Chapter 3: Expectations and accepting help
To summarize our thoughts so far, we have said:
- Life if often unfair.
- Different people have different explanations as to “why” life is unfair.
- No one reason satisfies all people and no one reason seems soul-satisfying in all situations.
- “Why” life is unfair is a mystery.
- Therefore we are faced with the question of “how” to deal with that unfairness.
- Scripture provides examples of how our ancestors in the faith dealt with the unfairness that came to them.
- Our ancestors grieved, lamented, their losses.
- Our ancestors reached out to ask God’s help.
- Our ancestors sought to understand their own responsibility for what occurred to them and confessed where they fell short.
In this chapter, we will look at two more steps toward healing from the wounds of unfair blows that come our way. One step is to examine our assumptions. Another step is to accept help. We have been taught that life is supposed to be fair.
As we have already said, when we are children we are taught to share and we come to believe that everyone else will share, too. We have been taught to respect other people’s property, and we have come to believe that everyone else will do this, too.
So when others do not share, or when others steal from us, or when others mistreat our property, we feel violated. “It’s not fair,” we say. Our expectation of the way the world should be is torn in two. On some scale this creates a spiritual crisis, depending on the magnitude of the loss. If it is someone cutting in line at the grocery store, we will tend to blame the person. If we or a loved one have been violated in a crime, we may tend to blame the criminal and wonder why God did not protect us. If we or a loved one are threatened by death, we may feel God has abandoned us. If we are made vulnerable by war or natural disaster, we may question the very existence of God.
Let’s consider two observations. One is straightforward: When we suffer loss, the degree of our distress is equal to the extent of the loss Two people may lose the same thing, but one may hardly notice the loss while the other may be greatly distressed. Therefore the first will go on with life as usual, while the second person will experience anger, grief, and a need to ask for help. He may need a significant amount of time to adjust to his loss and to examine how that loss impacts his image of and relationship with God.
The second thing to be noticed is more subtle: Our expectations determine the degree of loss we feel and how unfair that loss feels. Remember when the Israelites were freed from the clutches of Pharaoh? Once they miraculously crossed the Red Sea, they must have thought they were in the Promised Land. Surely, their escape from Pharaoh and their unexpected rescue through the sea caused them to believe God was with them and life would be easy. As Exodus says, the Israelites “stood in awe of the LORD; and they had faith in the LORD and in his servant Moses” (Exodus 14.31b).
But the Israelites soon found themselves in the middle of the wilderness, without sufficient food or water. “There in the desert they all complained to Moses and Aaron and said to them, ‘We wish that the LORD had killed us in Egypt. There we could at least sit down and eat meat and as much other food as we wanted. But you have brought us out into this desert to starve us all to death’ ” (Exodus 16.2,3).
When life measures up to or beyond our expectations, it is easy to have faith in the Lord. Note the Israelites did not say “O Lord, you have been unfair to us in releasing us from captivity; you have been unfair to us in opening the Red Sea to save us.” It is only when life brought hardship that their sense of righteous anger is kindled.
The Israelites’ expectation that God would protect them from all harm left them feeling angry, betrayed, and distressed when they believed they would perish from thirst and starvation in the wilderness. We see a similar cry from Jesus at his crucifixion: “My God, my God, why did you abandon me?” (Mark 15.34b). Our expectation that God will save us from all harm leaves us feeling abandoned and that life has been unfair when we are faced with extreme circumstance or death.
That Jesus also experienced a sense of the unfairness of life may give us some comfort. Even Jesus struggled to understand who God is in the midst of suffering. Yet we should also notice that, in his pain, Jesus cries out to God. This is perhaps both a statement of frustration and a plea for help. As we said in Chapter 2, when we experience unfairness in life, a big spiritual step is to ask for help.
A further step is to accept help when it comes. You may be familiar with a story about a man who lived in a Midwest city. He always watched the evening news for the weather report as the weather where he lived could change precipitously. The evening report stated that people should evacuate their homes because of a huge rainfall that would mean certain flooding in his neighborhood. “That’s O.K.,” he thought, “I know that the weather reports are often wrong, and, besides, if it does flood, I have faith in God and I know he will rescue me.”
So the man went to bed and slept very peacefully, until he awoke about sunrise with the sound of water pouring into his bedroom. Startled, he jumped out of bed and climbed the stairs to his attic. Within two hours, the water was pooling in his attic. He found an axe, cut a hole in the roof and managed to use a chair to get himself onto the roof. He was surprised to see the water still rising.
Fortunately, a boat came by to offer him a ride, but the man said, “Thank you very much, but I have faith in God and I know that I will be O.K. He will rescue me if I need help.”
The water continued to rise and a helicopter came by, but the man said, “Thank you very much, but I have faith in God and I know that I will be O.K. He will rescue me if I need help.”
Finally the waters rose further and swept the man away to his death.
Soon he appeared in heaven before God. The man was distressed. He had been faithful to God and believed what had happened to him was very unfair. So he was direct with God saying, “I have believed in you all my life, I put my trust in you, I attended church, I lived by the Ten Commandments, I helped my brothers and sisters whenever I could, and still you let me drown. That was not fair. You didn’t live up to your end of the bargain!”
God responded by saying, “I don’t know what you are complaining about. I sent you a weather report that told you to get out of the house, but you ignored it. So I gave you hearing that woke you up when the water came to your bedroom, and I gave you strong legs to walk to the attic, and I gave you strong arms to cut the hole in the roof; then I sent you a boat and finally a helicopter, but you ignored that help too. I don’t know what else I could have done.”
The point is simple: spiritual healing may be promoted when we ask for help (Chapter 2), but the help that comes is not helpful until we have eyes to see it and the will to accept it. Our pride cannot only keep us from asking for help, but our pride can also keep us from accepting help.
The Scripture passages in this chapter point to those times when our ancestors in the faith were able to see the help God was providing them and were able to accept that help. As you read these Scriptures, reflect on what help is available to you and if you are taking advantage of it.
Readings from the Old Testament/Hebrew Scriptures
When the Israelites complained to Moses about the lack of food in the desert, the Lord heard their complaints and provided for their needs.
Moses said to Aaron, “Tell the whole community to come and stand before the LORD, because he has heard their complaints.” As Aaron spoke to the whole community, they turned toward the desert, and suddenly the dazzling light of the LORD appeared in a cloud. The LORD said to Moses, “I have heard the complaints of the Israelites. Tell them that at twilight they will have meat to eat, and in the morning they will have all the bread they want. Then they will know that I, the LORD, am their God.”
In the evening a large flock of quails flew in, enough to cover the camp, and in the morning
there was dew all around the camp. When the dew evaporated, there was something thin and
flaky on the surface of the desert. It was as delicate as frost. When the Israelites saw it, they
didn’t know what it was and asked each other, “What is it?”
Moses said to them, “This is the food that the LORD has given you to eat.”
Many of the psalm writers placed their hope in God, trusting in his help and protection.
You, O LORD, are always my shield from danger;
you give me victory and restore my courage.
I call to the LORD for help, and from his sacred hill he answers me.
I lie down and sleep, and all night long the LORD protects me.
“Praise him, you servants of the LORD!
Honor him, you descendants of Jacob!
Worship him, you people of Israel!
He does not neglect the poor or ignore their suffering;
he does not turn away from them, but answers when they call for help.”
I praise you, LORD, because you have saved me
and kept my enemies from gloating over me.
I cried to you for help, O LORD my God,
and you healed me; you kept me from the grave.
I was on my way to the depths below,but you restored my life.
Praise the LORD!
How wonderfully he showed his love for me
when I was surrounded and attacked!
I was afraid and thought
that he had driven me out of his presence.
But he heard my cry, when I called to him for help.
I waited patiently for the LORD’s help;
then he listened to me and heard my cry.
He pulled me out of a dangerous pit, out of the deadly quicksand.
He set me safely on a rock and made me secure.
He taught me to sing a new song, a song of praise to our God.
God is our shelter and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble.
So we will not be afraid, even if the earth is shaken
and mountains fall into the ocean depths;
even if the seas roar and rage, and the hills are shaken by the violence.
O God, you are my God, and I long for you.
As I lie in bed, I remember you; all night long I think of you,
because you have always been my help.
In the shadow of your wings I sing for joy.
I cling to you, and your hand keeps me safe.
Readings from the New Testament
Jesus promised his followers that he would send the Holy Spirit to be our Helper.Jesus said:
“I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, who will stay with you forever. He is the Spirit, who reveals the truth about God.
The Holy Spirit is our Advocate, interceding on our behalf.
In the same way the Spirit also comes to help us, weak as we are. For we do not know how we ought to pray; the Spirit himself pleads with God for us in groans that words cannot express. And God, who sees into our hearts, knows what the thought of the Spirit is; because the Spirit pleads with God on behalf of his people and in accordance with his will.
In his letter to the Philippians, the apostle Paul acknowledged the help he had received from others.
I thank my God for you every time I think of you; and every time I pray for you all, I pray with joy because of the way in which you have helped me in the work of the gospel from the very first day until now.
It was very good of you to help me in my troubles. You Philippians know very well that when I left Macedonia in the early days of preaching the Good News, you were the only church to help me; you were the only ones who shared my profits and losses. More than once when I needed help in Thessalonica, you sent it to me.
Philippians 1.3-5; 4.14-16
Thoughts for Reflection
- What do I believe I deserve?
- How do I deal with life when I don’t get something that I feel I deserve?
- What is the help available to me if I choose to accept it?
- How has my image of God changed as I have experienced suffering?
Dear God, life seems more complicated than I thought it would be. At times, I just don’t understand why people have to suffer. Truly, it doesn’t seem fair and I don’t understand why you don’t take charge and change things to make them right. I would do it if I were you; I would protect the innocent, especially the children. I would feed the hungry and clothe the naked if I were you.
I know Jesus asked us to do these things, but I don’t want that responsibility. It scares me. So I need your help. Would you give me the
courage to help someone else? Would you give me the courage to let go of pride and fear and be the kind of person that I wish other people were? Would you help me let go of my resentment because life is not always fair, so I can get on with living? I do need your help. Amen.