The camels paraded down a dusty racetrack. Judges rated the size of their lips, cheeks, heads, and knees. Crowds of men watched from the bleachers and cheered when animals representing their tribe walked down the track.
However, twelve of the contestants have been disqualified from this year's camel beauty contest in Saudi Arabia because their handlers used Botox to embellish their appearance.
The disqualified camels are not unique: body image is a major issue in our time. Ninety-one percent of women are unhappy with their bodies. According to a recent study, men are as unhappy with their body image as women. Weight loss is a $60 billion industry. Eight million Americans have an eating disorder.
The biblical solution to the body image crisis of our day is simple: see ourselves as God sees us. So, how does God see us?
God blessed Abraham "in all things"
I was reading through Genesis yesterday when this verse halted me: "Now Abraham was old, well advanced in years. And the LORD had blessed Abraham in all things" (Genesis 24:1, my emphasis). God recognizes no sacred-secular division, no distinction between religion and the "real world." He was able to bless Abraham "in all things."
When last did you make Abraham's experience your prayer?
God made "all things" and cares about "all things" today. Like any good father, he wants only the best for his children. He loves you so passionately that, no matter your circumstances, he will "rejoice over you with gladness" and "exult over you with loud singing" (Zephaniah 3:17).
Does his care for us mean that he protects us from every hardship?
Jesus warned his closest followers, "In the world you will have tribulation" (John 16:33a). The martyrs in heaven were told to "rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been" (Revelation 6:11).
God's love for us does not exempt us from living in a fallen world where disease and disaster threaten us every day. Nor does it exempt us from misused human freedom, the pain we suffer because of our sins or the sins of others.
Rather, our Father's desire to bless us "in all things" means that he is present "in all things." After warning his disciples about the tribulation they would face, Jesus assured them, "But take heart; I have overcome the world" (John 16:33b). Even as he was returning to heaven, he promised them, "I am with you always, to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:20).
Live a life God's grace can bless
What must we do to receive God's blessing "in all things"?
By definition, God's "blessing" cannot be earned or deserved. Throughout Scripture, a "blessing" is conferred from the greater to the lesser, whether from a father to his son (Genesis 49) or from a king to his subjects (1 Kings 8:14).
However, we can and must position ourselves to receive what divine grace intends to give.
In Psalm 24 we learn that "the earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein" (v. 1). All of creation belongs to its Creator, whether we acknowledge this fact or not. In every circumstance of life, God "is the King of glory" (v. 10)-this assertion is in the present tense, describing this very moment.
Who can receive the blessing our Lord so fervently desires to bestow? "He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully. He will receive blessing from the Lord" (vv. 4-5). Not because we earn his favor, but because we live a life his grace can bless.
A life of grades and a life of grace
How are we to respond to such a gracious Father?
Jesus' story of the prodigal son is the greatest parable of grace ever told. In it, he portrays two responses to a father's love.
The younger son knows that he is "no longer worthy" to be his father's son (Luke 15:19) and expects to be judged for what he has done. By contrast, the elder son wants to be judged for what he has done: "Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command" (v. 29).
However, the father loves each of his sons, not for what they have done but for who they are.
In The Return of the Prodigal Son, Henri Nouwen notes, "The elder son's dilemma is to accept or reject that his father's love is beyond comparisons; to dare to be loved as his father longs to love him or to insist on being loved as he feels he ought to be loved" (Nouwen's emphasis).
The elder son's dilemma is ours today. We can limit God's blessing to what we think we deserve, or we can ask him to bless us "in all things." We can spend our lives trying to earn what he can only give, or we can love ourselves as he loves us.
It's the difference between a life of grades and a life of grace. Choose wisely.
First published at the Denison Forum.