Saturday, August 23, 2014

2. Making Excuses for God

2. Making Excuses for God (a follow up to "1. At Your Convenience...")

Like Jonah, Jeremiah sometimes favored certain traits of God according to his own convenience. Consider the progression of his words in Lamentations 3:

 "the waters closed over my head,
and I thought I was about to perish" (vs 54)

"You, Lord, took up my case;
you redeemed my life" (vs 58)

"Pay them back what they deserve, Lord,
for what their hands have done.
Put a veil over their hearts,
and may your curse be on them!
Pursue them in anger and destroy them
from under the heavens of the Lord." (vs 64-66)

This isn't the first time Jeremiah wrestled with justice and the characteristics of God. In Jeremiah 12:1, the prophet challenges God, saying: 

"Yet I would speak with you about your justice:
Why does the way of the wicked prosper?
Why do all the faithless live at ease?"

Like so many of us, Jeremiah was quick to plead for mercy on his own behalf and praise God for His righteous and loving qualities. But he was equally eager to want God's anger and wrath for those he considered unworthy and deserving of punishment.

Each of us has this struggle. We're generally quick to blame but slow to accept responsibility. What's interesting is that we expect God, in our image, to be like this. We expect God to put off responsibility for pain and suffering and to point instead at Satan. 

So often, we make excuses for God. We aren't comfortable with a God who allows or even chooses our pain and our punishment. 

Yet isn't our Lord one of wrath, one who is jealous and angry and who punishes?

As Jeremiah says in Lamentations 3:37-38:

"Who can speak and have it happen
if the Lord has not decreed it?
Is it not from the mouth of the Most High
that both calamities and good things come?"

Without some intense (and sinful) editing, there is no way to read through the Old Testament without witnessing some character traits of the Lord that make us squirm. 

Our Lord, who sent Jesus to die for us and desires that we all should be saved, is the same Lord who:

-Sent a flood to wipe almost all living things out of existence.
-Sent His people to Egypt, where they were eventually abused as slaves.
-Sent deadly plagues not just on Egypt but on His own people in the wilderness and in multiple other instances (see Amos or Joel 7).
-Hardened (most notably) Pharaoh's heart. 
-Killed Uzzah for steadying the Holy ark (2 Samuel 6:7).
-Allowed Satan to destroy a great portion of Job's earthly life just to prove his faith.
-Turned His people over to their sin.
-Empowered enemies like the Babylonians to capture and exile His people.
-Promised to end the world as we know it and judge everyone.
-Blinds unbelievers to the truth so that they can't see the light of the Gospel (2 Corinthians 4:4).

That's our Lord. That's the Jesus we want to be like. Bold, angry, jealous, judgmental, and good. How is He good when it seems that there are a lot of traits that we need to cover up for Him?

Because the Lord is just. He is perfect. When the Lord is angry, His anger is always righteous. When God punishes a person, His punishment is proper. When He blesses, His goodness and grace are correct. 

Charles Spurgeon points out in "The Word is a Sword" that "if a stick is very crooked and you wish to prove that it is so, get a straight one and quietly lay it down by its side".

Too often we lay our crooked sticks besides the way of the Lord and determine that it is indeed the Lord who is not right. But He is right. He isn't following the way of the world, the world's system of justice, or giving Himself over to judgement by those who are imperfect and who lack understanding.

It according to the law and character of the Lord that we should measure our own anger and jealousy and actions -not the other way around. We may wish and act in response to what is convenient for us because we are sinful in nature, but God does not.

We don't need to make excuses for God. And we shouldn't. Deuteronomy 32:4 sums up for us what our response to the Lord both in our hearts and on our lips needs to be when it seems He is unfair or cruel:

"He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he."

Saturday, August 2, 2014

1. At Your Convenience...

1. At Your Convenience...

I ought to admit, the first time I've ever actually read the story of Jonah in Scripture was today. The story is so popular that we've heard it, we know it, the Lord's certainly taught us through it...but have you ever read Jonah 4? It's fantastic.

Here's a link:

And a recap: Jonah was told by God to go to the evil land of Ninevah. He didn't want to, so he ran away, but God had an enormous fish swallow him whole. Jonah prayed. God had the fish vomit him onto shore...and told him again to go to Ninevah and proclaim God's message. This time, Jonah goes. He speaks up. The whole city repents and turns to God. So God has mercy.

What does Jonah do? He pouts. He goes off to sit by himself and watch with hope that the city will be destroyed. Jonah gets angry with God. Why?

Because God is merciful, compassionate, gracious, loving, and forgiving. 

Says the same guy who, from the belly of a fish, prayed in gratitude to the Lord for His mercy and salvation, rejoicing that the Lord listens, loves, and lifts us from our (earned) depths of despair. 

The Lord gives Jonah a little object lesson as He challenges Jonah: "is it right for you to be angry?" (4:4). God sends a plant to give Jonah shade during his pity party. Of course, Jonah is glad! Then, God causes the plant to wither. So Jonah gets mad.

God points out to Jonah how foolish his concern for the plant is, given that he isn't concerned for the thousands of people and animals that God just saved in Ninevah.

And a Point: We react to God based on what's convenient for us. We rejoice over His character when it benefits us, and lament when in His perfect character He gives others what we feel they don't deserve. We are petty and self-centered, basing our reactions on our experiences and our concerns -instead of on concern for others or on God's concerns.

Nothing has changed in that department. Aren't we the first to praise God when we get a job and the first to get angry when someone else gets a promotion we don't think they have earned? 

Isn't it just like us to want to deny that God has a right to and (indeed!) does cause grief just as he causes peace and joy and all the other things we enjoy? In Isaiah 45:7, the Lord proclaims: "I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the LORD, do all these things." There's no getting around it.

Nothing has changed about the Lord, either. He is to be feared, He does judge, and He is gracious, compassionate, loving, listening, merciful, forgiving, and righteous. And He is just. Lamentations 3:31-33 reminds us that: "no one is cast off by the Lord forever. Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love. For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to anyone."

Our concern with what we, or she, or they deserve is foolish. Getting angry at God for being God is ridiculous. Like Jonah we too often yield our hearts to petty judgments of the Lord's work. But when it comes down to it, our Lord is indeed faithful, and perfect, and right. 

And did I mention perfect?