Have you ever felt like all you do is spin your wheels, but you don’t get anywhere? I have days and weeks like that. Sometimes, it seems my life is like that.
Imagine a people like that….
Isaiah said this of the nation of Israel (Isaiah 26:17-18 NASB):
As the pregnant woman approaches the time to give birth,
She writhes and cries out in her labor pains,
Thus were we before You, O Lord.
We were pregnant, we writhed in labor,
We gave birth, as it seems, only to wind.
We could not accomplish deliverance for the earth….
As a lawyer, I have spent a lot of time in court. I have represented many people, and I have seen our system of justice at work. I can tell you from experience that it’s far from perfect. That is being kind really.
The truth is that not just our legal system is imperfect; our lives are far from perfect. We all desire perfection, but our attempts at achieving perfection are like giving birth to the wind. Though we strive to make the world a better place, for ourselves, our loved ones and others, we haven’t been able to accomplish deliverance from the imperfections that have been the blight of human existence since time immemorial.
What are we to do?
Justice, at best, that I have seen is a blunt ax, and the ax doesn’t always land where it should. People come to the court system for justice, for things to be made right, for satisfaction, and it rarely delivers.
A common saying among lawyers when manage to settle a case without a trial is this: if both parties are unhappy, we reached a fair settlement. The alternative is a forced “settlement” from a man or woman in a black robe who usually has so many cases that keeping them all straight can be a challenge. The decisions often feel more like shooting from the hip with a shotgun than a precision shot – more like a blunt ax than a surgeon’s scalpel.
In some cases, there is no splitting the baby. the only option is a zero-sum gained. One will wins, and the other loses. But who really wins in the end? In the American system of jurisprudence, each litigant pays his or her own attorney fees. People may spend $10,000 to collect $5000. It happens all the time.
There are some winners, of course. Sometimes real justice is accomplished. More often than not, though, we walk away only with the satisfaction of representing our clients the best that we could. If indeed, we have managed to keep from getting jaded, we walk away more often than not wondering if the right end was reached.
Sometimes innocent people are convicted, sometimes for life, and often the guilty go free. One speeder is stopped and given a ticket, and other speeders go free. My son once lost his driver’s license for having two moving violations before he turned 18. One was for rolling a stop sign…. into the parking lot at his dorm after driving 8 hours. The other was for driving 5 mph over the speed limit in a rural state where outsiders are treated differently than insiders.
People of color know that even today, 150 years after emancipation and 50 years after the Civil Rights Act, skin color is still a difference maker. Not only have people of color not had the cultural, economic and social advantages of a more privileged race, they still suffer the vestiges of racial discrimination, albeit they may lurk more in the shadows than in times past.
I stand on the shoulders of my ancestors who had no arbitrary limitations like skin color to frustrate the opportunities they around them. They only had the “usual” limitations of circumstance, luck, ability, genetics, happenstance and the like.
Some people are born with a silver spoon in their mouths and some have to eke out a wooden one. We live in a world where the rich really do tend to get richer, and the poor tend to stay poor. Life isn’t fair.
We have made some progress from civilizations past. We have laws now that seek to impose equality and ensure freedoms and rights that past civilizations never even imagined, but we haven’t achieved the ideal that we ever strive for.
But here’s the kicker: even the people who have privilege, riches, power and position in this world are unhappy. Some of the wealthiest and most successful people in the world have committed suicide – because it wasn’t enough.
Modern American society is marked with school killings and other mass shootings, gang violence, inner city gun violence, an opioid epidemic, meth labs, teenage pregnancy, homelessness, veterans suffering from PTSD, human trafficking and the insatiable appetite for pornography that feeds it, fatherless children, abused children starving children, and on and on and on.
For all of our striving to make the world a better place, we lag far behind the results we envision, the perfection we sense is attainable. We give birth, as it seems, only to the wind. We have yet to accomplish deliverance for the earth.
Generations and generations of people have died without justice. Even those of us who have lived privileged lives compared to the rest of society (and the rest of the world) have experienced injustice, heartache, difficulty and pain, sometimes even from our friends, family and neighbors.
As I survey the world I live in, including the court system that is my field of labor – when I am being really honest about what I see – I have to admit that our attempts to make the world a better place seem an awful lot like giving birth to the wind.
It’s tempting to despair.
We might also be tempted to shake our collective and individual fists at God who claims to be loving and be just. Where is the love? Where is the justice?
The prophet, Isaiah, asked the same questions, and this the answer (Isaiah 26:19 NASB):
Your dead will live;
Their corpses will rise.
You who lie in the dust, awake and shout for joy,
For your dew is as the dew of the dawn,
And the earth will give birth to the departed spirits.
The answer is this: the world we live in is not all there is.
Paul says that we are born in a perishable body, but God’s plan is to raise us in a spiritual body. (1 Corinthians 15:44) The natural body comes first; then spiritual body. (1 Cor. 15:46) The natural body can’t inherit what God has planned for us; only the spiritual body is capable of that. (1 Cor. 15:50) We must be born again. (John 3)
Like the seed that falls to the ground and “dies”, we have to die in order to be raised into all that God has planned for us. Unless the seed “dies”, it remains just a seed (John 12:24-26), just a possibility, just a potentiality. It must fall to the ground and be buried in the soil, first, before it can grow to reach its full potential – all the potential that is inherent in the seed but which would never come to fruition but for the “death” it must embrace.
When Jesus spoke this parable, he was echoing the words of Isaiah. Paul echoed the words that Jesus spoke in 1 Corinthians 15. Peter also echoed the same words when he said to the First Century believers, “[F]or you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable….” (1 Peter 1:23)
So, you might ask, how does this tie in to the idea of our efforts being nothing more than giving birth to the wind?
We have a very clear sense that justice should be the rule, the standard to be sought, but we see an awful lot of injustice around us. We are especially sensitive to injustice in our own lives and experiences. The sense that justice should prevails, but injustice occurs regularly all around us, is a common, universal and human experience.
Never mind what we think justice is, exactly, all of us – no matter how we define justice – believe that injustice regularly occurs, and we are bothered by it (especially when we experience the blunt end of it ourselves). We yearn for what we don’t have; and, though we don’t have it, we still yearn for it.
This yearning is good. It draws us beyond this life and its broken promises and passing pleasures and gets us thinking about potentialities that don’t exist in our present experience. This yearning encourages us to view our lives as the seed that it is – a potentiality that can’t possible be realized in this imperfect, temporal life.
It draws our attention to God who made us and away from our striving after the wind.
This is why Paul says:
“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….” (Romans 8:18-18)
God subjected the world to futility.
Let that sink in.
The futility we experience universally in our attempts to create the perfect life was God’s intention. He subjected us to the futility we experience on purpose.
“For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that 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. For in this hope we were saved.” (Romans 8:18-24)
In hope that we would “be set free”. We are creatures, made from the dust, and to dust we will return – but for the hope of being raised from this perishable body to an imperishable one. Unless we are changed, we are doomed to the dust, doomed to perish, doomed to remain locked into this unjust, temporal existence, doomed to the imperfection that we naturally struggle with.
You see, God has made us with potentiality – in His image – but it’s a potentiality that we must embrace in order to receive it. He has made it available. We just have to let go of our grip on this perishable seed, die to it, and grab a hold of the imperishable seed that God offers us. This is the hope that is offered us.
This is called being born again. We die to ourselves and our hopes and desires that are fixated on this temporal life in order to live for God and the hope that He has promised us.
The firstfruits of this hope is the Spirit who comes to reside within us when we choose to embrace death to our own hopes and dreams and embrace the life that God offers us in Jesus Christ.
“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” (Romans 8:5-6)
The firstfruits is an actual experience. Being born again is an experience. As Paul says, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” (Romans 8:16-17)
God whispers, “Seek and you will find….”
When you look out on the world with all of its imperfections, yearning for perfection and not finding it, think about this: when you are hungry, food exists to satisfy your hunger; when you are thirsty, water exists to sate your thirst. We have natural wants and needs for which there are natural solutions.
These are a shadow of what is to come. The world is subject to futility so that we will seek that which we can sense, but alludes us. God wants us to seek, and He promises us we will find if we seek – the perfection that is God who made us in His image to be conformed to His character by choosing Him over our own sovereignty.
It isn’t attainable in this world in this body, but the firstfruits can be ours by submitting our wills to His. While we still must live out this life, we have a taste of the next. We know, then, that we can trust Him. He has proven His trustworthiness to us by His death on the cross and the Spirit who takes residence within us when we submit.
Why else would we yearn for perfection in an imperfect world unless there is a perfection that is available to us to satisfy that yearning?