Author Archives: Jim McGuiggan

About Jim McGuiggan

Jim McGuiggan was Ethel's husband for fifty-three years. They have three children and eight grandchildren. Ethel went to be with Christ on Easter Sunday, 2009 at the close of a gallant life. He has written some books including: Celebrating the Wrath of God; Heading Home with God; Life on the Ash Heap; Jesus: Hero of Thy Soul; The God of the Towel, The Scarlet Letter; and The Dragon Slayer.

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 already 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. (I’m not addressing truly exceptional cases, an issue we need to consider with great care and sensitivity.) Multiplied thousands of these developing humans were in a late stage of development—people that abort 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 wasn’t the heart of the travesty and the handling of the ark—the most sacred piece of furniture in the entire worship structure of Israel—that 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. (See David’s change of heart and behavior in the rest of the chapter and his response to Michal who said he had made a fool of himself.)

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 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. AND bearing Mark 2:27 in mind!

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. Attack the God of the OT and you attack Jesus Christ. Call His Father heartless and you and Jesus part ways.

 

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.)

“The Geese Cackled Around The Vulture”

Hugo drives this home for me. Jesus says, “If you follow Me and learn from Me you’ll recognize truth and it will liberate you. It won’t narrow you—I’m not into that! It thrills Me to see humans set free—It’s what I was born to do it and I do!” (1) He isn’t saying we’d have all the answers so we could pass a theological examination. It’s a heart and mind response to Him as a person, what He is and what that entails. It’s the realization, sudden or gradual, that the One speaking to us is all and more than we know to long for. That glad recognition comes when our minds are opened and with willing hearts we embrace Him who is the Way, the Truth & the Life. (2) It’s impossible to believe something or someone we’ve never heard of (3) and sometimes it’s extremely difficult to be open to truth you’ve been offered, especially if that truth is costly, especially if it runs against all we’ve held for many years and especially if it runs contrary to our deepest emotions or a prevailing and strong social wind.

When we welcome truth from an unlikely source it says something lovely about us. It says we’ve been willing to submit ourselves to something beyond ourselves, it says there’s some humility about us, some character that’s worthy of admiration. We learn nothing unless there is something in us that’s driving us to give ourselves to something (Someone) beyond ourselves, something (Someone) that has inner authority over us! All of this is the work of God who opens our hearts (see Acts 16:14-15)!

To be open-minded doesn’t mean we commit to nothing, believing that all truth-claims are forever suspect—that is to be closed-minded in the opposite direction. To be close-minded is to shut our hearts to further truth and so to the possibility of being stunned with admiration and gratitude. With grander, deeper truths we are more and more astonished at God and more and more amazed at what He is up to. To settle for the truth we have and to close the heart to further understanding means we work with the same perspectives on the same truths at the same level year in and year out. There is no growing surprise or astonishment so the joy and stability that rise from the profound depths of new and rich truths is less and less likely. Not only do the occasions for joyful awe occur less frequently, the very capacity for awe diminishes because it is so rarely engaged. Jesus warns against that great danger. (4) Worship becomes a bore, conversation becomes shallow and the whole of life is in danger of becoming a perpetual gray. Or we find ourselves blown around like a balloon in the air with every wind  and wave of societal change or religious fad. So when the proverb passionately cries, “Buy the truth and sell it not,” we’re hearing more than good advice. “Righteousness exalts a nation” is not only true about political structures; it’s true of the “Separated Nation” of     1 Peter 2:9-10 that once was no nation.
When Paul urged the Ephesians (6:10-20) to buckle on the belt of truth he had in mind the truth about God in Jesus Christ, but he certainly assumed that that requires both humility and courage. Humility in that we’re to recognize truth’s authority over us. An authority we don’t create; we simply recognize it. And it requires courage to do that. I believe Paul would have admired Victor Hugo’s character, Bienvenu, in his book, Les Miserables.
Not far from Digne, Hugo tells us, lived G—, a leading light in the Revolution, a man universally hated as “a monster”. He’d been savage in his opposition to the ruling aristocracy and responsible for a great many cruelties during “the Terror” but since he had voted against the killing of the king, he wasn’t exiled and continued to live in France. And of course, like most of those revolutionary leaders, he was an atheist. “Thus,” says Hugo, “the geese cackled round the vulture.”
G— lived well off the beaten track, in seclusion, but somehow the word got back to the town that the reclusive monster was dying (“a good thing too,” some of the townspeople thought) Bienvenu the bishop went to see him. The path to the neat old cottage he lived in had long vanished in the undergrowth and that spoke its own message: not only did the old monster want to be left alone, the people purposed that that’s how it would be. He lived off some vegetables he grew in a small garden and the only human company he had was the boy who did some necessary things for him.

The Bishop found him, white-haired, sitting in an old wheelchair, smiling in the evening sun—eighty six years old and three hours from the grave. The revolutionary recognized the name the bishop gave and held out his hand but the Monsignor ignored it. Even when the man calmly spoke of his fast approaching death, the priest felt little emotion in the presence of one who’d been guilty of such horrors in the past. And though he didn’t want to admit it to himself, he was a bit irritated that G—did not address him as “Monsignor”. This was especially strange since he laughed at times when people gave him titles. The priest, whose life was dominated by compassion and kindness, felt the desire to be stern—a revolutionary was hardly better than an outlaw and as such didn’t need to be treated charitably—truth demanded something else.

The two began in earnest to argue their views. In a cold tone the bishop congratulated the dying man that “at least” he hadn’t voted for the death of the king. The revolutionary blazed back that he had voted for the death of tyranny, for the death of the dark night of the children, the prostitution of women and the enslavement of men. He had voted for a new dawn, freedom, brotherhood, for the end of prejudice and injustice. The bishop said he was in favor of all that but was opposed to the rage that motivated it. The atheist insisted that “justice has its anger!” The bishop reminded him of the awful horrors of 1793 and the republican solemnly declared: “Ah, 1793. I thought we should come to that! The clouds had been gathering for fifteen hundred years and at last the storm broke. What you are condemning is a thunderclap.”

The bishop spoke of the murder of the child, Louis XVII and G— passionately reminded him of the death of thousands of peasant children whose murder was every bit as evil as the death of a royal child—they were all innocent, royalty and commoner alike. Innocent children, and if that’s what the bishop mourned, the atheist mourned with him because innocence “is as sublime in rags as in royal robes”. He reminded the bishop that Jesus made no difference when he said “let the children come unto me” and would have welcomed the son of Barabbas as surely as Herod’s son. The bishop insisted he wept for them all. Yes, but he should weep “equally” for them all, his opponent reminded him. And since the people have suffered longest, if the balance must tilt, it should tilt on their side.
Everyone can tell awful stories, he went on. “I grieve for Marie-Antoinette…but I grieve no less for the Huguenot woman, then nursing an infant, who under great Louis was bound to a post, naked to the waist, while her child was held in front of her. Her breasts swelled with milk and her heart with anguish as the starving child cried to be fed and her jailer said, ‘Recant!’, offering her the choice between the death of her baby and the death of her conscience.”
The priest’s stony attitude was being destroyed but still he murmured, “Progress must believe in God… An atheist is an evil leader of the human race.” The old man didn’t answer him but looked to heaven as a tear formed slowly in his eye, brimmed over and then rolled down his pale face. Still looking upward he murmured words that made it clear he was no atheist. Finally to the bishop he said: “My lord bishop…I was sixty when my country summoned me to take part in her affairs. I obeyed the summons. There were abuses and I fought against them tyrannies and I destroyed them, rights and principles and I asserted them. Our country was invaded and I defended it; France was threatened and I offered her my life. I was never rich; now I am poor. I was among the masters of the State, and the Treasury vaults were so filled with wealth that we had to buttress the walls lest they collapse under the weight of gold and silver; but I dined in Poverty Street at twenty-two sous a head. I tore up altar-cloths, it is true; but it was to bind our country’s wounds… I have done my duty, and what good I could, so far as was in my power. And I have been hounded and persecuted, mocked and defamed, cursed and proscribed. I have long known that…for the ignorant crowd I wear the face of the damned. I have accepted the isolation of hatred, hating no one. Now at the age of eighty-six I am on the point of death. What do you ask of me?”

The old bishop, having the old, cold, wrinkled hand in his own, fell to his knees and whispered, “Your blessing.” And when he finally raised his head to look at him, the old man had died.
Meeting with “the monster” opened the bishop’s eyes in many ways but, in practice, his tenderness and attentiveness toward the poor and the defenseless and suffering were doubled. More than that, Bienvenu now realized as never before that there were more truths than he had been telling, more than he had been seeing, more than he had been cherishing. He now knew, as never before, that even our adversaries have been gifted with truth and the humility that’s essential to receiving truth. Cheerfully embracing truth doesn’t narrow us; it deepens and enriches us. It doesn’t blind us, it enlarges the world, shows it to be grander than we thought and helps us to better grasp the over-arching Story.
The bishop had his critics; for what should a man like him have to do with a man like G—? He should have had absolutely nothing to do with him! What made matters worse was this: when a few insisted that he speak about the revolutionary, he merely pointed to the sky. Whether he meant the man was in heaven or that God alone would judge him, Hugo doesn’t tell us, but that was his response. No bad thing!
Love of truth is another face of love. All those who love God will seek “the blessing” of that truth no matter where or in whom God has graciously placed it and they will receive truth to cherish and obey. Those who follow in the steps of the Dragon Slayer will make it clear that their Lord is “the Way, the Truth and the Life.”

(O God of Truth give us the wisdom to know the difference between truths that matter greatly and those hardly worth discussion. And when confronted with life-shaping truths gives us a willing heart to embrace them and act on them and not fear where or how or through whom you bring them to us. Give us the courage and loyalty to you and the Holy Scriptures to stand firm in the face of opposing influences. Dissolve within us the hunger to be thought well of that weakens us in your service and any hardness and arrogance that “being in the right” so tempts humans. This request for your help in Jesus’ name.)

(1) John 8:31-32; Luke 4:16-22; 8:26-39; 10:17-21: Hebrews 12:2
(2) Romans 10:9-17)
(3) John 6:44, 50; 11:23-27; 14:6
(4) Jesus warns against that in Mark 4:23-26

 

 

Judging “Insiders” & 1 Corinthians 5

Abruptly! “There’s crass sexual immorality going on among you! Even Gentiles know better!” That’s his tone, or something very like it. 1 Corinthians 5:1-13

It might be significant that he doesn’t say “adultery” or “incest”. The word he uses was in common use to cover sexual sin in general. The unholy relationship Paul has in mind in 5:1 might have been with his father’s wife, the sinner’s step-mother; it might even have been with his mother. Commentator’s offer various suggestions.

When he says Gentiles know better he has to be expressing the level of his shock rather than offering the result of a statistical survey. It isn’t hard to find some Greco-Roman writers who oppose sexual immortality but it was a sad bad world they lived in (see 6:9-10).
The sinner’s behavior certainly led Paul to blunt speech (5:5, 13 with Deuteronomy 13:5; 17:5; 19:19; 21:21 as a background) but it isn’t the sinner that gets the heaviest blowsHe saves those for the Church that encourages and in a way defends him.
Paul wants him saved (5:5). Certain elements in the congregation glory in what he is doing and so further endanger him because not only are they doing nothing against the behavior they are encouraging him it. (It’s not easy to pin down why they were “glorying” or “puffed up” in the face of it but then there’s 6:12-20 where porneia is immediately linked to demonic worship and defended on the grounds that sex and eating were both God-given drives.)
Of course, they loved themselves and gloried in their gifts and their wisdom (4:7-8) and swaggered if they thought they had the showiest gifts and the smartest answers (12:12-31and then chapter 13). They were obviously too wise, too gifted (1:5-7) and fell in love with themselves rather than the God from whom everything came (1:4, 8-9; 5:18). Despite all that they still acted like non-spiritual people (3:3) who needed to be reconciled with God (5:20, with a present imperative).
You can imagine that element in the church that defended the sexual immorality of this man and then demonic worship attendance (6:12-20). See their smiles at the ignorance of the other brothers and sisters who were still bound by “the rules.” Yes, those who didn’t know what freedom was; they were so ignorant that they couldn’t eat meat that had a link to temple worship. Ah, the marvelous sense of “freedom”. Those ‘wise” fools never noticed that Jesus was sitting there with the ignorant—and not eating! The Lord didn’t side with the ones with “the newly-found knowledge of freedom”.

“FREEDOM!” Mackintosh said this, “Freedom is good and Christ gives it abundantly; but freedom without Christ, is evil through and through. Freedom is sweet, but what are all its joys if to taste them we must take leave of our best Friend ? Whatever we must renounce or deny to ourselves is nothing to what we have found in Him.”

The puffed up group is damaging more than the sexually immoral man; they’re endangering the entire congregation. “A little leaven leavens the entire lump.” And they’re doing more than that—they’re building a reputation for the entire People of God. Their great double wrong is the fruit of their having lost sight of who they are (5:6-7) and how as a congregational manifestation of Jesus Christ they should respond to such public sexual behavior and relationships.

With the Exodus as the background Paul speaks to them as “Passover People.” In preparation for the sacrificial meal of liberation they were to cleanse the house entirely of leaven and Paul reminds them that in light of the Passover Lamb, Jesus Christ, who had already been offered, they should have already purged this corruption. We’re to imagine the wise and glorious ones sitting at a meal of celebration with a festering dead body in their presence. Rather than being puffed up about it he said, you should be mourning as for a dead man (5:2).

For all their wisdom, for all their knowledge, for all their giftedness they were “fleshly” and conducted themselves according to human standards (3:3-4). What society thought, the way society thought, the arguments society made are all operating here in the absence of love as it is seen in GOD (8:1-3). They were “carnal” because they not only followed preachers they followed a Christ-denying society. So now they sit with this decaying corpse in their presence and glorying in it. Glorying in it because they are carnal! This section of the church was claiming life for themselves and for this unrepentant member of the Church of God. “They were self-centered, self-contained and self-directed.” (Barrett)

Paul calls on the church to stand together, with his apostolic authority and the powerful presence of the Lord Jesus in delivering this man over to Satan. That is to acknowledge that that is who he chooses to belong to and the “wise ones” support and glory in his choice.
The aim is not his destruction but his salvation! It was this wise and swaggering segment of the congregation that was damning this man but which of them would have believed it? “How unkind! How unloving! How narrow-minded!” We hear that kind of talk now and you can be sure that it was said then. And “harsh, narrow, legalistic and wrong.” Paul takes another beating but that was no surprise to him, see what he says in 4:8-13.

5:9-13. Finally for now. He had written that they were to have no fellowship or company with people whose life’s choice was open immorality. Some obviously thought he was talking about non-Christians. He said, “I didn’t mean that at all!” And then he makes himself crystal clear. There are those who are “outside” and those that are “inside”. (And we can hear again the whimpering tone, “Oh that is so narrow-minded and self-righteous and unkind.” That isn’t Paul! There is no kindness so cruel as the kindness that will leave people who are food of devouring parasites to be devoured. And sometimes it isn’t kindness at all—it’s gutlessness and a fear to speak up due to a fear of being thought small-minded.)
The outsiders who choose a lifestyle of unrepentant immorality in any of its forms are not to be confused with those who have been baptized into a Lord Jesus who lived, died and rose again to redeem us (Romans 6:1-11; Titus 2:11—3:11). “We judge those that are within,” he said! His gospel, he said, was all tied up with the glory of the blessed God and sexual immorality was contrary to it. (2 Timothy 1:11) Contrary to the gospel! For him every question was, “How does this fit in with or rise out of or embody the gospel of the blessed and glorious God?” (2 Timothy 1:11; Galatians 5:16-21)

Let God judge those who choose not to become part of the congregations of Jesus Christ. But those who wish to be included within the called out People of God, those who claim to be are part of the blood bought Church of God (Acts 20:28), who claim to be parts of Christ and one spirit with Him must commit to live in light of that commitment and relationship (1 Corinthians 6:9-20). Those who do not wish to be part of the Community of Jesus Christ have been allowed that choice (Acts 14:16; Romans 1:24, 26). What they’re not allowed to do is to say, “I refuse to place myself under the Headship of Jesus as part of His Body but I want to be regarded as part of it. I will count myself in but I will not be judged by it.”

Those who justify that spirit will answer to God! They dishonor the Lord and hurt the world!

“He Guards My Life Because…”

 Lukas Reiter tells of a ruthless criminal who is speaking to his daughter on the phone. He’s telling her of a very dear friend whose life he had saved many years earlier. The man he’d saved attached himself to the brutal criminal as a protector and now the protector was himself in serious harm’s way. He muses into the phone and wonders, “Why does someone so decent spend his every day around me, someone so indecent…? 
His daughter ventures the guess that he did it because he felt gratitude to his deliverer but her father isn’t having that. He wasn’t really asking for an explanation; he just wanted to hear himself spelling out his sense of the wonder of it all.
“No,” he murmured, “He didn’t see me as a savior—he saw me as the man I am, a man surrounded by darkness, with no friends who could be trusted, one who didn’t believe that loyalty or love could ever exist. He committed to me to show me that day and every day, that the world is not what I feared it to be. He’s the light in the darkness; (he’s) living proof that there is another way. That life can be good and people kind. That a man like me might one day dream of becoming a man like him. He pledged his life, offered it up as evidence that I was wrong about the world. He guards my life because he’s determined to save my soul.”
I believe in such people! People who are not Jesus but make us think of Jesus. The kind of people Jesus would have watched with those searching eyes of His, eager to see their way and listening with the pleasure growing within Him to hear their strong and gracious words keeping strugglers with life from entering into a darkness so deep that there’d be no way back up out of it.
I do believe in Sin! How could I not? For am I not a sinner! And don’t I see it dressed in fine clothes and don’t I hear it speak in persuasive tones with perfect diction as it pours out lies that corrupt and damn? Don’t we see its gloomy shadow lying across little nations killing all hope? I do believe in corrupt people who fill the very air with moral darkness until there’s no sun in the sky and leading countless poor souls to wonder if there’s a sky at all.
But I believe in good people for I have seen them and heard them speak and watched the change come over people who had until then only seen life out of soulless eyes. They assure me about God. If humans in a world like this can love like that—God can love no less! Jacob in Genesis 33, worried sick with fear that his brother Esau in bitterness and in power would treat him harshly instead sees the face of God on the face of his sinned-against brother. Not a scathing word that strips the flesh from his bones, not a hint of violence, but tears of joy to see his brother well. If we see it in Esau should be expect less of Jesus? I believe in such people and they help me to believe more assuredly in GOD.

 

 

If God Didn’t Do It Who Did?” (3)

The first piece in October cited and briefly looked at a few texts where God, in words assigned to Him personally, disturbingly claimed responsibility for events that appall us. We’re told He gave commands that are heartless (the kind we’d expect from Herod the Great or Hitler and his advisors). For the economically and socially blessed who never took God or the Holy Scriptures seriously we got, and get, what we expect, indifference or moral condemnation. For those who live in a world, a prison, of deprivation, threat, humiliation and unceasing hardship we get numerous different responses. If all they hear from preachers is that they need to repent of their sins we often get bitter resentment: “GOD needs to repent!”

Or if they believe God is mad at a world that rejected Him and refuses to honor Him they’re tempted to believe that He is vengefully drunk on punishment. He ladles it out plentifully and indiscriminately on little children and their awfully burdened parents—well, He does appear to discriminate in favor of the wealthy and the powerful, the nations with the most powerful weapons and most advanced medical technology. As well as being swollen with a sense of His honor He is arbitrary and blesses these sinners and crushes those, kills these impoverished babies via devouring parasites and provides more than enough employment and wealth for countless hedonists to spend on “more”.
And then, of course, there is the everlasting, ceaseless torture he will inflict on humans if they don’t give Him honor. This kind of thing His friends tell about Him and they wonder why people show little (free) interest in Him and much less love for Him or admiration of Him.
And if that isn’t enough to put Him in the doghouse with us we hear as the center-piece of His glory and grace that He cannot forgive sinners unless He punishes Sin out of existence by punishing the most lovely young human that ever walked on this planet! We’re told He desperately wants to forgive us but He can’t do that because there is something in Him that demands that sins must be punished to the nth degree. So He inflicts punishment (not just “suffering”—punishment) on Jesus of Nazareth and that allows Him to “forgive” us our sins. So He “forgives” by violence, without which He cannot forgive and yet calls on those who give Him honor to forgive repeatedly without violence those who come seeking forgiveness from us. At the heart of the God who is the heart of all things is the need for doing violence to the young man we admire above all others as a model of love and honor. No wonder we have a tough time with “texts of terror.” But God is not like any of that! He’s like Jesus Christ! There is nothing in Him that is not like Jesus!

The second piece reminded us that when God claims responsibility for all that is anti-human, anti-life and anti-God in the world He is not saying He is a heartless, genocidal “hit-man”. He is claiming that He alone is Creator and sustainer and governing Father of the world!

The piece reminded us that the world in which Israel lived was absolutely saturated with the worship of innumerable gods to whom credit was given for success in war, material prosperity, national security, drought, famine, pestilence, disease and disablement. The piece proposed that in making the claim that He is responsible for what takes place He is in effect denying that the gods or chance or spiritual powers or demons or humans control the world. There is but one God and it’s Yahweh (Isaiah 42:5-8) He will not credit the gods with anything—either good or evil (Isaiah 41:23; Jeremiah 10:5) He will not credit humans with autonomous power or credit them as lords because they have chariots, horses, military might and shrewdness. He is the one that raises up kings, emperors and gives authority to whoever He chooses.

But God not only shoulders the responsibility for the evil that goes on in the world. He and He alone exists as Lord and sustainer of the world and all in it and He sovereignly chooses to allow humans to invent gods, corrupt and brutalize one another and create a world of the poor and oppressed. And He takes responsibility for that sovereign choice!

He claims also that He is the giver of rain, sunshine, harvests, health and national blessing and that He is Lord of the seas, the nations and all else! (See Psalm 104 & 148 Acts 14:17; 17:24-29.) The gods control nothing! Chance rules nothing! Human strength, shrewdness and military power (Psalm 33:16-22; 147.10) rules nothing. God alone is LORD! That’s why He holds Himself responsible for things on earth. That’s why we hear Him say, “I did it!” He’s no heartless tyrant! He is imaged perfectly by Jesus Christ so you know if He says “I did it!” that we can trust Him as we seek understanding.
All that is good and wise and uplifting and promotes the blessing of human existence He actively works to bestow because it is His heart’s desire. All that is anti-human, anti-life, anti-God He chooses to allow, but He chooses to allow it (Acts 14:16; Romans 1:18, 21, 24). In both cases the decision to actively bless and to allow evil is the decision of God! It isn’t chance, the gods, demonic thugs, satanic servants who control and enslave. Whatever or whoever exists exists because God permits it to be. (I purpose to offer some developed pieces on demonology that you might think are worth pursuing though I suspect you’ll want to disagree. But that’ll be okay. God will bless us for our seeking His truth and heart.)

But why would God permit, choose to permit, the gods, the brutality, oppression and such to exist? Because He chooses humans to exist and pathetic fools we enslaved ourselves (and others with us) to the powers and as a consequence we turned on one another. He has such a love for humans (wondrous beyond imagining!) that He became one of us and has permanently taken the experience of humanness up into His divine experience. The day will come when He will bring this real-life drama to a conclusion and a reckoning will take place (Acts 17:31; Romans 14:9-10) and all who are embraced in His redeeming purpose will know GOD for who and what He is and will be utterly free to live everlastingly in warm noble glory and pure-hearted righteousness. The plundered poor will approach a judgment-seat and find they are meeting a God who is like His Holy Son, the world’s Deliverer. Happy Day! Those impenitent servants of the evil powers who will not have Him will perish and so will have suffered an eternal loss—that being, life with Him and a glorious fellowship with countless majestic and joy-filled beings!

(another piece purposed with some specific OT texts looked at)

 

 

If It Isn’t God Who Is It? (2)

If it’s the case that I will be speaking the truth or at least some truth that will point in the direction where fuller truth is to be found, it will benefit those who are blessed with patience, sensitivity and openness and I suppose, above everything else, a hunger for truth that enriches and energizes us for life and service. I read some authors whose meaning I currently can’t quite grasp but I know that they are speaking to issues that matter greatly so I’m encouraged to go the distance, to pay the price required to learn from them. Since I’m not a specialist in anything, most of what I write is well within the grasp of any eager amateur like myself. But in some areas we have to invest the time and mental energy in prayerful reflection to get the blessing of renewed vision, a greater sense of assurance, freedom in truth and a greater capacity for happy life and service for the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. I do enjoy reading material that immediately makes me “soar” but there are times when I need patient instruction (when it’s there to be had) on fundamental and massive truth so I can “soar” with assurance.

It might help if you looked at the October piece before reading this one.

It’s because we believe that God’s power and knowledge is unlimited that generates the questions about truly awful suffering. Why don’t we just accept that God is heartless and creates us to watch us writhe? We can’t do that because we have a Bible with a message that culminates with Jesus Christ. He taught, “When you see and hear Me you’re seeing and hearing God.” More on that shortly.

       Allowing GOD to say what He says and believing Him when He says it

There are too many texts in the Holy Scriptures in which God takes the responsibility for awful suffering for us to push Him out the side door so He doesn’t get bad press. Before we lay the blame elsewhere we need to acknowledge that in the Bible God says He is responsible for its existence! Do please see and read carefully passages like Amos 3:6; Isaiah 45:7; Deuteronomy 32:23-30; Ezekiel 5:5-17 and Exodus 20:5. passim Read them unafraid because the Spirit of God has seen to it that we have them to read and they are profitable to fully equip us for life and service (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
We know that a ton of explanation (even if it’s sensible and plausible) doesn’t obliterate a pound of prolonged anguish. Nevertheless someone(s) must address the issue with wisdom and assurance if there’s any to be had.

                                         Jesus: An Interpreter and Guide

Jesus claimed the God of the Old Testament is His Holy Father.
Jesus said He is the revelation of the God of the Old Testament.
Jesus read the same Old Testament we read.
Jesus knew the OT texts that greatly trouble us and still said God is the ever-loving God of the human family.

Jesus did not see God as a monster. He didn’t see Him as heartless or as someone who held a divine grudge or raged in unbridled anger at a human family., He purposed to bless us with fullness of life now, and then in a coming day of His own knowing to transform us into currently unimaginable glory as He did with the man, Jesus of Nazareth. who knew that was what His Father eternally had in mind. (See Luke 24:25-27, 44-49 and compare Paul’s 2 Timothy 1:9-10 and              1 Corinthians 15:45-49.)
What then are we to do with what Phyllis Trible (in another context) would call “texts of terror”? Once more! Whatever we make of them Jesus was well aware of them and construed them not as texts about a God who would be our worst nightmare but a sovereign Lover of His creation. If we cannot believe that then the Christian Faith faces what appear to be insurmountable difficulties. But if we can trust the Lord Jesus not only as the Savior from Sin but as the interpreter of God, His words and ways, then we are free to face any and all texts of terror and understand them as texts of assurance in the face of unspeakable evil and mesmerizing suffering. Texts of assurance? Yes!

                         God as the God of all Gods & Lord of all Lords
The loving and glorious purpose of the Father Creator never changed but the human family did and as the Holy Scriptures tell it God chose to allow humankind to go their own way and choose alienation from Him in moral derangement with the consequences that follow (Acts 14:16; Romans 1:24, 26), making themselves unworthy of “life” (1:32). This is the “wrath” of God that is being revealed against all unrighteousness (Romans 1:18). The wrath of God is God “giving them up” to their choice of alienation that expresses itself in idolatry, reprobate minds and mental blindness, pride and ingratitude, sexual perversion, uncleanness, envy, hatred, slander, war-mongering…and shut themselves out from life with God (Romans 1:18-32).
What historian Will Durant said of Egypt is true of the entire ancient world in which Israel lived and in which the Bible was written. “Far beneath and above everything in Egypt was religion. We find it in every stage and form from totemism to theology…in literature, in government, in art…We cannot understand the Egyptian—or man—until we study his gods.” Hammurapi, Babylonian king (around 1792 B.C.) claimed he got his code from Shamash, son of the supreme Anu and from Bel, “Lord of Heaven and Earth…who determines the destiny of the land, committed rule of all mankind to Marduk…”
The arrival of the gods and the worship of these human creations, the deepening corruption that leads to murder, polygamy, slavery, war and success in war and the expansion of territory and domination is credited to the gods that divided the earth among themselves and fought one another for preeminence. In all this the gods were praised and their armies were rewarded with riches, the best land or more land if they needed it due to their prospering, The gods made their favorites kings and queens and emperors. Were the Philistines successful in battle—Dagon was to be praised. Did Assyria rule the Mid-eastern world by force of arms? Depending on the era and the location it was because Ashur, Ishtar or Nergal gave the success. Did Canaan have great harvests and blessings in population and health? Baal was to be thanked. A loss in battle, a failure in harvest, a pestilence that destroyed crops occurred because the god was angry, wasn’t respected sufficiently or was beaten by a stronger god or goddess. The gods warred against each other out of envy or resentment or in retaliation for an injury inflicted. There were gods that ruled the skies or the seas or the rivers and lakes, the wind and the rain and storms. Some gods/goddesses were bringers of life and other of death, some of fertile land and others lords of wilderness. They were identified as patrons of this nation or that and took credit for the establishment and sustenance of this kingdom or that or the bringing of justice here and there. There are songs and inscriptions, shrines, temples and feasts dedicated to the gods, celebrations and sacrifices as memorials to great past victories and stories told of heroes like Gilgamesh, servants of the gods—everywhere air and earth, sky and sea, mountains and plains, palaces and “cemeteries” wildernesses and gardens, there they were the gods!

Whatever else Genesis 1 & 2 is about it carried this message to Israel as they left Egypt and headed for Canaan: The gods are not to be feared or worshipped, the sun, moon and stars, the dry land the sea and all that in them is, the earth and the human family are all the creation of the one true GOD who gave His name as Yahweh! The gods are nothing, they were created and sustained by the blind and stumbling human family that rejected their Creator Father. They were nothing and could do nothing—nothing, good or evil. In the beginning they were created out of a felt need and sense of helplessness and then anything that brought pleasure became a god (trees that gave fruit and shade, rivers that gave fish…) but shrewd seekers of power learned in a hurry that the gods were a powerful support to a throne and in some areas the king represented the god and in Egypt the Pharaoh reigned not only by divine right but by divine birth and was the embodiment of the god. You see hints of that kind of thing in the book of Daniel 6:7. Read again Romans 1:19-23.
Israel lived in a world peopled by the gods, with a world that worshiped the gods and gave thanks to the gods, taught their children in schools about the gods, utterly dependent on belief in the gods. So, when we read of God taking responsibility for things such as drought and famine or success in war or for physical disability what we’re hearing is God’s trenchant (and risky) denial that the gods created and controlled the creation, the nations and history. It wasn’t Marduk that gives Jehoiakim into Nebuchadnezzar’s hand—it was God (Daniel 1:1-2). It wasn’t Marduk that gave Nebuchadnezzar kingly authority—it was GOD (2:37) and if he didn’t believe that GOD would prove it to him (4:28-27). When God saves the 3 Jewish believers (3:1-7) who refused to worship Babylonian gods or brought Belshazzar down for insulting Him (5:3-4) it is GOD against the gods. Isaiah 36 & 37 is an education in this regard. It is the gods against GOD. A thoughtful reading of the two chapters, noting 36:18-20 and 37:11-13, 15-20, 37-38, is an education.
When again and again and again we hear God say, “It was Me!” we’re not hearing Him say He was a heavenly “hit-man” who loved His work! He is announcing Himself as the only and the one true GOD. 74 times in Ezekiel He repeats, in judgment or in blessing, that He does it “That you/they will know that I AM YAHWEH!” In Deuteronomy 32, speaking of the armies led by their gods and goddesses that devastate Israel, He says, “It wasn’t them, IT WAS ME!” In Isaiah 42:6-8 He has this to say: “I the LORD have called you in righteousness…I will keep you and give you as a covenant to the people, as a light to the Nations, to open blind eyes. To bring out prisoners, those who sit in darkness from the prison house. I am THE LORD , that is my name; and my glory I will not give to another, nor my praise to carved images.”
In calamity or prosperity, in pursuit of His purpose to redeem not only His chosen instrument, Israel, but the nations of the world GOD will not tolerate the belief that chance or the gods or powerful kings or skilled and ruthless armies rule the world. It doesn’t matter to Him (it does!) that people believe in all these other things or realities, God claims It’s Me!
GOD could obliterate sinful humanity, GOD could put an end to suffering, GOD could end the world and then there’d be no hate, cruelty, torture or greed, immorality, disease or predatory power. But He won’t! He takes full responsibility for the existence of humans that exercise free-will and skill and wisdom and creative brilliance that He has given them and gives to them that they use for evil purposes instead of wondrous discovery and the promotion of joy and peace and prosperity in righteousness on earth! Why create us in free-will in the first place when He knew what we would choose to do? Why did He ALLOW us (Acts 14:16) to do all this? Why doesn’t He obliterate us all and end it? He could but He won’t! He has a spellbinding end up ahead!

(I purpose another piece looking at several “texts of terror.” In the meantime I for one hear GOD saying, “It’s Me! I’m in control. Not chance, not evil powers, not warmongering power-brokers, not the shrewd worshipers of the new ‘gods’. Trust Me and tell others to trust Me.”)