Last weekend Matt and I had a young, engaged couple from our church over. It was so encouraging to talk to them about our faith. Although they are barely in their twenties, Greg and Mim are very mature in their thoughts about God.
As the men were showing off their corn hole skills (maybe this is just a WV game??) in an intense match against our children, Mim and I were talking on the deck about the recent loss of her baby niece. As Mim was processing her thoughts from her experience over the last couple of dramatic weeks, she recalled something very wise her father told her. She said something to the fact that God doesn’t give us hypothetical grace, he gives us grace for today.
This is a reflection her dad had taken away from C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters. The mentoring “devil,” Screwtape, counsels the younger “devil,” Wormwood (and so “the Enemy” is God):
There is nothing like suspense and anxiety for barricading a human’s mind against the Enemy…It is your business to see that the patient never thinks of the present fear as his appointed cross, but only of the things he is afraid of. Let him regard them as his crosses: let him forget that, since they are incompatible, they cannot all happen to him, and let him try to practice fortitude and patience to them all in advance. For real resignation, at the same moment, to a dozen different and hypothetical fates, is almost impossible, and the Enemy does not greatly assist those who are trying to attain it: resignation to present and actual suffering, even where that suffering consists of fear, is easier and usually helped by this direct action.
We talked about how we often go to the Lord with our imagined worst case scenarios, wanting relief and wisdom for how to cope. We want hypothetical strength for hypothetical situations. But God doesn’t deal in hypotheticals, and most of what our minds conjure up in anxiety are down a completely different path than the Lord’s will for us anyway. We don’t know what he has in store for us tomorrow. But we know that he is good.
I tucked that conversation in my mind, and the theme came up again as I was reading Ian Duguid’s commentary on Ruth. Naomi has hit rock bottom. After following her husband out of the Promised Land for the more abundant life, she had now lost him and her two sons. At this point in the story Naomi is now doing the walk of shame back to Bethlehem with her Moabite daughter-in-law, Ruth. “The afflicted Jewess and her thoroughly non-kosher daughter-in-law took the road to what looked like a bleak future, in which they would have to depend on family charity and whatever food they could scrounge for themselves” (155). Naomi is blinded by despair, and tells her people to call her “Mara,” meaning bitter.
Duguid identifies with Naomi, nudging the reader to recall all those times we too think the worst. We actually convince ourselves that God has abandoned us and that he is not working any good in our lives. The loss of a beloved family member would certainly qualify as an event that could lead our minds down the path of deceptive thinking. It can then be very tempting to question God’s goodness and our ability to cope with the future. This can lead to the “what will happen next” mentality. But Duguid reminds us that “God doesn’t promise to give us the grace to survive all the scenarios we can dream up—but only to give us the grace to enable us to make it through whatever he actually brings into our lives. In fact, much of what we worry about turns out in the end not to be part of God’s plan for us after all; our worry was wasted work! Of course, Jesus told us this himself when he said, ‘Which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?’ (Matt. 6:27)” (156).
Interestingly, her foreign daughter-in-law seemed to understand Naomi’s God more than she did. She didn’t let anxiety render her inactive. She didn’t sit around for the other ball to drop, or wait for God to just plop out blessings from above. She had grace for the day to glean from the field and look for favor. “She was stepping out in faith that somewhere out there was a generous, God-fearing land-owner who would make room for the poor” (157).
Why would God waste his grace on hypotheticals? There are no hypothetical hand-outs in heaven. He deals with the real. Some of our tomorrows may be too much for us to handle today, but God will give us his comfort and strength as we need it in the proper time. More importantly, he gives us himself everyday, and that is sufficient.
Whatever God has in store for our individual lives, we can know that it is for his glory and our good (which is to be conformed to the image of his Son). Duguid encourages us that the key to breaking the anxious cycle of despair that leads to inactivity, that leads to further despair, is “grasping hold of God’s covenant commitment to do us good. If we can once look to the cross and grasp the height and depth of the love of God for us in Jesus, than how can we doubt his desire to give us everything necessary for life and goodness” (157)?