Please Don’t Give Me What I Deserve

Sometimes, when I feel the need for background noise while I work or otherwise not-too-engaging entertainment, I watch home improvement shows. These are kind of like science fiction for me, in that, given the fact that I live in a parsonage and given my own level of mechanical skill, the chances of me doing a home renovation are roughly equal to the chances of me owning a TARDIS and a sonic screwdriver.

But one of the elements of these programs which strikes my ear as most alien, but which is almost ubiquitous, comes when the homeowners see their shiny, newly-refurbished home, and the host or announcer says, “I am so glad they have gotten the kind of home they truly deserve,” or something quite close to that. On a program I saw recently, the last five minutes of narration was dominated by that “deserving” type of language, and it kept hitting me like a two-by-four. Now, I am the first to admit that my Calvinian sense of my own total depravity is more developed than many folks’, but, even so, I wonder whether people have thought this phrase through, and what it means when we use it.

When, in Reformed language, we talk about what we deserve, we should always remember that Psalm 22 tells us that each of us is a worm and not human. We should remember that “(w)e believe that by the disobedience of Adam original sin has been spread through the whole human race” and “(i)t is a corruption of the whole human nature—an inherited depravity which even infects small infants in their mother’s womb,
and the root which produces in humanity every sort of sin (thank you Belgic Confession).” In other words, we are a complete mess. And, if we push it, we realize that we have chosen to be a complete mess, or, as the Heidelberg Catechism says, we are “provoked by the devil in willful disobedience.”

Willful disobedience: the devil helps, but we choose. Paul reminds us that we choose again and again and again, choose bad things even when we know they are bad for us. To quote Rebecca Howe, neurotic bar manager from the sit-com “Cheers”: we are “too stupid to live!”

Now, knowing that, let’s think about what we deserve. If we are completely, totally, willfully screw-ups; if, when we are put together in groups, we fight more often than not; if we are litigious, contentious, angry, and more often than not unhappy, do we really deserve anything that we want to get? Or is the thing that those people who have suffered through their renovation getting, along with their shiny house, a big mortgage and extra work hours to pay for all sorts of things that are wonderful but that, no matter what we’re told on television, are not essential?

I am grateful for the promise of the Gospel: not that I am deserving or even supposed to be deserving in and of myself. God knows I am a mess, and loves me, not because I am lovable, but despite how unlovable I am. And, all of our societal self-esteem culture aside, when I really think about it, I know I don’t deserve to be loved. But I am loved anyway! And, mess that I am, I belong, body and soul, in life and in death, to Jesus Christ.

So, I can watch the impossible fiction (for me) of the home renovation program, and enjoy the fun, shiny things, as long as I remember all that narration at the end is part of the same fairy tale. Then I can turn it off, and live out the much greater reality of grace.


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