When More is Less and Less is More
Sometimes more is less and less is more. Whether more is less depends upon the character of what is more; whether less is more depends upon the character of what is less. Our first parents had all that they truly needed or could rightly desire. Adam and Eve had holy, loving communion with the God who had created them and they had affinity with and dominion over creation. Yet, Satan offered them more when he tempted them to partake of the forbidden fruit. They learned, and we know by bitter experience, that the more they were promised by the devil resulted in an incalculable lessening of their lives.
With the gospel, we appear to be offered less than we desire. We are told to trust in a crucified man for our salvation; we are told to carry our own crosses daily; we are told that when we are weary and heavy laden we should come to Christ and take upon ourselves his yoke and burden, finding in such apparent lessening of the rest we seek an increasing of better rest, spiritual rest.
Perhaps the clearest example of the less our Lord offers through which he gives more is that of the Canaanite woman (Matt. 15:22-28, Mark 7:25-30). She came to Jesus asking for his merciful help for her demon-possessed daughter. He appeared to give her less and less, first ignoring her, then seeming to exclude her from the covenant people of God, and finally calling her a dog. Yet, she grasped the last seeming insult of our Lord to declare that she, as a dog, would be content to feed upon the crumbs that fell from her Master’s table. This lesser thing that our Lord offered and that this woman of great faith accepted not only resulted in her daughter’s healing – the thing she had sought – but also in her being commended by Jesus. She also left him having a purer, stronger, greater faith than that which she had when she approached him.
It is not unusual for us to he offered less by our Lord than what we ask or think we need. The tenor of the Ten Commandments reveals to us the reductions that God offers to make us great. The natural man desires to have many gods of his own choosing. He wants to worship himself, his family, his possessions, his favorite sports team, and the list goes on. The Lord commands that we love and worship him alone. We want to gossip about others and to be sinfully angry with them, and God tells us we are not to kill people even with our words. We want to covet, God forbids it. In the summary of the Ten Commandments Jesus tells us to love only God with all of our being, while we want to spread our love, thinking that it will grow. The Lord seems intent on taking so much from us, reducing our lives to a singular focus upon Himself. However, all who have accepted this lessening have found themselves not only filled with satisfaction and enabling power, but they also discover that their peace increases, their joy deepens, and their capacities to contain greater blessings and to serve triumphantly expand.
We do well to recognize and submit to this paradox that when we are weakened, deprived, lessened by our Lord, then we are strong with a vital, prevailing, and enduring strength. We do well to realize that this paradoxical promotion of our highest good also applies to those seasons when even the spiritual provision of the Lord seems to lessen. Jacob’s wrestling with the Lord who appeared to oppose him, Job’s excruciating losses and mounting afflictions, Paul’s thorn in the flesh and manifold sufferings, all teach us not to despise the days of small spiritual consolations. We, too, must learn to look for and feed upon the crumbs of the Lord’s provision; for if crumbs are all that he provides for a time, we must reckon that his diminished provision is still more than gracious and will prove to be abundantly sufficient for us.
This matter ultimately has to do with who God is and who we are. Our God is simple while we are complex. We may distinguish his attributes but we cannot separate them. He is entirely and perfectly good, wise, loving, just, and holy. He is perfect, contains all perfection, and is the source of perfection. Therefore, anything that could be added to Him would only be imperfection. We are sinners and thus we are fractured, imperfect beings. We are a complex of the fallen, fractured natural goodness that our God gave to our first parents and the rebellious, guilty, corrupting, and misery-causing sin that Adam and Eve took to themselves and passed on to us. The only true lessening our God effects in our lives is the lessening of sin and its painful consequences. Sin is the awful addition to our lives that would, apart from God’s redeeming grace, devour us completely. Let us learn, then, never to resist, but always to rejoice in the lessening work of our saving God. We are never destined more surely for greater exaltation than when we are lessened by the reduction of our sin and made ever more holy under his wise, holy, loving, and almighty hand.
William Harrell is Pastor of Immanuel Presbyterian Church, Norfolk, Virginia
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