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Life Notes

How Did I Miss That?

Part 27: Growth is not Chronological

 But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. 2 Peter 3:8

Beginning at birth, our bodies go through a mostly predictable cycle of growth, maturation, decline, and death. We see it in others, and most of us witness it firsthand in ourselves. Through our school years, we steadily advance in our academic achievements as we graduate from grade to grade. As such, it is only natural to expect our growth as spiritual beings to follow a similar, predictable pattern; but it does not. Our experience of time is very different from that of God. In other words, time is not always as it seems. Our human evolution seemingly progresses in a predictable way from past to present to future. God creates, and that creation – including our lives – manifests in ways that we can only experience gradually over time. That is not necessarily the core reality, however.

Because our spiritual growth – our increasing awareness of God with us – occurs outside of earth-time, our spiritual development appears to occur in fits and starts. We go through long periods where it seems nothing is changing. In fact, we go through periods where it seems we are falling back and losing what we once believed we had attained. Then something happens and we hardly recognize the person we were a short time earlier. Our spiritual growth is commonly experienced as three steps forward and two steps back.

Often painfully, the times we move forward in a spiritual way are the times that force us to reevaluate our understanding of the world. The single event that most contributed to my spiritual development was the sudden death of my father when I was a youth. Decades later, that experience continues to realign my understandings and priorities. For others it may be a serious accident or illness, a divorce, or the severe misfortune of someone close to them that drives their former certainties into a state of utter inadequacy. Athletic trainers tell us, “No pain, no gain” in physical development. The same is often true in our spiritual growth. We grow too fond of the status quo when life is too comfortable. God created our world, including us, to evolve. When we are not changing, we are not growing. Sometimes, we need a nudge to move; other times, we need a swift kick in the back side.

We know our experience of chronological time is variable at best. When we are absorbed in a task we enjoy, time flies by. When we are burdened with a dreadful job, however, the clock hardly seems to move. In childhood, time moved at a crawl. As we age, the days in a month and months in a year seem fewer and fewer. Author Gretchen Rubin said, “The days are long, but the years are short.” Truly, even time is not the stable foundation we assume.

Our growth as human and spiritual beings does not correspond to our calendar because spiritual and physical times do not always correspond. Why does this matter? It matters because we are often too hard on others and on ourselves based on appearances on any given day. God’s creation, including us, is good. From our perspective, we are always a work in progress. From God’s perspective, we are the image of God; and in God’s present, we are very good! We simply do not have eyes to see it (yet). That knowledge can and will transform our world.

Meaningful growth is not chronological. How did I miss that?

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Life Notes

How Did I Miss That?

Part 21: Sin is its own Punishment

 Do not sin anymore, so that nothing worse happens to you. John 5:14c

In my opinion, there are a number of misconceptions about sin. First and foremost is that sin is offensive to God. We are created in the image of God, and it is an inescapable consequence of our being that we sin. God may not be amused, but God is not surprised. A second misconception is that God keeps track of our sins and, like a big Santa-in-the-Sky, one too many puts us on the dreaded Bad Child List. Another misconception is that we must somehow be purified of our sinful nature in order to be loved and accepted by God.

For me, one way to view sin is like hitting my thumb with a hammer. There is no one to blame except me, and the resulting pain serves as an effective teacher to become more attentive in the future. As I noted in an earlier Life Note (July 28, 2016), sin is that which separates us from God and others. God does not abandon us in our sin, but we separate ourselves from our awareness of God’s loving presence as a natural consequence of our sin. If we believe, as I do, that God lives in, through, and with us, then God must suffer with us in our sin. If we become obese and live with diabetes or other health issues, God suffers with us. If we commit a crime that lands us in jail, God joins us in our cell. Similarly, when we suffer an illness or condition with no traceable connection to anything we have ever done, God never abandons us. So, the consequences of sin are never just borne by us, God shares our burdens with us. God never leaves us, however, nor does God love us any less passionately. It is only our awareness of God’s love that waxes and wanes.

Frequently, it is our suffering that motivates us to make needed changes. When life is pain-free and comfortable, we naturally try to maintain the status quo. When we hold to the status quo too tightly, however, we do not grow. The Gospel is an invitation to grow toward Christ, to become evermore Christ-like. Paradoxically, our sin – at least the pain of separation it causes – motivates us to grow in ways that help us better experience God’s presence. God neither wants nor wills our sin or suffering. But whenever  we hurt, God crawls into the hole – or onto the cross – with us. Contrary to how it may feel at the time, God never runs from our suffering, God runs to it. And in our times of darkness, we find ourselves craving an ever nearer experience of the divine. We are motivated to transform those actions that separate us from what is good – our sin – and grow toward a life more expressive of loving union with God and others. Because sin is its own punishment, God neither has to keep track of our sin, nor specifically punish us for it. The price of sin is automatically included in the cost.

Sin is its own punishment. How did I miss that?

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