This is the transcript from a weekly v-blog posted to the Facebook page of the First Presbyterian Church of La Junta, Colorado.
“You get what you get”
My daughter was not an easy toddler. Or preschooler. Or youngster, for that matter. But let’s start at the beginning.
At her first preschool, at the age of 2, she staged what her teachers called “the great candy raid,” involving several children in the scaling of a half-wall, into a storage area of their classroom, during naptime. The teachers complimented her on her leadership and organizational skills before calling the school psychologist, whose advice to us amounted to, “Good luck with her.”
At her next preschool, she exhibited a similar lack of remorse for wrongdoing. Sent to the director’s office for some wrongdoing and told to sit against the wall, she managed to find a spare thread and began unravelling the carpet, row by row. By the time the director returned, a decent sized square of her office was down to the padding. It wasn’t pretty.
At her third and final preschool before beginning kindergarten, we registered her and then waited for the phone call. And waited. And waited. Finally, after about a month, I approached the new director. “Any problems?” She looked at her curiously. No. “Really?” No. “You haven’t had any problems with her?” No. I explained some of the problems she’d had at the other preschools. The director looked at her surprised. “No, no. She’s fine. We just tell her, ‘You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit.’” The director shrugged. “That’s all it takes.”
You get what you get, and you don’t throw a fit. If she behaved, she was rewarded. If she misbehaved, she was punished. Period.
It worked on my daughter, because it was clear and predictable. No negotiation. No room for response. No so-called love and logic. An eye for an eye. A tit for a tat. Period.
This is human reason at its simplest: cause and effect. But, as David Hume was quick to point out long ago, the effect we predict is not necessarily, well, necessary. Our ideas of cause and effect are formed by habit, largely, rather than real observation or experience.
I’m digressing a little bit, and you’re wondering where this is going, so let me just cut to the chase and show you what I’ve been ruminating on, several times, during this coronavirus quarantine.
Here it is, in the form of a meme I found on social media this morning, though it’s been forwarded to me several times in different media.
It’s simple cause and effect: We’ve been wicked, so God is punishing us. If we humble ourselves and pray, God will bless us. It’s “you get what you get and you don’t throw a fit” taken to a cosmic level, right? But does it hold up?
Let’s dig deeper.
“A harder look at 2 Chronicles”
The first rule of understanding this or any verses of scripture is to look at them in context, so let’s begin looking at them in the context of the chapter from which we pluck them, namely, 2 Chronicles, chapter 7.
Solomon is dedicating the temple which the Lord had commanded him to build. Then, the Lord appears to him “at night” (7:12) and makes his decree, beginning with the covenantal promise. First the Lord commands the specific obedience of His people (7:13-15), because, the Lord says, “I have chosen and consecrated this temple so that my Name may be there forever. My eyes and my heart will always be there. then of Solomon himself” (7:16). The Lord continues to command similar obedience of Solomon himself (7:17-18) before describing the disaster he will bring upon all of His people should they or their king stray.
This chapter of 2 Chronicles is widely considered to be the first, fullest articulation of the Chronicler’s retribution theology. Retribution theology, or immediate retribution theology as the case may be, is cause and effect at its divine finest. In passages unique from 1/2 Kings and 1/2 Samuel, 1/2 Chronicles firmly states that the cause (human behavior) of the effect (God’s favor) will be swift and sure. See also 1 Chronicles 12:5 and 20:20.
If the peoples’ disobedience brings ruin, their repentance brings restoration, victory, and prosperity. “For the Chronicler sin always brings judgment and disaster, while obedience and righteousness yield the fruit of peace and prosperity” (Raymond B Dillard, 2 Chronicles Word Biblical Commentary 15 [Waco, TX: Word Books, 1987], 76).
This is certainly a word about God’s judgment, but not the only word. Counterbalanced, even within Chronicles, is the understanding that some bad behavior does go unpunished. Not every calamity is the result of sin. Even after Hezekiah proves faithful, Judah is invaded (2 Chr 32:1).
Moreover, the promise of retribution as we read it in 2 Chronicles must be understood within the context of the Davidic covenant and the promise that David’s “throne will be established forever” (2 Samuel 7:16).
As heirs of this covenant through Jesus Christ, we recognize still that actions have consequences. Cause still has its effects. The promise of salvation in Jesus Christ is one of forgiveness for our sins as we put our faith in Him. If indeed Christ has taken on himself the punishment for our sins on the cross, then what further purpose would God have for the Chronicler’s retribution, immediate or otherwise? Dare I say, none?
“When memes don’t suffice”
So, here we are, 430 words later, having unpacked only some of the weight of a meme that originated with just 18 words, comparing (some) of our present circumstances to the Lord’s warning to Solomon in 2 Chronicles 7.
And therein lies the problem of theology by meme, a problem brilliantly laid bare by Jen Wilkin in her blog post from 2016, “The Instagram Bible.” She wrote, “I do not ask the Instagram Bible to be all things. I can value, even enjoy it for what it is. But drawn by the glow of its inviting warmth, I must ask myself – and you – to view it with care, lest we love the part in place of the whole” (Jen Wilkin, “The Instagram Bible,” https://www.jenwilkin.net/blog/2016/10/the-instagram-bible.html).
Not every scripture verse belongs on Instagram, and not every scripture verse belongs in a meme. This one doesn’t. The part can’t be lost to the whole, especially now as we grasp for meaning in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Cause and effect is simply insufficient to understand the gravity of the loss we’ve experienced.
Instead, now is a time for reading deeply, praying at length, and refusing to accept the easy answers. Neighbors fallen ill, grieving families, first responders risking their lives, caregivers laboring overtime behind plastic masks–all of them deserve better than human self-blame. What they need now is a Savior who draws us close, knows our hurts, hears our frustration, comforts our disappointments, and forgives us our missteps and judgments.
Sometimes, we do get what we get. Thankfully, in Jesus’ economy, though, we don’t. That’s grace, and I’ll take its sweet dose any day.