#CoffeeTimePrayer: Grace for Dummies

 

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The other day I picked up a little book of Armenian fairytales from a local bookshop[1]. One of them goes as follows (freely retold)…

The Foolish Man

Once upon a time in old Armenia there was a man who, despite working from dawn till dusk, was still very poor. Eventually he got so unhappy he decided to find God and ask him how much longer he would be poor. He also wanted to ask God a favour.

Setting out, the poor man encountered a wolf. The wolf asked the man where he was going so urgently.

“I’m looking for God,” the man told the wolf. “I have a complaint I want to lodge with him.”

“Well if you’re going,” said the wolf, “won’t you do me a favour? When you find God, tell him I have a complaint too. Ask him why, even though I search forest and glade for food, I never find anything. Did he create wolves like me just to go hungry?”

The poor man promised that he would share the wolf’s complaint with God, and walked on.

Over the hills and far away the poor man walked, and eventually encountered a beautiful woman.

“Where are you going in such a hurry?” the woman asked the poor man. He explained his mission to her.

“Well if you’re going,” said the beautiful woman, “won’t you do me a favour? When you find God, tell him that on your way thither you came across a beautiful and rich woman, who was still unhappy. Ask God what will become of her? Doesn’t he want her to find happiness too?”

The poor man promised that he would ask God her question, and walked on.

Over the hills and farther away still, the poor man found a withered-looking tree growing next to a stream.

“Where are you travelling to in such a hurry?” the tree asked the poor man. The poor man explained that he was out looking for God because he wanted to lodge a complaint with him.

“Well if you’re going,” the tree said, “won’t you do me a favour?” The tree also had a question he wanted to ask God: why, though it grew next to a lovely stream, did the tree’s roots never draw any water and was it dying? “How long must I suffer?” the tree wanted to know.

The poor man assured the tree that he would put this to God, and walked on.

Finally, after travelling a long distance, the poor man reached his destination and found God sitting under a mountain’s overhang.

“Welcome, traveller,” God greeted the poor man. “You’ve journeyed a long way! Why have you come so far? What ails you?”

“Well,” the poor man said, “I want to know why the world is so unfair. Surely it isn’t fair that I work dawn till dusk and still don’t earn enough to eat a good meal? Many more people don’t work nearly as hard as I do, but they’re rich as the hills!”

“Return home,” God told the man. “I have given you the gift of Good Fortune. Go find it and enjoy it until the end of your days.”

“Oho!” the man objected. “I have other complaints as well!” And he told God the complaints of the wolf, the beautiful woman, and the tree.

So God answered each of their complaints to the poor man. The poor man thanked him and started his journey back.

The poor man again came to the withered tree next to the stream.

“Well?” the tree asked him. “What did God say?”

“God told me to tell you that a big chest of gold has been buried beneath your roots,” the poor man explained. “If you can find someone to dig it out, you’ll get all the water you need.”

“What are you waiting for?” the tree asked the poor man. “Dig it out and we will both get what we need!”

“Oh no, I can’t do that!” the poor man objected. “I don’t have time to dig out treasure! God gave me the gift of Good Fortune – I must find it quickly!”

And hastily the poor man walked on.

Shortly thereafter the poor man came across the beautiful woman.

“Well?” the beautiful woman asked him. “What did God say?”

“God told me that you will shortly meet a good man who will be a wonderful husband to you,” the poor man explained to her. “You won’t be so lonely any more, and you’ll find happiness.”

“Well, what are we waiting for?” the beautiful woman asked. “Stay here and marry me.”

“Oh no, I can’t do that!” the poor man objected. “God gave me the gift of Good Fortune. I must find it immediately.”

And hurriedly the poor man walked on.

Finally, nearing home, the poor man encountered the hungry wolf.

“Well?” the wolf asked the poor man. “What did God say?”

“So many things have happened since I last saw you!” the poor man said to the wolf, tired from his long journey. “On my way to God I came across a beautiful woman who begged me to ask God why she was so unhappy. I also found a withered tree that wanted God to explain why it was dying despite being planted next to a stream.

“I told God all these things. He told me to tell the beautiful woman to find a partner to share her life with, so she could be happy. As for the tree, he told me to tell it that there was a big chest full of gold buried at its roots blocking the water, and to find someone to dig it up.”

“What happened?” the wolf wanted to know.

“I told the beautiful woman and the tree the answers God gave to their questions,” the poor man said. “The beautiful woman asked me to marry her. The tree wanted me to dig up the treasure at its roots. But since God gave me the gift of Good Fortune I couldn’t stay – I had to find it immediately!”

“But what was God’s answer to my question?” the wolf wanted to know, impatient.

“Oh of course!” the poor man said. “God told me that you would only stay hungry until you came across a complete idiot – someone so foolish it won’t be a loss to anyone if you ate him up.”

“Hmm,” the wolf said, “where else on earth will I find someone as foolish as you?”

And the wolf gobbled up the poor man!

Last week our women’s Bible study watched a Louie Giglio sermon titled, “Fruitcake and Ice-Cream” (YouTube). The bottom line of the message was grace: that through God at work, we have been entirely redeemed from sin and made righteous in Christ. And once we get that, Louie said, it gets us, and lives change.

It’s not hard to see the poor man’s foolishness in the Armenian fairytale above, but I wonder if we are quite as quick to spot our own. I don’t know about you, but I spend rather a lot of time roaming the Armenian countryside with my questions and my complaints, as it were. And I am often gobbled up by my self-interest and doubt.

What I’m looking for, of course, is further evidence of grace – but what a fool’s errand this is! Grace has already been found, and in abundance. The poor man in our fairytale found everything he needed in his encounter with God; that was his “good fortune.” Our good fortune is that through grace we have been redeemed, resurrected, made new, become known. Our good fortune is grace as Louie defined it – God at work in us.

But for us to get this grace, we need to get that there’s nothing more to get than this:

“…that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them… God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:19, 21 NIV)

This is not a new journey, merely one of rediscovering that we are already home.

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[1] Tashjian, VA, 1967. Eendag was daar en tog was daar nie. 1st ed. Landsdowne: HAUM.

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