By, Isam Itson III
The store I work at has a few child size shopping carts. Kids love them because they can play at being adults. Parents love them because the small carts give their child something to do besides break things. It’s a win win. Sometimes a family comes in with two or more children who are close in age. That’s when I see a train of two or even three small carts. This helps mom and dad keep the peace and get through their shopping experience without incident or accident.
Every once in a while the worst thing imaginable happens to one of these larger families. There is only one child size shopping cart available when they arrive at the store. Once each of the children realizes that there is only one small cart they all rush for it and fight over pushing it. If the parents are at all distracted it is not unusual for screaming, shouting, shoving, and crying to ensue. None of the children is thinking about their love for their sibling, the safety of the people and property around them, or the reputation of their parents. Each one of them is blindly focused on getting what they want. If one of the children does hurt someone or break something sometimes they feel bad about it. But not always. After all, they didn’t mean to hurt anyone. They just wanted to push the cart. Why should they get in trouble over that?
As adults, we are not much different.
Ephesians 2:1-3 “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”
When we talk about disobedience, trespasses, and sins in the Bible what we are talking about is placing our definition of what is good for our life and the lives of others above God’s definition of what is good for our life and life of others. This is what happened to Adam and Eve in the Garden in Eden when they committed the first act of disobedience or sin. The serpent told them they could become like God if they ate the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The fruit looked good to them. And according to the serpent, the fruit was desirable because it could make them as wise as God himself. Which means they could push God aside and each assume the position of supreme authority in their own lives. So they ate the fruit.
The problem was the serpent had lied to them. Their choice led to many unintended consequences. First, God had become their rival. “God has his ideas, but I have mine. And my ideas are just as good as God’s ideas.” Second, the man and the woman became rivals as well. Both were motivated to take God’s place in the top spot. Emphasis on spot. Singular. Which one of them would get their way over the other? Which would win? Which would lose? Setting aside God immediately resulted in conflict with each other. They had become opponents rather than the allies that God had created them to be for each other.
Since each was now committed to using the other as a means of fulfilling their own desires for a good life they could not trust each other. Since they could no longer trust each other they could not count on one another to honor their inherent weaknesses and limitations. They had to hide their true selves and their true intentions from each other. That’s why they made clothes for themselves. Under God’s righteous authority, they had no need to hide from God or each other. Their weaknesses and limitations under God’s administration were merely opportunities to help each other fulfill their God given responsibilities.
This is what makes humans children of wrath. When we talk about the wrath of God in the Bible it means that God has turned his face from us. God allows us to take our lives into our own hands and fend for ourselves in the world. Separated from God, we wrestle with chaos, death, and disorder on our own. We have to rely on our own strength and our own wisdom. We have no one else we can count on because even the best person will let us down from time to time. And eventually everybody abandons us when they die. Without God, we are alone in the cosmos. This is the life of a child of wrath and the fate of the sons of disobedience.
This is the conflict I see in the children fighting over the last small shopping cart. And it is the same between adults. This is the root of our frustration, bitterness, envy, jealousy, and anger with each other. If you do not go along with what I want then you are an obstacle to me having my own way in life. If I lose to you over and over, then the smallest disappointment or offense can spark an outburst of rage that destroys whoever or whatever is nearest to me in the moment. Or, I can fall into a seemingly inescapable downward spiral of self loathing and despair that leaves me incapable of navigating the demands and obligations of everyday life.
This is the point where, ideally, the parent, the rightful authority, steps in and reestablishes order between the children. Responsible parents tend to remind the children of their fundamental relationship as brothers and sisters. Then they give each of the children well defined areas of conduct that enable them to contribute meaningfully to the need for the whole family to get their food, get home, and make dinner. And God is the best parent.
Ephesians 2:4-7, 10 – “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus…For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
God has restored our relationship with him through the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We are no longer sons of disobedience and children of wrath. As followers of Jesus Christ and members of the body of Christ, the Church, we are now the product of God’s workmanship, created in Jesus Christ, for good works. Good according to God’s wisdom, for the fulfillment of God’s purpose, not our own. God’s wisdom takes what is best for everyone for generations into consideration. My wisdom tends to only take into account what I see as best for me and mine in my immediate and short term circumstances.
God brings people together under his heavenly authority to pursue his purpose for creating humans in the first place. According to his wisdom, not ours. Embracing this truth is the difference between being a child of wrath and a child of God’s glory. And it is the first step toward honoring our essential unity as children of God.