One evening years ago, I babysat my three sons, which meant I read a book upstairs as they wrestled each other downstairs. A shriek rang out and I raced down to find David, my son five-year-old son, holding his head as blood gushed through his fingers.

One of his brothers had pushed him off the sofa, and he hit his head against the corner of an end table. It opened an inch-long gash on the side of his temple. As blood pulsed freely, he sobbed uncontrollably.

Without thinking, I said, “David, I think that gash is going to give you a scar.”

He instantly stopped crying, ran to a mirror, and began to examine his wound. He pushed aside his hair and pulled apart the two sides of the torn skin. As blood spurted out of his widened wound, he exclaimed,

“I think you’re right. I’m gonna get a scar!”

Self-glory as Self-medication

I began this article with a dozen failed attempts, because I couldn’t figure out how to introduce its topic. My turmoil began when I overheard a Christian woman in a nearby restaurant booth defend herself from her husband’s comments: he had just told her she is harsh and grouchy.

She countered, “I am doing the very best I can. I’m learning that in my core, I am a loveable being, and when you criticize me, you don’t honor my inner, innate worth as a person.”

That woman, like my son (heck, like all of us), grasped for self-glory to sedate an inner pain.

Why Does God Love?

Many Christians today believe that God loves us because we are worthwhile and loveable. But that isn’t what Christianity itself teaches, as C. S. Lewis wrote,

The infinite value of each human soul is not a Christian doctrine. God did not die for man because of some value He perceived in him. The value of each human soul, out of relation to God, is zero. As St. Paul writes, to have died for valuable men would have been, not divine, but merely heroic; but God died for sinners.

He loved us, not because we were lovable, but because He is love.

This is what makes grace so uncomfortable: we get no praise. Human love is awakened by something attractive in the object of love: beauty, kindness, smarts, or success. When humans love us, we like ourselves, because someone else saw something good in us.

To the Roman world of early Christianity, and to our modern world, the two most appalling declarations of the gospel were and are: Agape-love and Grace. That God loves us because of his goodness not ours; that his love for us is not merely undeserved but directly contrary to merit.

Receiving grace requires the embrace of humility, the willingness to let God’s love glorify his name over ours. To receive human love feeds self-glory; but to receive his love glorifies his beauty: he is such a Being that he explodes with love, even for creatures who reject his ways, criticize his commands, and constantly grasp and claw for our own glory.

God doesn’t love us because we are loveable or good; he loves us because he himself is love and goodness. The Father’s agape turns our hearts to God-praise. Can we live with that?

Besides, it’s only when we (the unworthy) receive grace-love that we can begin to grant love to the seemingly unlovable: our grouchy spouse or our irritable (and irritating) colleague.

Because We All Grasp for Glory

When my three sons would get caught fighting, they always blamed a brother for causing it. But not the fight that resulted David’s scar. Both unscarred boys claimed (and claim to this day) that they are the one who shoved David off the sofa and gave him that life-long legacy.

For a boy, the only glory better than wearing a scar, is the splendor of bestowing one.

Sam

Two and a half years ago, my wife and I decided to sell our house. We followed commonsense wisdom: we decluttered closets, upgraded appliances, and replaced old wallpaper with fresh paint.

Then we put our beloved house on the market. And nada. Well, not quite nothing. We had multiple almost-buyers, couples who claimed they would make an offer by the weekend. But an obstacle always cropped up, a pregnancy, an illness, a job change, and a declined loan.

We were bewildered. The price was reasonable (based on comparable homes), the house was gorgeous (no bias on my part), and the Ann Arbor real-estate market had taken off like a ballistic missile (houses often received multiple offers the day they were listed).

Where was God in the seemingly senseless delay in selling our house?

Last week we finally got a good offer which we accepted. My immediate thought was: God must have waited for the perfect family to buy, or else God was waiting until the right home came on the market for my wife and me. This morning I read,

“Just as you cannot know how a spirit comes into the bones in the womb of a pregnant woman, so you cannot understand the work of the God who created all.” (Eccl. 11:5)

I thought: Is it possible for me to know even a fraction of the purposes of God?

The Old Heroes Never Knew

The book of Job begins with a series of tragedies. Most of its forty-two (42!) chapters deal with ignorance of God’s plan: Job continually asks God “Why?” and his friends continually offer stupid answers. In the book’s conclusion, God never answers Job’s question.

Some characters in Scripture, however, are given a hint of God’s plans, but their understanding of his rationale is a shadow of its true substance:

  • After Joseph saves his family (and hundreds of thousands of others) from starvation, he says to his brothers, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.” (Gen. 50:20)
  • When David realizes that God taught him fighting skills while he was a mere shepherd, he writes, “You trained my hands for war and my fingers for battle.” (Ps. 144:1)
  • Esther wins a beauty pageant and becomes Queen of Persia, her people are threatened, and she realizes she was brought to the palace “for such a time as this.” (Est. 4:14)

Job never heard God’s purpose, while Joseph, David, and Esther got hints. But none of them thought for a moment that millions of people would be reading their stories thousands of years later. Did they have a clue of the hope their lives would bring us?

I think not.

For Our Own Good, God Can’t Tell Us

Imagine that God told Job: “You are about to undergo suffering. Be patient. It will only last six months. Afterward you will be blessed even more than beforehand. And you will be revered by millions of people for millennia.”

If Job knew of that future for his life, he wouldn’t have learned to rest in God; he would have rested his heart in that impressive calling. He would never have said God is enough; instead of finding life in God’s presence, he would have found self-fulfillment in his own glorious legacy.

Our purpose on earth is friendship with God, to be united with him for his purposes, and to believe that God knows what he is after. In God’s wisdom, he guides us one step at a time, so we walk in humility and faith, connected to him, never knowing his manifold plans.

I don’t know why our old house didn’t sell for two years, and I don’t know why we can’t find the next house we so desperately want.

The question for me is connection not purpose: Can I walk with God into the unknown?

Sam