IF NOT GOD THEN WHO? (4)

Let me be plain: Throughout the entire Bible God takes responsibility for calamities, hurt, loss, death, disablement. Scores of texts have Him explicitly saying He is responsible and Deuteronomy 32:27 and context has Him expressly denying that it was the enemy that brought devastation. There’s little point in our arguing about what the text says, it says what it says!
I’m proposing that God speaks in that fashion in a world where every home, hamlet, village, city and nation worshiped at least one favorite god/goddess along with many others. In saying, “I’m responsible!” God is saying no one and nothing, not gods, humans, chance, military power or political shrewdness is Lord of the world, life, history, blessings or judgments. Please, when you have the time and can give your mind to it read texts like Isaiah 40:18-26; 41:2-4; 42:5-9, 24; 43:3, 10-12; 44:6-8; 45:1-10, 14-19, 21-25; Jeremiah 5:12. Here we have God as creator, ruler of the nations, raiser up of kings (like Cyrus, who in inscriptions claimed it was Marduk). Israel experiences exile not because God is weak against other gods and their armies (Isaiah 59:1-2 with 46:1-11. In Egypt God wasn’t angry with the earth, sky, sun, rivers, animals or children—He was against the gods/goddesses (Exodus 11:12;15:11; Numbers 33:4 who were said to make themselves present in all aspects of GOD’S creation.
It’s always GOD against the gods! It’s always GOD saying, “There is no other god! There’s only Me! I created humans and created them interdependent so that for good or ill they hurt or bless one another. I allowed them to go their own way and choose and practice evil. I give support to nothing that is anti-human, anti-life and anti-Me even when I use the evil or the calamity to further My ultimate purpose.” (Note the murder of Jesus Christ and the years of heartache and hardship Joseph suffered in Egypt.) “I find no pleasure in the pain and loss that humans suffer at the hands of their fellows (Isaiah 63:9; Judges 10:16; Psalm 106:44-46; Luke 19:41-44). But I allow it and knew I would allow it so I take full responsibility for its existence. This doesn’t excuse the unrepentant evildoers that heap anguish on their fellow humans.”

God repeatedly says He is also responsible for all that is righteous and just, wise and life-affirming. (Hosea 2:8-13, passim.) Then there’s this. All God’s purpose and activity occurs within a moral narrative (see Jeremiah 18:1-12). That is, it is never arbitrary or unjust but He works within a world shaped by corrupt humans and in the midst of circumstances in which love, divine or human, faces a conflict of interests. Corrupt, grasping and violent humans go to war and God will work within the carnage and horrors of war when the innocent and little children will die. God is not responsible for war in the sense that that is the kind of thing that pleases Him but He is responsible (He says He is!) in the sense outlined above.
On very rare occasions, in war, we have God calling for the slaying of infants along with the parents. The idea that God is heartless and is punishing the children is simply nonsense. The issue is not that God called for it, it’s why He called for it. He called for the death of the innocent (little children, for example) in the Flood and the judgment on Sodom & Gomorrah where the poor and needy were suffering under the hateful rule of the power-brokers (Ezekiel 16:49-50). When He brings down a wicked empire structure there is the inevitable loss of innocent life and as horrible as it is, it isn’t hard to imagine that calling for the death of parentless little children might easily be considered humane. A God who forbade Israel to deforest an area in warfare (Deuteronomy 20:19), or gave laws to give animals rest (Exodus 23:12) and laws about left-over food for non-domestic animals (23:11) and the three-time repeated law against the callous boiling a young animal in its mother’s milk (23:19)—a God like the one Jesus speaks of in Matthew 10:29, in terms of God being aware even of the death of a sparrow certainly cares about the death of little children in war.
Civilized nations justify the use of killing toxins on land and people, and support the use of fearsome weapons of killing an opponent, they shrug about carpet bombing and the death of entire villages so perhaps they should be slow to rage about God’s call to slay children along with parents in warfare. Civilized nations that required the governments to fund the destruction of developing humans in the womb—and tens of thousands of them in a late developed state—these can hardly take the high moral ground against a God that Jesus loved and admired and praised for His care of sinful humans. Think noble things of God and then work with texts of terror.
God slew Uzzah in 2 Samuel 6 and all he did was (in all probability as a reflex action) touch the sacred ark to keep it from falling off the wagon and being damaged. “How heartless God was!” But it wasn’t heartlessness; it wasn’t about poor Uzzah at all! It was about sinful and trustless David and the 30,000 plus that danced their way up to Jerusalem. Every step they took was wrong! Had God been heartless He may well have slain the entire procession, David included.

The ark shouldn’t have been on the wagon, the Law was explicit and it was to be carried by special people appointed (Deuteronomy 10:8 and see 1 Chronicles 15). But that was only part of the travesty and the handling of the ark—the most sacred piece of furniture in the entire worship structure of Israel—was the act that brought an end to David’s self-serving and trustless Mardi Gras. Uzzah was the person involved when God had had enough and brought the entire fiasco to an end. (We assume God was “punishing” Uzzah. That makes sense, of course, but it doesn’t need to be correct. Moses was kept out of the promised land in response to his not doing what God asked him to do but Moses was more a model on that occasion than a criminal being punished.)

There had always been a deep rift between 10 tribes and the 2 southern tribes, Judah and Benjamin. David wanted the tribes united at one central worship center so as to stabilize his own kingship by requiring all tribes to travel to Jerusalem, “the city of David.” The affair in 2 Samuel 6 was precisely that. This was all to David’s glory and he was using God in this scurrilous manner to cement what God had already promised him. God spoiled the party. David’s response was threefold. He was angry with God, then he was afraid of God and then he pondered (2 Samuel 6:9): “How can the ark of the Lord come to me?” In the rest of the chapter we see that David got the message. But when the division of the kingdom came Jeroboam followed the plan of David. God made him king over the 10 northern tribes (Israel) and Jeroboam feared the tribes would go to the city of David (Jerusalem) to worship and weaken his kingship so he built worship centers in Dan and Bethel and God would not have it (see 1 Kings 11 & 12, with 12:26-27). 2 Sam 6 It wasn’t about Uzzah! It was about a major national danger and a king who thought he could use God and God wouldn’t tolerate it. Think noble things of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

In Israel witchery, necromancy, astrology and god worship were not only religious wrongs that went contrary to religious laws—they were treason. They called the nation away to other sources of protection, shaping, commission, teaching and to trust in God their King. It was nothing like the lunatic behavior of post-Puritan days. We sneer today at the God of the Holy Scriptures who called for the death of such persons and their activities. But Western nations don’t mind the death penalty for treason. Witches in Israel were more than morally in the wrong because they refused to keep covenant with the God who brought them out of Egypt—they were guilty of law-breaking that brought the nation into fundamental danger. They committed treason (compare Deuteronomy 13 and 18:9-14 with Exodus 22:18). We need to give God “fair treatment” and one of the ways to do that is to work at contextualizing His laws and His commands.

Think noble things of God and bear in mind that Jesus knows all the texts we know and loved that God and Father without limit.

 

A Midsummer Knight

 

O’Henry tells of Gaines, “the man who said he thought New York was the finest summer resort in the country.” While others moaned and melted in the heat, dived for the shade or an electric fan, and wished for the mountains, he mocked the notion of going to the woods to eat canned goods from the city, being wakened in the morning by a million flies, getting soaked to the skin catching the tiniest fish and struggling up perpendicular cliffs. No sir, he preferred to stay at home. If he wanted fish, he’d go to a cool restaurant—home comforts, that’s what he chose, while the fools spent half their summer driving to and from their spartan locations with all the modern inconveniences.
A friend urged him to come with him for two weeks to Beaverkill, where the fish were jumping at anything that even looked like a fly. He said a mutual friend, Harding, had caught a three-pound brown trout—but Gaines was having none of it. “Nonsense!” he snorted and then off to his office to plunge himself into a mountain of work until late in the afternoon when, with feet up on his desk, he mused to himself: “I wonder what kind of bait Harding used.”
The man who said he thought that New York was the finest summer resort in the country dozed off in the stifling heat, was awakened by his mail-bringing clerk, and decided to take a quick look before he left for the day. A few lines of one of them said:
My Dear Dear Husband:
 Just received your letter ordering us to stay another month…
Rita’s cough is almost gone…Johnny has gone wild like a little Indian…
it will be the making of both children…work so hard, and I know that
your business can hardly afford to keep us here so long…best man that ever…you always pretend that you like the city in summer…trout fishing
that you used to be so fond of…and all to keep us well and happy…come to you if it were not doing the babies so much good…I stood last evening on Chimney Rock in exactly the same spot…when you put the wreath of roses on my head…said you would be my true knight…have always been that to me…ever and ever.

The man, who said he thought New York was the finest summer resort in the country, on his way home in the sweltering summer heat, dropped into a café and had a glass of warm beer under an electric fan. “Wonder what kind of a fly old Harding used,” he murmured to himself.

Don’t you love it when those in love sometimes “tell lies” gallantly. “Sweet deceits,” someone called them. These people say things no one believes—least of all themselves. They’re forever making sacrifices—some large, some little—to make life easier, finer, lovelier, for those they love. They’re in love and they do what lovers have done in every age down the centuries—they give themselves in whatever ways their love and the situation calls for. And they do it without trumpets blowing or affected sweetness and they don’t wear pained expressions. They’d almost convince you that they really did believe that New York City was the finest summer resort in the country.

(Quoted from my little book called A Midsummer Knight, On Amazon, kindle and paperback. A dear friend of mine would love it if you bought one.)