October 01, 2011

It's a setting beyond the ken of an Average Joe. The 6,000-plus-square-foot home commands a hilltop view of a valley and snow-capped mountains beyond. A bright red BMW crouches in the driveway, ready for action. The Hummer, Porsche and Harley-Davidson Road King sit safely in the four-bay garage. "Wow! I've been blessed," says the athlete as he surveys his eminent domain.

Three boisterous, healthy children romp in the park. Their sturdy legs and ruddy complexions testify to an avid diet of outdoor activity. Their mother watches from a park bench nearby, gently rocking a stroller back and forth with the newest pink-cheeked, chubby cherub tucked inside. "We've really been blessed," she murmurs with a contented smile.

A religious celebrity with carefully lacquered hair explains the most recent divine intervention on his behalf. A speeding car, a head-on collision, a crumpled wreck in the ditch — but he walks away with only a bruise and a scratch. "It's a direct blessing from the Lord that I wasn't killed," he exclaims.

Sometimes I hear a children's story on Sabbath morning echoing such themes. I look from face to face in the congregation, knowing many there have tragically lost children or health or home. The unstated questions are written deep in their hearts: "What's wrong with us? Why are we not worthy of such blessings? Why have we been selected for such pain?"

Who among us prays for pain or divorce or financial reverse? Abundant money, a flourishing family, faithful friends, good health — those are the things we desire. In our simple way of reckoning, these constitute a sort of Good Housekeeping seal of approval, an affirmation of good choices, righteous living ... God's blessing.

But until the problem of sin in this world is forever wiped clean, the formula of life and death, success or suffering, will often appear to be indiscriminate and unfair. The philandering husband lives to a ripe old age, while the faithful young mother gets breast cancer.

Perhaps this dilemma is why the incongruous book of Lamentations brings such a surprising message of God's mercies, which are "new every morning." Perhaps it is why the message of Laura Story's song, "Blessings," turns our familiar formulas upside down: "What if your blessings come through raindrops? What if your healing comes through tears? ... What if trials of this life are your mercies in disguise?"

Perhaps it's why I'm intrigued with The Message version recorded in John 9 of Jesus' response to His disciples about a man blind from birth. "'Who sinned, this man or his parents?' they asked. Jesus replied, 'You're asking the wrong question. You're looking for someone to blame. There is no such cause-effect here. Look instead for what God can do.'"

Today we ask similar questions, with a constant refrain — "Why?" The answer comes when we turn instead to look for what God can do to redeem even the worst efforts of our enemy.

That's when those morning-fresh mercies of Lamentations finally begin to ring true.