I am a small fellow, weighing perhaps 140 pounds when soaking wet, so my supper tonight was fully adequate: a thin steak, the size of a handspread, four or so slices of bread, and a salad. Not a staggering feast, but along with an apple before starting supper it is a full meal for someone of my stature and occupation.
This did not deter me from devouring, without pause, four ice cream sandwiches, and then viciously attacking a bag of snack mix.
Yes, it’s pretty easy to see what is going on here: compensation. One can easily imagine me looking with bewilderment at a belt that has shrunk so that it no longer fits my slender waist.
Please note with what fortitude I left the ice cream sandwiches untouched when I got back from the store, and the bag of snack mix! Observe how I took an apple and then left the kitchen to eat it, so my hand would not stray to other delights. See how I cooked my steak, and did not neglect to pull out the fresh lettuce. Remember how well-filled my stomach felt with the pumpernickel bread dipped in the oily residue from the steak pan, with all that lettuce and meat.
So why did it take me only fifteen seconds to lunge to the freezer, and why then four ice cream sandwiches? What was lacking in the first two or three? And why then the snack besides?
Oh, I am owed, mightily owed.
For what, though? For my slight at work, when I took my stand on the immovable word of my manager against the onslaught of the unworthy, but my footing did not hold? A convenient debt, to be sure, but not credible, because I left this morning with the same twist of ire that I carried home.
For what, then? For this another day and another week at this place where I work, where I have no friends and the work I do is vain, and the work I do not get done heaps in anguish for my neglect? Oh, so well approved, this debt of unrequited work! But hardly to be noticed by the innocent eye, which would more readily mark my good report with many important people, and the most of the criticisms I bear, I bear in anticipation only.
For what, then? What am I owed, that my gluttony may be kindly forgiven? Is it my poor lonely life, that I alone cross this threshold, and the door remains shut behind me? Ah, what a fount of woe that is! But neither am I all as lonely as I pretend; for I know you read this. Yes, you are there, and I can strike up a conversation with you whenever I wish. Let us not play the delerious parts of Romeo and Juliet, each of us expiring for the lack of the other.
No, every distress I count myself in now might still beset me, even if this lack or that were supplied. If Jesus Himself were in the boat, then I would not be afraid! And if He would give me the peace that passes all understanding, then I would not need ice cream! In each of my pities, and in all of them together, there are those more sorely afflicted and yet having more cheerful hearts.
I must conclude that this great debt is nothing more than the flowering of an evil seed of selfishness. It has no explanation or justification other than “I want.” But this is no revelation. I knew it when I got up this morning, and felt it. I knew it when I was scowling in the grocery store, as if I found the prices offensive. I might have, if I had looked at them, but I was too busy scowling. Throughout the day I felt a lump of my own violent selfishness as palpably as I feel those four sandwiches stretching my distended stomach
So this is what I really learned: Even when you know you are just being selfish, that does not give you grace to overcome. And even when you pray to God, when you get up in the morning and when you are driving home from the store in the evening, “Lord, grant me peace in Your will alone, and let me not be ruled by my selfish desires,” that does not mean that God will surely give you the power to resist your selfish gluttony. And that is my real question: Why not?
I don’t think there is an answer to that question. I don’t think Job got an answer to his “Why?” He got a reply, sure enough, but it wasn’t an answer to his question. It was something a little bit more like this:
“I am God. I know who made those ice cream sandwiches and who brought them to that store. I know what you had in mind when you brought them home and I know everyone who upset you. I am God, I hold all things in My hand, and I know why you ate what you knew you should not have eaten. Do you know?”