My neighbor growing up owned the hardware store in town. To this day he has stayed open despite all the big box hardware stores moving into town. His father had opened the store years before, and it would seem my neighbor grew up learning to operate a businessmen because he seems to have done a good job of doing so.
(Alot better than when I opened a lemonade stand)
I remember when I was about ten or so he had an addition built on the back of his house and after he was done there was a lot of dirt that needed to be filled back in around the new foundation. I was hanging out with his son and a few other friends and he told us that if we could move half of the remaining dirt pile to where it needed to be, around the foundation, he would give us 100$ to split. 100$ was a huge reward, even if it had to be split four or five ways so we were in. The pile didn’t seem so big and my neighbor even gave us tips on how to shovel more efficiently. He gave us a few hours to complete the task and we were on our way. It went poorly. The pile was way bigger than it seemed and we were terribly inefficient with our shovels.
(Even this guy is better with a shovel than I was)
My neighbor got back, chuckled and sent us on our way with empty pockets and sore hands. Maybe he was trying to teach us a lesson about not taking jobs too big to finish. Maybe he wanted us to learn the value of a dollar.
(Maybe he wanted me to look more like a Dickensian street urchin)
Whatever his purpose I remember walking away discouraged. There was know way were going to meet the standards necessary to earn the rewards, a lesson we learned after it was too late. In other words we were set up to fail, an experience which feel pretty bad. I think some people believe God has set us up to fail.
1 Peter 3:8-12
Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse; but, on the contrary, repay with a blessing. It is for this that you were called—that you might inherit a blessing. For “Those who desire life and desire to see good days, let them keep their tongues from evil and their lips from speaking deceit; let them turn away from evil and do good; let them seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”
Those standards are pretty high aren’t they. Always be humble, unified, sympathetic,, love everyone, and bless those who do evil to you or abuse you. In other words be perfect. This reading also makes it seem that the fruit of all that labor is God’s blessing and failure to meet those standards means God turns away from you. Many go on to interpret this to mean be perfect and go to heaven or else. Which to summarize means we are set up to fail because there is no way we can live up to those standards. Almost always when people believe this is God’s message for us they get discouraged and turn away from God, and the truth is I don’t blame them. I wished I had walked away from that shovel and dirt pile in my neighbors yard, I with I had done something more productive or fun with my time. Being set up to fail is discouraging, disheartening and something to be avoided.
(No one wants to be Sisyphus)
There is good news, that isn’t how God works. Were everyone to live the way that Bible reading was laid out the world would be a better place. I don’t think there is even an argument to make a world where everyone is kind to everyone else is a good world, one I wish I lived in. That obviously isn’t the world we live in though. We live in a broken world with animosity, hatred and abuse. Living the way 1 Peter describes above is a goal, one which we will always work for and never attain. We don’t do it so God will love us or bless us we do it because he already has. Jesus lived and died for all of us, God loves us, we will be OK. And so we work towards a goal not so God will let us into heaven we do it because it will make the world a better place, and a perfect world is another unattainable goal worth working towards. We aren’t set up to fail, because of Jesus we have already succeeded.