If we went around the table at Bud’s Warehouse discussing how this verse from the Old Testament makes us thankful, there would be no shortage of conversation. In my experience, individuals rebuilding lives from prison have a heightened awareness of God’s love and care for each of them. So, one by one, stories would be shared of how people were thankful for an ability to trust God and how he brought good into their lives.
But if we backed up and looked at the preceding chapters 2 and 3 in 1st Samuel, the discussion would become more difficult.
These great words of faith and trust were spoken by the priest Eli after the young boy Samuel received a rather dramatic call from the Lord and a troubling message from God:
“See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of everyone who hears it tingle. At that time I will carry out against Eli everything I spoke against his family—from beginning to end. For I told him that I would judge his family forever because of the sin he knew about; his sons made themselves contemptible, and he failed to restrain them. Therefore, I swore to the house of Eli, ‘The guilt of Eli’s house will never be atoned for by sacrifice or offering.”
Samuel hesitated to tell Eli, but after he said everything to him, Eli answered, “He is the Lord; let him do what is good in his eyes.”
Whoa. Suddenly those words take on a whole new dimension. Eli is speaking words of faith in the face of a terrible judgment from God on overlooking the sins his two sons committed as priests. Eli already knew that since his sons’ Hophni and Phinehas were terribly dishonoring God by mistreating the offerings and sacrifices, God was going to end Eli’s family line as priests. Hophni and Phineas were going to die on the same day and God was going to raise up a new priest which he was doing by calling Samuel.
Anyone can ascent to God’s right to do what’s good in his eyes when it results in good things in our life. It’s much harder to give our blessing to God for consequences related to our failures even though they can still be instruments of good in our life.
Over the years, I’ve observed this truth as one of the biggest barriers to success for ex-offenders rebuilding lives from prison. Legal consequences from crime are seen as evils instead of instruments of good from God enabling a better future.
We are blessed with the best legal system in the world. Yet, like any system, it is still fraught with imperfections. Its failings sometimes have way of overshadowing the good it accomplishes in the view of individuals facing legal consequences. Over and over again, I have the remind people in our program that if they had not committed the crime, they would not be undergoing the punishment, no matter how “broken” the punishment might be. Instead, they need to trust that God’s grace—his unmerited favor—is playing out in this experience of punishment. And together with Eli, we can trust in God’s goodness for our lives no matter how hard the consequences play out in our life.
And I’ve seen repeatedly, when one moves from being a victim to a recipient of God’s grace, he is on the way to a new life of freedom.
Isn’t that what the gospel is all about?