Return Policy

For God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable. (Romans 11:29)

That’s what receipts are for. To take stuff back when it doesn’t fit or you get a dorky color. And let’s face it: sometimes you get a gift from somebody that really really sucks. It’s not like they do it on purpose (though once somebody gave me a little plastic donkey and when you pushed its head down its tail went up and it crapped out a cigarette, which was kind of cool but for the fact that I don’t smoke and that there’s not a lot of places you can display something like that and, besides, just about anybody who would see it would think that you thought it was cool and that would make them think you were crass which made me wonder if the person who gave it to me was crass or thought I was crass enough to like it or they just wanted everybody else to think I was crass because I had it in the first place), but even if they give it to you with good intentions the thing you end up with is not exactly what you would call a keeper.

So let’s say you get something you don’t want and you know they got it at Wal-Mart or some other place that accepts returns no questions asked so you get up the day after Christmas and head down to the store early to beat the rush but discover that everybody else had the same brilliant idea which means you’re stuck in a line of people with bags full of formerly wrapped gifts (which is a yearly demonstration of Schrödinger’s “cat” theory about the collapse of probability waves which, when applied to Christmas gifts, means that, until you actually unwrap the present and look at what’s inside, the gift remains a potentially AWESOME gift and means that an unopened gift—in terms of probability—is always better than an opened one which is nearly certain to disappoint and will “probably” end up with its sullen owner in a long line the day after) hoping to unload the clunker for any, absolutely anything else.

But sometimes you can’t take the stuff back, either because it’s your mom who gave you the green fuzzy mouse cover (or your kid who thought you would actually like to have a stick-on dashboard Chia pig) or because it’s a non-refundable, non-returnable thing in the first place (just try to return your Hickory Farms cheese and summer sausage assortment box that you got from your aunt twice-removed on your mother’s side). In either case you’re pretty much screwed and are going to have to shoulder the burden until your benefactor forgets or takes the train back home to Arkansas.

Which brings us to God. So, like, what are you going to do when God gives you a “gift” that you aren’t exactly excited about? Don’t get me wrong; not all of his gifts are flops. Salvation is a big-ticket item for sure. And the universe he made works pretty well too most of the time—well, not counting the earthquakes, tsunamis, famines, floods, blizzards, and most of Los Angeles. Life itself is a wonderful gift, at least after the first cup of coffee. And then there are all those spiritual stocking stuffers that most people like in moderation: wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miraculous powers, prophecy, distinguishing between spirits, tongues, and interpretation of tongues. Those last two are a little iffy, and some people have stashed them away out of embarrassment, but other folks still like them a lot (probably the same people who ordered the Clapper or a Snuggie). Oh, and sleep. That’s one of my all-time personal favorites and one I just can’t get enough of.

Still, some of God’s “gifts” are questionable. Celery, for example. And then there’s the whole preaching thing, which might have been cool if it had been limited to experts and three minutes. But let’s not quibble. Beyond a doubt the biggest clunker in God’s gift bag is a pain. Well, actually it is pain. I’ve actually heard people say that pain is a gift that keeps you from hurting yourself. But stubbed toes and headaches are small potatoes. The big clunker is that favorite phenomenon of metaphysical masochists everywhere: suffering—you know, pain with a purpose. And it’s supposed to be a gift! Here’s how the Bible puts it (well, here’s how The Message puts it, which is kind of like scriptures written by Allen Ginsberg on quaaludes): “There’s far more to this life than trusting in Christ. There’s also suffering for him. And the suffering is as much a gift as the trusting.” Yep. That’s what it says, kids. Suffering for Jesus is a gift—not a bummer, not an unfortunate side-effect, not collateral damage, but a gift. Gee. It’s what I’ve always wanted.

(I wonder if God would mind if I exchanged it for some new underwear.)


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