Scripture Reading: Romans 11:1-24, Hosea 14:4-7, Ephesians 2:8-9
The first time I read Romans 11, I saw God as very kind.
But today, that kindness seems far away—30,000 miles below me, to be exact. This time, I’m reading Romans from seat 12B, squished between two strangers. And the pilot has just warned us that “significant turbulence” is ahead.
A hush fell over the cabin in that awkward “I’m playing it cool” kind of way. Because it’s totally going to be fine. I mean, how likely is that whole “unlikely” in-case-of-an-emergency situation, anyway?
We’re all eyeing the flight attendants to gauge their uneasiness.
Just when you’ve settled into your seat and become comfortable with God’s kindness, the winds shift. His tender mercies can also feel severe. Regardless of how much we show it, we’re all afraid of crashing.
The Romans were afraid of this too. After all, Israel had taken a hard fall following God’s rejection, so it only seemed natural for this band of new believers to begin bracing themselves for a similar emergency landing. They were afraid that if God didn’t turn out to be who He said He was, they’d have to take matters into their own hands.
It’s in moments like these that sweet songs about God’s kindness and goodness do not trump the truth about His severity. Just like we need the fullness of God’s character, we need to know the fullness of His Truth.
Although the pilot reassures us that everything is under control, I’m tempted to entertain anxious questions. Did they check the plane to make sure it was safe before we boarded? Is the pilot keeping something from us? Is everything really just fine?
When bad things happen that we don’t understand, are we just naïve to keep hoping? Will God reject us like He rejected Israel? It’s when we face the unknown that we find out how well we trust God’s character… which brings me to Jello.
Created by pilot and therapist Captain Tom Bunn to illustrate turbulence, the Jello Exercise compares a plane’s high-traveling, air-thickening speeds to being encased in Jello. While turbulent bumps may make you feel like you’re falling from the sky, it’s actually more like tapping the top of a Jello mold: the plane can bounce up and down, but it cannot fall. In fact, it barely moves at all. Regardless of the bumps, the plane is sustained, completely, by a force we can’t even see.
So are God’s people.
“Now if some of the branches were broken off, and you, though a wild olive branch, were grafted in among them and have come to share in the rich root of the cultivated olive tree, do not boast that you are better than those branches. But if you do boast—you do not sustain the root, but the root sustains you” (Romans 11:17-18).
It is by grace that we cannot fully comprehend what it takes to sustain us. Not only does God know exactly what it takes, but in His kindness He sent Jesus to endure the severity for us. When love isn’t taken lightly, grace must also be severe.
It takes an intense, thickening wind to keep a plane steady in the clouds. It takes a kind, severe God to sustain us for His glory. Today, He is not only kind, but also severe, and exactly Who we need.
“The people will return and live beneath his shade. They will grow grain and blossom like the vine. His renown will be like the wine of Lebanon” (Hosea 14:7).