Power and Restraint
Have you ever tried to open one of those small, one-ounce bags of chips? It’s not so easy, is it? You’d think it would be a cinch. But to open such a little bag of potato or corn chips can make even the strongest man grimace. Why? Is it because we’re weaklings? No!
Most people find it difficult to open these small bags of chips because, at the same time we’re exerting pulling force upon the little bag, we’re also restraining our own efforts. Why? Because no matter how hungry we are for chips, we exercise restraint lest the bag tears apart in our hands and our precious chips spill everywhere.
Now, if we couldn’t care less about what happens to the chips, we’d open the bag effortlessly. But we care about the chips and don’t want to lose them – or have to clean up a mess. So, instead of using all our strength, we hold back and strain to give just the right amount of force, but not one bit more. What makes this simple task difficult is that we care. We hold back our desire to tear apart, because we do not want to lose any of the chips. And in the midst of our struggle, we sigh and say, “I can’t believe how weak I am.”
Now imagine with me that those chips in the bag can speak. And as you struggle to open the bag without tearing it apart, those chips begin to chide you. “You wimp! Can’t you even open a little bag of chips?” They are treating your concern for them and your restraint on their behalf as weakness. But it’s not weakness. It is power mixed with care and restraint.
Isn’t this the reason why love, compassion, kindness, and restraint are often misinterpreted as weakness as we deal with others?
Imagine that you’ve been tasked to reprimand a subordinate. Perhaps the subordinate has even wronged you. But no matter how much you’d like to “chew the person out” something within you makes the task difficult. You yourself know how it feels to be scolded and criticized and you don’t want to make anyone feel that way. So, you ease the hammer onto the nail. Even in your anger, you restrain your wrath and only use the minimal amount of force. Why? Is it because you don’t have the guts to confront the person? No. You hold back your anger because you want to make the necessary corrections with the least amount of hurt.
In a way, this is similar to the tension between God’s own desire to demonstrate His power and, at the same time, deal gently with us. God finds it difficult to execute His divine justice upon us for our sins because He is restrained by His own love for us. He delays exercising the role of Judge because He wants so much more to be our Savior.
Look at what Paul says in Romans 9:22. “What if God, although willing to demonstrate His righteous wrath and to make His power known, endured with great patience vessels of wrath that were ready for destruction?”
Paul says that God endured the wickedness of rebellious sinners with great patience. He put up with our dark deeds that deserved to be punished. But God did not retrain out of weakness or negligence. God exercised infinite restraint with us sinners out of love. Romans 9:23 explains that God restrained His terrible wrath knowing that, among those vessels of wrath were many who would turn to God, find mercy, and be restored to their original purpose of being vessels for God’s honor.
Some thoughtless and brainless persons will interpret God’s restraint as weakness or slackness (2 Peter 3:9). To such people Paul wrote in Romans 2:4, “Do you view with contempt the abundant kindness of the Lord, not realizing that God is showing you His kindness that you might become sorrowful for your sins and turn to Him? But because of your stubbornness and rebellious heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the Day of Judgment.”
Don’t make such a gross and tragic miscalculation. Kindness and patience are not signs of weakness. Cherish and respond to God’s kindness and mercy as well – for it is meant to bring you to your knees before God and be eternally saved. And show that same kindness and mercy to others, even if they take you for a wimp.
PRAYER: Dear Father in Heaven, thank You for pouring out Your love and compassion upon me, instead of Your divine wrath. Thank You for loving me rather than judging me. Help me, as Your beloved child, to imitate You. For You, O Lord, are kind and merciful to wicked and evil people who will never cease to show contempt for Your love. Amen.