The irony wasn’t lost on me. All my writing of the past three months evaporated in a keystroke. The subject of my writing? Sin. The cause of the lost file? A computer virus that wiped out both my back-up file and my hard drive. I hadn’t made any print copies of the project so I had no way to recover what was lost except to rewrite it from scratch. The broken condition of some computer savvy sinner had intruded in my life in a very painful way.
Minutes later I was walking through the city sidewalks of London praying. I knew that the Bible has a number of imprecatory psalms—psalms that ask God to bring judgment down on the heads of those who have given themselves over to evil. All the words I needed for a feisty psalm were roiling through my heart as I stormed ahead. But the actual words expressed were a simple repetition: “Thank you, Lord, thank you, thank you, thank you!” Again and again. For more than thirty minutes.
Why the odd response? Because a number of years earlier I’d had another painful moment. I won’t go into the particulars here . . . only to say that it was another event where sin was ugly and active—and, in response, I was ready to write some vinegar-flavored psalms to memorialize the experience. But on that day there was another piece in play: Scripture memorization. I had a packet of verses to memorize with a new verse for each day. That day my verse was 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “In everything give thanks for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” I was stunned by this pairing of a terrible moment and a blissful verse—it wasn’t an accident. The verse was meant for that day and that occasion. It was so startling that I responded by shouting at God.
“Thank you, thank you, God! Are you happy now?! But for what? I don’t get it!”
Still, I kept reciting the verse again and again—for most of a half-hour. And I become increasingly and genuinely thankful. Not through some self-stirred reformation of heart but by the dawning of a major insight: God was giving me a chance to grow! I could either live by faith or I could treat the world as a broken place where God operates as a peripheral figure who can only pick up the pieces after a crash. The verse-for-the-day was my chance to toss out that very lame version of God.
Here’s what happened: the longer I gave thanks the more I had eyes to see the world—including my immediate situation—as God’s turf. He remains in control even in the face of sin and some badly damaged relations. So my prayers weren’t changing him but were changing me. I was learning to treat God as the only true God, an active God, and a caring God.
That first exercise set me up for every personal tragedy that has since followed—including my lost writings about sin. Including the moment when my father’s death was reported to me. Including some painful moments among my professional relationships. Including a host of hurtful moments that come with life in a broken world.
“Thank you, Lord, thank you, thank you, thank you! This hurts so much . . . but I know you love me! You’re God and I trust you. Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
Since then I discovered that this insight is a foundation for living by faith. The apostle Paul, in Romans 1:21-22, summarized the pathway of Adam’s rebellion when he linked a refusal to give thanks to a refusal to treat God as God: “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools . . .”
Thanksgiving and wisdom, linked as inseparable companions in the Bible, are now paired in my heart. It doesn’t mean that sin doesn’t bring pain. It does! It doesn’t ensure a proper response every time a challenge comes. But it offers a different way of viewing life so that sin is never given an ultimate status. God is still in charge, always and in every way.
And—to finish off where I started this testimony—my second effort in writing about sin was more informed than my first draft could ever be. And for that I’m eternally thankful! As for the computer savvy sinner, may God have mercy.