Lessons From the Old Testament: The Need for Futility

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To the woman he said,
“I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing;
with pain you will give birth to children.
Your desire will be for your husband,
and he will rule over you.”

To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat of it,’
“Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat of it
all the days of your life.
(Genesis 3:16,17)

Is it possible that Murphy’s Law is really Yahweh’s Law?  Why is it that what started out as a perfect world is now the farthest thing from perfect?  The author of Ecclesiastes is way more on the mark when it comes to describing life than the positive thinking books of our last century.  “Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher.  “Utterly meaningless!  Everything is meaningless.” (Ecclesiastes 1:2).

Why does God impose on Eve and all women pain in childbirth?  The birth of a child should be unmitigated joy.  Bringing a new life into the world should be the apex of all blessings.  But instead it has this aspect to be dreaded.  And it signals that in the raising of children there will be continued opportunities for pain.  Yes, there is crazy joy also, but that is what is so futile about it.  We can’t make sense of such a mixture and though we’ve gotten used to it after all these millennia, it still startles us with its illogical ferocity.

Why does God make the growing of food such a frustrating pain?  Does there always have to be the growth of weeds where you want to grow something useful?  And why do weeds grow better and in more stringent circumstances than the good stuff?  We fight weeds, bugs, bad weather and our own fatigue to put something edible on the table.  We spend millions trying to figure out ways to stop the fertile enemies of our crops.  It’s ridiculous!

But what would happen if life carried on as it was created?  What would happen if families were always healthy, well-fed and free from pain?  Utopia, right?  But the unfortunate thing about a Utiopia, a perfect environment like the Garden of Eden, when it is populated by spiritual rebels against the Creator, is that we will choose to see the perfect environment as the perfect reason to think that we are okay.  And if we are okay, why do we need God?

Christ came to save miserable people, but I’m not miserable.  I’m quite happy with the world and myself as we are.  God may tell me that I need to pay attention to Him for my soul’s sake, but unless I am in pain, I don’t care.  This is why the sage of Proverbs says, “Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the LORD ?’ ” (30:8,9)

It is sad to admit, but I like comfort so much that I will not risk taking strides forward in growth or in pursuing the Lord unless I am in pain.  Unless the prospect of further discomfort is not present in my life I will not seek Him.  I will find all my sufficiency in my life and my perfect environment.  I will convince myself that I do not need God.  As one of our own sages has said, “It is only when I am flat on my back that I am forced to look up.”

Paul told us that the sufferings of this present age are not worthy to be compared with the glory that will be revealed in us (Romans 8:18).  He told us that even though the whole world is groaning in pain right now because it has been subjected to futility by God, a day is coming in which not only we will be set free from the futility but the world will as well (8:19-23).  Futility pushes us to long for something better.  The world’s futility pushes us to long for a restoration of Eden.  Our own futile enslavement to wrong thinking and acting pushes us to long for renewed minds and bodies.

I desperately need the futility of a painful life.  I need to long for the kingdom and for a perfect relationship to God.  I need the kind of motivation futility brings me.  Necessity is the mother of invention.  Futility is the mother of spirituality.


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