My Grandmother reflected on her long life and said, “I don’t know why God leaves me here”. From her perspective, she didn’t want to be a burden to others in her aged, and declining health. While seeking humility, she was comparing her abilities as a 94-year-old with those of days gone by.
As we contemplate her question, let’s first consider that God sustains each and every component of creation (e.g., Hebrews 1:3; Revelation 4:11) and God never wastes His efforts. If we as humans, or any other created thing for that matter, are still here, it’s because it’s part of God’s plan. God will not bring any of His saints home until their work on earth is done. In concept, we get this, but why do we struggle with this in practice? I believe our struggle, in part, is with understanding the difference between dependency and dignity.
Dependency is not a loss of dignity. Rather, dignity is God given. That is, we have dignity because we are created in the likeness of God, called according to His purposes, and sustained by His willful choice and effort. Dignity is in our being, our personhood. Dignity is not defined by our ability to produce things or contribute to what society declares to be of value.
On the other hand, we were created to be dependent. What’s more dependent than a human infant who is in complete need of the protection, care, and love of others? While we may have seasons in which we are expected to productively contribute to society and serve others who depend on us, we only perceive ourselves as being independent. Most of us, given time, will return to a more obvious state of dependency. But, even in moments of so-called independency, we are never free from our place of dependency on God.
Dr. Paul Tournier puts this into perspective in his book, Learning to Grow Old. “We have given things priority over persons, we have built a civilization based on things rather than on persons. Old people are discounted because they are purely and simply persons whose … value is as persons and not as producers anymore.” He adds, “When we are old, … we have the time and qualifications necessary to a true ministry of personal relationships”.
Here’s the simple reality: as Dr. Steve Corts says, “Everybody has a next step in coming closer to Jesus”. God leaves us here to give opportunity to both learn and teach dependency and, by application, humility. With each lesson in dependency, we take a next step in coming closer to Jesus. God tells us, “I will look favorably on this kind of person: one who is humble, submissive in spirit, and trembles at my word” (Isaiah 66:2b).
God has no need for our pride. In His grace, God teaches us humility and dependency as we become less and less able to care for ourselves. And in that humility, we have an open door to learn the value of our being, of personhood, and of true dignity in Christ. “God has chosen what is insignificant and despised in the world—what is viewed as nothing—to bring to nothing what is viewed as something, so that no one may boast in his presence” (1 Corinthians 1:28-29). Furthermore, as our humility and dependency grow, we are better able to speak of the joy that we have being completely dependent on the Lord. Who better to speak of freedom in the Lord than one who is fully dependent on Him?
By contrast, it is pride that makes us think we don’t need others. It is pride that allows us to forget to remember our dependency on God. It is pride that encourages us to think of our value in terms of what we can or can’t do.
In those difficult moments when we get to learn dependency, those around us have the opportunity to learn as well. They get to learn to serve. They get to learn about the personhood and dignity of a person simply because of who they are, rather than what that person can do for them. And they get to learn that time on earth is fleeting and to value the time shared with each other.
Why does God leave us here? To teach us, to teach others through us, and to bring us one step closer to Him. So, let me ask: What are you learning today?