If I were to characterize Jesus' ministry, it would be to refocus people away from a sin focus and onto a life focus. Where you give your focus, you give your energy. - Vern Hyndman
Wednesday my husband came home early to take our daughter to the dentist and work on installing a long-awaited dishwasher in our home. Working to frame a cabinet around the hand-me-down appliance, he trotted out to the garage to cut a piece of wood.
The counter in the wood shop was empty, no saw. He looked around in confusion, walked around hunting. We’re not always very organized with our tools and, after a while, he asked the kids and me whether we’d seen or moved his equipment. The more he looked around, the more things he found missing. Reality dawned slowly, someone broke into our garage and stole several of my husband’s large wood working tools – a chop saw, a drill press, an electric drill, among other smaller things.
Two police officers came to our house that afternoon and spent a good bit of time looking around. It was all terribly exciting for the kids who hunted the yard and garage for footprints and other clues. John and I continued to wrap our minds around the forethought and planning it would take – two people at least and a vehicle – to empty his shop of equipment. We believe they came in the night, Monday night to be precise, while we slept with our bedroom windows closed against the heat and an ancient window unit AC throbbing out all outside noises.
In the middle of helping our kids not be scared and figuring out what we need equipment-wise to move forward, John and I have worked through the anger and discouragement that follows crime. We’ve talked about the buttons it pushes, how disbelief is followed by anger and then a pervasive sense of futility (or what my husband calls being glum). We’ve wondered aloud and privately whether this event might change the way we live and, more importantly, the way we think about life itself (which is always behind the way we choose to live). In the middle of it all, despite the very real loss of tools we cannot really afford to replace, there’s a part of me that wants to call this event ‘good.’
When evil arrives, in any form, two of its ugliest fruits are the lies, “you are alone” and “there is not enough.” With these two lies, evil sets itself up to multiply, because evil flourishes in isolation and scarcity.
But when we shared about the robbery on facebook, friends near and far expressed concern, outrage and sorrow. We were reminded, as a friend said, “You are not alone in this!” Also, within minutes of posting, a friend sent a private message, “We have a drill press you can have,” she wrote. This generous offer reminded us there’s enough to go around.
These reminders were indeed good and we count ourselves as lucky because too many people do experience crime in the midst of real and crushing isolation and scarcity. But, beyond these reminders, there was, I believe, a goodness in the robbery itself, in it happening to us (or, maybe I should speak for myself here – to me).
It was good, not because theft is good or because I can imagine scenario in which someone really did really need our resources more than us, but because it is true and real. Crime is a reality, or maybe I should put it another way – sin is a reality.
Too often I’m prone to pretend it isn’t.
Before we go nodding our heads, though, and clucking our tongues over the state of the world we live in, it might be helpful to remember the words of the Teacher in Ecclesiastes. “There is nothing new under the sun,” he says. Just nine verses in to a ten chapter book, and he lays out his sobering conclusion. It’s almost as though he concludes before beginning, “It is, what it is.”
It is what it is – robbery, racism, fear, hatred, isolation – all of these things always have been and always will be. Sit with that for a while, if you will. Or, if you don’t want to take the Teacher’s word for it, read elsewhere in the bible. Take the book of Amos, for example, wherein an unlikely prophet calls Israel to task for conflating politics with religion, for allowing robbery and violence to flourish in their midst, for trampling the poor underfoot in a continual rush toward material greed and personal pleasure (7:10-17, 3:10, 5:11, 6:4-6, 2:6-8) all while continuing to perform empty religious rituals (5:21-24). All of this, among the people of God, mind you.
Or, read history. Chose a time, a place, any one, and you will find sin working in obvious and not-so-obvious ways. It is, what it is.
Christians must accept the reality of sin. Small wrong-doings, like a local robbery or the way you treat your kids when you’re tired or hungry or simply done at the end of a long, hot, humid, summer day, can be good reminders. Local news, national news, international news, these all serve as reminders too, but not when viewed as extraordinary. The times we live in are like no other and yet, they are like every other time before this. “There is nothing new under the sun,” the Teacher says, not even evil itself is new or different than it has even been.
It all seems rather grim, doesn’t it?
But this is where I see something glimmer, a small nugget of good news tucked right in the middle of the darkness, which is, by the way where we ought to most often expect to find the gospel.
The good news is this: there is nothing new. Not when it comes to evil. It is and it is the same, without end. So if we’re going to get up in arms about anything, let it be this – there is nothing new under the sun save for the gospel which is continually and again inviting us and everyone who does and doesn’t look like us and speak like us and pray or sing like us to pitch in and be part of that which has already overcome.
We can spend our energy bemoaning evil, which never changes, or we can turn our hearts and minds to the work of God, the way of God, in the world. We can open our very lives to the power of God in Christ Jesus that's forever redeeming.
Sin is not new and (good news!) neither is its cure. And even sin itself, our own or others', can be an invitation, a reminder that we can choose where we place our focus and how we use our energy.
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Only 10 spaces left! I'm super excited to be joining with Andi Cumbo-Floyd and Shawn Smucker to organize a weekend writer's retreat this summer at God's Whisper Farm in the beautiful mountains of Virginia. Visit Andi's website for more info!
Welcome to the #SmallWonder link-up.
What if we chose to deliberately look for small moments of wonder, the small sparks of presence, of delight or sorrow, of true humanity in which we meet God?
That's my proposal - that we gather here each week to share one moment of Wonder from each of our days. You're invited to link-up a brief post about a small moment of wonder. Don't worry if your post is too long, too short, or not just right - you're welcome to come as you are.
While you're here, please do take a look around and encourage at least one other blogger with a comment.