But, if we’re really honest with ourselves, that is never how our lives work. Personally, this has been one hell of a year for me and I could have tried to ignore the pain and run away from the emotions. First, my father died back in July and then my family was rocked by the miscarriage of our second daughter, Zoey Grace, in December. Couple with that a lack of movement in my career goals and dreams and there was a big temptation to just accept the easy answers and move on. As I wrote about a few times, I’ve felt a bit like being in the wilderness. I could have parroted the easy answers that, “everything happens for a reason” or “God loves me and has a wonderful plan for my life.” But, that would not have been emotionally honest. Like this Psalmist writes, “My vision fails because of my grief, as do my spirit and my body. My life is consumed with sadness; my years are consumed with groaning.” The Psalmist does not ignore his true feelings. Rather, he lets them be known to God and to anyone listening to the song. He does not jump to leaning on his trust in God until all the emotions are out. He acknowledges his pain before the reminder comes that “I trust you, Lord! I affirm, ‘You are my God.'”

There is no healing before the pain.

There is no resurrection without the cross.

There is no Easter without Good Friday and Holy Saturday.

I couldn’t accept the easy answers. I dove in head first and embraced the pain, awkwardness and disorientation of the whole mess. Like a good relationship, it’s never good to ignore the elephant in the room. Communication is key and when it comes to things like this, communication and interaction with one’s emotions is key to getting through reasonably unscathed.

My father died.

Our daughter died.

God never seemed to show up.

Nothing is changing.

This is the lesson of Holy Saturday. There is something to be learned in the honesty of the silence. This is especially true now as we in the present time sit between the resurrection of Christ and his redemption and resolution of all things. There is a spiritual awkwardness as we live in the already and not yet of the Kingdom of God. Like the disciples probably wondering what the heck happened on Holy Saturday, we can listen to the news and wonder the same thing.

Jesus is dead.

God never seems to show up.

Sin and death are still in power.

Evil people still get their way.

There is a deep honesty in feeling the silence of Holy Saturday. It is good to feel the pain and awkwardness. It’s only after doing those things that Easter and the resurrection can be experienced in their full weight and glory. Not just as another day of the year, or simply a day for feasting and family.

But as a day when something happened.

Death by the Law (Lenten Lectio Reflection for Good Friday – John 19:5-7)

Ecce Homo – “Here is the Man” by Antonio Ciseri, 1871.

When Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, “Here’s the man.”

When the chief priests and their deputies saw him, they shouted out, “Crucify, crucify!”

Pilate told them, “You take him and crucify him. I don’t find any grounds for a charge against him.”

The Jewish leaders replied, “We have a Law, and according to this Law he ought to die because he made himself out to be God’s Son.”
John 19:5-7 (CEB)

It’s easy to read the story of Good Friday and let some of the nuggets the Gospel author left for us slip by. One of the things I’ve grown to appreciate in reading the Gospels is understanding that each and every element and story was placed with a reason. Since the Gospels are not a simple, dry, retelling of a historical act but instead present the “Good News” about the life of Jesus, every phrase choice by the Gospel writers is meant to direct our attention back to Jesus and his work. Today, as I re-read the Good Friday narrative from the Gospel of John again, one phrase from the Jews shouting back to Pilate stuck out to me. In trying to convince Pilate to pronounce the death penalty of crucifixion on Jesus, the Jews shout in verse 7, “We have a Law, and according to this Law he ought to die because he made himself out to be God’s Son.”

The incensed Jewish crowds felt that their law gave them the precedence to pronounce a sentence of death upon Jesus. This Law they are referencing, by the way, was the same Law God gave them to follow when they agreed to be his covenant people at Mount Sinai. The same law that, right in the middle of the Ten Commandments states, “You shall not murder.” The same law that later says in Deuteronomy, “I call heaven and earth as my witnesses against you right now: I have set life and death, blessing and curse before you. Now choose life—so that you and your descendants will live…” God encourages his people to choose life, yet here they demand death. Does this seem strange to anyone else?

Laws tend to do this though. Whether we live in our Western democracy, a monarchy or even some kind of socialist system, laws help set the limits within our society. While, this is typically a good thing, laws can be wielded in such a way that they are oppressive, segregating, and depressing. You don’t have to look to far back in human history to find such laws and, honestly, you just have to turn on the TV to see modern laws being used towards oppressive ends.

Here Jesus stands innocent of any wrong doing, yet also accused and condemned to death on account of the Law. A Law that is not being used to set limits, keep the peace or give life. The Law is instead being used to segregate and to call for death.

This is one of the often overlooked elements of the Good Friday story. We all tend to agree that Jesus is innocent and was wrongly accused, what we may miss is how this demonstrates the potential for our own laws and power structures to be used in negative ways against those who find themselves at the margins of society. Here, Jesus stands in for all those who do not have the power to fight back. Jesus is an example of those who do not have the luxury of the Laws being used for their defense but instead find themselves as the target.

Here Jesus stands as the homeless person pushed further to the margins because people do not want to see them in their city.

Here Jesus stands for the ethnic minority denied basic rights because they were trying to escape a life of violence and fear in their home country.

Here Jesus stands for the Christians drug out on a beach and martyred because of their killers believe they have a Law that allows them to do so.

Here Jesus stands for the gay couple who’s relationship is denied legal recognition preventing them from taking medical leave to care for a sick partner.

Here Jesus stands for the child seriously injured by a “non-lethal” device during a police raid of his home.

The accusations against Jesus and his death on the cross are not simply unjust acts, but they shine light on the ways laws and power can be used in harmful and destructive ways even in our time.

Here Jesus stands not for the powerful and the “blessed”, but with the weak and the “cursed.”

“God’s curse is on those who are hanged.
Deuteronomy 21:23 (CEB)

“…because what is written kills, but the Spirit gives life.
2 Corinthains 3:6 (CEB)

Finally, yes…the verse says Jesus wore a purple robe and the artwork has him wearing a red robe. Let’s forgive the artist his scriptural oversight but applaud his use of the traditional color for Good Friday.

A Personal Touch (Lenten Lectio Reflection for Maundy Thursday – John 13:3-9)

Christ washes the feet of the Apostles by Jacques Le Breton, & Jean Gaudin.
Stained glass at Cathédrale d’Amiens, Amiens, France.

Jesus knew the Father had given everything into his hands and that he had come from God and was returning to God. So he got up from the table and took off his robes. Picking up a linen towel, he tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a washbasin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he was wearing.

When Jesus came to Simon Peter, Peter said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

Jesus replied, “You don’t understand what I’m doing now, but you will understand later.”

“No!” Peter said. “You will never wash my feet!”

Jesus replied, “Unless I wash you, you won’t have a place with me.”

Simon Peter said, “Lord, not only my feet but also my hands and my head!”
John 13:3-9 (CEB)

Washing each others feet is something we have little to know context for in the modern world. In fact, if you started washing someones feet when they came into your house you would probably be considered crazy and having not concept of boundaries and personal space. Of course, in the world of the Ancient Near East, washing of feet was a regular and necessary occurrence. Since walking was the dominant mode of transportation and paved roads were a rare occurrence, ones feet could get very dirty. Tracking all that dirt into someone’s house, especially if you were attending a party or meal and they had worked all day preparing and cleaning, was considered very rude. If you have ever heard a sermon on this passage, you’ll know that the washing of feet was typically servants job. When Jesus takes off his robes, kneels down and proceeds to wash the feet of his disciples he is taking the role of a servant. This is much of the reason for Peter’s initial disapproval. However, something else struck me as I was reading this story again this year.

How both deeply personal and communal Jesus act of washing the disciples feet is.

First of all, when Jesus chooses to wash the feet of his disciples he is serving them in a very personal level. He gets down in front of them, one by one, and washes their feet. I imagine he also looks each and every one of them in the eye, probably calls them by their name and welcomes them to the evening. I don’t know if you’re like me but, someone touching my feet is a deeply personal experience. Heck, even someone seeing my bare feet seems a bit personal. Here we have Jesus addressing the disciples personally and taking the time to clean their unique feet and removing dirt from between their toes and under their nails. By washing their feet, Jesus acknowledges them as individuals and works to reveal their true self. Jesus does not clean their feet to make the disciples something they are not, Jesus cleans their feet to help reveal who they are underneath all the dirt from the road. Jesus does not tell them they need new clothes, a new leg or even a pedicure. The dirt was not a part of who they really were, the dirt was picked up moving through their lives and obscured who they were. I’m sure it is possible that some of the disciples intentionally got their feet dirty and enjoyed rolling around in the mud…but more than likely their feet got dirty because the road they walked was dirty.

Secondly, Jesus washing his disciples feet is a communal act. Basically, having ones feet washed was probably the price of admission to the meal that evening. Nobody wanted to sit next to someone with dirty feet and no one wanted to be the one person with dirty feet at the table. To take part in the meal, to be a part of the community that evening, it was expected that one have their feet washed. On a more spiritual level, Jesus says, “Unless I wash you, you won’t have a place with me.” So, for the disciples to be a part of the evening and to enjoy being a part of this thing Jesus was about to inaugurate, one was expected to have their feet washed and to be clean. I’m not going to wade into the deep theological waters of being “clean” (ritually/spiritually/etc.) and what it means for Jesus to do that. Lets just simply say that Jesus sets the stage for the disciples need to be washed and for them to in turn serve others in that way. Being washed invites the disciples to sit at the table with the others who have been washed. The washing does not transform them or change their identity, but it does allow them to identify with the community gathered and freely sit at the table set for them. Loud mouths, betrayers, young and old, men and women all found themselves washed and welcomed to the table.

So, this act of Jesus washing his disciples feet is deeply personal and communal at the same time. For those of us today who may find ourselves gathered with our church community around a table this has deep meaning. It means that when we sit down, we are acknowledging our “washed” status among the community of others who have been “washed.” But, it also means that we can look across the table (or the chairs or pews around us) and see people welcomed to the table. We have been “washed” to reveal who we really are and we have been “washed” to join the community. We have been “washed” to help others find who they really are and we have been “washed” to welcome others into the community.

Take some time this evening, if you are gathered with your community, to truly see someone the way Jesus would have seen them. If you have the opportunity, serve them and call them by name. Acknowledge that they have been loved and washed by Jesus and you are glad they are their at the table with you.

A Palm Sunday Revolution (Lenten Lectio Reflection: Mark 11:1-11)

Gospel Book of the Syrian Jacobite Church – Christ’s entry into Jerusalem, ca. 1220.

When Jesus and his followers approached Jerusalem, they came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives. Jesus gave two disciples a task, saying to them, “Go into the village over there. As soon as you enter it, you will find tied up there a colt that no one has ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘Its master needs it, and he will send it back right away.’”

They went and found a colt tied to a gate outside on the street, and they untied it. Some people standing around said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” They told them just what Jesus said, and they left them alone. They brought the colt to Jesus and threw their clothes upon it, and he sat on it. Many people spread out their clothes on the road while others spread branches cut from the fields. Those in front of him and those following were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessings on the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest!” Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple. After he looked around at everything, because it was already late in the evening, he returned to Bethany with the Twelve.
Mark 1:1-11 (CEB)

First of all, let me apologize for a lack of blog posts lately. We’ve been in the process of selling our house which has occupied a lot of my time on top of the regular requirements of everyday family life. So, my writing and blogging time has decreased considerably. Since we have entered Holy Week, I figured it would be a good time to get back on the blogging wagon.

Yesterday was Palm Sunday, the day Christians remember Christ’s entry into Jerusalem. This is the first moment in Jesus’ journey towards his death on the cross. Entering Jerusalem carries with it a whole host of historical and theological significance for Jesus and his followers. To say that Jesus entering Jerusalem is significant is almost an understatement. In the Synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) we are not told that Jesus visits Jerusalem. It is quite possible that he did (most Jews probably would have) For Jesus to finally make the trek to Jerusalem and head to the Temple, many of his followers were probably feeling like all their dreams were coming true. In fact, their chant as Jesus heads towards the city reveals what’s in their minds. It seems to be a quote from Psalm 118.

Lord, please save us!
Lord, please let us succeed!
The one who enters in the Lord’s name is blessed;
we bless all of you from the Lord’s house.
The Lord is God!
He has shined a light on us!
So lead the festival offering with ropes
all the way to the horns of the altar.
Psalm 118:25-27 (CEB)

I emphasized the parts that are the quotations since there is some room for translation variance between Greek and Hebrew (and a whole host of other things, but that’s a different blog post altogether). For example, “Hosanna” is a Greek transliteration of the Hebrew words behind the phrase, “Lord, Please save us!” in Psalm 118. If you read all of Psalm 118, you get the feeling that this Psalm is recounting a pilgrimage or a procession towards the temple. Because of the nature of this Psalm, and the Psalms in general, this Psalm may have been used on a regular basis during worship at the Temple and anyone hearing it (or words from it) could very easily recall what’s going on. So, with the words of the Psalm in mind, it seems that Jesus and his followers are reenacting this Psalm. What might make this unique and possibly troublesome for those already in Jerusalem is that the priests and those working in the Temple probably were not involved or notified about this procession with Jesus.

Jesus and his followers are singing a procession song towards Jerusalem and the Temple without the help of the Temple authorities and possibly out of season.

What makes this procession extra troubling is adding the line, “Blessings on the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest!” So, not only are those following Jesus announcing their procession to the Temple, but they are also announcing the arrival of a new kingdom through an ancestor of David, which we assume they believe Jesus to be. All the while singing, “Hosanna!”, Lord please save us, Lord please let us succeed. I’m sure those sitting in the seats of governmental power in Jerusalem, both Roman and Jewish authorities, were not keen on these pronouncements.

You could probably summarize the song they are singing like this:

We’re headed to the Temple.

“Lord, please save us.”

There’s a new king coming.

“Lord, please let us succeed.”

If you would give me a moment of brutal honesty, our cute reenactments (like I witnessed on Sunday) with children walking peacefully down the aisles of our churches waving palm branches and singing cute songs do not capture the weight of this moment. We’ve effectively removed the teeth and de-clawed the words being shouted by the crowds.

The followers of Jesus are announcing a revolution against the Temple (Jewish) and government/military (Roman) authorities.

This procession is not cute. It is not necessarily suggestive of peaceful resistance and those watching from the walls of Jerusalem and the steps of the Temple knew precisely what was suggested by the words chanted. Throw in that all this is happening shortly before the Jewish Passover where themes of freedom, liberation and stepping away from oppressive rulers are featured front and center. The powers that be have reasons to be concerned. Now, I know some of you might say that Jesus had a different purpose and he had a different idea all along. This is probably true, but aside from the instructions to the disciples to get the donkey…Jesus remains suspiciously silent throughout the procession. Heck, in the very next chapter he causes a ruckus in the Temple and pronounces judgement on those buying and selling within the Temple walls. Hindsight is always 20/20 and we can look back with all sorts of insight and interpretations on the situation but what is really striking to me is what the situation must have looked like in its context.

Beginning with Palm Sunday, let’s strive to embrace the excitement, fear, pain and surprise of Holy Week as the followers of Jesus felt. Let’s chant our revolution songs and maybe allow ourselves to be surprised (for once) at what they mean and what actually happens.

Lent and the Feast of St. Patrick

I wrote this post about St. Patrick two years ago and reposted it again last year. Thanks to life keeping me busy, I figured it was in my best interests to keep the pattern going and repost it again this year. Enjoy!

St. PatrickYesterday was St. Patrick’s Day and I am sure there was a lot of green being worn and Irish delicacies being consumed in our communities. Although, through all this celebrating, eating and general merrymaking that occurs on St. Patrick’s Day it seems the man behind the feast has gotten lost. What started as a day in the Church’s calendar commemorating a great missionary and servant of the Church has slowly been transformed into something completely different. On the good side it is a celebration of Irish culture. However, on the bad side it has quickly become a celebration of excess and over consumption of unnaturally green food and beer. Since St. Patrick’s Day falls right in the middle of Lent, let’s take a minute to redeem the day even though it has passed. Let’s commemorate this saint and allow his example and words challenge us during the Lenten season.

The book Common Prayer offers this brief description of Patrick’s life:

Patrick of Ireland (389 – 461)

At the age of sixteen, Patrick was kidnapped from his home by Irish marauders and taken to Ireland, where he was sold as a slave to a chieftain and forced to herd livestock. After six years of slavery, Patrick escaped to his native Britain. Because he believed that his captivity and deliverance were ordained by God, Patrick devoted his life to ministry. While studying for the priesthood, he experienced recurring dreams in which he heard voices say, “O holy youth, come back to Erin and walk once more amongst us.” He convinced his superiors to let him return to Ireland in 432, not to seek revenge for injustice but to seek reconciliation and to spread his faith. Over the next thirty years, Patrick established churches and monastic communities across Ireland. When he was not engaged in the work of spreading the Christian faith, Patrick spent his time praying in his favorite places of solitude and retreat.

I cannot imagine what it would have been like for Patrick to be kidnapped and sold into slavery where he was forced to be a shepherd for six years. It is like his life was some bizarre combination of the biblical stories of Joseph and Jacob. What is even more unimaginable is that he escaped and was ultimately moved by God to return to Ireland to be a missionary and seek reconciliation. It is often tough for me to seek reconciliation with those who I have wronged or who have spoken ill of me. Attempting to seek reconciliation with those who captured and enslaved me seems way beyond the limits of my grace. But, today we remember Patrick who was driven by this desire for reconciliation with his fellow man and to spread the Gospel. There were also many legends that sprang up about Patrick that I do not have the time or space to go into here. While they may all be just myths and legends, they all point to the fact that he must have been a great man who affected a lot of people. There is no record of Patrick building anything, he fought in no battles, he did not lead a rebellion, none of his sermons or speeches remain and as far as we know he never healed anyone of sickness.

But, he sought to be reconciled to people.

If there’s a lesson in the life of St. Patrick that we can apply to Lent it is simply this. There is power in reconciliation and considering how we might repair our relationships with other people. Whether the relationship is broken because of our actions or because of the actions of others, we should seek reconciliation. Reconciliation seeks to restore community and can leave an eternal imprint on this world. The big theme in Lent is humble self-examination so we can see where we can make God more present in our lives. A central part in this self-examination should be making sure that others perceive Christ in our actions, and reconciliation is a key to that goal. That is why I was inspired to reflect on St. Patrick. A prayer attributed to him, often called St. Patrick’s Breastplate, has become very special to me.  Here are a few stanzas that are among my favorites:

I arise today, through
God’s strength to pilot me,
God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me,
God’s eye to look before me,
God’s ear to hear me,
God’s word to speak for me,
God’s hand to guard me,
God’s shield to protect me,
God’s host to save me
From snares of devils,
From temptation of vices,
From everyone who shall wish me ill,
afar and near.

Christ be with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.
-St. Patrick

The central theme of his prayer is not that Christ is “in” us driving everything we do, but that Christ is perceived by others in everything we do. There are many people who do things in the name of Christ but it is tough to perceive Christ through their actions and intentions. Here’s a tough question to put on your mirror or fridge during Lent.

Can Christ truly be in me if others cannot perceive his spirit through me?

Now it could be true that it is the other person whose perception is clouded and affected, but we ultimately have no control over that. What we do have control over is our own actions, our own words and our own heart.

What is there in your life that might be clouding others perception of Christ through your life? What people may you need to seek reconciliation with in order to remove the veil obscuring Christ working in you and through you?

Reflection on Psalm 107:17-22

Some of the redeemed were fools because of their sinful ways.
They suffered because of their wickedness.
They had absolutely no appetite for food; they had arrived at death’s gates.
So they cried out to the Lord in their distress, and God saved them from their desperate circumstances.
God gave the order and healed them; he rescued them from their pit.
Let them thank the Lord for his faithful love and his wondrous works for all people.
Let them offer thanksgiving sacrifices and declare what God has done in songs of joy!
Psalm 107:17-22 (CEB)

I love when I’m reading Scripture and I have to stop and go back to make sure what I thought I read is what was actually written. It’s always good when Scripture can surprise and unsettle you. We can get pretty stuck in our understanding and interpretation of what we “think” Scripture should say. Today’s Psalm was one of those moments for me. Specifically the opening line of today’s reading.

Some of the redeemed were fools because of their sinful ways.
They suffered because of their wickedness.
Psalm 107:17 (CEB)

Did the Bible just call people who were redeemed fools? Aren’t the redeemed the good guys? Let me check out the Hebrew behind that. Surely the translators could have chosen something nicer than the word “fools.” The Hebrew word behind “fools” is אֱוִיל which is pronounced like “evil”.

Things aren’t getting any better.

If you keep reading, you realize that the redeemed are fools because of their own actions. Some kind of wickedness led to suffering, lack of appetite and impending doom. They got what they deserved, they reaped what they sowed, or (as Paul wrote in Romans) “they were paid back with the penalty they deserved for their mistake in their own bodies” (Romans 1:27, CEB).

Then, as any of us might do, these fools, “cried out to the Lord in their distress.” But, rather than letting them rot in their own mistakes, God saves them.

No payment.

No guilt trip.

No quid pro quo.

No expectations.

No extra divine judgment or punishment.

God immediately sends the order to rescue them and they are redeemed. I have this image of a special forces, or A-Team like, squad of angels waiting and when God gives the go ahead, they drop in and rescue these “fools” from their troubles. While their troubles were self-inflicted and reasonable on account of their wickedness, this does not stop or hinder God from healing them when they cry out to him.

There is no fool beyond the scope of God’s redemption.

No matter what we do, how righteous or unrighteous we are, God’s redemption and salvation are available for all those who are willing to cry out to him. This can seem trite and simple, but it’s true. Statements like this are often stated for the benefit of the “fools” so that they know God’s offer is always open. However, the people who need to hear and realize this are the devout followers. Those who, often because of their devotion, add restrictions, list provisions and effectively try to narrow the scope of salvation.

Those who would say, “Yeah…but…” when the open offer of redemption is presented.

Instead, what this Psalm seems to be saying, is we need to let God do the saving. Let’s let God set the provisions and open the door as wide as it can go. Once people are in, let’s not set further weight and restrictions on their shoulders. Instead, we should, “Let them thank the Lord for his faithful love and his wondrous works for all people. Let them offer thanksgiving sacrifices and declare what God has done in songs of joy!”

Lent is the perfect time to check the foolishness in our own hearts. We could learn a lot from the thanksgiving and praises of those “fools” saved from deaths door and suffering on account of their own choices. Let’s take the time to listen and hear their stories.

Maybe the foolishness in some of our own devotion might get illuminated?

Maybe we’ll realize a need to cry out from the spiritual corner we’ve painted ourselves into?

Maybe we’ll see the desperation in our interpretations?

So every single one of you who judge others is without any excuse. You condemn yourself when you judge another person because the one who is judging is doing the same things…Or do you have contempt for the riches of God’s generosity, tolerance, and patience? Don’t you realize that God’s kindness is supposed to lead you to change your heart and life?
Romans 2:1 & 4 (CEB)