It’s time for a little update, not much, but I am no longer new to blogging. I have been at it a few years. Not that I have gained any particular stature. I simply can’t claim to be new at it. I still write as part of my profession, but blogging is more interesting. Blogging is my way of sharpening ideas and fleshing them out. I know I don’t always “get it right”, but it’s the journey that counts.
I have been on a journey for truth since I emerged from the haze and confusion of adolescence, much of it self-induced. Stepping out of that myopic existence I began to get an inkling that a world of truth lay in front of me to encounter, and so I set off. I didn’t realize, then, how much faith is required to seek truth. Continue reading “My Journey”→
The bible seems to have a something to say about “grumbling”. Have you ever noticed that? What’s the deal with grumbling? What IS grumbling, anyway? I was curious, so I spent a little time digging into it. My writing today is inspired by James:
Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door! Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.
James 5:9-11 NIV
From this passage out of James, it seems clear that grumbling is something we do against others. It involves judging others. (While our Judge is at the door!) Grumbling also seems to be something the opposite of patience and perseverance.
If anyone had a legitimate opportunity to grumble it was Job, who was afflicted though he was a man who was considered blameless, full of integrity and pure in his desire to worship God. When he was afflicted, his wife urged him to grumble against the Lord. His wife said to him,
“Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!” He replied, “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.
Job 2:9-10 NIV
Thus, grumbling is something we do against God also. Grumbling is something we encourage each other to do at times, perhaps, because “misery loves company”. Job was goaded by his wife to grumble against God, but he refused. Job is held up by James as one who persevered patiently in difficult circumstances, without grumbling.
The word translated “grumbling” (in the NIV) in James 5:9 is the Greek word, στενάζω (stenazó), which means literally “to groan (within oneself)”. It can be used as an expression of grief, or of anger, or even of desire.
The Greek word, stenázō, comes from the root word, stenós, which means “compressed, constricted”. The idea is that one who groans is doing so “because of pressure being exerted forward (like the forward pressure of childbirth)”. Figuratively[, it means “to feel pressure from what is coming on – which can be intensely pleasant or anguishing (depending on the context)”. (See Biblehub)
Stenós, then, seems to be the internal pressure that causes us to groan inwardly, and stenázō seems to be an outward negative response to that inward pressure – to grumble. The word is also translated complain, murmur and grudge.
As I think about these things, I realize that we do not control the pressures that bear down on us from within (and without), but we do control how we react to those pressures. Grumbling, complaining, and murmuring against others and against God is a negative reaction to the pressures we face.
James calls us to react differently to the pressures we face – with patience and perseverance. If we give in to grumbling and complaining against each other, we become judges of each other, forgetting that we have a Judge who stands at our door!
This passage also suggests that, while we may groan inwardly, we do not have to groan (grumble and complain) outwardly – though we may strongly desire to! We have a choice in the matter, and the better choice is to be patient and persevere.
That observation, perhaps, begs the question: why is it better to persevere with patience rather than grumble?
I was praying one morning recently for God’s help to guide me away from the paths of thought and actions that take me down. I had been wrestling lately with old sin and losing the battle.
I do not often get so personal on this blog, but God knows all. He knows my heart, my thoughts, my actions – everything. He knows the words I speak before I even say them (or write them as the case may be). Nothing is hidden from Him.
I do have people who are close to me who I confide in and help me sort through these things. Still, being so personal is hard.
To get to the point, I have been married for 38 years as of November, but my wife informed me last June that she hasn’t been happy in a long time, and she moved out. I have been sad and depressed since she left.
Her leaving, and the present silence and emptiness in my life without her have filled my thoughts and haunted my waking hours since then. I have spent most of my life working to support my family. Our kids are out on their own now, and I was beginning to let myself think about retirement for us.
Now, everything has changed. At the age of 63, I am adrift. My future is uncertain. I am sad for her, and I am sad for me and I fear the future will not be easy for either of us.
I doubt she will not be happier now. I have often said and believe that the grass isn’t always greener….. But, she doesn’t seem to see it that way. Perhaps, she is willing to trade one kind of unhappiness for another.
Maybe I haven’t been happy myself for a long time, but I don’t really think about it. I have come to believe that happiness is fleeting. I can live with unhappiness. I would rather search for a joy that lasts forever than settle for mere happiness that is here today and gone tomorrow.
Maybe that attitude doesn’t make for a good marriage. I don’t know. I do know that I am no hero in this story. I have failed in many ways, and my failures hang like a dark cloud over me. They threaten to crush me.
I have not written much since June because of these things. I haven’t had the inspiration or the energy to write. Yet, I feel God called me to write, so I am trying to plod on.
I don’t want to dwell on these thoughts, but this is where I was when I approached God one recent morning. My failures, disappointments, regret and other negative emotions are ever before me, and they threaten to undo me.
Not the least of which is the gravitational pull to give in to old ways of thinking and to succumb to old habits. I have at various times lost the will to overcome and fallen back, and I have despaired in my falling back.
As I asked God to help me, to rescue me from my thoughts that threaten to take me down, a verse I read in my daily Bible reading that morning seeped back into my conscious thoughts, and I engaged with it:
“And Noah and his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives entered the ark to escape the waters of the flood.”
Genesis 7:7 NIV
Noah, who was said to be “blameless in his generation”, was saved from the judgment of God by building an ark. That ark was the vessel that lifted Noah and his family above the waters and carried them on to safety.
Most people hope for a better life. Many people turn to Jesus because of hope for a better life, but what is the Christian hope for a better life? Sometimes I think even believers lose sight of it.
I was at church yesterday for a meeting I was leading, and I talked to someone who was there for another reason. We talked about the service there the day before for a 25-year old young man who lost his life in a car accident. It was hard.
I made the comment that we are all going to die. I didn’t say it just like that. I recognized with her that it’s hard for someone so young to die suddenly. It isn’t the natural order of things. We miss our loved ones terribly. The ache and the pain is real. A “life cut too short”, as we say, is a tragedy.
But, we should never lose sight of the bigger picture.
We are all going to die.
Sometimes … maybe most of the time … we don’t live like that reality is a fact.
I am not talking about the “eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow you die” kind of attitude. Yet, the people we know who live like that are living with the reality of death, perhaps, more than we might do. Without God, everything is meaningless under the sun!
That reality should point the Christian to Jesus, who rose from the dead, conquering sin and death, and who gives us a better hope. That hope, however, is not just that we will live a better life, but that we will be resurrected to a better life!
Yes, we will live a better life here with Jesus, but this life is not the end game. That’s what I am getting at today. Jesus does not guaranty that we will live a more prosperous life now, a pain-free life, or even a happier life on this earth (under the sun). To the contrary, he said, “In this world you will have trouble!”
Ecclesiastes tells us in no uncertain terms that everything under the sun is meaningless; if this is all there is, this life is vanity; we die like animals and turn back to dust; it doesn’t matter how good we are, how much we accumulate, or how many people like us, know us or honor us. We go down to the grave and live no more, the king and the pauper alike.
This line of thinking prompts me to question: Why do we put so much effort and energy into hope for this life?
The message at church when I began writing this piece was from Hebrews 11. If this topic resonates with you, take some time to read Hebrews 11.
Abraham was a man who listened and responded to God. When God told him to go to a land God would show him, Abraham responded and went, not knowing where he was going. At God’s direction, Abraham left his father’s household, his community and his homeland.
When Abraham first entered what we now call the promised land, he built an altar to God between Bethel and Ai. He, Sarai and Lot continued traveling down south into the Negev desert. Because of drought, they went further south into Egypt. Then, they came back up through the Negev desert to the promised land again:
From the Negev he went from place to place until he came to Bethel, to the place between Bethel and Ai where his tent had been earlier and where he had first built an altar. There Abram called on the name of the Lord.
Abraham and Lot accumulated many animals and possessions in their travels, and they both had many herdsmen to tend the animals. When their herdsmen began quarreling with each other, Abraham took action to address the situation.
He told Lot it wasn’t good that their herdsmen were quarreling, and he offered Lot his choice of land. Abraham said, “If you go left, I will go right. If you go right, I will go left.” Lot chose the plains of the Jordan, so Abraham went the other direction:
So Abram went to live near the great trees of Mamre at Hebron, where he pitched his tents. There he built an altar to the Lord.
From this portion of the story of Abraham, I am impressed today by a couple of things. First, Abraham is ever the hospitable man. He offered Lot his choice of direction first.
I believe Abraham did this because he trusted God, and he was content that God would take care of him. Thus, he was able to be hospitable and kind. He didn’t need to compete or vie with his nephew. He did the right thing and let God do the rest.
The first point is most important: Abraham trusted God. Abraham listened and was responsive to God’s voice. He went when God said to go.
When he got to the promised land, he did not seek to possess it by his own will. He held it loosely. He came and he went, and he returned again trusting that God would guide him and settle him where God desired him to be.
When he first entered the promised land, he built an altar to God. The first thing he did was to create sacred space and to seek God. Abraham created sacred space, but he did not seek to possess it.
When drought came, Abraham was quick to move, wandering through the Negev desert to Egypt and back again. When he came back, he returned to the sacred space he had previously created.
Even then, he did not seek to possess the land, as if it were his. He was content to allow Lot his choice. After Lot chose his direction, Abraham struck out to a new location. Where he settled he created an altar to God, and he made sacred space at the new location.
In my daily reading today, I read these verses from the Letter to the Hebrews:
“In the beginning, Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will roll them up like a robe; like a garment they will be changed. But you remain the same, and your years will never end.”
Hebrews 1:10-12 NIV
These words were written in the 1st century, and they recall the words in Genesis that were written many hundreds, maybe even thousands of years before:
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
The statements written in the letter to the Hebrews and in Genesis, long before that, were all written before the revelations of modern science.
We argue today over the passages in Genesis about the creation of the world, whether God did it in seven days or over seven periods of time. Some people say we should take Genesis “literally” (whatever that means), and other people say that the creation account in Genesis is simply poetry and should not be taken literally. There are many people in between, and many people who do not believe or take the Bible seriously either way.
Yet, whether these words are intended to be read as a literal, seven day creation event, seven periods of time, merely a poetic conception or otherwise, they express by faith an understanding that God created the world we live in – “the heavens and the earth”. They also expressed an understanding that God is greater than the creation He made, that God is timeless, and He will outlast the creation as it is and as we know it.
Whatever you believe about the description of creation in Genesis and elsewhere, the understanding is accurate: that the earth and the greater universe as we know it will not remain the same. It is subject to entropy governed by the Second Law of Thermodynamics. In poetic words, “[The Heavens and the Earth] will wear out like a a garment…. like a garment they will be changed.” In more philosophical terms, the Apostle, Paul, says:
“[T]he creation was subjected to futility….”
We don’t need to have a sophisticated scientific understanding of the Second Law of Thermodynamics to realize that the universe is, in a sense, winding down and wearing out, that it is “subjected to futility”. The earth, which is such an incredibly minute part of the universe, will not support the life that teams on it very far into the future.
We live in a very narrow band of time in which creatures such as ourselves can thrive on planet earth, sandwiched between ice ages and other inhospitable fluctuations and epochs space and time. Out time will pass like a flower that blooms one day and is gone the next in relation to the full space/time continuum.
Regardless of any Herculean efforts we give on our part to preserve the environment of this planet as we know it, the laws of the universe guarantee that life will no longer be supportable on planet earth, or anywhere in the universe for that matter, at some point in the future. It is inevitable.
It is remarkable to me that the writers of these ancient texts understood this fact by faith, though they had no hint of the science behind it. Knowing nothing of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, they understood nevertheless that this world will wear out.
They also had faith that the God who created it is the constant. Ignorant of the science, they nevertheless perceived and understood the reality of God, His creation and their place in the world.
Though modern science seems to reveal that our universe had a beginning, just as these ancient writings stated, many modern people who have the aid and benefit of science fail to see or acknowledge the creator. This is not a failing of science, though; it’s a failing of faith.
Though science provides many benefits, science is not essential for our faith or relationship to God. All the science in the world is not sufficient to gain us knowledge of God, as it necessarily rests on faith. At the same time, we can have none of the knowledge and understanding of science and still know God and our place in the world.
I love science, as it reveals the wonder of a universe that God made understandable and searchable by us. By faith we grasp all the reality we need to know, but science reveals majesty and wonder and appreciation of the greatness of our God all the more.
By faith, we also understand that God loves us. We understand that there is more to reality than the physical, space/time continuum. We perceive that God had a purpose in subjecting the creation to futility:
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hopethat the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”