As someone who became a believer in Jesus after decades of debauchery, I find it difficult to consistently embrace a child-like gratitude for all that God has done for me; I often find myself grappling with a near-constant regret over the disaster that is “my former life.” In other words, even after all these years of claiming Christ, I struggle to find the right balance between lament and gratitude.
After all, as Christians, we must admit that there is indeed much to lament.
We can look out on the world today and (thanks to technology) easily be overrun with evidence that our society has broken loose of its moorings and seems to be spinning chaotically out of control. Start with the obvious truth that the art of “disagreeing without being disagreeable” seems not to have been lost but thrust away entirely. Looking inward, we see much within our own souls that, when viewed through the lens of Scripture, represents a serious falling short of seeking God’s will.
And yet, in the very midst of chaos and fear, we all have much to be grateful for, and we ought to express that gratitude in prayer to God and out loud for others to hear. Again, we can start with the most basic facts of being given life and breath, God’s protection and provision, other people who care for us…the list can go on for several pages. If you do not think you have anything for which you ought to be grateful, then (as so often happens to me) you simply need to confess your blindness and ask God to remove the scales from your eyes.
Given my history, I all too often find myself tempted to leave the narrow path and fall into a wide road of temptation to grumble and despair. What makes the temptation to grumble all the more alluring is that it “sounds spiritual,” as I lament over those “lost” decades of my life. I even wonder aloud at times how being imprisoned by selfishness and worldly pleasure for so long can possibly have been part of God’s will. Certainly, nothing about my decades of rebellion can find its way onto my list of things to be grateful for…right?
In their new book, Jesus Among Secular Gods, co-authors Ravi Zacharias and Vince Vitale take a fresh, nuanced look at the various “isms” that pollute the lion’s share of modern thought – atheism, scientism, pluralism, humanism, relativism, hedonism – and offer brief, accessible responses that cut right to the heart of the matter and expose these various trends for what they are, namely an attempt to build an imposing edifice of philosophy in mid-air, entirely devoid of a rational foundation. As always, what I appreciate most about Zacharias in particular is that he has a weeping heart joined to a powerful intellect; here truly is a man of Christ who sees all too clearly our collective lostness and yet has not hardened himself to the heart cry of a single human soul.
With regard to answering my persistent complaint about having wasted so many years of my life, the revealed answer is (once again) spiritual blindness joined to a pride that demands every question be answered. Rather than be at peace with Who Jesus is and how He chose to unfold His redemption story in my life in the fullness of time, I can be coaxed into wishing instead that God would reveal the entire narrative to me all at once.
In chapter three, while discussing God’s knowable attributes as viewed against the entirety of His creation, Vitale applies the wisdom, timing and precision that brought about our Big Bang universe to God’s care and concern over the life of one individual. Six short paragraphs make the point that God is equally interested in the soul of one Chinese student as He is in upholding the Second Law of Thermodynamics:
Here’s a recent story of seeing God’s finely tuned design in an individual life. A student from China showed up at a university open forum where I was speaking. One of my colleagues, Daniel, greeted her, and she said her name was “Alva.” My colleague replied, “That’s an interesting name; what does it mean?” Alva responded, “It means ‘by grace washed white as snow.'”
Daniel’s eyes went wide, and he asked Alva if she was a Christian. She said, “No, not at all.” Daniel said, “Do you realize that your name is basically the heart of the Christian message?” She had no idea; she had just chosen this for her English name because she liked the sound of it.
Daniel began to explain the Christian message to her, and she was increasingly being drawn to God. Then the talk started, and halfway through the talk I quoted and put up on a PowerPoint slide, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow” (Isaiah 1:18). Daniel excitedly tapped the shoulder of Alva, who looked astonished, and said, “I told you; that’s your name!”
At the end of the talk, Daniel and another of our colleagues continued to explain to Alva the love that God has for her, and the sacrifice that He made for her. Alva decided she wanted to be a Christian, and my friends had the supreme privilege of praying with her to affirm that commitment.
There is one more detail to the story that fills me with awe. My talk for that night was already typed and printed before the week began, and the PowerPoint was done. But at lunchtime of that same day, my wife, Jo, and I had a distinct sense that something was missing from the talk. So we rushed home after a lunchtime event, and we added just one additional handwritten page to the talk and just one additional PowerPoint slide.
What did that slide read? Isaiah 1:18: “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.” God beautifully crafted all the details of that day so He could reach out to that one young woman named Alva.
What can we conclude about a God who is equally adept at fine-tuning the expansion rate of the known universe such that it is even possible to support life…yet cares so much for a Chinese woman who “randomly” chose the English name Alva and “happened to” attend a seminar taught by Vitale?
Perhaps the single greatest step forward in faith is to simply acknowledge that we are blind, can not possibly understand all of God’s plan for our lives, and yet are given more than enough evidence to rest in His care, His provision, His awe-inspiring will and purposes that cannot be defeated, and his assurance that one day, sooner than many of us might think, we will finally see clearly.
First Corinthians 13:11-12 (ESV)
When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.