Life has a lot of upside down, inside out, backwards, lopsided, and cattywampus in it.
We’re a mess. People throughout time have been a mess. It’s a lovely, beautiful mess that God works in, molds and crafts, and brings redemption through - sometimes like a firework blazing in the night sky, and sometimes like a dim lantern lighting our path.
When God breathed His Spirit into His people to write down His words from Genesis to Revelation, He didn’t withhold the difficult, the painful, and (sometimes) the graphic. God is always grace-filled, and His Word reflects that, but sometimes, sometimes, it’s very hard to see the grace. We end up finding ourselves doubtful that grace is available in every situation.
Where has grace been when we’ve needed it?
The Old Testament reflects this treasure hunt for grace very well! There are battles and murders among brothers, warfare, famine, terrible leaders, and some good ones following bad advice. There are wildly messed-up families, affairs, violence, trauma, sadness, and shame.
The presence of each of these difficult things I listed above, rather than revealing the absence of grace in our lives, shines light into our own dark and difficult situations. While we shy away from the Old Testament, when we dive into it - asking hard questions, sometimes getting answers we like, sometimes wrestling with more questions - we find overflowing grace, giant-sized grace, grace for our own lives, our own problems, our own sadness, shame, and battle.
Don’t believe me?
Here are 8 surprising places to find grace in the Old Testament:
Grace in Weird Family Dynamics - Sibling Rivalry, Infertility, and Marriage Angst (Genesis 29:31-30:24)
Marrying two wives will never go well - let’s just say that to start. I don’t care if it was culturally acceptable, or even allowed by God for a time. It’s a bad idea and anyone who lives in a household with a family can attest that one marriage is by golly enough to tend. God, however, works in the weirdest of circumstances and our family turmoil. He takes two women, two sisters, and blesses them each in very different ways. Their lives, their relationships are imperfect, but He hears and sees them individually in their burdens. While I want better for these women and for their relationship, sometimes reconciliation isn’t complete on this earth, and some families - even most - will continue to always be hard. Yet, God takes away our reproach in Jesus. His Word, spoken in bad decisions, hurtful words, and difficult consequences that can affect generations, brings grace, forgiveness, and life, no matter the dynamics.
Grace in the Wrestling - The Invitation to Wrestle (Genesis 32:22-32)
Jacob has a lot of stories in the Old Testament. He makes a lot of shoddy decisions and has a slightly conniving spirit. His story gives all kinds of meaning to “for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). God brings good and God brings Jesus through Jacob and his messiness. You and I wrestle with thoughts and questions and inner turmoil. God met Jacob on the road and wrestled all the inside stuff externally. This is God extending an invitation to His people: “Wrestle with Me. You might break something, because life is hard. Questions are big. But it’ll be worth it, rich and meaningful, and you’ll get a new name.”
Grace in More Weird Family Dynamics - Widowhood, Shame, and New Life (Genesis 38, Matthew 1:1-3)
As a therapist, I long ago gave up the sensation of shock. I might be saddened or pained when I hear something disturbing, but shock is not on my radar. Why? Because all families have some stuff. Some of that stuff might seem darker than others, more shameful, but to God it’s all redeemable in Jesus. God hates sin. It separates us from Him, but Tamar’s story in Genesis shows just how much redemption God can bring in when Jesus is part of the picture.
Grace in Fear - God’s gift of brave when we say, “No way” (Exodus 4:10-12)
God calls us all to something. For Moses, God called him to give that public speech…before the president…of the government he had run away from in college…because he killed someone…then give it again, and again, and again…while they denied his request…all with a speech impediment worthy of an early intervention IEP. Great. God calls us all to something, but He never leaves us standing there, with the crowd looking on, all on our own. Honestly, sometimes we’ll bite the call dust, face plant that speech, make us want to hide in a closet, but in Moses, God shows us He still is at work, weaving a plan full of the Holy Spirit’s words and actions, whether ours go well or not.
Grace in Messing Up Royally - How ‘bout we build a giant cow? That’ll solve all our problems (Exodus 32:1-14)
We have so many good ideas in life. We like our good ideas. More often than not, our good ideas get us a whole boatload of disaster when we aren’t reined in by the Word of God. There is grace in NOT being God, NOT creating God, NOT having a say in Who God is and what is important to Him. God says Who He is, and we believe it, even when it’s hard to believe and we can only yell - “I believe! Help my unbelief!” We don’t need giant gold cows to identify that we have our own idols and our own issues. But God relents. God loves. God sends Jesus to replace our pitiful mooing statues.
Grace in Being a Crappy Leader, as well as Crappy Followers - The Book of Judges (Judges 21:25)
All people need a leader. Our hearts and minds are set for finding the Leader who created and ordered us. Since our God also created order, we live within that realm, too, and it’s a good thing. Some things we lead; some things we follow. Lots of times, we mess up both. We are sheep, terrible at following. We baaaa and baaaa and complain and rarely do what our leaders propose for our safety - whether in our families, our government, our jobs, or our churches. We also lead poorly- without seeking God’s insight and wisdom, building people golden calves and thinking that will make it better…at least for a hot minute. Jesus, the humble servant, leads best, and shockingly, whether we lead awesomely or somewhat crappily, His work will prevail. Wouldn’t it just be better for all of us if we invited Him to lead our lives? It’s a good place to start.
Grace Found in Dark Alleys - God’s perfect love is for every. single. one of us (Hosea 1:2-3)
God loves prostitutes, whether we are prostituting sex or words, ideas or desires. We look at someone selling sex for a living and we see sin. We see the dark alley, the “bad choices.” Whether we are prostituting our bodies or not, we live in that dark alley. We are all sinful. We have bought and sold ourselves to get what we want, maybe not with our body, but surely our hearts. Without Jesus, we remain in that darkness. God brings grace, however, to our darkness. Jesus lifts our shames, heals our hearts, restores our souls in Light and Life. God makes us honest women, honest men, honest people, in Jesus Christ alone.
Grace in Community - Working together for something bigger than ourselves (Nehemiah 1:4-11)
God shows us very early in Genesis we weren’t meant to live alone. We weren’t meant to do any of this alone. In our weird family dynamics, our errant leadership, our call to serve, our sin and its consequences, God gives us each other. Sometimes I wonder why. Sometimes I cry out to God, “Really?! These are the people you’ve gathered? We’re really a big ball of mess.” And in His Word, in Nehemiah in particular, He says, “Yes. These are your people. These are my people. We’re going to do some cool stuff. We’re building a people, a temple, not seen by human hands.” When people throw arrows into our lives, we are meant to have one another’s back - Word of God in one hand, hands held in prayer in the other.
Can you see it? Can you see all the grace seeping in, overflowing out, preparing a path for the Lord? That grace is for you, for your family, for your life. Walk in that grace today, soak it in, live it out, spread it wide, and you might be surprised what He does with it.
*This post was inspired by Katie Koplin’s Advent series, over at lovedinspiteofself.com. Check out the whole series to find more grace throughout the Old Testament.