A Lawyer At The Judgement Seat

According to Cohen’s model of adult human development, a common theme of individuals as they approach or enter their mid 60s to 70s or retirement age is that of reflection.

But not just any reflection. Deep introspection, a shifting in one’s own priorities, a taking inventory of regrets of things not done and even guilt for things having done.

It’s refreshing when in my work I’ve encountered individuals who seize this moment of their life with contemplation, with taking an account of their whole life. The value in this is not merely to have some clarity about one’s own story, but to see what is left to be done in this twilight of life, to address needs of shifting one’s perspectives, engaging in meaningful and charitable work, and even repentance.

I had the rare blessing of meeting a gentleman whom we will call Michael.

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Michael is a retired lawyer, and has been retired for several years. He’s a man proud of his work and seems to have had a strong work ethic and sense of orderliness in his life. He shared how in his 60s he had no intention of giving up practicing law, but his own heart had other plans. He reported getting up early years ago to see to the mundane chore of taking out the trash. He reported everything began spinning in this task, bidding him to return home, too disoriented to get the trash all the way to the curb. He sat in his recliner, and fortunately his wife found him early that morning and advised him to go to the hospital. He’d been diagnosed with congestive heart failure, that fluid had accumulated around his chest that had set him into such a breathless fatigue. They drained the fluid from his chest, he was given a new regiment of medicine, but above all his doctor told him: if you want to live for more than 6 months, quit your job.

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Gradually, Michael did. Michael began stepping back and taking what I understood to be more of an advisory role for a younger crowd of lawyers. Within two years, he retired altogether, which he told me was five to ten years earlier than he had hoped or planned. Michael shared that his motivation for work had been in part material as well as motivated by the desire to see his children through college and see to all their other needs.

Michael shared having a feeling of accomplishment, reporting happily that his children were all taken care of, had finished schooling with proud and accomplished degrees and careers. They had their own homes to raise up grandchildren in. He was happy about that, feeling proud and accomplished.

But Michael confessed of his other priorities while he worked. He enjoyed nice things, buying nice cars, paintings, etc. He retired wanting to downsize and to make ends meet for retiring earlier than he imagined. As he began selling his prized possessions, he shared, “things I paid thousands of dollars for, I can only make a few hundred from. I placed more value on things than the things actually possessed any value of.”

As we continued to talk, Michael shared of other revelations and musings he had as he reflected on life. He regarded himself as not all that religious, that he’d received a “Catholic guilt upbringing” which affected his view of God; in part I also wondered if his legal background affected his own theology. He spoke of the challenge he had in this part of his life beginning to think about God. Heart problems provoked the thought of his own mortality—a topic we tend to push off, though not unsuprisingly—and with that he began thinking about God, the afterlife, Heaven & Hell, sin and salvation. Michael confessed feeling unworthy to only now begin thinking about religion and reaching out to God in prayer.

“I’m a hypocrite by my standard,” he confessed. “This late in life, just after getting my diagnosis, I become a man of prayer. And even so, my prayer life seems to be mostly sporadic, addressing only my needs as they come up. Going to God only when I’m afraid.”

Michael was afraid of God and of death as he became reflective of his “motive” for prayer and engaging in a religious life. This is not an uncommon feeling from what I’ve encountered. What’s troubling is when one encounters an individual who has written himself/herself off at life’s crux, of not seeing the diagnosis, the turn of the age, the pause on life, as an opportunity for change. Instead, my heart has broken hearing others bitterly cast off the notion of faith and prayer.

“It’d be hypocritical for me to start now,” I’ve had others confide in me. “I’ve made my bed, and I intend to sleep in it. There’s no use changing my mind now.”

Where my conversation with Michael concluded was on the topic of prayer and grace. I acknowledged the Catholic guilt, the wheres and whys of it, and paired it with what our faith teaches us: of accountability and mercy. We also spoke about prayer, his concern that his prayer life tends to be one-sided and on his own schedule rather than a routine. I leaned on his Catholic faith, acknowledging the Catholic tradition of the rosary—something I comfortably help others lean on as it is a cousin to my own tradition of the prayer rope—and the hours of prayer. He was receptive to these, though in the end, I would have to say I received more than I gave to Michael…but by receiving from Michael, I believe it important to share his story, to have written the account of our conversation.

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You see, Michael is miles ahead of most of us, possessing an insight of something that needs changing, a need of change in one’s own values, living, and habits. Although each and every one of us, at any stage of our life, is welcome to embrace this level of repentance and repurposing that Michael has seized, Michael has not squandered this alarm of his failing heart. While a diagnosis can be a cruel and horrible thing to stare in the face, it’s also an opportunity to pause in life. Again, most of us are relatively healthy, with our needs met, with our loved ones whole and together with us. So we don’t often think about our own mortality, and with that think on our purpose in life and from Whom great purpose may come.

Michael, in this twilight of his life with a fragile heart, has seen through the veil of the world and observed the futility of storing up earthly goods. He has found greater purpose in presence with his family and presence with God. He reflects on his life rather than taking it for granted. He lives with no appreciation and consideration for each moment never knowing when it will be his last, and with that appreciation and awareness works towards a holy life.

May we all learn to repent and reevaluate our lives like this holy lawyer.

Blind Man II: Would You Let God Spit On You?

After saying this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means “Sent”). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.

13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had been blind. 14 Now the day on which Jesus had made the mud and opened the man’s eyes was a Sabbath. 15 Therefore the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. “He put mud on my eyes,” the man replied, “and I washed, and now I see.” 16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.” (John 9:6-7;13-16)

When we pray, most of the time we are asking God for something.

I mention this not to stop anyone from relying on God. In fact ,I think we need to rely on God far more than we usually do. Too often is the case that we get on our knees before God when things get really bad rather than when things are seemingly going alright. Regardless, God hears these prayers from our aching heart. His ears are open to us. But are our eyes, ears, and hearts towards Him as we wait?

In short: when we ask God for something, do we have expectations?

Do we imagine an answered prayer should look a certain way? Do we have a timeline when a miracle should manifest? Would we be upset if God’s response was an indirect answer, addressing perhaps not the symptom of our problem but the disease?

The healing of the blind man is a perfect manifestation of our tendency to have expectations on prayer, specifically, on how God should answer them.

When we line up the various miracles that Christ did, we see that He doesn’t operate in a one size fits all manner. For the centurion, He speaks a word from afar and the servant is healed. For the paralytic, He forgives his sins. To the lepers, He gives them the task of walking with faith to the high priests, and to Peter’s mother-in-law He rebukes (as though chastising a child) the illness. In most cases, we see that Jesus gives a word alone and the illness is healed, the demon is cast out, and the spirit returns to the body. Jesus Christ is the Word of God, the Divine Logos, and we so we see how powerful God’s Word is through His speech. It’s hard to imagine if the people around Him would have preferred Jesus touching the infirm over speaking a word, but the alternative to this wasn’t always so palpable.

In John 9, and even in Mark 8, Jesus performs a miracle in a way that might hit a nerve with our disgust sensitivity. Imagine if you were told by someone they could heal you with their saliva. Would you feel comfortable with that, let alone believe them? In the aforementioned healings of the blind men, Jesus spits in dirt, makes clay, and heals the blind.

But looking before at all the cases wherein Jesus heals merely by speaking a word, it begs the question why Jesus would suddenly use this tactic? Why did He use dirt and spit instead of just some water, or saying the word? Why didn’t He just reach out and touch the eyes with His fingers and leave out all the other elements? Perhaps none of those questions were on the Pharisees mind when they witnessed a Jew healing on the Sabbath.

If anyone were in need of a Scriptural basis for how low dirt was regarded, one need look no further than Christ telling the Disciples to “shake the dust off your feet” when they enter a town that would not receive them, noting that even the lowest thing the town offered to the Disciples was not worthy of being carried out by them. Dirt is under trod by the masses, a stain, and even associated with death as we remember God speaking to Adam, “from dust you were born, and to dust you will return.”

It’s not much further of a stretch for us to associate spit with something just as demeaning. All bodily fluid was regarded as an unclean thing, and the timeless manner in which people are insulted was through spitting on someone’s face. Ancient peoples had a sense of the unsanitary nature of human saliva, and so one can imagine what those around Jesus must have thought or felt seeing Him create clay with His spit instead of blessing and pouring water.

But the Lord has His purposes with these elements, He has reason to “spit on us”.

To begin, we can regard Jesus using elements instead of speaking as a testimony to Christ favoring using vessels of His Grace instead of performing a miracle without a means of extra elements. What I mean by that is that God is not a micromanager, that the Lord seems to delight in using His Creation as a vehicle for His Grace. Jesus can, has, and will heal by His voice alone, but we still see so many cases of Jesus healing through His saints, His relics, His creation (human and otherwise). The symbol of the dirt and spit combining together into the clay of healing is an image of God and man working in tandem to heal. God exhales His Grace into you and I, and we are responsible for participating and retaining that Grace so that the blessing may multiply.

The other component of these elements of spit and dirt is the reminder that humility is what’s needed in our hearts to receive a miracle, to receive God’s message to us. Again, dirt and spit are lowly elements, things that you and I would prefer not have on or in our faces, and yet the Lord heals by it. Onlookers may have cringed seeing this display of healing, and were the young man germophobic perhaps he would flinch if he saw what was happening. But this healing reminds us the need for humility when we approach God for a request in prayer. We cannot go to God with our lofty ideas of how He should answer our prayers and needs. Instead, we go with bowed head and bended knee, expecting perhaps nothing but total humiliation…but in said humiliation finding unfathomable treasure.

As we already touched on, it wasn’t merely the elements that were scandalous in this healing, but the timing. Why did Jesus have to intentionally do this on the Sabbath, on a day that would upset so many? Another way of putting this is why didn’t Jesus heal on a day easier for everyone else?

That often becomes a question after we put our petition to God. Sometimes we suffer so greatly and the healing comes days, weeks, months, years later. Sometimes our misery is not immediately relieved, and we are indignant like the Jews, thinking God has done something unlawful by not abiding in our time and expectations. The difference between a “late” answer to a prayer and an answer to a prayer on the Sabbath is not that far when we consider that God—outside of time—has the best understanding of when a miracle or answer ought to come.

The healing of this blind man is not only a commentary on spiritual blindness. It’s also a message to us who go on bended knees before the Lord. When we pray, there is a need for us to humble ourselves first to God’s will. Asking for God’s mercy and expecting to be humbled and having to be patient is a good posture, because humility and patience are already qualities God is aiming to grow in our hearts. This is not to say that we should pray with pessimism or with a lacking of trust or confidence. Rather we address our real needs, we ask for God to see to these needs in the wisest manner, to open our eyes to see how and why He works the way He does, and ultimately that whatever we ask leads us to glorify Him and become a closer disciple of His.

Let us stay attentive to God’s abundant mercy in our lives.

Genesis 24: Synergy, Paddling In Tandem with God’s Current

Genesis 24:1-27

Abraham was now very old, and the Lord had blessed him in every way. 2 He said to the senior servant in his household, the one in charge of all that he had, “Put your hand under my thigh. 3 I want you to swear by the Lord, the God of heaven and the God of earth, that you will not get a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I am living, 4 but will go to my country and my own relatives and get a wife for my son Isaac.”

5 The servant asked him, “What if the woman is unwilling to come back with me to this land? Shall I then take your son back to the country you came from?”

6 “Make sure that you do not take my son back there,” Abraham said. 7 “The Lord, the God of heaven, who brought me out of my father’s household and my native land and who spoke to me and promised me on oath, saying, ‘To your offspring[a] I will give this land’—he will send his angel before you so that you can get a wife for my son from there. 8 If the woman is unwilling to come back with you, then you will be released from this oath of mine. Only do not take my son back there.” 9 So the servant put his hand under the thigh of his master Abraham and swore an oath to him concerning this matter.

10 Then the servant left, taking with him ten of his master’s camels loaded with all kinds of good things from his master. He set out for Aram Naharaim[b] and made his way to the town of Nahor. 11 He had the camels kneel down near the well outside the town; it was toward evening, the time the women go out to draw water.

12 Then he prayed, “Lord, God of my master Abraham, make me successful today, and show kindness to my master Abraham. 13 See, I am standing beside this spring, and the daughters of the townspeople are coming out to draw water. 14 May it be that when I say to a young woman, ‘Please let down your jar that I may have a drink,’ and she says, ‘Drink, and I’ll water your camels too’—let her be the one you have chosen for your servant Isaac. By this I will know that you have shown kindness to my master.”

15 Before he had finished praying, Rebekah came out with her jar on her shoulder. She was the daughter of Bethuel son of Milkah, who was the wife of Abraham’s brother Nahor. 16 The woman was very beautiful, a virgin; no man had ever slept with her. She went down to the spring, filled her jar and came up again.

17 The servant hurried to meet her and said, “Please give me a little water from your jar.”

18 “Drink, my lord,” she said, and quickly lowered the jar to her hands and gave him a drink.

19 After she had given him a drink, she said, “I’ll draw water for your camels too, until they have had enough to drink.” 20 So she quickly emptied her jar into the trough, ran back to the well to draw more water, and drew enough for all his camels. 21 Without saying a word, the man watched her closely to learn whether or not the Lord had made his journey successful.

22 When the camels had finished drinking, the man took out a gold nose ring weighing a beka[c] and two gold bracelets weighing ten shekels.[d] 23 Then he asked, “Whose daughter are you? Please tell me, is there room in your father’s house for us to spend the night?”

24 She answered him, “I am the daughter of Bethuel, the son that Milkah bore to Nahor.” 25 And she added, “We have plenty of straw and fodder, as well as room for you to spend the night.”

26 Then the man bowed down and worshiped the Lord, 27 saying, “Praise be to the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who has not abandoned his kindness and faithfulness to my master. As for me, the Lord has led me on the journey to the house of my master’s relatives.”

28 The young woman ran and told her mother’s household about these things. 29 Now Rebekah had a brother named Laban, and he hurried out to the man at the spring. 30 As soon as he had seen the nose ring, and the bracelets on his sister’s arms, and had heard Rebekah tell what the man said to her, he went out to the man and found him standing by the camels near the spring. 31 “Come, you who are blessed by the Lord,” he said. “Why are you standing out here? I have prepared the house and a place for the camels.”

32 So the man went to the house, and the camels were unloaded. Straw and fodder were brought for the camels, and water for him and his men to wash their feet. 33 Then food was set before him, but he said, “I will not eat until I have told you what I have to say.”

“Then tell us,” Laban said.

34 So he said, “I am Abraham’s servant. 35 The Lord has blessed my master abundantly, and he has become wealthy. He has given him sheep and cattle, silver and gold, male and female servants, and camels and donkeys. 36 My master’s wife Sarah has borne him a son in her old age, and he has given him everything he owns. 37 And my master made me swear an oath, and said, ‘You must not get a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, in whose land I live, 38 but go to my father’s family and to my own clan, and get a wife for my son.’

39 “Then I asked my master, ‘What if the woman will not come back with me?’

40 “He replied, ‘The Lord, before whom I have walked faithfully, will send his angel with you and make your journey a success, so that you can get a wife for my son from my own clan and from my father’s family. 41 You will be released from my oath if, when you go to my clan, they refuse to give her to you—then you will be released from my oath.’

Manifest destiny

We’ve spoken before on the anxiety induced by uncertainty, of the dissonance we feel for having such a finite view of time. Even when God gives us assurance–just as he did with Abraham–we are faced with doubts, wrestle with hypotheticals. Assurances are dislodged by dry spells and crises. We’ve spoken about crossroads before and how unnerving it can be to make choices, fretting over our futures as we deliberate which path to take in the present.

There’s a tension in the believer to leave all things to God and to manifest their own destiny. On the one extreme, sitting and doing nothing and “waiting for God” forsakes any responsibility of our own to let our lives happen, to risk ourselves to an adventure of peril wherein our journey to God’s plan requires many twists and turns. The other extreme is when we take God out of our deliberation, beset ourselves on our own personal goals and dreams, creating a plan for ourselves to abate any anxiety we might have of making ends meet or feeling accomplished. 

Giving God the entire wheel while sitting and staring at our belly buttons rarely produces fruit. Alternatively, going our own way without God is sure to lead to ruin and regret. 

a journey without promise

This story from Genesis gives us a beautiful example of the middle ground of these extremes. There are three figures who are anxious over the same thing: Isaac finding a wife. Abraham, Isaac, and the servant are all unsure who will be the proper matriarch of this divinely appointed family. We can infer Abraham works closer to God than perhaps he had in the past, leaving room for God to work in uncertainty instead of carving his own way. He gives a task to his servant to find this mysterious bride.

The instructions are simple: go to my home town, and not to those of Canaan. This distinction of Abraham is not one of racial purity, but rather is Abraham’s intention of consecrating his family to God, to steer away from pagan cultures that might steer Isaac or his offspring to cultic practices of sacrificing to strange gods. Abraham’s spiritual pedigree can be inferred by the generations we read about at the start of his story, and although there are some bad apples in the mixture we do see he has had some outstanding individuals who “walked with God” in his coat of arms. In short, Abraham keeps the priority of world view and belief center to his family’s values.

For one, this is some sound advice. Couples need not really have similar personalities or interests in order to “make it” in marriage. But differences in personalities helps the couple grow. Timeliness versus an easy-going attitude can smooth out the rough edges of each extreme, bringing the couple to a better understanding of each other’s proclivities. Diversity in interests can help foster curiosity among the two, inclining the other to learn about each other’s strengths and passions so as to encourage them to do the same towards others. 

Not so with world views. On a basic level, if a couple were to debate whether or not the world was flat or round, the couple’s will be locked in a long debate as to how the world really is, and what truth really is. This easily can lead to dehumanizing attitudes towards the other, considering the other ignorant or arrogant. This is a superficial example that has to do with fact and speaks nothing on the topic of morality. Couples that have very far opposed views of politics and faith will find great challenges the more entrenched they are in their own world views. Certainly, one side might concede to the other to alleviate the dissonance, but what if one couple were to leave a true belief on behalf of appealing to their spouse’s view merely for keeping the peace? 

To summarize, Abraham is looking to create a united house for his son, to prioritize the truth that has provided him a son, that has spared him from much crisis and calamity. Abraham prioritizes God for his son, and isn’t it only fair that he should set this standard?

And yet, Abraham and his servant aren’t quite sure that this endeavor will bring any fruit. The servant asks for a hypothetical, dares to ask, “what if God doesn’t provide”? It’s a scary question to even ask perhaps, and yet we do see Abraham dare to ask God, “how will I know you’ll give me a son when…” The ideal is perhaps to trust given what is known, but maintaining the relationship with God even in a state of doubt is the next best place lest one walks away entirely from the possibility of an all-powerful, loving Creator and Savior.

The servant’s bold question is met with assurance, however. Abraham tells him that if the journey is fruitless–if seemingly God does not provide–that the oath the servant swore will dissolve, that he will be freed of the obligation, but that an angel will be with him in his journey regardless.

The only peace of mind this servant receives from Abraham is that he won’t be under any curse or disappointment from Abraham if he comes back empty-handed–so long as he tries–and that an invisible comforter will accompany him (we read this later as the servant tells the story). 

Still, what assurance does the servant have? Is he given weapons to protect himself on the journey? What provision does he have to protect the treasure he is told to carry along the way? Is there any sign he can rest upon and take comfort in? 

No, this servant is given nothing and must tread to Abraham’s homeland–a place we don’t even know if he’s been to before–and wait for the right woman to show up.

As the story goes, this journey ends up being a success, and Isaac is betrothed to Rebecca. 

working with god’s energy

For us, reading this story, we should take courage that God will provide in our anxiety, that there awaits something beyond the veil of uncertainty. 

I know too well the anxiety of choosing a career, of courting a stranger, of making a bold move that will affect the rest of my life. It’s a crippling and paralyzing thing to be at such crossroads, and this paralysis speaks to something good and holy in us: we concede that our own logic and discernment are lacking and mislead a great deal of the time.

When we admit our lack of discernment and wisdom in such decisions, God shows His power, because we have given Him space through our humility.

That being said, the servant still makes the journey without any real aim, and Abraham endeavors to send him out. So too for us, it requires some kind of movement on our end and trust that God will steer us as we walk forward. Perhaps some doors will be shut, some opportunities closed off. Perhaps that’s God reorienting us as we blindly walk forward.

The important word that summarizes all this is synergy, the combining of work between God and man. I don’t believe that God is a micromanager, but rather He is more of a dancer, working with us in our clumsy footwork, waiting for us to let Him lead…not that He merely sweeps us off our feet, but so that we can learn His steps and follow.

God is like a current in a dense forest or tall valley, wherein we will have no real idea where the water pools out to. Do we refrain from putting our canoe in because of this fear of where the water heads? Do we find ourselves in the river but think we can fight the current, paddle even harder West when the water is trying to carry us East? Do we merely recline in our boat and let our vessel crash us into fallen debris in the water or into the muddy shore, or do we paddle to keep ourselves squarely in the safety of the center of this flow?

I believe this is our God. God the dancer. God the river. A coworking God, not an over-functioning one.

It merely requires on our part that we act boldly as well as humble ourselves to ask for God’s mighty hand to patiently and gently steer our way.

Today, consider the following:

  • When have you embarked on something without any expectation?
  • How many decision do you make on your own? On big decisions, who do you typically confer with?
  • What encourages you in times of uncertainty? What are some practices you can employ to encourage you during such uncertain ventures?
  • What times do I not consult God in decisions or circumstances? What times do I do nothing about my decisions or circumstances but trust God? What might a median look like?