Friday, February 08, 2008

new mercies

Last night’s events led me to think about God’s faithfulness. And the more that happened, the more that seemed the right course for this reflection. Once when I gave a selection of hymns, I included Chisholm’s “Great is Thy faithfulness.” The inspiration for that hymn comes from one of the darkest books in the Bible, Lamentations (3:22-24). The author (probably the prophet Jeremiah), weeping over the destruction of Jerusalem, knows to look for God’s mercies at all times. Last night was not at all bleak, however, and it along with other times in my life leads me to contemplate another aspect of God’s faithfulness.

The events. (First, a notice: nothing here is as epic as the destruction of a city. My point will be to have an awareness of God even in small things in life.) Following dinner, Hannah needed to drive to the Lansing girls’ detention center for their weekly Bible study. I needed to go to the store to get ingredients to make a dish for a potluck tonight. My car isn’t working, so I was going to get dropped off at the grocery store, and would either have to walk (~25 minutes) or catch the bus (~5 minutes) home. Hannah and her comrades in the ministry had planned for an Ash Wednesday service with the girls. Time was rather important in all this. When we got out to Hannah’s car, however, we found the trunk was frozen shut. It contained the usual items for the Bible study—a basket holding a bell and an icon (it’s a Catholic study)—as well as Bibles they were taking to the girls and the ashes for the special part of the service. We tried for ten or fifteen minutes to get it open, which meant we were quickly getting late.

Finally, we gave up. Trying to pry the trunk was only bending the metal, and we had no idea where it was stuck. So we left; Hannah picked up the other woman going out to Lansing, and I was left at the grocery store. I did my shopping in about six minutes, and ran out to the bus stop—just in time to catch the bus to my house. No walking home with heavy bags for me that night. Now, I know that’s coincidence. But the fact of coincidence can obscure, I think, common grace. “Common grace” refers to God’s general work in the world, not for the individual or the church in particular. It is well summarized by saying, “God causes it to rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” Sometime God’s grace comes in rain, sometimes in not rain (like when that window of sunshine opens just long enough for you to walk home). Like I said, I don’t think all this is any sign of God’s favor (most of the time); these are signs of God’s love. Conversely, when things go badly, it’s not that God doesn’t like you. God wants you to be mindful of Him. In those terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days, there is something else to be thankful for: that we only need God for contentment, not opportune weather. These different kinds of times are all jumbled up and come at random, it will be argued. But I ask, can grace not come even through randomness?

Hannah arrived at my apartment a couple of hours later and told me what happened with the rest of the evening. When they arrived at the detention center, she tried the trunk one more time, and it opened. They went inside, and a staff worker (whom they would not have encountered if they’d gotten there earlier) saw them with the ashes and asked if they were going to have an Ash Wednesday celebration; she had not been able to go the day before, she said. They said yes, and she was able to join them for a short while. Before telling me all this, Hannah prefaced with, “God is faithful.” And that sealed my decision to meditate on that phrase this morning.

1 comment:

jhb said...

I remember one morning I was catching a plane at the airport in Memphis. As I walked through the airport I passed a big poster for the Memphis Symphony. In the poster was Charles Schultz, the tubist for the MSO. I immediately thought of you (since you are a tubist) and gave you a quick call hoping to catch you before you left for classes. I did reach you and you were still in bed, missed alarm or something, but had a class you supposed to be teaching that morning. My calling woke you and gave you just enough time to make your class. As we hung up, I simply said "God is good". I then remember you writing me later about how you thought about that simple phrase all day long and how He really is good and He cares for us. And that really made this memory stick for me. It is truly amazing that the creator of the whole universe knows us by name and cares for us!