Two years later…

Well, it's been almost two years since I wrote one of these letters... I have started one several times before, but never really 'felt' like the observations were that 'worth it'.  The topics were so minute, or so subject to misunderstanding (which would have required massive development), or so disconnected, that it seemed too 'random' to write like that. [Of course, tonight, when I went back to get a previous letter to use as a starter template for THIS letter, I noticed how that 'randomness' issue had apparently never stopped me in the past...chuckle.] So, I discarded the files, but kept some of the little notes I use to build these... and there was a period in mid-2005 when I didn't really WANT to share much--my insides were very confused, and I felt like I was drifting (a frequent experience for me) and wanted to wait until I was 'better' to try to protect my readership from any mixed-musings. I know--of course--that all my musings are 'mixed' (probably) to some extent, so I must have been using those various things as a smokescreen for some other, more sub-sinister reasons...

I uncovered countless little things to share with my friends, and try to note them in the margins of my bible (as I am reading it), but never seem to get around to it...

But tonight, I am prepared to sacrifice 'the appearance of logically coherent thought' and TRY to get some comments down... And, I expect our sweet Companion Spirit to bear me along in the fluid-life that He breathes out in my/our spirits.

Since these are not in any order, I will number them "First" and all the others "Next" (tell me THAT's not a sign that I am a recovering

First. In my prayer times in the morning--especially when the reading selections are from the Psalms--I have found myself trying to be honest with God about Who/What He is. I have customarily used the epithet "You are God in all that that word is SUPPOSED to mean" (as opposed to my/our puny notions of what it means). I remember early being struck by C.S. Lewis' prayer of "I pray to Thee as Thou knowest thyself to be" in an attempt to not pigeon-hole God into his own 'smaller' conceptions. But some morning in late 2005/early 2006 (after the Gilgy series), I had been particularly aware of God's gentle action in my life, customarily quiet, but with that warm-hearted Smile oh-so-discernible in providence. I was confronted in my heart with the realities of His power, His gentleness, His care for the uncared-for, His moral outrage at abusive arrogance, His swiftness to forgive, to coddle, to celebrate, and a host of other aspects of His character-and-beauty that 'earn' Him the title "Different" (i.e., "Holy"). And what came out of my mouth in that transcendent moment was this "You are so beyond a 'God'". It wouldn't' matter how pure, expansive, God-taught, and sanctified my concept of God might be, He would always be 'beyond that'--His purity would be higher, His stooping to help would be lower, His gentleness would be more amazing--and yet at the same time, more 'natural' and expected. The abject miracles that I have seen in providence--where no single thread was out of the ordinary, but the conjunction of them at one point literally shouted out "I knew this was coming, so I met you here with my comfort, guidance, provision and rescue" and "I love you" at the same time. So beyond a god... And remember, some time ago I stopped measuring 'deity' along axes of power (omnipotence) and knowledge (omniscience) and the such like--in which we and God were on the same axis, but separated by 'large distances' (smile)--and started using axes of sacrificial love for enemies who hate you, who attempt to thwart every act of beauty/truth you do, and who deface and defame all acts of beauty/truth/tenderness you DO get out from your Heart into the external world. Axes of peace-loving wisdom, purity of heart and will, even untainted childlike exuberance--these were axes upon which ONLY God 'was placed' (philosophically, we know God to be the actual 'essence' of these axes). Of course, the scriptures teach us that God has deigned to share this nature with us (how like Him!) via the indwelling Holy Spirit. "As beloved children, be imitators of God"--We behold His face in scripture/experience (we become like Him); We walk with His spirit constantly--interacting, watching, learning--we become like His Spirit; We watch our Father rejoice over a beggar finding free food, over a crushed heart finding a freedom and acceptance that makes one jump into the air with joy, or we see a Father threaten discipline on Israel in the Minor Prophets, and weep as He does so ("How can I let you go, o Jacob!")--and our hearts grow into the same passions and compassions--as His children. But these are derivative--they become ours by His sharing. And in a very real sense, they cease to become not 'our virtue' but 'our character'. Who we are (virtue's child? Like sin gives birth to death?), instead of What we do. And of course our natural 'storge'-class virtues (although important and good) are so shallow compared to His effects in our hearts. The presence of the New Covenant "in our hearts" Spirit makes an amazing difference in us, but this amazing difference is 'so much more' because the life-giving Spirit is so beyond a god...

Next. This is a small observation, that flowed from some explorations I did in my thinking about the New Covenant a while back. The promise of God in the latter Prophets was that God would essentially 'outrun' our destructive self-orientation by the gift of another set of impulses/influences in our thought life. God promised that He would put His 'Spirit in the hearts and minds' (unlike merely 'upon' the spirits of leaders, prophets, priests in the OT/Tanaach), and that this Spirit would be a constant source of influence, teaching from the inside (a pre-resistance and communicating the reality of God's making His 'home' inside our lives (John 14.23; what a thought, btw--I know what it means for my kids to have grown up 'inside my life', and to think of God becoming a pleasant companion/ interaction partner 'that close' is so contrary to what I might have 'expected' from a 'traditional view of a god' (smile). So, as I reflected on this Gift and the establishment of this new relationship between mortals and God on Pentecost so long ago, I had an odd thought: The apostles would have had so much more fun during the life of Jesus on earth, if they had already had the Spirit inside! Remember, they were still in the Old Covenant world (the Last Supper was where the initiatory 'cup of the New Covenant in My blood' occurred). How much less arguing, morbidity, glenn-level thickness-of-head, self-exaltation, competition, judgmental wrath might they have enjoyed with the ministry of the Spirit on the inside, sweetly integrating the words of Jesus directly into their consciousness (as happens for us in sincere, open-hearted bible study). How much louder would they have laughed, how much deeper they could have wept, how much more touched would they have been as Jesus cared for the little children, the marginalized, the 'impossible-cases'! [There is an 'application' lesson here--obviously (smile)--are we laughing "loud enough" (or more), because we interact with the Spirit in our hearts frequently, deeply, quietly, and open-heartedly enough? Or are all our efforts at keeping , doing, moving 'correctly'?  ... At the end of my prayers in the morning, I come to the 'me' section. And I generally lead that section off with a prayer something like this: "Father, make me a better son to you; a more loyal and learning follower of your Son; and a more frequent and better dance partner with your Spirit". The point of the last part is to remind myself to treat the Spirit as the God-of-Life-Love-Laughter-Lament that He is. The Spirit moves in grace, flows from one perspective/passion to the next, with all the fluidity of the truly beautiful. I have to quiet my heart at times just to meditate on His reality inside my deepest heart. The joyous spirit of purity, the comforting smile of His delight/acceptance of me, the awareness of His patient longing for me to realize more of His joy and love and peace in my own experience... I have to quiet my heart and reflect on this, in seeking to become face2face/heart2heart with Him in my introspective experience of my heart/mind.

NextHebrews 13.5 reads like this:  Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said,  “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you. (citing Deut 31.6). The NT applies this verse to the problem of 'dis-contentment'' and/or insatiable greed/materialism, but the original OT/Tanaach context is that of war. It is applied to the nation Israel and later to her leader Joshua (Jos 1.5)--it starts with "No one shall be able to stand (in battle) before you (successfully or indefinitely)"  and in an Exodus mention, describes these enemies as 'turning their backs and fleeing'. In fact, the following verse in Hebrews cites Ps 118.6 "The LORD is my helper, I will not be afraid--what shall man do to me?" as an expression of confidence. But when I went through the Deut 31.6 passage a while back, I reflected on the various tragedies, failures, disappointments, and near-hits (smile) in my life--of which there are a "WHOLE LOT" (not just HALF a LOT). It seemed that MANY things (maybe not people per se)  which I perceived as hostiles DID 'stand before me' and win some battle against me. And, in many cases, it didn't seem like the case of the battle of Ai, where it was my own faithlessness or willfulness or aberrance which 'created the failure ex nihilo'. As I thought about it--and the examples come to mind easily and with discomfort, I assure you--I was struck by the fact  that I could not 'call up' a feeling of abandonment or 'being forsaken' by my Lord in those situations. I can/could feel the pain, the shock, the sense of violation, but I could also remember being aware of His presence during those times. I wrote in the margin "my inability to accuse You". I have sporadically felt anger at God (when I didn't get my way), or 'proto-bitterness' (smile) when I felt misled by Him--which I actually TRUST Him to do, in keeping my stupidity from continually ruining my life [remember the difference between 'continual' and 'continuous']; but I have never felt a sense of being wronged by Him. He has always 'been there' in the quietness and the storm, in the dimness and the light, in the praise and attacks of the temporarily-treacherous. The quote by the early Father Polycarp --as he was about to be martyred after a life of government harassment/persecution--puzzled me at first: "I have been his servant for eighty-six years and he has done me no wrong; how can I blaspheme my King who saved me?". How could a man who saw such real violence (especially, by men 'standing before him') in his life and the life of his friends/family still say this?? Now, I understand. Even in the midst of great violation, pain, betrayal, God can and will stand alongside His beloved. Perhaps it is this at play, that the beauty, intensity, and life-giving-Life stands out more in relief when contrasted with the predations of the world.

In any event, I find I can still 'whine' and ask the "why didn't You...?" questions, and, as is the general nature of my particular sinfulness/character flaws, I can resign myself wordlessly to my circumstances (with a pious 'Thy will be done'), rather than what HE longs for me to do: to hound him incessantly for justice upon the earth [Luke 18], to hold His skirt tenaciously til He visits his benefits upon the needy [1 Kgs 4.8ff], to stand in the gap before Him [Ezek 22.30; Ps 106:23/Ex 32.11ff]  and argue His own heart against Him [Gen 18.22ff], until (beaming with pleasure at me finally growing in the likeness of His Son a little more, by living the prophetic voice for once!) He 'relents' from disaster, or 'uncovers His arm in power' or any of the other beautiful ANE images of a community leader charging into helping 'to right' imbalances and counter destructive forces in our world.

Enough about my failures (smile)... At the end of this discussion, of course, I realize that not only did He not forsake me, but the enemy didn't actually win after all--my life continued, my heart grew, my joy/love/compassion/forgiveness expanded, victims will be rewarded (with a multiplier--cf Zech 9.12!) in some way/sense, and the hostile lost its grip on my life altogether... "The righteous man falls seven times, but rises up again..."

Next. There is a passage in Joshua 23 that reads thus: "But if you turn away and ally yourselves with the survivors of these nations that remain among you and if you intermarry with them and associate with them, then you may be sure that the LORD your God will no longer drive out these nations before you. Instead, they will become snares and traps for you, whips on your backs and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from this good land, which the LORD your God has given you."  The last time I went through that passage in my morning Devotions, I reflected on the old allegory of the Conquest as the "Christian Life". The Exodus was a picture of salvation (e.g., the Israelites didn't have to do anything but believe YHWH enough to put the blood on the doorframe), and the Conquest of the Land was a picture of the Christian life (e.g., they were supposed to trust AND 'workfully-obey', even though it would obviously be God's work, since--as warriors--they were unskilled, un-armored, un-trained, and un-remarkable. Given that allegory/analogy (which omits the Wanderings of 1 Cor 10, of course--smile), the Canaanites that they did not expel from the land would represent the various influences in a Christian's life which were anti-God, anti-GodsBeloved, and anti-Conquest. In short, these would represent God-resisting or God-ignoring habits, thought patterns, values, relationships, tendencies, etc. which we are explicitly (at least initially in our 'conquest') aware of as hostiles and as things which need to be rooted out/driven away/ abandoned. These influences were things we enjoyed, depended upon (for significance?), exploited for gain, etc. in our pre-Christian past.

According to the Joshua text (allegorically speaking?), we are tempted to ally with these (i.e., commit to protecting them, and depending upon them for support for our 'needs' instead of God), tempted to intermarry with them (e.g., giving them priority of consideration in cases of competing values--helping someone dear to God's heart versus serving our own desires, etc ), and tempted to associate (socialize with, as an implicit recognition of legitimacy) with them. In each of these cases, the destructive nature of these influences is either ignored or even valued. Then, according the text-story, these compromises will become 'thorns in our sides'.

I look at it this way: every moral compromise that I make repeatedly (not the simple slip-ups) and that I legitimize/excuse somehow and every wrong that I do not 'judge', de-value for my life, and attempt to discard, becomes a drain on my vitality. Just as thorns irritate (and dilute focus) and fester and modify behavior (e.g., we 'favor' a foot with splinters in it, or a hand with a sore on it), so too do these un-uprooted 'Canaanites' in our life constantly reduce our effectiveness, the clarity of our life-witness, and our sheer energy-which-flows-from-purity-of-conscience. Eventually, we even lose the ability to 'see them' for what they are--we perhaps rationalize them as being 'necessities important to our ecosystem' (so we can serve the Lord undistractedly, at all the other times, of course!), or maybe we even move them into the 'not so bad' or 'I have bigger fish to fry FIRST' categories...

Now, let me tell you the only/associated problem with this obviously important directive: it is too easy to be dishonest in our 'canaanite' hunting! When I went through that logic in Devotions, I did my characteristic over-response: I whipped myself into a frenzy to hunt down all the little 'Canaanites' in my life and remove them. So far, so good. But the problem came when I had to evaluate individual 'candidates'. Some were very obvious, since the Lord had been working on me about those for some time (smile), but I found myself almost 'inventing some'--I took what I knew to be legitimate fruits of the freedom of the faith, but which my not-yet-sanctified-100% conscience still 'scolded me' about. In other words, I knew (truth/faith) that the attitude, behavior, celebration, etc was literally fought for by the very death of my Lord(!). I knew He set me free from legalism, from 'external measurements' of spirituality, from asceticism, and from 'false humility', but the vestiges of my childhood/cultural conscience still remains (and will until I get a new body) and wants to re-take the throne of moral Lordship in my life (from my Jesus). So, I had to really scrutinize each potential candidate, to be sure I was operating on the basis of truth/faith, rather than on the 'traditions of men' (as inculturated in me). This is  not as simple as it sounds, since both my 'old man' and my 'new man' have consciences somehow. I am supposed to live with a clear conscience, but when my heart contradicts the truth of God as I have learned it, my heart has to get demoted ("And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him 20 whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.", 1 Jn 3.19). My 'old conscience' is corrupted, self-righteous, dictatorial, self-exalting, and focuses on the external... So, I have to pursue honesty, constantly asking God to show me the 'real perspective', in His timing in my life.  But I DO know the power of an 'obvious canaanite' to weaken me, steal my joy, mute my song, slow my dance, and render my heart a little more pale...

Next. As I reflect over the ten+ years of the Tank, I am always reminded that some questions/objections are just unanswerable--because there's just no data to work with. Many of the arguments from silence (used by EVERYBODY in the world, including ME--sigh) can only be challenged with methodological responses (e.g., burden of proof, 'hasty induction', disqualifying the unstated assumptions, etc). I have gotten so sensitive to these (and the hopeless feeling they engender to someone like me) over the years, that I 'see these' as I read my bible casually! I read a passage and I just can IMAGINE a skeptic or Christian asking "why didn't God do X in this case? See, He cannot be a real God!" etc. Many/most of these are relatively low-in-shrapnel, but they are nonetheless advanced...

I remember vividly one passage in Judges earlier this year, 10:1-5: "After Abimelech, Tola son of Puah son of Dodo, a man of Issachar, who lived at Shamir in the hill country of Ephraim, rose to deliver Israel. He judged Israel twenty-three years. Then he died, and was buried at Shamir. After him came Jair the Gileadite, who judged Israel twenty-two years. He had thirty sons who rode on thirty donkeys; and they had thirty towns, which are in the land of Gilead, and are called Havvoth-jair to this day. Jair died, and was buried in Kamon." I tried to find more information about these two multi-decade judges but not much was available, and I imagined an email something like this: "What kind of a God would let these two people spend the best years of their life serving Him and helping His people, then give them 1-2 measly lines in the Bible?! Especially, when all the other judges got much fuller write-ups? Why would a good God slight and/or almost marginalize His subjects so thoughtlessly?!" The objection cannot be answered other than from general 'literary aims of the author' (which is the answer, of course), but the feel of slander against God's goodness nonetheless still hangs in the air. There are countless such arguments from the surface of the text--of this 'from silence' type--that simply cannot be answered from the text, from archeology, from history, etc. So, they can still eat at you, even though you KNOW the objection is off-base and flawed.

Now, I should also mention that--given the character of the literary portrayals of the judges in the book--it is a good possibility that God actually HONORED those two above the other, by simply leaving out their particular failings. Commentators have often noted that the Judges are portrayed in the worst possible light, as an object lesson to Israel at that time. So, perhaps the reader is supposed to ASSUME that these two were 'better than' the others, since any failings of theirs escaped mention. Just a thought...

One other rabbit-trail I went down while thinking about that passage: that the unnoticed-by-us will be announced-by-God in the New Future. Jesus mentions this principle explicitly in the "do these good things in secret, and your Father will reward you" passages (e.g., Matt 6) . Some of these rewards may/will be in time, but the day will come when the full commendation occurs (1 Cor 4.5). Given that one covenant-consequence of goodness is a good reputation, the fact that many sweet lovers of God & good are unnoticed by the world (or by other believers, in many cases) means that their 'good reputation' will be rewarded to them in the New Future! I think of the many, many people who are unnamed in the Bible, yet who play pivotal roles in redemptive history. I think of the people of ancient Israel who prayed for the nation and delayed the Exile as long as it could be delayed. I think of the unnamed women in the gospels, and the unnamed disciples in Acts--did God leave their names out JUST TO HAVE AN EXCUSE to honor them exceedingly in the Eschaton?! It's not at all unlike His heart to do something like that, IMHO.

Next.  At the risk of repeating myself (I covered this point in that home Bible study I started on the Psalms--the last section of the syllabus/audio dealt with the issue of the Imprecatory Prayers), I wanted to mention a consideration on the topic of the imprecatory prayers, which helped me better put these into perspective. The imprecatory prayers (many of which are in the Psalms) are essentially prayers for God to 'stop being patient with the wicked, and to get on with giving them the judicial consequences of their evil'. The prayer is thus like a biblical 'curse' (in the strict since of asking God to VISIT the promised curse-results of evil upon the perps). It appears more violent than simple 'judge the treacherous' because it LISTS and DESCRIBES many of the specific atrocities done by the violent, and asks God to fulfill His promises of reaping-sowing and 'reversal' (e.g., the wicked makes a pit, but falls into themselves). The more vivid images are the images of ANE war, of course, in which Israel asks God to send an equally-brutal foreign (not Israel!) conquering nation ('equally' for the equity/fairness, talion principle aspect) against the brutal foreign conquering nation that had just savaged Israel.

The two passages which added some new perspective to this were Lam 1.22 and Ps 7:

"All my enemies have heard of my distress;  they rejoice at what you have done.
May you bring the day you have announced so they may become like me.
Let all their wickedness come before you; 
deal with them as you have dealt with me because of all my sins". [Lam 1.21f]

"O LORD my God, if I have done this and there is guilt on my hands—
 if I have done evil to him who is at peace with me or without cause have robbed my foe—
 then let my enemy pursue and overtake me; let him trample my life to the ground
 and make me sleep in the dust." [Ps 7.3ff]

In the Lamentations passage, the author is pointing out that God had punished Israel for her crimes, and he asks that--since the wicked have rejoiced in enmity against Jeremiah--God would LIKEWISE judge the enemies for THEIR crimes. In other words, there is no favoritism here--Israel is just as subject to punishment as are the foreigners.

In the Psalms passage, David is actually making an imprecatory prayer against himself! Before he gets into asking for judgment upon his enemies, he wants to make sure the problem situation is not HIS FAULT. So he asks God to let his enemies WIN, if he himself is the perp. Instead of forgiveness, he asks for judgment upon himself--to preclude the possibility of him simply being an 'evil avenger' or 'evil curser' agent.

Job's discourse in chapter 31 is a series of such self-imprecations: "If I have done X... let Y be done to me"

As commentators frequently point out, imprecatory prayers are essentially calls to God to judge NOW and judge FULLY, instead of waiting for repentance (i.e., the damage being done is too great for the community to sustain) and instead of 'another small, symbolic corrective measure' (i.e., God has already done this repeatedly to the perps but they haven't listened--it is time to remove them). What these two passages do for me is to indicate that (a) Israel is aware that they are liable to (and often experienced) this judgment themselves; and (b) that Israel  understood that they should examine themselves first before asking for judgment upon others. This makes sense to me, especially in light of Jesus' "judge not lest you be judged" and "take the log out of your own eye, before trying to help with the speck in someone else's eye)... There's more to it than this, of course, but these two verses contributed to a more balanced view of the subject for me.

Next. There is a story in the OT/Tanaach that always 'shames me' (i.e., challenges me to think "bigger" of God than I do sometimes) and that story is of the young king Josiah (2 Kings 22ff). This young boy is crowned king at 8 years of age, and is described as a good king. At the age of 26, he institutes a repair program for the Temple, and the workmen find the "Book of the Law" amidst the rubble. They bring this document to Josiah, and read it aloud. It apparently contains the blessings-and-cursing sections of Deut (and the covenant nature of Israel's relation to YHWH), and Josiah is sensitive enough to be terrified by the words of God (shows his amazing faith, in the time of rampant apathy and disloyalty). He sends the scroll and leaders to the prophetess Huldah, who affirms that this judgment-curse will fall upon Judah, but adds that the LORD will postpone this horror until after Josiah has died--as a 'reward' to Josiah of his beautiful/faithful response to God's word.

Had Josiah been more like his ancestor Hezekiah, he might have selfishly accepted that as OK ("The word of the LORD you have spoken is good,” Hezekiah replied. For he thought, “Will there not be peace and security in my lifetime?” 2 Kings 20.19f), but he didn't. He loved his people--the Lord's people--more, and didn't accept this blessing as it stood. Instead, he instituted a major reform attempt to restore Judah's heart before God--knowing that God would QUICKLY relent, upon even the SLIGHTEST sign of Judah's renewal-heart. He knew--like Jonah--that an 'unconditional prophecy' of judgment was also 'no such thing'--God would always respond to the slightest indication (be it Jewish or pagan--cf. the actions of the ruler of Nineveh in response to Jonah's pronouncement of judgment) of a change of mind, of an openness to Him, of even a request for openness... He didn't give up on Judah, and tried to save his precious people. The reform was not truly heart-deep among the people, so judgment still fell upon Judah, but I am always so 'challenged' by this young man's faith. David made similar statements ("who knows if the Lord might relent?"), based upon his knowledge of God's passion to forgive, to heal, to comfort, to protect, to enjoy His people...

This challenges me to integrate more and more my understanding of God's beautiful, responsive, compassion heart into the way I see the world...

Next. And another challenge (since I am in self-shaming mode, a Jer 42-43. This is, unfortunately, too close to home sometimes! I KNOW I have done this in the past, suspect that I am somewhere doing this in the PRESENT, and expect (with regret) that I will undoubtedly do this in the future (sigh). In this passage, some residual, terrified remnant after fall of Jerusalem approach Jeremiah with this request:

Then all the army officers, including Johanan son of Kareah and Jezaniah son of Hoshaiah, and all the people from the least to the greatest approached  2 Jeremiah the prophet and said to him, “Please hear our petition and pray to the LORD your God for this entire remnant. For as you now see, though we were once many, now only a few are left.  3 Pray that the LORD your God will tell us where we should go and what we should do.” “I have heard you,” replied Jeremiah the prophet. “I will certainly pray to the LORD your God as you have requested; I will tell you everything the LORD says and will keep nothing back from you.” Then they said to Jeremiah, “May the LORD be a true and faithful witness against us if we do not act in accordance with everything the LORD your God sends you to tell us.  6 Whether it is favorable or unfavorable, we will obey the LORD our God, to whom we are sending you, so that it will go well with us, for we will obey the LORD our God.” [Jer 42.1ff]

Jeremiah prays for answering guidance from the Lord, and after he receives it, he delivers the directive from the Lord to these people.

Here is their response in 43:

When Jeremiah finished telling the people all the words of the LORD their God—everything the LORD had sent him to tell them—  2 Azariah son of Hoshaiah and Johanan son of Kareah and all the arrogant men said to Jeremiah, “You are lying! The LORD our God has not sent you to say, ‘You must not go to Egypt to settle there.’  3 But Baruch son of Neriah is inciting you against us to hand us over to the Babylonians, so they may kill us or carry us into exile to Babylon.”  So Johanan son of Kareah and all the army officers and all the people disobeyed the LORD’s command to stay in the land of Judah.

What I noted from this (in case you haven't already applied this to YOUR life already, too--smile) is that it is so much easier to 'look' (to others and yourself!)  righteous, open-to-God, submissive, servant-oriented, etc than it is to actually be such! I reflected over the situations in my life where I begged God to make His will known, and when He did--and I didn't like it--I 'explained it away' somehow (e.g., the message was somehow 'confused' due to my muddy heart and so I had to follow 'my God-given desires' instead, or other such subterfuges--of which I have many...sad chuckle).

These folks might have already had their minds made up before they asked God, or they might have simply rejected in as the response came--it doesn't matter. It is so much easier to profess a yielded heart, that it is to have or live one.

Next/Last. The next chapter of Jeremiah had a great example of the PR problem that a good-hearted God has. Judah has fallen under this massive, last-ditch Exile judgment because of her idolatry, inter-community treachery, and overall moral decay. God had appealed to His people for decades and decades--by the prophets--to abandon these things before He had to invoke the covenant "Penalties and Remedies" clause. His discipline during the 'warning' periods was minimal (at most), as a function of His patience and appeal-to-the-heart-first approach. But here's how post-judgment Israel responded (being voiced by the husbands/wives in this case) in the exchange with Jeremiah:

“Now this is what the LORD God Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Why bring such great disaster on yourselves by cutting off from Judah the men and women, the children and infants, and so leave yourselves without a remnant?  8 Why provoke me to anger with what your hands have made, burning incense to other gods in Egypt, where you have come to live? You will destroy yourselves and make yourselves an object of cursing and reproach among all the nations on earth.  9 Have you forgotten the wickedness committed by your fathers and by the kings and queens of Judah and the wickedness committed by you and your wives in the land of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem?  10 To this day they have not humbled themselves or shown reverence, nor have they followed my law and the decrees I set before you and your fathers. “Therefore, this is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: I am determined to bring disaster on you and to destroy all Judah. ...

15 Then all the men who knew that their wives were burning incense to other gods, along with all the women who were present—a large assembly—and all the people living in Lower and Upper Egypt, said to Jeremiah,  16 “We will not listen to the message you have spoken to us in the name of the LORD!  17 We will certainly do everything we said we would: We will burn incense to the Queen of Heaven and will pour out drink offerings to her just as we and our fathers, our kings and our officials did in the towns of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem. At that time we had plenty of food and were well off and suffered no harm.  18 But ever since we stopped burning incense to the Queen of Heaven and pouring out drink offerings to her, we have had nothing and have been perishing by sword and famine.” 19 The women added, “When we burned incense to the Queen of Heaven and poured out drink offerings to her, did not our husbands know that we were making cakes like her image and pouring out drink offerings to her?”

20 Then Jeremiah said to all the people, both men and women, who were answering him,  21 “Did not the LORD remember and think about the incense burned in the towns of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem by you and your fathers, your kings and your officials and the people of the land?  22 When the LORD could no longer endure your wicked actions and the detestable things you did, your land became an object of cursing and a desolate waste without inhabitants, as it is today.

This is one of those all-too-common cases where God almost 'cannot win'. If He is patient in judgment-bringing with wrongdoing (of this type), people can draw the wrong conclusion. If He judges them (us) quickly, we label Him as being 'harsh' or 'impatient' or not respecting our moral freedom (or even our 'moral goodness'!). I am consistently amazed at how many things we can 'fault God' about! It's like that blame-shift habit we acquired in the Garden, in which it is always God's (or somebody created by God) fault: "the woman YOU GAVE ME gave me to eat..." and "The serpent deceived me"...

I really, really, really want to reduce the amount of slandering of God I probably do....

Enough for now...more on the next one... as they say on the airlines sometimes ("Thank you for your patience"

little glenn,

June 25, 2006



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