Blessings // The Plinko Game

Confessions of a Theological Brat:

Have you ever watched The Price is Right? Well, if you haven’t there is this game called “Plinko” where contestants drop discs into a vertical maze of pegs, hoping their disc will drop into a slot labelled with a high monetary reward.

I often feel like my life is a Plinko game with God. I know he has abundant and life-giving blessings for all his people, and that he wants to bestow them like a parent at Christmas–witnessing our joy and gratitude. I do not believe in Retribution Theology, which claims we have a God of karma, one who hurts us when we do immoral things and rewards us when we do the right ones.

I had a mother who suffered from cancer for five years, a wonderful person whose life was committed to God and her community. What I learned is that there are many kinds of blessings and tragedies in this world, and all people, no matter their moral compass, seem to experience both. It is not my own goodness that blesses me, but God’s.

Yet, it often feels as though the rhyme and reason of distribution are much like the Plinko game. God rains his blessings down on us, as children and disciples, and they plink to the ground in every which way. I believe that God blesses me but where I am blessed is another issue.

Right now I am unemployed, which is a hard position to be in. I feel useless, incompetent, undervalued and invaluable. Yet, my volunteer life, my friendships and my time of discernment seem to be experiencing incredible blessings. It is as though the one slot I wish for blessings has received nothing, but everything else has an abundance.

Since my mother’s illness I don’t struggle with why bad things happen to good people, God and I have pretty well worked that out. Not to say I do not lament or express intense anger at God when it happens–that’s what working it our looks like for me. What I can’t handle is when someone is blessed in every area except the one they desire the most. For example, a family who is so blessed, but simply desires a child (be it through child birth or adoption).

Proverbs 13:12 is a favourite of mine, it says:

A hope deferred make the heart sick; but a longing filled is a tree of life.

My heart is sick, and it effects me each day. I feel similar to the way I felt when I was in my time of mourning: lethargic, exhausted, bored, invaluable, depressed…. It feels as though God is playing some cruel joke on me as I am blessed, as my new ministry initiative receives funds, as new and old relationships are strengthened, as the Spirit is at work within my relationship with my husband. It hurts because I would rather hate God and feel completely rejected than feel as though what I desire doesn’t matter. The Scriptures say that God delights in fulfilling our desires, that God is parental figure who will bless his/her children in accordance with that relationship.

Yet, I got a pony instead of a tiara.

I realize this may make me sound bratty, but we cannot invalidate the suffering and desires of others. That is how I feel right now. I feel as though God has left it all up to luck, that I have no control and though God is ultimately in control that he/she is not exercising it. When I am so keenly aware that there is not security in my own self, I want to believe in something, someone, who will care for me–who will listen and bless me accordingly. I do not want to believe in the God of Plinko, but the God of the Tree of Life.

Hopefully, in the coming months, I will see the image of the God who is sustainer, dreamer and parent. I recognize that, though I may not see or feel that person today, they are there. It is just difficult for a sick heart to see them.

 

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A Barely Believable Story // Death, Resurrection and Forgiveness

Reflections from the Gospel of John.

I ponder if the believability of Jesus’ death and resurrection has less to do with his living again, and more to do with his forgiveness.

If Jesus was so brutally murdered by the Roman state, handed over by the religious authorities of his people, how could he ever express forgiveness? As Professor Mary Boys of Union Theological Seminary (Source) puts it: “Crucifixion functioned as a state sanctioned punishment to terrorize and pacify the population for Roman rule.” It was not pleasant, and it is not to be made light of. It was cruel and public, it was a humiliation that startled on-lookers.

Yet, we see Jesus sentenced to this fate saved for those who must be made examples of. We see his blamelessness under the law here in John’s account of the Passion. Here Annas, father-law-law of the high priest Caiphas questions Jesus:

Annas (to Jesus): Who are Your disciples, and what do You teach?

Jesus: I have spoken in public where the world can hear, always teaching in the synagogue and in the temple where the Jewish people gather. I have never spoken in secret. So why would you need to interrogate Me? Many have heard Me teach. Why don’t you question them? They know what I have taught.

While Jesus offered His response, an officer standing nearby struck Jesus with his hand.

Officer: Is that how You speak to the high priest?

Jesus: If I have spoken incorrectly, why don’t you point out the untruths that I speak? Why do you hit Me if what I have said is correct?

(The Voice, John 18)

Jesus is placed in a power struggle between the Jewish religious authorities of the day and the Roman governor Pilate. Sent before one man and then the next, he, an innocent man, is eventually sacrificed to the jealous and vengeful will of the high priest and his people. Manipulating Pilate with a political agenda they are able to sentence Jesus to death under Roman law, where Jewish law will not permit. We then see the gentile Pilate “washing his hands” of the incident, in full awareness of Jesus’ innocence.

Persecuted by the men who were meant to be leading Israel in a life of devotion to God’s will and law, and wrongfully executed by an oppressive foreign state, Jesus died on the cross in a manner of shame, naked and in agony. When he returns to life in three days, a surprising affair to even his closest friends, he speaks of peace of mission. He presses his friends to share the lessons he had taught them before his crucifixion, and to care for his people’s, to shepherd a movement (John 21).

Jesus, in an unbelievable move, rose from his painful death to speak of peace and forgiveness. He rose from a shameful death to send his closest friends out amongst the people who had unknowingly taken part in a system that saw the death of an innocent man. He sent them out even to those who were his persecutors, the Jewish authorities of the day. It is not his death, though scandalous, which is so unbelievable, or even that a man could wake up from his death, but that he could send his closest friends out on a mission of forgiveness and reconciliation.

I am happy to put aside my skepticism and accept Christ’s death and resurrection, it isn’t always easy, but I see and feel the remainder of both. I find it much harder to believe a man could extend love and forgiveness like that–a barely believable story.