Grace, Grace, All the Way Down
Or how to not be an ungrateful whiner
“And the LORD said to Job: ‘Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let him answer it.’” (Job 40:1–2)
One antidote against a bitter, complaining spirit is to remember the very obvious truth that you are not God.
What you are is a creature made in the image of God. But He is the eternal Creator and sovereign ruler of all things in heaven and earth. To put things in focus, before you ever existed — before matter arranged itself by divine decree into an embryonic conglomerate of cells and tissues joined to an eternal soul — God was speaking worlds into existence. He was commanding the rise and fall of empires. He was fashioning such creatures as the hippo and crocodile, the common house fly and the Japanese murder hornet. He was setting the bounds of created reality, speaking stars and galaxies into existence that no human eye would ever see, and delighting in the divine joke that would one day be the ostrich.
All these God created and upholds by the power of His Word. But we’re upset that the light turned red. Or that the toothpaste is empty again. Or that the gas light is on and we’re already running late. To put not too fine a point on it, each day a veritable tsunami of blessing goes forth from the throne of the triune God, and each day a near ceaseless drone of nitpicking ascends in return. Like Israel grumbling in the wilderness, shockingly blind to God’s goodness and provision, so are we on a normal Tuesday afternoon. We really are stunningly audacious creatures.
The sum of our complaints, however, is neatly captured in God’s challenge to Job: “Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let him answer it.” Here then is what all our murmuring amounts to: not justified expressions of displeasure, but rank rebellion against the King of heaven; clay daring to find fault with the Potter.
The reason this is the case is because God is the One who orders all things. He is the One who laid the foundations of the earth (38:3), who commands the morning and causes the dawn to know its place (v. 12), who prescribed the limits of the sea (v. 10), and who commands the very stars of heaven (v. 31). This world, in other words, in all its fullness, belongs to Him. Thus our impudent remarks of dissatisfaction are all statements inescapably directed toward His wisdom and governance. They are not, as we suppose, innocent expressions that allow us to blow off a little steam here and there; they are shocking and high-handed moments of cosmic mutiny and treason.
“And Moses said, ‘When the LORD gives you in the evening meat to eat and in the morning bread to the full, because the LORD has heard your grumbling that you grumble against him—what are we? Your grumbling is not against us but against the LORD.’” (Ex. 16:8)
What, then, is the solution to so-called “respectable” sins like grumbling, complaining, murmuring, cursing, and every ugly sub-species contained therein? Part of the answer is found in what theologians call the Creator-creature distinction. We simply need a strong reacquaintance with our creatureliness. We need to feel our finitude and insufficiency. Like Job, we need to recognize the frightening limitations of our natures and thereby come to appreciate the “Godness” of God.
If we did, perhaps we wouldn’t live with the vain assumption that all the events of our day should unfold seamlessly according to our comfort. Perhaps we wouldn’t labour under the conceited expectation that none of our plans will ever deviate from their desired course. Perhaps we wouldn’t hang our happiness on the thin and uncertain hope that enough planning and forethought can eliminate all trouble from our days.
Instead, perhaps our eyes would at last be opened to the stunning array of grace that surrounds us on every side — beauty, colour, breath, taste, joy, laughter, friendship, work, warm winter jackets, the simple taste of a coffee brewed just right, the wonder of a Christmas tree all aglow, and the exuberant delight contained in a child’s smile. These are but a few of the blessings God daily gives, to say nothing of the spiritual blessings He has lavished on those in Christ Jesus. If it were possible for our miserly little hearts to glimpse the whole of God’s goodness to us in the span of even one hour, I think the result would so overwhelm us that we might never speak again.
It’s grace, Christian, God’s grace. All the way down. And a world of gratitude opens to us when we learn to remember that.
“How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
The children of mankind take refuge
in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of
and you give them drink from the river
of your delights.
For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light do we see light.” (Ps. 36:7–9)