Sunday, August 31, 2014

Is God Really Bothered?

Reading: Luke 18

The parable of the widow and the unjust judge (Luke 18:1-8) is often simplified into a teaching on how persistence in prayer will bring the answer we want, and I wonder if its real impact is altogether missed. Maybe that should be no surprise since the rest of the chapter in which it falls reveals that the disciples also missed its impact.

As I will show below, the moral to the story or the meaning of the parable might be succinctly stated as, “No matter how small or trivial your life may seem, God is not bothered by your continual appeals for Him to do something about your unjust situation.” Yet, the disciples almost immediately assume that Jesus will be bothered by people bringing their little babies to Jesus in order that He might lay His hands on them (Luke 18:15). Shortly after this, when a blind beggar is crying out for mercy from Jesus, the disciples rebuke him and tell him to be quiet (Luke 18:39).

Had the disciples been characters in the parable of the widow, there is little doubt that they would have been trying to hush the old woman, trying to persuade her to accept her situation, and explaining that the judge's inaction toward her is the answer that he has given. Sadly, this is far too often still the approach that some might take toward people who are continually asking for prayer that God might change the brokenness in their own lives... especially difficult, painful, and hard to deal with circumstances. Like Job's comforters, we think it is better to help them accept, “No,” as an answer rather than join them in crying out to God for help.

This widow has no leg to stand on before the judge. Widows were powerless in that society. Her husband left her with no life insurance policy. She has no power to hold over the judge; her life could not be more trivial from a human perspective. There is nothing within this widow that can draw the judge's attention. And even if there were, he couldn't care less—he neither fears God nor cares about man. But cry out she does. Why? Because she refuses to accept the injustice of her situation. She refuses to rest content with the world as it is. She believes something must be made right in this broken and fallen world.

The parable offers an alternative to just accepting the brokenness of this world as it is. It invites us to refuse to rest content with the injustice of this world. It invites us to go to God crying out for Him to transform the world as it is into the world as it ought to be. And God will answer our prayers.

The parable is not saying that we should keep praying because just like the unjust judge, God will also eventually answer if we are just persistent. Rather, the parable is saying that unlike the unjust judge, God who cares deeply about His chosen ones, God who is not bothered by our coming, but rather gladly invites us to come to him and is patient with our cries for mercy, is indeed working out justice for His chosen ones. God wants justice for us and is already at work even in ways we cannot see and do not yet understand. But at work He is in response to our pleas.

Part of the problem we have in understanding the parable is rooted in many English translations of the last part of Luke 18:7. MacDonald's Idiomatic Translation captures it well and helps us understand.

Nevertheless, will not God surely make things right for his chosen ones who call to him day and night—while being ever so patient with them? (Luke 18:7 MIT)

The idea is not about whether or not God will delay in answering, but whether or not God gladly hears us and is disposed to listen. If He is not patient with us, then we must be ever so careful not to burden Him with our problems. But that is not the case with God. We need not try to encourage people to just accept their circumstances and stop crying out to God. Rather we can join with them in prayer, interceding with them before the Father, because not only will he be ever so patient with them and their cries for mercy, he will be patient with us and our cries for mercy on their behalf.

Of course, this would mean prayer. This would mean actually doing more than mentioning it once in prayer because we told them we would pray. This would mean grieving with those who grieve and weeping with those who weep. And maybe for some there is another concern. Not that God will be bothered by the requests of those unwilling to be satisfied with the brokenness of this fallen world, but that we might be bothered with actually having to intercede as persistently with them as this parable calls for.

Is God really bothered? God is bothered by the fallenness of this fallen world, or the brokenness of this broken world. So much so that He sent His Son to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8). However God is not bothered by your continual coming to Him and asking Him to do something about it. For those who are experiencing the brokenness of this fallen world, “No matter how small or trivial your life may seem, God is not bothered by your continual appeals for Him to do something about your unjust situation.” And for the rest of us, no matter how far out of reach justice and restoration may seem for someone, we should join with them in prayer to our loving Father whom we can trust is already at work and gladly hears our prayers.

Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,