Watch the latest video from McGuiggan Reflections.
McGuiggan Reflections – Episode 109
The Preacher and His Work Series
God Maketh Himself Known
“God allowed the nations to go their own way.” Paul said that in Acts 14:15-16. “Allowed!” he said. God didn’t desire it and much less did He ordain it! And He allowed the nations to walk in “their own way!” We can argue about how the entire sinning business got started—we can to that until the cows come home but we can’t deny the awful mess the sinful human family is in.
If Paul’s teaching matters to us we can’t argue about this: “God allowed it!” And then there’s this truth: God chooses to allow what He allows! He knows what He is doing and takes responsibility for His choices. And there’s this, the nations are capable of choosing a direction and living in it. (That sentence needs developed and the dynamics of “national choice” need to be taken into account.)
God “allowed” the nations to go in “their own way.” And the result was what? Here it is spelled out in Romans 1:18-32 & 3:1-20.
18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles. 24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen. 26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error. 28 Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. 32 Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do the same but also approve of those who practice them.”
And God’s response to that? The Holy God’s response to that? The Sin-hating God’s response to that? The righteous God’s response to all that degeneration, cruelty, heartlessness? The forsaken God’s response to that swaggering insolence, that slanderous self-righteousness, that voracious greed and lust for power? He comes walking down the steps of heaven with an innocent baby in His arms to give to the world, to live in the midst of moral insanity, to experience and bear the sins of such a world and in that child who would become a man to redeem it.
And if people asked Paul where can we see God’s righteousness? He points to the young man hanging on a cross (3:21-26). Where can we see that God cares what the malevolent powers are doing to us? Paul points to a young man called Jesus of Nazareth hanging on a tree, like so many voiceless and powerless men and women that were dragged out and lynched (Acts 5:30; Hebrews 2:10-11). And if people asked Paul in light of our awful record of malicious warfare and the starving and robbing of little nations –asked him if forgiveness could ever be possible he would point at a young man called Jesus of Nazareth hanging on a public gallows (1 Corinthians 15:3; Ephesians 1:7; Galatians 1:4: 6:14). And if the dying asked Paul if they could be sure that Sin & Death did not have the last word Paul would say he had met the once dead and now living forevermore Jesus of Nazareth (Acts 9, 22 & 26; 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, 50-55; Romans 8:11) and His immortal LIFE was gained for all who want it!.
That’s God’s response to Romans 1:18—3:20 and it’s what Christmas is all about.
I’ve borrowed this from my Life On the Ash Heap: https://www.amazon.com/dp/0977338460
“Whoever heard me spoke well of me, and those who saw me commended me, because I rescued the poor who cried for help, and the fatherless who had none to assist him. The man who was dying blessed me; I made the widow’s heart sing” (29:11-13). That’s what Job said about himself but he wasn’t bragging. He’s desperate. He’s defending himself against God because he thinks God is punishing him for some wrongdoing. (See chapters 29—31.)
Novelist and social critic George Gissing who went to the aid of a little boy he found crying and worked “sixpenny worth of miracle.” Gissing died in 1903 but not before writing in that year a novel (of sorts) based on his own experiences. He called it The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft. Here’s how the great man tells of the incident in his own words.
“Near a hamlet, in a lonely spot by a woodside, I came upon a little lad of perhaps ten years old, who, his head hidden in his arms against a tree trunk, was crying bitterly. I asked him what was the matter, and after a little trouble—he was better than a mere bumpkin—I learned that, having been sent with sixpence to pay a debt, he had lost the money. The poor little fellow was in a state of mind which in a grave man would be called the anguish of despair; he must have been crying for a long time; every muscle in his face quivered as if under torture, his limbs shook; his eyes, his voice, uttered such misery as only the vilest criminal should be made to suffer. And it was because he had lost sixpence!
I could have shed tears with him—tears of pity and of rage at all this spectacle implied. On a day of indescribable glory, when earth and heaven shed benedictions upon the soul of man, a child, whose nature would have bidden him to rejoice as only childhood may, wept his heart out because his hand had dropped a sixpenny piece! The loss was a very serious one, and he knew it; he was less afraid to face his parents, than overcome by misery at the thought of the harm he had done them. Sixpence dropped by the wayside, and a whole family made wretched! What are the due descriptive terms for a state of ‘civilization’ in which such a thing as this is possible? I put my hand into my pocket and wrought sixpenny-worth of miracle!”
If we’ve never done something like that we’ve always wanted to, haven’t we? The delicious thrill of transforming a scene of anguish into one of disbelieving joy by writing a check is hard to equal. It makes your heart sing! There’s too much needless sorrow in the world and a lot of it could be removed by a generous and wise sharing of wealth. I know there are many problems that are only made worse by “throwing money at them” but in my own tiny little life down the years I’ve known many hundreds of situations where the generous giving of money would have changed the world for poor souls whose dreary existence was suffocating them.
When you did that lovely thing, don’t you remember the wide eyes and the utter speechlessness? It was more than the money—the world became a different place, if only for a while. Unrelieved darkness was lifted with a warm light and despair was replaced with possibilities and hope. Maybe things wouldn’t always be as bad as they had been. At least once, these beaten people felt they mattered to someone. A job, a coat, a box of groceries, a debt paid, a friendship offered and hearts begin to sing.
Very often there’s money involved in this loveliness but it’s more than the money, isn’t it? Russian-born novelist, Ivan Turgenev tells how one day he met a beggar who asked for some money. “I felt all my pockets,” said the writer, “no purse, watch, or handkerchief did I find. I had left them all at home. The beggar waited, and his outstretched hand twitched and trembled slightly. Embarrassed and confused I seized the dirty hand and pressed it. ‘Don’t be vexed with me, brother, I have nothing with me, brother.’ The beggar raised his blood-shot eyes to mine, his blue lips smiled, and he returned the pressure of the chilled fingers. ‘Never mind, brother, he stammered, ‘thank you for this. This too was a gift, brother’.” Turgenev concludes, “I felt that I too had received a gift from my brother.” Yes, it’s more than money! When hearts reach out to hearts, whether it’s expressed in money or food or clothing or work, depending on the situation, people who aren’t too far-gone to recognize it know that they’ve been cared for.
This leads me to say we should never be ashamed to give what we have even if we have nothing tangible to give. Turgenev and his begging brother have taught us that. If all you have is tears or an embrace or a kind word—if that’s it, give it, for people are hungry for more than food and long for more than a physical coat to keep out the cold. Who can say what a word of kindness from a tender heart can do for a soul right on the brink? Give what you have and God will see and maybe he’ll give you more to give.
God looked down at the land of Uz and saw the needs of countless people so he blessed the family of a man called Job with incredible wealth; he made the man’s fields simply burst with rich harvests; he made his flocks and herds multiply until the herdsmen and shepherds scratched their heads, not knowing where to put so many thriving animals; he made his investments generate money beyond the capacity of all his banks and made his commercial trading so successful that he became the greatest figure in the entire East.
Job knew very well where all his blessings came from. “The Lord gives!” he insisted. But he knew more than that—he knew the Lord and he knew why the Lord had given him such wealth and influence. Now that was life in the sunshine. Rolling in money but rich toward God this man exulted in the privilege of giving money away. Listen to the pleasure in his voice as he says:
“I made the widow’s heart sing.” (29:13)
Don’t you love that? Imagine what must have been happening all over the place when this man got to work. The widow’s heartbroken and can’t stop crying. A thousand and one things need done and she isn’t able to handle the stress to make ends meet, her loneliness and grief drain her of energy, her pain leads her to wonder where God is and if he knows or cares about her.
Then down the street comes a smiling Job with a well-loaded cart. What did he say to her? What was his tone? Did he hug her without a word, respecting her suppressed sobs and blessing her with silence until she was done? And when she finally poured out her heart did he listen intently, nodding and saying in that compassionate way I used to hear my Ethel speak on the phone to so many, “I know, I know”?
When he was leaving, how much money did he press into her hand? Whose name did he give her that her oldest boy could go see about work, saying, “Mr. Job sent me”? What crushing debt did he commit to take care of right away with the words, “Leave that to me and don’t give it another thought”? As she stared in wide-eyed joy at her change of fortunes did he give her his address and tell her to call on him at any time and at the gate ask for him personally? Are those the kind of things he said and did? God knows! But we know that when he left her, her heart sang!
And did his heart sing? Wouldn’t yours? Knowing you’ve been the outstretched hand of God that banishes misery and brings relief, that obliterates gloom and brings hope for more than a day? That’s life in the sunshine! And maybe you’ve done and do such and you’re smiling as you read this.
To be unashamedly rich and to love God because it’s His pleasure to let you ease burdens and mend broken hearts so that they sing; to know you’ve been made a steward to help the helpless is to enter into the heart of God in a very significant way. Those who work faithfully and wisely in such a position gain God’s admiration and they should gain ours. Working with riches is, I would suppose, like working with volatile explosives. Money brings power—money is power and power is such a corrupting force; so powerful that Jesus in a proverbial overstatement said the wealthy won’t make it into the kingdom of God. Money, which is nothing more than the symbol of power, whether we have gobs of it or more modest amounts, is to be used wisely in the sight of heaven, Jesus taught us in Luke 16:9 (note the context all the way to the end of the chapter). In that section he wasn’t speaking to or about the world’s wealthy; he was making all his hearers stewards of their money.
Be all that as it may, there’s no reason to believe that Job was a prisoner of conscience because he was rich and others were poor. He probably didn’t have the time to think about it; he was probably too busy making hearts sing and lying at night planning his next contribution to making life warm and productive and leveling the playing field for so many in life. An interest-free loan here, a piece of family property redeemed there, a job interview arranged over there or a free night’s lodging for travelers in one of his numerous houses. He wrestled with no nightmares and if he wasn’t sure quite how to handle all the decisions he had to make, his dithering was the confusion of a man who didn’t have all the answers on how to do good. God had been watching all this and with that delight that allows us to imagine Him smiling and saying, “Let’s see what he’ll do with even more.”
A bushel-worth of miracle! Singing hearts all over creation! This was life in the sunshine. More wonderful than all that, more wonderful than how he felt about God was the way God felt about him! “There’s nobody like him!” If the cynical Satan had had the heart to see it, he would have seen one of the great glories of God’s universe—a beautiful human being; brimful of life from God and spilling it everywhere he went. A man with that heart almost makes you want to be rich. Almost!
I know, I know! They need more than a “handout”. But until we can do more a kind-hearted “handout” is better than nothing. I’m 81 years old now but why is it I can vividly remember numerous little kind deeds I was blessed with as a young boy? The very thought of some of them still makes me happy and now and then I wish I could back in time and experience them again. Life’s mysterious, isn’t it!
(Holy Father, we’re not wise. We’re foolish but we’re also confused and ignorant. We’re giving life our best shot. Use those gifted with your wisdom to open our eyes so that we can be better stewards of our blessings whatever their nature and give us the heart to act on that wisdom. In the meantime keep us from being paralyzed by our ignorance or by a misguided embarrassment at the little we have to offer those without a song to sing. This prayer in the Lord Jesus.)
Look, a woman isn’t a man’s idea!
A woman isn’t even a woman’s idea.
A woman is God’s idea!
She is no less God’s idea than a man is. It’s hateful to have to say such things but in a world as wicked as ours we’re required to proclaim it loud and clear. Women exist as women because God who is our Father and creator lovingly wanted it so. If we ask a wise devoted Christian woman why she is a woman she would happily tell you that she is a woman because God loved the thought of her! He thought of her as a woman, loved the vision of her as a woman and so He created her as a woman! She would tell you more than that but not less than that. You know that, I know that and Paul knew that and it was from Paul and others like him that we learned that.
It wouldn’t matter to that woman what some men thought and think of her for she’d be well aware that she was equal in the eyes of her Heavenly Father with any man. It wouldn’t matter to her how God had created her. Following the Genesis narrative she’d take no offense at God making her 2nd (though that’s the wrong way to put it—or the wrong way to leave it. In the creative act of God she was 2nd but she was also the last, the completing act of God in creating humankind—more later on that). God has His loving and wise purposes. It’s His world and she’s just glad to be in it because He wanted her in it and wanted her in it as a woman!
She knows that God didn’t make women to be beaten, humiliated, robbed walked on or “kept down” by men. If and when men do that they don’t have God’s approval; they have His condemnation. She’s well aware that God did not create her just to exist as a mortal but that He purposes to bring her to glory and immortality, to wild adventure, joy and unending life that is brimful of life!
She doesn’t mind at all, then, if He calls on her to function in some specific ways that suit His purpose to gain what He has in mind not only for her but for numberless humans like herself as He moves through long ages of sinful human history. If He had come to her just after He made her and she, filled with joy at her Father and His limitless love for her, heard Him say, “My love, I want you to work with Me in ways that I will ask of you as I bring you and the human family to unimaginable glory. You willing to do that?” You know what she’d say. She would say what real lovers say to one another even to this very day even in this tired and sinful old world. “Well of course! I’d be more than happy to work with you in any way you choose.”
So if He asked the woman (in company with and not apart from) the male to live and function as His image in some way and some place of “subjection” to the male she’d do it in a heartbeat. She would do it because she knows who is asking for this. She would do it because He would not for a moment think of her as a doormat or as less than equal to the man. She would do it because she would feel that it’s a glorious thing to be commissioned to something that must be of great significance. And if she knew the Story as we have been privileged to know it she would reflect on the truth that the Lord Jesus laid aside privileges and aspects of His own glory to glorify the Holy Father. And if she knew the Truth about God’s overarching purpose (as Paul did) she would know that her presence in the world as a woman alongside a male, would be a visible witness for the Lord Jesus and His redemptive relationship with eschatological People the Church (Ephesians 5:25-32 with the Genesis references.)
She might even wonder how it is that some women currently aren’t happily astonished at their God-gifted glory as womankind. She might ask herself, “Do they think because God has asked something special of them that that destroys the glory of womanhood? And do they think if they get the ‘freedom’ of X that will make their womanhood glorious? Do they not realize that they have inexpressible glory by virtue of creation by their Holy Father?”
So yes, women too are sinners as was their Mother Eve. And maybe Paul thought women in Ephesus were being deceived, cheated out of their glory, and that’s why he wants them to remember how the serpent cheated her. She had glory unimaginable and the Snake conned her into wanting to be something else that would result in her losing what God didn’t want her to lose. She was a beautiful woman in the image of God and the sly serpent with pleasing words sweet-talked her into wanting to be a god.
And knowing the above is true, knowing it is true and rejoicing in it, what if such a woman read 1 Timothy 2:8-15 and took it at face value and believed it to be God’s word? What if such a woman gladly chose to live by that believing it pleased her Holy Father? What would she say if we said she was being cheated and 1 Timothy 2:8-15 enslaved her and kept her from becoming greater and more powerful?
Words! Somebody said, and I don’t remember who, “There are earthquakes, nuclear bombs, hurricanes, tornados, volcanos and then there are words!” James said something about words, speech—he said the tongue can set a world on fire! Someone else reminded us that there are parts of the world where if we said, “God is love! No one would bat an eye but if you said, “God is Just” you could lose your life.
Context and intention are everything!
In some areas the N word is a word of defiance and defiant brother and sisterhood in the face of unjust opposition. In other settings and from different mouths it is a vicious insult that expresses a heart that knows no shame and raises images of a history saturated with shame—the word is used deliberately to feed division, humiliate and to provoke resentment, hatred and a hunger for violent physical response when other forms of protest “don’t work.”
Words cheapen realities that can be viewed with wonder if we have the right vision. Sexual engagement between a man and a woman is commonly spoken of in well-known terms that brutally reduce two people to heated “users” of each other. The words used as a description of what feverishly happens express the already existing mind-set—”this is what he or she is good for.” But there’s something about expressing our low views that embeds them. Where it can be avoided some things should not be uttered.
Sometimes we Christians are too saintly and speak of sexual engagement between a man and woman as if it we thought it should be a quiet prayer-meeting or that marriage is nothing other than another opportunity to be religious. For Christians who fail in the area (and many of us do) it remains true that Hebrews 13:4 is not up for debate. Still, was it Bonhoeffer who said something to the effect that when husbands and wives wish to love one another that God steps out of the bedroom? Construe his remark in the finest possible way. Bearing in mind that context is king, I take seriously Kipling’s “advice” in his poem, “IF” (and Ecclesiastes 7:16):
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
Here I’m centrally interested in the words, submit, submission, submissive! Context and intention are paramount! Say any of them in the right quarter and hair rises along with the temper. Say anything where the word “submission” could easily fit in, even if it isn’t used, and you might get a lecture. (It happened to me on a flight back from the west coast a year or so ago. I hadn’t been promoting any agenda—truly I hadn’t. We were speaking about children. I thought this fine woman was a bit overly sensitive, hair-triggered; but then I didn’t know her and her life’s experience might have been horrendous. With such people it isn’t a word that sets them alight—it generates images of prolonged injustice—their own experience and the experience of countless people like them. She understandably becomes part of a world-wide “sisterhood of suffering” and that adds depth and intensity to her feelings and tends to shape her (us!) to hear more than is being said or to think that something is being dismissed without due consideration. (My mother bore thirteen of us and some of my most vivid childhood memories are the seemingly unceasing arrivals of policemen at our house to deal with severe domestic violence. My father wasn’t a fine man—drunk or sober–and my mother was the usual victim. This experience (known by multiplied millions) doesn’t make me an “expert” in anything! I mention it I suppose hoping to gain a better hearing from some of the host of women who have good reason to love not the word “submission” and see it only as a religious word that especially supports a male form of ungodliness that doesn’t always express itself in physical violence but in unending scorn and humiliation.
In the light of global injustice that is particularly obvious (name the country) where this is perpetrated and almost always by the powerful who are males. People are tired of it and those who can do anything about it, even if it is no more than protest and march, are in the mood to do it and to do more at any opportunity. God bless them in it for God has no love for injustice! We need to believe and remember that. I mean to come back to that truth. GOD has no love for injustice—never did! Just glance through the prophets and see for yourself. Some Christians (it appears) think that the condemnation of injustice began with us. This is Christian imperialism! One hears a lot about “progressive revelation” (and I accept PR as a truth within limits). But there is so much nonsense attached to it by the thoughtless. Is it true that we only learned that cruelty was cruel or abuse was abuse when Christianity entered the world? Is it the case that we only learned that Love was at the heart of all that is right and best in the world—we only learned that when Jesus of Nazareth arrived on the scene? Bless me, it was Jesus of Nazareth who taught us that the heart of the Old Testament Law & Prophets was Love (Matthew 22:36-40) and that Shema was centuries before He entered the world.
Moving on. Lexical work is dangerous even in the hands of grammarians and lexicographers who nevertheless are a great blessing to us. We come to know what a writer or a speaker intends to do with his or her words by listening to/reading what he says on this occasion or in this textual setting. We need more than a dictionary that will list the various uses of a word that are current in daily life because what we’re after is an answer to this: “How is this writer/speaker using the word here?” Bless me, the word mean or “means” functions in many different ways. Though there are times when it isn’t easy to decide precisely how a writer is using a word—context is still king. But though that’s true, “context” is like a Russian doll; there are contexts within larger contexts within the glorious overarching context. So millions of us rightly hold.
Christian people are glad to hear that God has subjected all the principalities and powers to Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:27-28 and elsewhere) and they’re happy to read that demons were subjected to the disciples empowered by the name of Jesus (Luke 10:17). The same word is (often) rendered “obedience” as in 2 Corinthians 9:13. In Luke 2:51 it’s rendered “obedient” in reference to Jesus placing himself under the authority of His parents. It’s used in Romans 13:1 and 1 Peter 2:13 relative to government structures and in Ephesians 5:21 it is used of Christians in general “submitting” to one another in light of the Lord Jesus and as illustrations of that Paul speaks of numerous life relationships (5:22—6:9). In these and other places the same word is used in its various forms. But fuller understanding is not gained simply by noting that the same word is being used, we need to determine the force of the word in this text or another. Imperatives don’t all have the same strength! When Peter urges young men to “be submissive” to older people (5:5) or Paul to wives to husbands (Ephesians 5:24) or children to parents (6:1) and slaves to masters (6:5) these are not to be construed as “barked commands” or as someone lording it over others (see 1 Peter 5:3; Matthew 20:25-28 and 2 Corinthians 10:8; 12:14-15, 19; 13:10 where Paul gives his understanding of his apostolic authority–these Corinthian texts are written by a loving apostle of the Lord Jesus whose heart is nearly broken). In Philippians 2:12 Paul uses the same root word as obeyed and with happy assurance. All this makes the point that “submission” or a call to “submit” need not be and should not be construed as a “lording over” or being “lorded over” situation. There is “obedience” and obedience. To obey loving and wise parents, loving and wise apostles and the Loving Lord is one thing and to obey a Pharaoh is another kind of “obedience.”
When we come to 1 Timothy 2:8-15 we’ll hear Paul calling women to be submissive in a particular setting and it isn’t fair to Paul or to the text we have before us if we read and interpret it as if a lover didn’t write it; it isn’t right to read it as if he were enslaving and robbing women (I’ve heard both words used of what he taught). It isn’t right to parallel such a text by such a man with the work of heartless white-sheeted and hooded God-dishonoring and people-abusing men. Caucasian people hate it when African-Americans think all Caucasians hate them and can’t be trusted despite their heartfelt courtesy and respect. Men kept women from education and the right to vote and all that goes with those deprivations but that isn’t Paul and it isn’t the will of God who in and as Jesus became obedient (same word) unto death (Philippians 2:8)!
To place oneself or to be content to be placed under obligation to function in a given way in pursuit of God’s glorious purpose is to live [even now] in a new creation. To seek what I construe (and perhaps rightly) to be “my rights” need not be a bad thing and under some circumstances it might be a bad thing NOT to seek them! But even those “rights” need to be pursued wisely in a nation or a world where everyone simply cannot get all that would be fair. The “already haves” (the powerful) that fiercely pursue more and more “rights” are acting out of a spirit and promoting a spirit that is contagious, divisive and breeds resentment and prolonged bitterness. If it isn’t done in the name of the Lord Jesus and in His Spirit it is in the wrong spirit and if it is the followers of Christ who are pursuing “more” and are not at all willing to live in “submission” in some settings they too are teaching the world something. Maybe Jesus is right; it’s possible to gain the entire world and lose oneself. (Balance the above as you think it should be balanced and pursue me if you wish: email@example.com)
Charles Clayton Morrison, a truly prolific writer with a no-nonsense style died in 1966 but not before he famously said, “Christianity can repent but it must not whimper.”
The Holy Scriptures seem clear to me. James D.G. Dunn in his tiny commentary on 1 Corinthians (p. 70) said, “…the impression that Paul basically reaffirmed female subordination to male is hard to avoid.” I’m certain he’s right but there’s more to be said from 1 Corinthians 11 which I purpose to get to.
Some are happy to have Brueggemann, Terrien, Fiorenza and others by their side. I find it more comforting to have Paul. The Church must not whimper and with Paul beside us who needs to?
Finally for now:
Precisely why Miriam and Aaron took issue with Moses about his wife will leave us guessing but what seems clear enough is this: they thought Moses was taking himself too seriously and was acting like he alone had the right to “call the shots.” That’s how they saw it and that’s Numbers 12:1-9. God ended the dispute and vindicated Moses.
There’s this in Numbers 16. Spokesmen for a large number of Israelites call Moses out. The deputation was 250 leaders headed up by Korah, Dathan and Abihu. Again, what precisely led to this deputation challenging Moses is not clear but their gripe is clear: “You have gone too far! The whole community is holy, every one of them, and the LORD is with them. Why then do you set yourselves above the LORD’s assembly?”
Korah son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, and certain Reubenites—Dathan and Abiram, sons of Eliab, and On son of Peleth—became insolent. and rose up against Moses. With them were 250 Israelite men, well-known community leaders who had been appointed members of the council.
They came as a group to oppose Moses and Aaron and said to them, “You have gone too far! The whole community is holy, every one of them, and the LORD is with them. Why then do you set yourselves above the LORD’s assembly?” When Moses heard this, he fell facedown. Then he said to Korah and all his followers: “In the morning the LORD will show who belongs to him and who is holy, and he will have that person come near him. The man he chooses he will cause to come near him.
You, Korah, and all your followers are to do this: Take censers and tomorrow put burning coals and incense in them before the LORD. The man the LORD chooses will be the one who is holy. You Levites have gone too far!”
Moses also said to Korah, “Now listen, you Levites! Isn’t it enough for you that the God of Israel has separated you from the rest of the Israelite community and brought you near himself to do the work at the LORD’s tabernacle and to stand before the community and minister to them?
He has brought you and all your fellow Levites near himself, but now you are trying to get the priesthood too.
Many of them were well acquainted with the names Korah, Dathan and Abiram in Numbers 16. These three men (!) led two hundred and fifty other men in protest against leadership restrictions! Here’s how these men put their complaint [16:3]: “You have gone too far! The whole community is holy, every one of them… Why then do you set yourselves above the Lord’s assembly?”
The answer, of course, is that Moses and Aaron didn’t! God did!
THE “N” WORD PROGRESSIVE REVELATION
Because we’re humans and hurt ourselves and others, because we long for peace rather than war, for comfort rather than severe affliction, for life rather than death and love rather than hate—because all this is true, in a hard and harsh world, a world we have helped to create, maintain and in which we suffer and make others suffer, a place where, precisely because we love deeply we suffer deeply when our beloved ones suffer—because all this is true we want someone to fix everything and fix it now with or without explanation.
Whatever His reasons God has called us to trust Him and the “call” is grounded in the incarnation of God in the human we have come to know as Jesus of Nazareth. That is how God goes about reconciling the world to Himself. He shows Himself and draws us to Himself by revealing Himself. He uses no other means but Himself! This is the God who makes Himself known to us and this is the incarnational way He has done it and these are the stories that tell us of the deeds and the words of the righteous God who looks for friendship.
But as He seeks us to return to Him in friendship He is dealing with a human family that engages in hatred of one another and cruelty against one another.
The means of dealing with the evil of our sinful state has two faces that are inseparable though distinguishable from one another.
In fathering us by creating us as He willed to do God determined that life, fullness of life could only be experienced and enjoyed in fellowship with Him and in His image.
To sever ourselves from Him and to reject Him as the source of the only kind of life that He purposed to bring us to (“eschatological life”) meant that rejecting Him is to reject “eschatological” life, that is, post-resurrection life which is immortal, a life free of creaturely limits.
Since He purposed immortality and glory and would not renege on His purpose His aim in coming in Jesus Christ was to bring that to consummation. In order for God to accomplish that purpose humanity had to return to God, the source of that blessed state.
Righteousness is relational fidelity; it is being true to the commitment to the relationship or relationships into which we have entered. Sin is relational infidelity. God is righteous because He keeps His word, His commitment to bless the human family with life eternal.
Forgiveness and sanctification are both part of a salvation purpose that requires these but they are not the consummation of God’s loving purpose which is Life, Everlasting life, Immortal life experienced by glorified humans who are in the renewed image of God which He always purposed in Jesus of Nazareth, the now glorified Lord of All (Colossians 1:16-17; 1 Timothy 3:16-17).
But as God works in faithfulness to consummate His loving purpose He deals with a humanity that chose to reject Him and so not only dishonored Him but by their choices have become obstacles to God’s purpose.
The vertical aspect is humans against God and its horizontal aspect is humans against humans. Cruelty in all its forms spread like wildfire and the powerful class created an oppressed class; it created the vulnerable and voiceless and impoverished and the arrogance grew with its power. Suffering and resentment triggers retaliation and so here we are as we are today. The works of the “flesh” include hatred, contentions, jealousies, outburst of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, envy and heresies (Galatians :5:20-21). These are all divisive and retaliatory.
God’s unending hatred of Sin that made its home in humans (Romans 8:3) is seen in His willingness to allow us humans to choose self-destructive ways even though that meant the innocent and righteous (babies & His trusting followers) suffered (not punished)along with the guilty. This permitted chaos and cruelty exposed Sin and satanic behavior for what it was, is and always would be—the way only to Death & Destruction. Sin plunged humans to their lunatic depths when they hung God on a tree (John 12:31; Acts 5:30). Blinded by Sin (and blinded to this day by it) humans saw goodness, genuineness, truthfulness, helpfulness, justice and compassion embodied in Jesus of Nazareth who offered “credentials” by means of miracles and glorious teaching (John 15:22-24) and they hurried Him to a gallows. They meant the cross for evil and God meant it for good (see Genesis 39:21; 50:17-20; Galatians 1:3-5). And we continue to do it as we corrupt innocence in children, rape and pillage the voiceless and vulnerable and wallow in greed for “more” while countless people have less than nothing.
Since it was humanity that brought Sin (in all its forms—Romans 5:12-21; 1 Corinthians 15:21-22) into the human experience we’re not to suppose that God in some arbitrary and sovereign decision saw fit to hurt humankind. But He nevertheless allows humans to make evil choices and hurt one another (see Acts 14:15-16). The innocent and righteous were and are suffering at the hands of evil and God takes responsibility for allowing it but He has assured them by the resurrection of Jesus Christ (Acts 17:31) that He will indeed right ALL the wrongs and for all those embraced in His redeeming work in Jesus Christ there will be glory, honor, immortality, all gathered up in what the Holy Scriptures call “eternal life”.
Paul took the view (Romans 8:18-22) that the non-human creation was “subjected to futility not of its own will.” Humanity to whom God gave dominion was faithless and the glory was missed but not forgotten by God. The Hebrew writer (2:5-9) concedes that Genesis 1& Psalm 8 had not yet been experienced but that seeing Jesus was the assurance of its coming fulfillment. But due to the will of Him who by choosing to permit humans their way God has subjected creation to the effects of the Fall.
The glorious purpose to glorify the creation wasn’t jettisoned but was it is to embraced in a future that accompanies the re-creation of the glorified human family (Romans 8:17-24, and 29). That makes the point that the human family would come through suffering to glory and so be conformed to the image of God’s Son (again, Romans 8:29) who shared with us the pain and loss that we suffered as a consequence of our forsaking God.
Since the re-creation of humans involves a rising beyond the mere physical (now by faith and in hope–Ephesians 2:5-6; Colossians 2:10-12; 3:1-4; Romans 5:1-4; 8:23-25) and creaturely weakness into a new and glorious mode of being as humans it should be no surprise that the non-human creation will also experience a re-creation as a new creation for newly created (resurrected) beings. The consistent and sustained message of the OT is that the material creation was suited to mortal humanity as it lived in that setting why would it be surprising that the re-creation of the Genesis 1 creation would be suited to the new state of humans in post-resurrection life? Humans still—but glorified humans!
1 Corinthians 15:42-49 has humans bearing the “soul” image of the first Adam who because he was of the earth “earthy” could not father humans fitted for a new mode of being called “heavenly”. The new mode of humans (spiritual or heavenly—phrases used to contrast fleshly and earthy) was made possible only by Jesus the last Adam, who has become “life-giving spirit” because He resurrected beyond the old creation, being a son of Adam (Luke 3 and subject to mortality) and so He is no longer “flesh and blood” (which can’t inherit the consummated expression of the kingdom of God which involves incorruptibility. The first Adam was a mortal being created in keeping with the home God created for a mortal being but of Jesus (the last Adam) we’re taught that He became a life-giving spirit (1 Corinthians 15:45-49; 1 Peter 3:18; 2 and see 2 Corinthians 13:4 which entails the power that glorified humans will experience).
That human, Jesus, now fully experiences a new mode of being and exists not in a spatial location somewhere in the sky but in a state that transcends mortal weakness and limitations in “heaven”, a new creation (all things reconciled that He created—Colossians 1:15, 19).
Jesus’ suffering and glorification is the concrete, historical witness that God had not jettisoned His eternal purpose or the promise He had made that embraced both the human and non-human creation (Romans (1:1; 4:13; Galatians 3:16-18; Hebrews 6:13-20). And in bringing His unchanging purpose to an unending climax and fulfillment He sent His Son to share our self-sustained hurt that culminates in death and by Him God tells us that despite our Sin He wants to bless us with glory & honor (see Hebrews 2:5-12). In this very move in the person of Jesus of Nazareth (the Incarnation, life, death and resurrection in glory) God renders an everlasting judgment on Sin and Death. But this judgment was/is the expression of a God who before He began the world loved the humanity He purposed to being into being, first as mortal and then as gloriously immortal. As far as God was concerned Sin would not have the last word. Before the arrival of Jesus He already sought renewed friendship with humanity and the incarnation, life, death and glorification in the resurrection is the witness to that.
If we had asked “What is God doing in Jesus?” the correct answer would be, “He is reconciling the world to Himself! He is telling the world that Sin has not and cannot put an end to His everlasting purpose to re-create and glorify in keeping with His character and to bless us with the only life that is possible if we are to have life with Him!”
GOD’S work of accomplishing all that—which was always more than forgiving us—will be unendingly completed when all those embraced in God’s righteous/faithful redeeming work will experience the glory now experienced by the Lord Jesus (Philippians 3:21) who is the author/pioneer (Hebrews 2:10; 6:20) and finisher/completer of our salvation (Hebrews 12:2). Human salvation has not yet been completed—by faith in Him we live and rejoice and hope even now in a world of tribulation (John 16:33) and we live in assured hope of the glory to come (Romans 5:2, 10; 8:24-25 and context from 8:17-39; Titus 1:2; 1 Peter 1:3-6).
How then will the old creation be glorified if not by simple renewal to what it was in the beginning? I haven’t the foggiest! But that was the kind of question that Corinthians skeptics asked about the glorification of the human body. Paul responded by telling them to look around and to the sky. God is not short of ideas and He suits out reality in all kinds of ways, he said. No doubt He can do the same with non-human creation.
If God committed a crime it was in creating humans and allowing them to be humans. But in light of the truth that that indescribable glory and joy and adventure is where He is taking ALL who are embraced in His saving work in Jesus it was no “crime”. All the exultingly impenitent who plundered and raped the earth will what they worked for: PERMANENT DEATH and missing the glory that God offered. The ceaselessly plundered poor at Judgment will not be met by a TYRANT but a Father.
This we know: We may not know what is coming but we know Who is coming and He does everything well and according to His omnipotent love. THINK NOBLE THINGS OF GOD AND DON’T APOLOGIZE FOR DOING SO. HE WON’T embarrass YOU BY FAILING YOU.