January 28, 2008

It Is What It Is
by Pastor George Van Alstine

“It is what it is.â€? Today, this is a common phrase used by people who are facing uncomfortable realities. Al Gore said it in commenting on the Supreme Court decision on the 2000 Florida vote that cost him an election. Reggie Miller, Indiana Pacers guard, used it to sum up the embarrassing 2004 bench-clearing brawl between his team and the Detroit Pistons. I probably hear it a couple of times a week, and I’ve been known to say it myself when other words can’t describe my feelings.

“It is what it isâ€? can mean a lot of things:
â—? “It’s happened; I’m going to forget it and try to move on.â€?
â—? “It’s bad (for example, the price of gas), but I can’t do anything about it. I’ll just have to endure it.â€?
â—? “I failed and I can’t explain why. I won’t even try.â€?
â—? “Don’t have any illusions. Reality will shoot you down.â€?
Or it can be the lazy way out of an extended conversation:
â—? “It is what it is.â€? (Don’t ask me any questions; I don’t want to talk about it anymore.)

I think “It is what it isâ€? can be either a noble statement or a pathetic statement, depending on the context and the situation. It can be noble when it means facing a difficult and unwelcome truth, without sugar-coating or false reassurance. This is the case when a person accepts the reality of a diagnosis that they have a terminal illness, or when parents fully face the fact that their son or daughter is a drug addict. The it-is-what-it-is attitude allows people to begin to develop a strategy to live with this reality and do their best to overcome it.

But “It is what it isâ€? can also be pathetic if it amounts to fatalistic resignation, disillusionment and inertia. For a person with a life-compromising habit, like overeating, smoking or fascination with pornography, “It is what it isâ€? can mean they don’t intend to try to change things, and this may mean a life sentence to unhappiness and depression. That’s pathetic.

A believer in Jesus can say “It is what it isâ€? in an entirely different way. Think of the testimony of the Apostle Paul. In two different letters he reviews the various circumstances of his life and says, in effect, “It is what it is.â€? To the Corinthians, who were feeling sorry for themselves, he reluctantly listed the many troubles and trials he had endured for Christ (2 Corinthians 11:21-33). He also told them about some of his unique positive experiences, such as revelations (12:1-4). All these are simply facts of Paul’s existence—“It is what it is.â€? But there is one more fact he must add, a personal reassurance from God,
â—? “My grace is sufficient for you.â€? (2 Corinthians 12:9)
So whether the “It is what it isâ€? is noble or pathetic, there is one other consistent reality: God’s grace will always be enough! (Note: We are not guaranteed more than enough of God’s grace—just enough.)

In his letter to the Philippians, Paul tells them that he’s been up and he’s been down, he’s been rich and he’s been poor, he’s been healthy and he’s been sick. But in each type of situation he’s been “content with whatever I haveâ€? (Philippians 3:11). Paul may have said “It is what it is.â€? But his use of the phrase would not have been an expression of helpless resignation. One more factor made the difference in his life:
â—? “I can do all things through him who strengthens meâ€? (verse 13).

So, if believers face all of their reality, they can say with confidence, even with a sense of victory,
â—? “It is what it is. And what it is is good, because God’s grace is sufficient. I can do all things because he strengthens me.â€?