The Lenten Push-Pull


But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.

- Genesis 3:4-7


This is an awful thing to confess – sinful, really – but I get tired of Lent. The emphases on repentance, denying self, sacrificial giving, and so forth are tiresome. What is the children’s song? “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” Really, that ought to do it, when you think about it. If He loves me – you, too – and He saves us, then all this self-denial and penance seems a bit redundant. Still, Lent gets old.


We tend to think Christianity is supposed to be full of grace and love and joy. Jesus prayed that His joy would be fulfilled in His disciples, but joy is not the first word that comes to mind when thinking about Lent. Lent is a season of less – less food or television or alcohol or social media or whatever you gave up. I’m not very good at Lent, which is probably why I get tired of it. There is nothing quite like making a commitment to the Lord and the failing to keep it as promised. It’s humiliating even if no one else knows. The Lord knows, and that’s embarrassing enough. I don’t know if your experience is the same, but I’ve noticed that nothing increases want like self-denial. That in and of itself is revealing, and that is part of the purpose of Lent.


Lent is a push-pull season with God, during which we are called to struggle between God’s will and our own. Who is going to rule? Whose will prevails? That is why significant sacrifice is hard. I want this thing, but I gave it up so that I might encounter Jesus Christ more deeply. But I really, really want the thing!


True and lasting fellowship with Jesus Christ depends upon our willingness to give up control of our lives to Him. To deepen our relationship with Christ requires handing over our plans to Him and allowing Him to lead us into the future He wills. Simultaneously, we must release our past – both our exalted victories or crushing failures – and entrust Him to determine the value of our experiences and decisions, good and bad. This is conceivably the most difficult challenge ever put before us. Is God trustworthy? That is the question posed by the serpent in the Garden.


The story of the Fall in the Garden reveals the human desire to be like God, knowing good and evil – that is, the sum of all knowledge. That is what we desire: to have knowledge equal to God’s, to be able to wrest control from God and conform the world to our wishes. I’m not sure Adam and Eve fully understood the choice before them, but I am sure that we ought to understand by now. The sum of all knowledge exists in God because He is the Author of all that is and ever will be. The sum of all knowledge in human beings is a corruption of the creature. What was a known potentiality to the Creator became a reality in human life.


Unlike us, Adam and Eve were creatures of life who wagered death because they’d never seen death. We are creatures of death who wager life because we’ve never seen life. This isn’t all there is, and at best, we live in a dark and shadowy grave reflecting life – unless we live in the presence of our God. Every time we choose to make our own way without God, we will choose the pathway that leads to death. That is what creatures of death do; we follow the pathway that suits us, fits us, and ultimately destroys us. When we follow God, He leads us to good. When we seek to lead God, we end up in murky pits, some of which are very well decorated. If we let go of our determination to control the future and to assess from the pride and embarrassment of the past, we are free to live in the present, wholly with Christ, fully alive in Him.


Even believing that, knowing that we do not rule over God, sacrificing our will to God’s feels huge. What if He doesn’t care? What if He isn’t paying attention? Have you looked at the headlines recently? If this is God’s world, He’s not doing a great job of reigning over it. Who among us thinks nations and their leaders submit themselves to the will of God instead of striving impose their own? If we expect God to ride roughshod over the freedom of men and women, we do not yet understand Who God is, nor do we understand human beings created in the Image of God.


Today, disbelieving God has become the mantra of our society. People not only do not trust God; they actively strive to refute His existence. Look around at our world. How successful and wise are human decisions and human will? When Adam and Eve recognized their guilt and shame, they covered themselves with fig leaves, but they did not repent. We cover ourselves with leaves of wealth, technology, science and more, but we do not repent. The desire for power, the deceit for greed, the lust for decadence point toward a damning end. Yet, no one admits defeat. No one acknowledges how fallible and foolish we can be. There is no humility in the ambitions of worldly powers, even small worldly powers like our own will.


Until Christ returns, the evil one moves across the lands feeding rebellion, destroying good, breaking relationships, and tempting us to eat the forbidden fruit. That is the push-pull of Lent again. Do I place the greatest value on restoration to Jesus, or will I choose to satisfy myself in the moment? The temptation is always to believe God is not paying attention and will not give us what we want and desire. Because we do not trust God is loving, wise, and full of grace, we reach out and take what we want in life and from life.


Human beings are not good. Nothing makes that more obvious than the outcomes obtained by people who mock belief in the existence of God and faith in Jesus Christ. In great pride of knowledge, nations war and collapse, and human beings are destroyed or self-destruct. Even when human beings strive to do good things, our best is a far lesser good than what God would do if we let Him. The push-pull of Lent is the battle between the will of the Creator and our own will. We want to be good Christians, and we also want to have control over our life and our future. The disciplines of Lent are good for us, even when we fail to keep them. They remind us of our frailty and weakness, our self-absorption and blind willingness to choose death.


The Resurrection is coming. Has Lent pushed you backward, or pulled you forward? What’s your wager – life in Christ or what you want now? For millions of people across centuries of time, God has stood firm and unfailing in His promises. The only way to know that it is to forfeit your own will to God’s. It’s the wager of life. You should take the wager. The Resurrection will prove to be more than you ever expected or imagined.


In Christ –


Rev. Elizabeth Moreau

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