I apologize for the semi-vulgarity, but this has become something of a favorite phrase of mine of late. I guess it’s because life can so often seem so sucky to us. Things rarely go like we think we want them to, and even when they go like we think we want them to, they never quite live up to what we think they should. I wonder why. That’s a rhetorical question because, well, we all know the answer, but so often we seem to forget. I’ll give it to you, no charge: We live in a fallen world in a fallen body among fallen people. That means, life is really hard most of the time. I’ll explain why that’s good news below, but first we have to understand why, and fully accept it. The latter part is far more difficult then the former. The reason for the former, the why part, is found in Genesis 3:
17 To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’
“Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat food from it
all the days of your life.
18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
and you will eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
and to dust you will return.”
We call this the fall, but for some reason we don’t envision falling as the essence of life, as the thing we have to constantly fight against day in and day out, day out and day in. For some odd, irrational reason, we tend to think things should go smoothly, that the rough patches in life should be few and far between, or at least not be so darn often! When things go off the rails, and not at all like we think we want them to go we conclude . . . something is wrong! Well, no, nothing is wrong; that’s life lived in a fallen world in a fallen body lived among fallen people. I once heard a phrase from a pastor not too many years ago that captured so well this thing we battle against every day: The gravitational pull of sin. Oh, how it weighs us down, and in so many ways. Unfortunately, the way we fight against it is to complain and moan, or react in any number of negative ways. I’ll share a secret. It’s not the negative experiences or situations or people that is the suck; it is us!
Yes, brothers and sisters, you and me. That is what we must embrace, that we are the problem, not our situations or others. It is that we are incurvatus in se, utterly curved in on ourselves, which determines our negative reactions to situations and others, and why we are problem. We have to get to the point where we embrace the simple fact that it is we who suck, that we are helpless sinners if left to ourselves. It is only when we get to the point of accepting and embracing the spiritual reality of our utter suckiness (pushing this suck thing too far, but hang with me), that we realize our utter unworthiness before the unapproachable holiness of God. Then we can relate to the tax collector in Jesus’ parable:
13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
It is when our heads are bowed down in a certain kind of shame of our unworthiness before God that sanctification can really take hold in our souls. At that point we finally have nothing to prove, nothing to defend, no excuses to make, and that the only thing we bring to the God in Christ on the cross is our sin. Grasping the true spiritual reality of who we are by (sinful) nature makes this passage in John 3 so powerful:
14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”
I would implore you to read the passage in Numbers 21 that explains what happened. If someone doesn’t understand something of redemptive history, this will appear absolutely absurd. God punished his people for being ingrates by sending venomous snakes among them to kill them? Seriously? What kind of God is this! Well, he’s a just God, and he’s told them, and us, from the very beginning that the wages of sin is death. Where’s the good news in all this? Jesus!
The reason the gospel is such good news, which is what the word means, is that when we are bitten by the snake, all we need to do is to look up to him and trust him, and we will live. What do we do, though? We look down at the bite! It hurts, we think, what else are we supposed to do? Look up! The pain and hurt and sorrow are what should cause us to look up to him, to trust him that he has the answer for all of it. That’s what believe means, in Greek, pisteuó-πιστεύω, trust. The reason embracing the suck is so important is so that we don’t look to ourselves, or to our circumstances to save us, to provide the answers to our problems. We are the cause of those problems! All of them. As we learn to trust him, everything falls into place, everything works, and we experience a peace that passes all understanding. Notice what Paul says allows us to have that peace. There is an entire blog post in those verses, but giving thanks is part of it, and as he says elsewhere, in all circumstances. When our knee-jerk reaction when things go south is to give thanks instead of complain, we’ll know real sanctification is happening in our souls.