If we are to discover good in the “good news,” we must start in the right place: knowing God’s goodness and trusting it is true. This is Step One of the spiritual life. It is the beginning and also the foundation for what is to come. Anytime we stray from God’s will, it is to this step that we must return.
Since trusting God is key, let’s start with the question, “What does trust require?” Brene Brown gave me the best metaphor for trust in her book, “Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead.” She explains trust to her 3rd grade daughter through the example of the marble jar sitting on the teacher’s desk. Every time the class honored each other and her, the teacher would put marbles in the jar. If their response was not so, she would take marbles out. When the class filled up the jar, the teacher threw a party for them. Brene said to her daughter, “trust is built one marble at a time.” Like the marble jar, trust requires time and repeated experiences assuring us our trust is well placed.
I ask you, what is your marble jar like with God? Do you look at life and see God putting marbles in your jar, or taking them out? In our moments of honesty, we might discover a struggle to fully trust God’s goodness to us, to those we love, and toward the future God wants to build through us. We think that God is just waiting to take marbles out, reminding us that we fell short, instead of rooting for us and always looking for a way to add marbles to our jar.
Now, it is time to talk about sin, something we often misunderstand in the spiritual life. Sin is not a behavior or an outcome. Sin is a condition of the heart that causes us to stray from God’s intent for our lives. Sin, in the Greek, is an archery term, hamartia. It literally means, “to miss the mark.”
As the marble jar illustrates trust, one of the best gifts I’ve ever received illustrates this understanding of sin. When I turned 50, my colleague and friend, Rev. Heather Scherer, took me axe throwing for my birthday. We had a patient teacher named Julian, who wanted us to succeed. Because of his coaching, we made significant progress and even nailed a few bull’s eyes before the day ended. As I soaked up Julian’s instruction, I realized the importance of a good throw. He told me to be successful, I had to pay careful attention to where my hands were placed on the handle, releasing at the right point, and following through.
When it comes to the spiritual life, we are often focused on where the axe lands instead of on our throw (or our aim) — and we think God is too. I don’t know where this belief originates, but many of us believe that God is just waiting for us to mess up. Therefore, we must try harder to win God’s approval, striking more bull’s eyes, getting a higher score.
During our axe throwing adventure, Heather and I both struggled to get the hang of it. Julian continued his patient coaching. Finally, Heather said to him, “You just don’t want a failure on your record, do you?” He replied, “No, that’s not it at all. I just want you to have a good time and feel successful.” When Heather got the first bull’s eye, Julian came over to take a picture! He celebrated with us.
Here’s the truth, God wants us to have a good time and feel successful. God cares about the outcome, for sure. God doesn’t want us to miss, but not because God is waiting to judge us. God doesn’t want us to miss because God already knows how painful that will be and the barriers it will erect in our relationship with God. Learning to trust God’s goodness and know it is true means we first have to reconstruct the understanding of sin we picked up somewhere along the way. Sin isn’t God’s way of trapping us or keeping us from having a good time. If we trust that God is for us for our good, we’ll be more apt to believe that God has a bull’s eye worth the intention of our aim.
With this in mind, let me offer these verses of scripture as the biblical image of a bull’s eye: Ephesians 2:4-10
4 But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us 5 even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— 9 not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.
I invite you to read them slowly, allowing the images of the marble jar and axe throwing to mingle with the words of the text.
Verse 4: But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us…(one who is richly generous with the marbles, saying, “I just want you to feel successful and have a good time.”)
Verse 5: …even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved…(even when your axe falls to the ground, God reaches down to get it through Jesus Christ, brings it back to you and says, “you’ll get it this time. Relax. Focus. Keep your eye on the target.”)
Verse 8/9: For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast…(hitting the bull’s eye is a celebration for all, not a competition.)
Verse 10: For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life…(God loves us enough to create the perfect bull’s eye — and when we discover what that is for each of us, we will finally know God is good and God has good for us.)
God is busy finding those marbles to put in your jar! When you miss the mark, God is interested in helping you improve your aim, not in punishing you. God doesn’t want anything to get in the way of the life-giving relationship that must flow back and forth between the two of you. God loved you enough to form the perfect bull’s eye – for we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.
May you know God’s goodness in your life and trust that it is true. May it be the deepest anchor of your faith. May it remind you that God is always seeking marbles to put in your jar.