A Slap on the Hand, a Kiss on the Cheek
The workers were an hour and a half late arriving at my home. Now that they had finally come, I struggled to get my dogs outside, necessitating my dragging them out of the house by their collars. I had been working on an article on my laptop in the kitchen, getting ready to eat lunch and I now, too, needed to get out of the way. So I decided to stack a plate, a boxed salad, two phones and a nice big cup of coffee on a tray and try to navigate my way out the sliding door onto my patio. Strange thing, though… that tray? It was actually the keyboard of my laptop. I’m sure you can guess what happened next. The coffee went flying and my computer fried.
I confess that I had been impatient with the tardy workers and stubborn dogs. I responded to this situation in a sinfully foolish manner. While I was cleaning up the mess, I knew a fried computer was what I deserved. I hadn’t loved my neighbor nor the Lord as I should have. I had quickly fallen into self-righteousness and pride: “I’m never late!” “These dogs should obey!” “Stacking all this stuff on my computer might be foolish for some people, but I can handle it!” A fried computer was undoubtedly what I had earned.
Don’t misunderstand. As I walked through the next few hours and the real possibility of having ruined my computer, I didn’t question whether God had stopped loving me. I thought that He was lovingly using my sin to teach me a lesson. I knew that I deserved a slap on the hand and I thought He had given me one. It was time for me to pay the price for my sin – not the ultimate price, of course, no, not the atonement. Just a little hand slapping from a loving God who knew what I needed.
But then, something amazing happened. I received unexpected news of answered prayer. I was delighted and stunned. I had assumed that this day would be a day of hand slapping. I thought I knew what I needed: a lesson about the follies of impatience and pride. But this surprising answered prayer wasn’t a slap. No, it was a kiss on the cheek. And then, the next morning... another kiss. My computer was limping back to life. I didn’t lose all my data. What did I deserve? A slap. What did I get? A kiss.
For most of my Christian life I would have been very comfortable with saying that the Lord disciplines me for my sin (a slap on the hand), but would have struggled terribly with thinking the Lord blesses me in the face of my sin (a kiss on the cheek). Is there room in our very-serious-about-the-sinfulness-of-sin theology to say that sometimes, (many times?), the Lord woos us into obedience through kisses rather than slaps?
Although I know and love the gospel, I frequently find myself functioning in that quid-pro-quo, “God as Vending Machine,” world. I fight sin and fulfill my spiritual duties and expect God’s blessing or at least protection from fried computers. Conversely, when I don’t fight sin or when I neglect prayer, I assume God will discipline me. Don’t misunderstand—I recognize that both blessings and discipline are functions of His Fatherly love for me. It’s just that I think I know how He should motivate me to obey. But He uses both slaps and kisses.
Now, here’s where the gospel turns everything we know about how we grow in obedience on its head. It speaks of kisses of betrayal given to our Faithful Friend (Luke 22:48). It tells me that He was slapped for me and punished for my rebellion. I read that “the guards received Him with blows” (Mark 14:6). He got kisses and slaps... for me. And because He has endured all that, He’s free to bless me and woo me and speak tenderly to me and surprise me with little kisses on the cheek when I least expect it... when I’m expecting the slap. His kindness is meant to lead me to repentance. His kisses draw me near. And now, instead of thinking about my guilt and punishment, I’m spending my day thinking of His kindness and it frees me to love him in return.
Am I saying that’s all He ever does? No, of course not. Discipline, as Hebrews tells us, is painful rather than pleasant. But, then again, haven’t there been times when you know you deserve a slap and suddenly He dazzles you with a sweet kiss on the cheek? Is there room in our theology for a God who kisses His dear foolish children and draws them with cords of love? Do we really believe that it is the “grace of God” that saves us and trains us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions and makes us zealous for good works? (Titus 2:11-14).
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