by Jerry Long, Minister of Pastoral Care
It was a Saturday in 1979. Where I was, I had no business being. I was lying under one of our cars trying to replace a freeze plug that was leaking in the engine. I say I had no business being there because I knew nothing about repairing cars and had a bare minimum of tools to even attempt it. My neighbor who had diagnosed the problem (accurately I might add) had told me it would be an easy repair, even for someone with no knowledge. Just take a flat head screwdriver, pop out the leaking freeze plug, put in the new one that should cost me $.50, fill the radiator with water, and drive it happily ever after. Financially, I needed to make the repair. What he nor I knew at that moment was that the freeze plug had rusted so tightly to the engine block that it made it a much more difficult repair for me.
As I lay under our car, my frustration continued to mount. It intensified because this was not the first time I had tried to repair it. As I lay there, I began to have a huge pity party with God the only invited guest. I wanted to make sure He was aware of how frustrated I was. It was then that I did something I am ashamed to admit. I looked toward heaven and said out loud, “God, if You are who You say You are, then why don’t You do what You have said You will do?” Instead of feeling relieved by my outburst, I felt great shame. How could I accuse God of failing to provide for us – of falling down on the job. God had been so good and faithful to Lynne and me the first five years of our marriage. In deep sorrow I bowed my head and asked God to forgive me. At that very moment I felt the arms of God wrap around me and hold me tight. Peace settled in my spirit. Not only was God assuring me of my forgiveness, He was also reassuring me that He would take care of us – which He did then and has continued to do all these years. He provided a shade-tree mechanic in our church who fixed it for me.
As I have reflected on that experience 45 years later, I realize the mistake I made that day was building my frustrations with God on a foundation of an incomplete – actually, maybe even erroneous – understanding of the nature and character of God. I knew that God is loving and good. I knew that the fact that He is loving and good did not mean that there would be no difficulties and hardships in our lives. The error in my understanding of the nature of God’s love and goodness was in thinking that God relates to His children on the basis of quid pro quo. Quid pro quo is Latin for “something for something.” It is used to describe a situation where a favor or good deed is done by one person with the expectation that a favor or good deed will be done for him in return by another person.
How did that erroneous viewpoint play into my thoughts and understanding about God’s love and goodness that day? As I lay there, I began to list all the things I (we) had done for Him, especially at the point of sacrificial giving in support of our local church. The tone and strong implication in my outburst toward God were based on this reasoning. Since we’d done all that for Him, He owed us by doing good for us in return (specifically for providing a way for our car to be repaired).
What lessons can be gleaned from my experience lying on my driveway?
- It is essential that we work diligently to understand correctly the various attributes of God’s nature and character. Incomplete or erroneous thinking about God’s nature and character have been the source of much heartache and disappointment with God.
- It is essential that we work diligently to understand correctly how God incorporates these attributes into His relationships with individuals and with the world. Nothing we can ever do for God can ever obligate Him to us. If He chooses to bless us, it will be because of His good and loving nature.
- It is essential that through faith in the nature and character of God, we trust the sovereignty of God. God’s sovereignty means that because He created the world and us, because He has the power and knowledge to accomplish anything His heart wills, and because no one can put any limitations on Him, He is Lord over everything. To trust His sovereignty means that we trust Him to deploy His sovereignty in such ways that “all things work together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
An individual in scripture whose life testified to him trusting God’s deployment of His sovereignty was the prophet Habakkuk. Habakkuk described that trust and surrender in Habakkuk 3:17-19 (ESV), “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places.”
A life of strong faith and surrender to God’s sovereignty like Habakkuk’s is a worthwhile pursuit for all of us.