31 And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.
At several points in this creation story God has pronounced His work as being good. This is the first time it is emphasized as being “very good.” Sometimes when we look back at our creative work we are also flushed with a sense of pride at what we have accomplished, surprised that something so good was able to come out of us. Other times we feel disappointed at how inferior the end result is compared to what we had imagined, either the result of lacking necessary skills or of having rushed things. In either case, we all feel that yearning to create something significant and pronounce it “very good” as our Heavenly Father did.
And this brings us to the conclusion of Genesis: Chapter 1. As we move on we will find that all this earth’s creation was merely a backdrop for the drama that would play out on it: the story of all mankind.
I am sure Satan is pleased when I do not commit to improve myself and instead accept complacency. But I also believe that he is pleased when I do make promises, but they are ones I cannot keep.
So many times I have tried to commit myself to perfection–“I will never do this thing again”–and so many times I have failed. Then I have said to myself “okay, so apparently last time wasn’t the last time…but this one has to be! So this time I’ll just have to screw up more moral resolve than before. I just have to grit my teeth and draw up more spiritual energy than last time to make this the most excellent commitment I can, one that would carry through forever!”
But then…I have slipped again. And what did I think then? Well, clearly I had to somehow find another great well of spiritual resolve within me, one even greater than the “even greater” last one…or else I obviously wouldn’t have a chance of succeeding this time either.
Over and over this pattern continued until I was all dried up. I simply could not find any more “even greater” wells of spiritual resolve. I couldn’t keep outperforming myself endlessly. So I became disheartened. I didn’t believe myself and the promises I made. It seemed that the best pledge I could come up with was meaningless, and I began to believe that I simply couldn’t improve. Other people could, but I couldn’t. I was stuck.
And I remained stuck until I realized there was a better way. God interrupted my spiral to show me there was an “even greatest” well that I could be making use of. One that wouldn’t ever fail me.
Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?
Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.
Peter said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?
Jesus saith unto him, not until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.
Each of us must learn in life how to deal with those that disappoint and offend us. And while often we speak of that in terms of other people sinning against us, the truth is that the person who most often upsets us is our own self.
And in return, we usually are also our own worst critics, giving ourselves self-talk that is far crueler than what we would say to any other person. When we do something that lets us down, we mentally shake ourselves and ask when we’re finally going to get it right!
But I feel that Jesus’s counsel in this verse condemns withholding forgiveness from ourselves, as much as from another. And eventually, I started treating myself better after I felt God say to me: “Hey, don’t be so hard on Abe. I love that guy!”
We can forgive ourselves, be kind to ourselves, and still ask ourselves to grow and improve. In fact, our behavior is most likely to improve, when we set our expectations for ourselves with a heavy dose of self-love.
In my last entry I spoke of an unhealthy guilt in regards to trying to improve myself. I have had many times of berating myself for failing to be perfect, even though I was actively improving overall. No, I was not yet in the perfect image of Christ, but I was getting closer and closer to it.
But today I want to talk about the other side of that coin. Because I have also strayed into a unhealthy lack of guilt when I have done wrong. I have found it all too easy to do what I know is wrong, and then immediately ask forgiveness for it, fully knowing that my heart was still unchanged. I have even apologized before doing the wrong thing, making a promise that “this will be the last time.” A promise that, of course, never held true.
It is possible to beat ourselves up for not being perfect, but it is also possible to give ourselves a free pass, defending ourselves with the argument that it’s enough to just “want” to be good.
But what has always given me hope is that my conscience has never been at ease with either extreme. I may have thrown over to one side, and then overcorrected back to the other, but in both cases my heart knew that God was not in either, because neither of these is the way that God treats my mistakes either. He does not berate me for my errors, but also He does not ask for “lip service” only.
And now, with this established, I will spend the rest of the study considering how God (and the godly) do respond to failings, and how I can emulate that pattern with myself.
I want to explain a little more of my personal experiences, and the two conundrums that inspired this particular topic of study. The first of these deals with the steps of repentance I was taught to follow as a child.
I understood that to repent I must sincerely feel sorrow for what I had done wrong, confess my wrongs to God and anyone else I had harmed, make restitution as possible, and then not do that behavior anymore.
Now I actually think this description for repentance is fine, when understood as a process, and not a singular event, particularly in regards to that last step. I do believe that there are times that you can swear off a certain behavior forever, but far more common is that even when I feel genuine sorrow for my wrongs and wish to never do them again…I probably will at some point.
Thus there were times that I was told I needed to repent of a misdeed, and if I did it again, was asked why I hadn’t really repented, as I was still showing the same wrong behavior. And this was quite disheartening, and eroded my confidence in my ability to repent and become a better person.
Yes, at times, I needed to be more sincere in my efforts to improve, but also there were times when I actually was improving, I simply had not attained perfection yet. In those moments I believe I would have been greatly helped by an understanding that sometimes repentance means not repeating the wrong behavior…eventually. It means we try again and again, recommitting after each slip, doing the wrong thing less and less, soldiering on through the process of letting God change our hearts, until finally we no longer are subject to that sin.
And Jonah began to enter into the city a day’s journey, and he cried, and said, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.
So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them.
And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not.
But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry.
But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry
The story of Jonah is very interesting. First God calls him to teach the people of Nineveh and he tries to run away. Then he repents of that folly and goes and proclaims death and destruction on the city. They repent and are spared, and he is furious that God is willing to forgive them.
Jonah clearly knows God, has intimate conversations with Him, and presumably wants to be a good disciple…but he keeps butting heads with God anyhow. He thinks that God’s policy should be one way, and is disappointed when it is otherwise. In this small story of his life, Jonah seems to be more devoted to his sense of what is right than God’s.
But we probably shouldn’t criticize him too harshly, because I think each of us disagrees with God on one point or another, even as we’re trying to follow Him. Some of us are worried that God is too lenient, afraid that He isn’t going to punish those who deserve it. Some of us are worried that God is too harsh, afraid that He won’t accept us with all of our indulgences.
When we make up our minds as to what the spiritual truths are supposed to be, we then become very touchy when someone suggests that we are wrong. Like Jonah, “it displeases us exceedingly, and we are very angry!”
I have personally experienced this a few times, and in hindsight I’ve always realized that my anger was not righteous indignation, I was lashing out because someone had touched a nerve. They had inadvertently touched on some festering emotional baggage. Of course, I did not want to admit that I was wounded, so I maintained all the more loudly that I was standing for the right. But of course, God sees through that whole facade, and tomorrow we’ll examine how He breaks it down.