An intentional disordering of the universe
The following is a wonderful piece by syndicated columnist Tom Ehrich. I have his permission to share it with you. RWC Jesus said to the Pharisee, "Which of them will love the creditor more?" Simon answered, "I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt." And Jesus said to him, "You have judged rightly." (Luke 7.42-43)
The whistle blows, timers click their stopwatches, and a six-year-old boy leaps into the lead. Oh, oh. He's doing freestyle. This is breaststroke. Instant disqualification.
"But they told me!" our club's swimmer wails into Mom's shoulder. An older swimmer mutters, "The other team's kids told him wrong on purpose."
It's that kind of meet. Caught up in partisan fervor, kids connive to throw the competition off stride. I hear one side of it, but I suspect our stalwarts give as good as they get. They go to school with these kids and know which buttons to push.
Parents get along fine. We survived childhood and have no desire for an encore. Still, I sense less interclub mingling than usual. As scorers prepare final results, the humid air is heavy with tension.
We expect to lose. Heats seemed divided. Our ringers (year-round swimmers) weren't as dominant as their ringers. Our coach prepares a consolation talk.
"Here is the final score," says the starter. A noisy throng turns silent. Their team: 209. Sounds ominous. Our team: 221. Wild cheering erupts in one corner, and our swimmers throw Coach in the pool. Meanwhile, parents on both sides look stunned. Not distraught, just surprised. This isn't what anyone expected.
Sports are notorious for producing unexpected results. Hence, their appeal. If the favorite always won, who would care? Cheering for the underdog is like cheering for grace. It begs a little disorder in the universe. It is a plea to win -- to be loved, favored, forgiven, wooed, chosen -- even when one expects to lose. It is a plea to have the cosmic ledger be added up wrong.
Some, at least, see it that way. Others hate the idea of unmerited victory. In their cosmology, the better should win. Good behavior should be rewarded, diligent workers should get promotions, non-smokers should avoid lung cancer, better products should sell, democracies should prosper, facts should win arguments, virtue should triumph, and Christians should hold sole claim to God's favor.
To many, it is maddening when the universe goes topsyturvy. That is true on the negative side -- when bad things happen to good people, as the conundrum puts it. And so less true on the positive -- when good things happen to bad people. If the ledger doesn't balance, then who is secure? If virtue isn't rewarded, why be virtuous? If Christians don't control God's delight, what is the point of faith?
Perhaps we can sympathize with Simon in his distress at seeing Jesus accept a sinner's touch. In an orderly universe, a sinner would suffer, because wrong choices would lead inexorably to negative consequences. To his eyes, there was something fundamentally wrong and not God-like in Jesus' behavior.
Jesus told a parable, however, verifying that this is exactly the way God is. His embrace of a sinner -- a woman, no less, and probably a sex-related infraction -- is the maddening truth about God, namely, that God isn't bound by our standards or rules or even by consistency with God's own rules. Grace -- if grace be anything truly surprising -- is an intentional disordering of the universe. It happens because God has a desire that surpasses order, consistency and merit. That desire is to love all that God has made, to draw everyone into the circle, to fight for the soul of a sinner long after the righteous would close the ledger.
This doesn't mean we should never try. If a coach or parent heard one child give hurtful advice to another, they ought to intervene, lest either child think such behavior acceptable. But in the end, none of us is arbiter of another's soul. God takes that duty. And to our dismay some days and our delight other days, God tends to be generous.
Reprinted with permission, Journey Publishing Company