I’m pretty good. I’m kind to people. I’m generous. I like kids and dogs and conversations with the elderly. I’m generally patient, with the minor exception of while I drive but, given the metropolitan area in which I live, I think this is pretty understandable. I attend church almost every Sunday and I try to live a “Christian life”. And I’ve done most of these things, been generally this way, since I was a child. Even in my heinous teenage years, I never stepped too far out of line, got too wild or adventurous, did mostly what I thought I was supposed to. And then I got MS. The unjustness of this did not go unnoticed.
When one obeys the rules, takes care to be good and conscientious and whole, one does not expect to end up broken. One does not expect their dreams and expectations for the future to end up crushed. One expects good things to karmically, magically, come back to them. But it didn’t for me. And I can be miffed about that sometimes. And then I read Ephesians 2:1-10 today. In it, Paul says
“1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins
2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience-
3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,
5 even when we were dead in 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 coming ages 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 a result of works, so that no one may boast.
10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
I’d heard this verse before, of course, having grown up in the church, but it still surprised me. I mean, basically, this verse tells me that I’m not all that good. I’m not really that impressive. In fact, I’m riddled with sin, even in my best attempt at perfection. So my whole, “I don’t deserve this disease because I’ve been so good for you God” argument doesn’t hold a lot of water.
At the beach this summer, I was beset by horrible thoughts. For no particular reason, with no particular warning, my head swam with the idea that I was given MS as some kind of awful pay back for all the terrible things I’d done, for all the awful ways I had failed God or disobeyed him. And I, the girl with no impressive memory for dates or particulars, recounted in perfect clarity every perfect detail of sins I had committed like a vivid horror film of my own life. And I forgot that there was grace or that God loved me and sunk into self-pity and the unshakable thought of an angry God with a vendetta. This is not accurate either.
This section of Ephesians tells me that God is giving me gifts, like grace and salvation, because I am the work of His hands and he cares deeply for me and how I turn out. It tells me that He has saved me a seat right next to him, that He wants to see me and hang out with me. It tells me that God has great love for me and that He is rich in mercy. And, most exciting, it tells me that he has prepared something for me to do, that my life is not over.
According to Ephesians, God actually wants to use me, all MS’d up even, to do something great in this world. Something that He prepared “beforehand”. Something that, presumably, I needed MS to do. Apparently, God wasn’t impressed with me when I was “whole”, but he delights to use me in my brokenness. God is in the business to making broken people wholly shiny and purposeful for him.
Often we sing songs in church about God the healer and read verses about how God is powerful over everything, even sickness. And it would, undoubtably, be a miracle if He healed me of my disease. But it would be an even greater miracle if he healed my soul, my spirit, of the hurt and anger and disappointment and brokenness that life and disease and hardship and unfair situations bring. If he could take a person who felt all that, a person who feels things strongly and without reservation or apology, a person like me, and heal that spirit and use them for a good purpose… Now that, truly, is a miracle.
In the end, I couldn’t earn the privilege of being used by God by following all the rules. I couldn’t be good enough. But God is in the habit of using broken people to make the story that much more glorious.