Is God Unfair?

Why do I struggle with the concept that God has the right to do as He pleases with His creation? I want fairness, and it doesn’t FEEL fair for God to choose one person for special purposes and another for common use.

Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use? (Romans 9:21 NIV)

With my great power and outstretched arm I made the earth and its people and the animals that are on it, and I give it to anyone I please. (Jeremiah 27:5 NIV Emphasis added)

I can view my story from an egocentric viewpoint or a theocentric one. I can read the story of Pinocchio through his eyes or through the Woodcarver’s who created Pinocchio in love for a relationship. The only safe place for Pinocchio was in his father’s house and under his creator’s care. He could have had greater adventures, in safety, had he stayed with Geppetto, but he ran away. His rebellion resulted in grief, but then he found redemption when he returned to his maker.

When I think “birth” instead of “creation,” I have a paradigm shift in my response to “unfair.” I am a baby, then a child, adolescent, and adult in God’s kingdom. But even as an adult, I never outgrow the need to be loved and cared for. The danger as an adult is to think I’m self-sufficient.


Fervent Prayer

Journal 2009.

I can name five people right now who are in crisis emotionally. I am not indifferent to their pain; I am concerned and praying for them. But I wonder at my emotional detachment from these good friends. I realize that with the healing in my own heart, I’m not jerked around so much by other people’s issues. I’m sure a doctor goes through this process having to take care of sick bodies without getting too emotionally distracted.

The prophet Jeremiah said God’s burden on his heart to prophecy was like a fire in his soul if he didn’t speak. David also had a fire in his soul—but it was driven by guilt. The key, I think, is recognizing the difference between the Holy Spirit’s burden on my soul to pray for someone and my own triggers that reveal insecurities and fears.

James said, “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (5:16 KJV). Can prayer be effective if emotions aren’t involved? “Fervent prayer” implies strong emotion. When I’m in crisis, I have strong emotions, and my prayers are deep. But what if I’m not feeling anything? Are my prayers just as effective? I say yes—if my motives are pure and my heart is right before God.

When I pray with someone who is demonized, I don’t have to raise my voice, wrestle, be stern, or give in to fear. The power is not in my desire to see someone delivered and getting all excited emotionally. The power is in Jesus’ Name.

So if I’m praying for someone, interceding on their behalf, I don’t have to drum up some emotion to get God’s attention. Remember the prophets of Baal who had strong emotion, pleading, crying out, jumping around, and cutting themselves? But Elijah? He just appealed to the God who made the fire and the rocks and rain. The power is in the Person. Using God’s Name means I’m accessing the power of the universe. Therefore, be careful what I ask for!

Relationship with Adult Children

From my 2009 Journal

I’m still learning what is appropriate and what isn’t in relationship with an adult child under our roof. Is it reasonable to expect our daughter to pick up after herself in family living areas? To help with the dishes? With cooking? With cleaning the house? And if she chooses not to, how do I approach the subject with her? I realize communication at this point can be tricky. My expectations and desires for a neat and tidy house must be subservient to maintaining relationship. Therefore, I am far more tolerant of mess than I would be if I were still trying to train her.

Child-training was like using all my strength to pull three girls in a wagon who are pushing and shoving and fighting each other. If I insisted they get out of the wagon occasionally to walk on their own or help push a little, they whined, “We’re too tired!” (Well, so are the parents!)

The trouble is when children get comfortable in the wagon, they expect you to bring their food to them and clean their play area even though they’re old enough to clean it themselves, and you trip over the toys, and have to clean around them. Where did I go wrong in my parenting that my training didn’t stick?

Now that they’re grown and living with us, it’s time to drop the wagon handle. The challenge is not to become resentful or nagging when they don’t join me in household chores.

While living in a college dorm, our one daughter discovered firsthand what it felt like to have a roommate who never cleaned up after herself in the kitchen. So when she came home, I was delighted to hear of her intentions to help out more with the dishes. So if she’s too tired to help out for a couple days, do I hold her to her good intentions? Do I feel resentful when I return home to find breakfast dishes still in the sink? So she slept late that day, worked the entire day, and ran out of energy before the work was done after supper . . . (welcome to the grownup world, kiddo!) I do not fault her, but I do have to figure out what is an appropriate response.

Jesus says, “Whistle while you work.” Praise Him that I have two arms and two hands. Praise Him that I’m not in a wheelchair and unable to stand at the sink. Change my attitude and enjoy the brief time I have with my daughter. She’ll soon be gone, and I’ll miss her.

A 2023 Update. Now that my girls have homes of their own, it’s fun to watch them struggle through the challenges of training rambunctious boys to put away their clothes or help in the kitchen. And when they come to Grandma’s house for a visit, chaos reigns for a few hours or days and I love them all. But when they go, tidy returns. I guess you can’t have it both ways!

Returning to One’s Roots

Returning to One’s Roots

Journal 2009

Returning to one’s roots can be emotionally charged, therapeutic, exhilarating, liberating, or terrifying, depending on your memories. When my sister suggested we revisit our old haunts in Elkhart, Indiana, where we spent our 1965-66 furlough year, I readily agreed. It was the last time we ever lived together. I was in Grade 6, and my sister in Grade 11. My parents and I returned there in 1970, and I stayed an extra year when they left me for my senior year of high school to return to the mission field. Both my siblings were on their own by then. Here’s an excerpt from my journal:

It’s the middle of the night and my thoughts are ricocheting so fast I can’t sleep. How does one record thoughts, emotions, impressions, and for whose benefit? Where to begin? These are MY memories. With whom do I share them? When I take a photo of our old house, my immediate thought is I want to send it to my mom [who is deceased]. Thankfully, I’m experiencing this trip with my sister, which is hugely satisfying. But I record them for myself so that in my old age I have somewhere to refresh and keep the memories alive. I don’t share these with my children because they weren’t there. But maybe someday they’ll visit some spot on earth and stand there and say, “My mother’s spirit was here.”

I stand outside our parsonage home on Second Street and “watch” my sixth-grade-self playing Jingle Jump on the sidewalk. I see me climbing the tree in the front yard and climbing out my bedroom window onto the roof. Playing with our dog Duke and ironing in front of the TV in the basement. Marimba lessons and finding marbles in the heat register in my brother’s bedroom and slip-sliding in the oversized bathtub and buying toothpaste because I saw it advertised on TV. My huge empty bedroom upstairs with my sister on the other side. I learned to use the telephone. Snapshots in my mind of packing for our summer trip across the USA. My mom was sick with Hodgkin’s that year, and we complained of Dad’s cooking. This is my story, my history. I’ve relived it in my mind many times.

The neighborhood is seedy now and multi-racial. The neighbor across the street came over to chat and told us the house is in foreclosure. I want so much to see inside, but it’s unsafe, he said.

My best friend Kathy lived at the end of Pottawatomi Street, and we walked the six blocks to school each day together, past a Mom-and-Pop grocery store where we bought wax pop bottles or wax lips filled with sweet liquid and candy cigarettes. We formed the TGTG club (The Glued Together Girls). She loved to stay overnight at our house because her daddy was raping her at hers, and I was too ignorant to know. She taught me to make snow angels and play king of the mountain. We played hundreds of games of Yahtzee, biked down to McDonald’s in the winter for a warm bite of hamburger and French fries.

More memories flooded in when we visited the old Grace Bible Church Tabernacle who had showered us furloughing missionaries with love and Tupperware. We met the current pastor who has a ministry to inner city dwellers. Then on to Central High School where I graduated with 900 other seniors—a huge culture shock to this African girl. I wonder what memories surfaced for my sister as we visited her high school and the home where she stayed for her senior year.

My former Samuel Strong School building now houses a business. So many memories. Open-stall bathrooms in the basement, being teased for being the teacher’s pet, volleyball in the low-ceilinged gym. Declining to be a crossing guard because I didn’t know what that was. Skating on ice on the pavement for the first time. Being teased for gifting dandelions to the teacher (Who knew they were weeds!) Kathy destroying a page from Playboy magazine she found on the sidewalk, and I had no clue what it was. Kathy wondering how babies got fed, and she was surprised that I knew (well, duh—I watched mothers nursing all the time in Africa, including in church) and me surprised that she didn’t know this basic fact of life.

We drove to the house where we lived in 1970, but though I saw the curtains moving, no one answered the door when I knocked. More memories sling their way across my brain. When we visited the house where I lived with an older couple in my senior year, the current owners invited me in. Too many painful memories to record from that year. But revisit them I must if I want to heal from them. Perhaps another day. . .

A 2023 Update. Physically revisiting a site may trigger emotions, but it’s worth it. I understand the power of letting go of the past, and over the years, I have revisited each of those memories and found healing and release. This summer our family is planning a trip back to Michigan where we raised our girls. New memories will soon overlay old ones as they share with their husbands and children what it was like where they grew up. Let the fun begin!

If you can’t say anything nice

Journal 2005.

In Matthew 23, Jesus lambasted the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees. Rude, in fact, according to the rules of polite conversation. I’d be shocked if someone spoke that way to another human being in public. I’ve never attended a church where this type of language was tolerated. Why was it okay for Jesus to be less than genteel? Because He knew their hearts? Because He’s God and He’s allowed to judge? I’m fascinated that He never spoke this way to the sinner, the downtrodden, the hurting, the repentant. Not even to all rulers or rich people. Only to those who were willfully blind, proud, arrogant, self-centered, and self-righteous.

Who or what would be a modern-day equivalent? A lesbian who is seeking truth and struggling would receive Christ’s compassion, whereas a militant, arrogant, in-your-face preacher would get yelled at.

It still rattles me that Jesus spoke this way (as did John the Baptist). Why? My Momma always taught me, “If you can’t say anything nice about a person, don’t say anything at all!” Jesus broke that rule.

But like an illusion, “Things are not always what they appear to be.” The religious leaders appeared to be white, pure. But inside, they were black. Jesus could see right through their illusion and tell it like it is. They were rotten on the inside.

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.” (Matthew 23:27-28 NIV)

“You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?” (Matthew 23:33 NIV)

The Shame of Rebuke

Journal 2005.

It’s always bothered me that Jesus reprimanded His disciples. In Matthew 8:23-27 it was over their fear of the storm on the sea. Another time over their lack of understanding. In the Garden of Gethsemane, it was for succumbing to sleep. He sounds impatient, and impatience isn’t a fruit of the Spirit.

Perhaps it’s because I identify strongly with the disciples, and I feel the sting of the rebuke on my cheek. The God of the universe claims to understand my frailty because He came to earth to experience it . . . and now I get smacked for it. I feel their shame.

I remember a teacher’s rebuke. Blindsided. I didn’t know I’d done something wrong.

When you choose to wrong someone deliberately, you deserve rebuke. But when the act is mere childishness, a misunderstanding, it feels unjust to have harsh words aimed at you. God deals with children differently than He does adults. I understand that. Would it sting worse to get rebuked as an adult? “Scolded” is a child’s word. That’s what it feels like to me. Like He’s treating them like children.

If a rebuke is unjustified, it’s the adult’s trigger. If I feel anger, revenge, or shame, that’s my issue. If the rebuke is justified, and it’s done in love, it’s discipline and for my good. It has always FELT to me like Jesus was triggered. But that’s impossible because it implies (by my definition) that He believes a lie somewhere.

Conclusion: I don’t like to think that Jesus was angry or even irritated at His disciples (that’s how grownups sometimes get when they discipline children). I think He was discipling, disciplining, and training. In the boat incident, He instructed them to go by way of the sea. I suspect He knew there was a storm coming, and He wanted to test them. At best, he followed the Father’s prompting to travel this route.

Matthew Henry states, “He slept at this time to try the faith of His disciples.” Maybe. Or perhaps His body was simply bone weary from all the ministry. In any case, I give the disciples credit for looking to Jesus as the source of their salvation. “Lord, save us.”

He asks, “Why are you fearful?” Does He answer His own question when He responds, “You have so little faith”?

I want to jump up and defend the disciples. Storms are fearful things! And who among them had the power or faith to rebuke the sea? None of them. Not I. Were they guilty of sin? Or of mere human frailty? Yes, I have weak faith as well.

While in the Garden, Jesus said, “Couldn’t you stay awake and watch for an hour?” (Matthew 26:40). It felt like a scolding and that He was unaware of and insensitive to their needs. But today I see it differently. It’s like He warned them to stay on the safe side of the fence, but they kept crawling over it. Finally, He put barbed wire on the top so they got the point (pun intended)—your obedience could be a matter of life and death. There’s danger on the other side. Don’t you see it? It was less a scolding and more a warning, an urging—look out! Your only weapon is prayer. The Evil One is lurking about. Be ready. Prepare for the attack. But they were unaware of the danger. And though they were willing intellectually to obey, their bodies were their masters.

I am God’s child, and I accept His rebuke if I go astray. But shame is not from Him.

On the Sea of Galilee

Lessons from Jeremiah 2

I wish I could sketch Jeremiah’s word pictures. With strong imagery, he describes the marriage relationship between God and Israel. He betrothed her in Egypt, married her at Sinai, and gave her fruitful land as a wedding gift. But Israel spurned her Lover’s gift as well as her Lover.

God is appalled, horrified sad, and rightly angry. He’s never seen anything like it. “Has a nation ever changed its gods (even though they are not gods),” He said. They have committed two evils: 1) “They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters,” and 2) “They have hewn for themselves broken cisterns that can’t hold water.” What an amazing visual! He gave them something more special than the warm springs at Yankari Game Reserve, and they are playing in empty rain barrels with holes in them.

And then Jeremiah uses more visuals:

  • I broke your bond and yoke to free you, but you shattered and snapped the bonds with Me.
  • I planted you, a choice vine, wholly of pure seed. But you turned into degenerate shoots of wild vine.
  • You wash yourself with much soap, yet your guilt and iniquity are still on you. You’re spotted, dirty and stained.
  • You’re like a female camel or donkey in heat! (Lots of lovers).

The images go on and on. It strikes me that God experienced pain, rejection, and abandonment long before Jesus experienced it on earth.

Jeremiah is preaching to God’s lover who forsook Him. This is Israel’s story. What is mine?

Lessons from Jeremiah 1

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations. Jeremiah 1:5 (NIV)

Jeremiah was a Preacher’s Kid (his father was a priest), and God spoke directly to him. Pretty heady stuff when you do big things for God . . . until you realize it is God’s doing all along. God may choose (Moses, David, Samson, Jonah, or me), but we have a choice how we’ll respond (argument, submission, courage, rebellion).

What excuses do I make for not following God’s command? She’s too hard to love; he won’t listen; I can’t because; I don’t know how; I don’t have time; I don’t have the money. . .

Fear of the people’s response was Jeremiah’s driving objection. God’s answer? “Don’t be afraid because I AM with you.”

Then God touched his mouth and said, “Behold I have put My words in your mouth.” How cool is that! This book is Jeremiah’s story, his testimony. God will not respond to everyone the same way. He’s too creative for that. But we can glean principles from Jeremiah’s life like: the antidote to fear is experiencing God’s presence.


Journal 2005

I have a long list of worries I need to shed NOW! The word responsibility is a balloon banner over my head with strings attached to each of my concerns. With hands cramping from their tight grip, occasionally one string escapes my grasp, and I scramble to grab it without letting go of the others. If I let them all go, does this mean I’m not a responsible person?

But near burnout, I wish I could let them all go. I want to be a kid again where I’m free to explore, and my meals miraculously appear on the table, and play is my most serious activity.

Suddenly the wind catches the balloons, and up, up, up, into the air I go. But now I’m in trouble if let go. My muscles are burning. I want off this ride!

“Look up,” says Jesus. I see He’s holding the responsibility banner, and I’m on a puppet stage. He’s responsible for the “responsible.” That takes the pressure off decision-making, but I’m still not satisfied. He created me with free will, and I don’t want to be a puppet. I don’t want His job as director of the play, nor can I be in the audience. What am I supposed to do?

“Let go of the strings,” He says. Willing to surrender at last, I unclench my fists and drop my arms. I do not fall. I do not collapse. I let go of worry and make life-giving choices.

Rest. Peace.

Thanks to my son-in-law Josh for the graphic.

Word vs. Spirit

Journal 2005

As I study the passages in the Word about the Holy Spirit, I wonder where the balance is between study and experience. My Bible training was all academic: interpretation, dissection, exegesis. If I only have the written Word and no Holy Spirit inside to interpret them, I simply have a collection of symbols on a page, lifeless and meaningless. But if I didn’t have the written Word, how would I know what my experience meant? But Jesus IS the Word—the Living Word. He brings the symbols to life and gives them meaning. I need both.

I wonder why God chose to use words to communicate with us. Why not comic-book pictures? Or is the world itself and its experience a visual? A picture would not be reproducible in certain countries or eras. But words endure, can be passed down through the generations. Can be heard. But for those who are visual . . .  I guess God gives each of us the visuals in our minds that meet our needs the best. But then, so do words.

A 2023 Update. After praying with people for the past 22 years, I’ve come to realize how important both words and visuals are. Clients will say, “I know the truth in my head, but I don’t feel it in my heart.” What they are describing is left-brain (words, logic) vs. right-brain (pictures, emotion). Our experience comes first, followed by interpretation of the event. When I read Scripture, I’m engaging my left brain. When the Holy Spirit speaks directly to my heart (emotions), I experience the truth and it gets correctly interpreted.