The Divine Will – if you make me vile

As many of you will know I am slowly working my way through a book called The Valley of Vision it is a book filled with profound, deep and insightful prayers from the Puritans. And whilst I do not agree with all that the Puritans did, I have been frequently flawed and brought closer to God in my times of prayer by reading through and praying along with them.

(How great it is to be part of such an amazing Church and cloud of witnesses!)

But recently, I have been struck by a line in the prayer:

‘If thy mercy make me poor and vile, blessed be thou!
[For] Prayers arising from my needs are preparations for future mercies’

Right now in life, my wife and I are experiencing such a season of material blessing. We both have jobs, disposable incomes, a roof over our heads, new furniture (A new bookshelf!), even a fancy coffee machine. We are blessed in our health, physically able to do most of what we want and need to do in life. We are blessed in our relationships with family, friends and Church.

It really is something to be grateful for!

And yet, Biblical faith calls us to worship God in the midst of trial as well as triumph.

This test came rather embarrassingly for me with the arrival of a new webcam. I was setting up the camera on my monitor at home in preparation for a meeting. Vain person that I am, I wanted to check the lighting in the room, and that the camera was well-positioned. And then I saw, the camera was programmed in such a way, to highlight all the imperfections in my complexion. (AKA: make bright red a spot on my forehead!). Now, I looked in the mirror and the spot didn’t look too bad, it was a faded red. But on the camera…wow, that thing was difficult to ignore.

I became a little self-conscious and embarrassed, even considered not using a camera for the meeting and just using audio.

But then I remembered this prayer, ‘if You make me poor and vile…I will bless you. For prayers arising from needs are preparations for future mercies’.

And I started to thank God, for using this moment of (embarrassingly minuscule) trial to call me to lean upon His mercies.

In that moment I needed to remember to bless God, even though I felt “vile”. In that moment I needed to receive His mercy, not just to give me confidence when my physical appearance wasn’t doing it, but also because this moment of insecurity had revealed to me how much confidence and pride I was taking in my appearance. My confidence should have always rested upon God and His verdict over me. Not my complexion, not my webcam set-up, not my possessions or even my preparation for the meeting. On God and God alone.

In that moment I felt a need, and God supplied mercy.

If thy mercy make me poor and vile, blessed be thou!
[For] Prayers arising from my needs are preparations for future mercies

Genesis 3:1-24 Part 5: In Wrath Remember Mercy

On Monday we looked at the punishment given to man following his crime against God. In today’s post we will examine the other elements of the curse, and how even in the midst of God’s wrath we can see and celebrate His Mercy.

The Promise

I will put enmity between you and the woman,
And between your offspring and hers;
He will crush your head
And you will strike His heel

After God has cursed the snake, He goes on to issue a promise. Some commentators called this the proto evangelium as in, the first proclamation of the Gospel. For it tells us about Jesus:

  1. His Incarnation – this promise tells us He will descend from Eve,
  2. His Suffering – this promise tells us He will be wounded in the process
  3. His Victory – over evil and sin, He will crush the serpent!

The Woman

In light of the curse given to the snake we can see the God’s mercy in the midst of wrath, embedded in the sentence given to the woman:

I will make your pains in childbearing very severe;
With painful labour you will give birth to children

Yes, this is a severe punishment and consequence to Eve’s sin. And yet, it is not without mercy. For firstly, she will bear children. This means that the promise above (in verse 15) will continue. God will remain faithful even when we are faithless – He will fulfill His purposes.

Secondly, after the pain of childbirth there will be joy! (John 16:21)

The Clothes

In addition to the mercy shown through God’s words. We also see further mercy, in God’s provision of clothes for the couple.

As an history graduate, God’s provision of clothes is very significant. In Andrews Marrs book, History of the World, he pinpoints the invention of the needle (for the purposes of making clothes) as one of the defining inventions that set man apart from other species. Obviously, this passage does not say that God invented the needle. However, the blessing of clothes provides protection, warmth and even comfort to the humans.

The Shame

Nevertheless, it is undeniable, that God has rebuked us. He has stripped us of the garden, of our pathetic leaf outfit, moved us away from His presence and the tree of life.

And yet, in this shame there is grace. God has shamed us that we might seek Him (Psalm 83:16). As Augustine said: He has rubbed salt on our lips that we might thirst for Him.

We see this in the story of the prodigal son, who realises how good it was in his Father’s house, when he is reduced to pig food!

What now?

What difference does this make to our faith? What difference does God’s insistence on Mercy, towards Adam and Eve, make to our walk with God today?

  1. We worship a God who is the same, yesterday, today and forever. People often assume the God of the Old Testament is not merciful. Yet this story tells us clearly it is there.
  2. God’s plan for rescuing us, is not a fad, it is not a fickle ambition. Rather it has been planned from the beginning.
  3. We serve a God who is able to turn our worst failings, into means to accomplish His glory and our good (Gen 50:20, Rom 8:28).

Genesis 3:1-24 Part 4: In Wrath Remember Mercy

Because mankind rebelled against God, and betrayed a Just God, there must be punishment. We see from verse 14 onwards, God’s punishment: first to the snake, then to woman, and finally towards man. However, our God is not only a Just God, He is also a Loving God full of mercy and grace. Therefore, even in the midst of the great curse of Genesis 3, we can see God’s wrath mixed with mercy.

We’ve already considered the anatomy of temptation and the character of the snake. Today we turn our attention to our Righteous and Graceful God. We will explore His response to sin and evil and remind ourselves that God hates sin, but He longs to rescue sinners. In this passage we can see a microcosm of the Gospel.

In reverse order:

Man’s Punishment

‘Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life.
It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
and you will eat the plants of the field.
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’
(vv 17-19)

The punishment is severe. The work that Adam once had to do before, is now frustrated, complicated and filled with futility. Tim Keller put’s it like this: “In other words, work, even when it bears fruit, is always painful, often miscarries, and sometimes kills us…in all our work, we will be able to envision far more that we can accomplish, both because of a lack of ability and because of resistance in the environment around us. The experience of work will include, pain, conflict, envy and fatigue…’ (Every Good Endeavour, 89-90). He goes on to explain that this curse also demonstrates that work will become: pointless, selfish and will reveal our idols.

In this curse we see the context of work (ground), the fruit of work (eat the plants) and frustration of work (thorns and thistles) all subjected to punishment.

We also see promised punishment of death – that Adam would return to the ground as dust.

So where is grace?

We see grace in the fact that the man is not cursed himself. It is the ground. A quick look at the snake’s punishment reveals that the serpant was cursed! We are merely ‘put under the curse’. The full wrath of God is withheld against us, and directed instead to the ground. (Hence Romans 8 speaks of creation groaning!) We are punished indirectly.

We also see mercy in that Adam will be able to eat. His work will not be entirely futile. It will provide food for them, in this way we see God’s ongoing provision of man. God could have punished Adam by making him work for fruit that others would eat! This is in fact a blessing elsewhere in the Bible (Psalm 128:2)

One commentator went so far as to say that the promised death, was also a demonstration of God’s grace. Otherwise, man would have to continue living forever in a state of separation from God, from life, from blessing. Instead, God allows death, so that through faith in the Promised One they might be saved and return to the Garden. (More on that in the next post).

In this way we can see wrath mixed with mercy. In Wednesday’s post we will examine the concoction of mercy and wrath served by the rest of the curse.

It is a cause of worship that we come to the same God who in His wrath remembers mercy.