It was a dark and stormy night. No, really. Cruising down a dark two-lane country road, this sixteen year-old wasn’t paying attention. And then it happened – the crunch of metal followed by that surreal quiet when an accident victim checks to see if all his parts are still attached. Happily, I escaped without a bruise. The family car, however, a 1954 Chrysler New Yorker, was out of commission.
I’m not sure why, but for the Boersma boys, part of the right of passage into adulthood involved the wrecking of at least one family automobile. My oldest brother ruined one, and my other brother – well, he set a record no one will ever beat. So, my experience was nothing unusual. For me personally, of course, it’s an incident I’ll never forget. But not for reasons you may imagine.
That brush with death looms in my memory because of how my dad responded to it. As he towed the car back to the farm later that night, he looked at me and asked if I was all right. Assuring him that was the case, I sheepishly went into a self-loathing monologue about why he would be just in never letting me drive another car, attend next week’s school dance, or keep my name in his last will and testament.
The next day was Sunday. There was a youth group meeting that afternoon. I vividly recall skulking up to dad and asking if he’d mind driving me to church. He looked at me, broke into a smile, and tossed me the keys to the 1950 Mercury. The back-up car. We always had one of these for reasons already revealed (see above). I couldn’t believe it. In the face of my stupidity, he clothed me in goodness, kindness, and mercy.
One of my favorite Psalms is 136. Part of what is referred to as the Great Hallel (Praise), it was recited the evening before the Passover supper and on occasions of great joy. The first nine stanzas focus on God’s sovereignty and creative power. Verses 10-22 recount His saving acts during Israel’s exodus from Egypt, and general praise closes out this wonderful hymn. When I read it, I think of my earthly father’s mercy that cold winter day. Three particular ideas come to mind as I recount the lovingkindness of my heavenly and earthly fathers.
We are most aware of mercy during times of peril. The mercy of God recalled in this psalm was manifested in the context of incredible circumstances for the people of Israel. Their great escape was fraught with intrigue, danger, and not a little bit of rebellion. His saving acts made a deep impression on them, to the extent that under inspiration of the Spirit several psalmists recount these mercies again and again. While my earthly father was consistently a good and loving man, the memory of his mercy on that day stands as a hallmark in my journey with him. So too, as we encounter life’s hardships, we can rejoice in the knowledge that God’s goodness will become all the more real to us.
Being reminded of God’s lovingkindness is good for our soul. As a rule, I’m not a big fan of repetitive song lyrics. But here in Psalm 136 we have a line that is sung twenty-six times – ‘For His lovingkindness is everlasting’. One gets the impression that repetition is not entirely frowned upon by our loving Father. Even in the New Testament, the apostles Paul and Peter did not apologize for repeating things to their readers (Philippians 3:1; 4:4; 2 Peter 3:1). Paul wanted the Philippians to consistently rejoice in the midst of their troubles, even as he did. And Peter desired that his readers not be shaken from the faithful teachings they had received regarding the coming day of the Lord.
It is worthy of note that such repetition was predicated upon truths concerning God and his provision to needy sinners. In this psalm there are twenty-six such blessed realities recounted. If we spent a little time thinking about it, we could all compose our own song of praise. He has been good to us in many ways, and we need to remember them often.
The memory of His goodness towards us gets sweeter over time. Honestly, the day I stuffed the family ride into that ditch was not a good day. I wouldn’t go back to that point in life for anything. Though being young again would be nice, I wouldn’t trade that for the growing memory of my dad’s mercy towards me. I’ve discovered that while pain comes and goes, mercy remains. And its memory becomes more precious and powerful as time passes.
Often I tell my younger students that I wished they could be 45 years old when they graduate from Talbot. Not that 45 is an ideal age, but by then a person can look back and chart a history of God’s mercy, goodness, kindness and faithfulness in their life. Such recollections make living in the here and now more joyful. The present economic downturn, while painful for most everyone, is far less a cause for alarm to me than it would have been several years ago. You see, we’ve lost everything before – and God was there. And even though He restored our fortunes, the real joy is not in the bank account, but in our hearts. We have seen and deeply know His lovingkindness.
I wish I hadn’t wrecked that 1954 Chrysler New Yorker. I’m sorry that I was so careless. Screwing up is not a happy place to be. But I would not trade the experience for anything. My life was changed. And it was not so much because of the accident, but because I received mercy in time of need. My dad had no idea how much his lovingkindness would affect me over the years. The painfulness of the incident has faded, but ‘his lovingkindness is everlasting’. So it is with our heavenly Father. Sing it over and over and over again.
Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over the transgression of the remnant of His heritage? He does not retain His anger forever, because He delights in mercy. (Micah 7:18)