Is God a Practical Joker? (Galatians 5:22)

My three year old son has eczema issues. His skin reacts to anything and everything. Usually it’s easy to control with a little bit of steroid cream and a lot of moisturizer. But recently he’s had an attack of painful, itchy eczema where no little boy should have to endure one.  I didn’t want to put a strong steroid cream in such a sensitive area (steroids thin the skin), so I made a doctor’s appointment to find out how I should treat it.

When I informed my son that we would be making a visit to the doctor’s office, he told me in no uncertain terms that he did not want a shot. I assured him that he would not be getting any shots—that the doctor was only going to help his itchy spot get better. To this, he suspiciously replied, “But how is the doctor going to make it better?

In other words, “How do I know the method of ‘fixing’ isn’t a shot? If the doctor is going to fix this problem by giving me a shot there, I rather live with what I already got, thank you very much! ”

Reminds me of how ready I am to assume that the way God desires to bring about ‘good’ things in my life is through the most uncomfortable means possible for me.

It’s like that silly warning we Christians like to throw around, “Don’t ever pray for patience…’cause God will surely teach you patience!” Chuckle, chuckle. It’s usually meant to be humorous, but I think a lot of us believe it on some level or another.

Yeah, that’s right—watch out—don’t pray for the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22)! God is just waiting for you to say those magic words so he can have permission to pull his favorite divine practical joke on you. When you pray for your character to be like his, he’s gonna get you!

Why stop there? Shouldn’t we avoid praying for love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self control? Afterall, can’t those things be built into our lives through sacrifice, trial, and perseverance as well?

In essence, this attitude says, “I’d rather forfeit growth, maturity, and godliness than risk what God might do to my life if I invite him to shape my character.”

It is very true that God will use pain and difficulty in our lives to teach and transform us. Hardship can be an effective tool in his hands if we submit ourselves to him to be worked on. But does that mean that our yieldedness brought a hardship that otherwise would not have come? Or does it just mean that the inevitable trials that come with living in and contributing to a sinful world can be redeemed when we allow God to use them for our good (Rom 8:28)—that our pain doesn’t have to be meaningless? (James 1:2)

God calls us to reckless abandonment, counting the cost, taking up our crosses, and unwavering commitment—no matter what comes. My comfort is certainly not the highest good. Suffering is to be expected. But does that mean God desires to harm us?

My God says he is good, gracious, merciful, and compassionate (Ex 34:6). There are times that shaking me out of my comfort zone is really the best thing for me, and in his wisdom and love, God will do that. If my problem requires a shot, so be it. But it’s really not fair to treat God as though he is some kind of sadistic practical joker—waiting to catch me asking for the wrong thing so he can have an excuse to squeeze some good out of me by running me through the wringer.

My Bible tells me that God has always desired good, beautiful, pure, and lovely things for his people, and that one day those things will be our consistent experience (Heb 6:9-20).  In the meantime, I must trust him, look to him, and listen to him through difficulty and heartache. But he has plenty of means at his disposal to speak to me and shape me. Is it biblical to assume that pain and trial are his preferred or default means…or does that sound more like something someone else would say about God?

The boy is doing much better today, by the way—and no shots involved. 🙂

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4 thoughts on “Is God a Practical Joker? (Galatians 5:22)”

  1. Jen & I are focusing a lot on grace. It is difficult not to fear what the day might hold after praying for God to help us show more grace today.
    But you’re absolutely right. The situations will happen anyway (the person will be rude, the driver cut me off, etc.) the difference will be the way God helps me deal with them, as opposed to me doing it badly myself.

    1. Ian –
      I suppose praying for grace would be like the ‘all of the above’ option as far as asking God to grow the fruit of the spirit in your life. In the particular case of that prayer, it’s extra good he’s not sitting around in heaven waiting for an excuse to answer our prayers in a way that he knows isn’t what we mean.

      Sounds like maybe I should be praying for the drivers who cut you off…

  2. Good stuff Crystal! I do think God has a since of humor. Which is my response to the people that say “don’t speak that into my life” when someone is clearly kidding around with them (as if God is too stupid to tell the difference between a joke and curse).

    Careful you “don’t speakers”, someone may catch you smiling. What would this world be if the lost start catching the believers smiling! They may wonder what we have and want it (Him)!

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