(F)utility Company


It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.
(Romans 9:16)

So there I am, a sixth grader, and my trusted teacher, Mrs. Grimes, hands out this worksheet with 20 exercises on it. She tells us to read the directions carefully and then sits at her desk. I check out the simple directions at the top of the page: Read through ALL exercises before starting. You have 15 minutes to complete the worksheet. So, like a normal kid, I immediately begin on the first exercise.

Each exercise has you write something somewhere on the paper: Draw a stick man in the lower right corner, or Write down your favorite three candy bars, or Draw a self-portrait on the back of this sheet. Stuff like that. As the 15 minutes goes by, I start to feel the pressure. I furiously scribble my answers, as instructed, everywhere on the sheet. With less than a minute to spare, I finally reach the last item which reads:

Ignore all previous directions. Simply write your name at the top of the page and stop.

I stare in disbelief. My worksheet is a cesspool of pencil gouges, stupid diagrams, and irrelevant numbers. There is hardly a white space left. I look at the clock—30 seconds—and attack my worksheet with my pencil’s nub of an eraser. The result is a huge charcoal smudge, incontrovertible evidence of my passionate futility. With a treacherous smile on her face, Mrs. Grimes calls time. I’m toast.

*   *   *

I used to live in western Montana. On weekends I would drive into Missoula for a change of scenery. Once, I drove downtown to visit my favorite coffee shop. I parked and discovered that I had no change for the meter, so I walked quickly to the coffee place, ordered a cup, and returned to my car with a couple of coins. I found a neon red ticket tucked under my wiper blade. Totally pissed, I grabbed the ticket and jumped back into my car, uttering in the privacy of my car a few choice words. Was there no justice in the universe? I had intended to feed the meter and had returned to my car as quickly as humanly possible. (Okay, I did sit down at the coffee shop to drink my coffee—but only for a little bit.) Yes, I had parked without paying, but I couldn’t believe I had gotten busted when I had intended to pay up. As I drove away I turned over the ticket to see how much this injustice was going to cost me. There was the official Missoula police seal at the top—and right underneath it, in big bold letters, were the words: You Are Forgiven. No lie. I just about drove off the road.

The universe works like that. There are all kinds of directions and exercises you’re supposed to pay attention to, but the whole game is rigged. You may think that you’re drawing of a stick man will impress the teacher, but you’re only demonstrating your stupidity. But that’s apparently the point. Spiritually speaking, you are a dorky six-grader who doesn’t have a big enough eraser. Even when you’re the model of virtue and running your moral butt off to get your dime in the good works-o-meter, you are so screwed.

But that’s where the mercy part comes in. God knows you’re a dorky sixth grader who can’t follow directions to save his heinie. He knows you don’t have a plug nickle to drop in the slot. So he sends Jesus who plays the mercy card on you. You lose and win.

Might as well fess up, buddy.


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