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Posts Tagged ‘God’s Justice’

Untamable God – Part 2

Continued…

One of the most powerful kings to ever rule the earth learned the lesson of God’s sovereignty the hard way.  Nebuchadnezzar thought that he was in control and that he had accomplished everything without any input from a god.  In fact, he thought he was a god.  In a dream (Daniel 4), he learns that his kingdom will be taken away unless he acknowledges God’s sovereignty and majesty.  Four times (4:17; 4:25; 4:32 and 5:21) the reader of Daniel’s book is reminded “the most High God is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and sets over them anyone he wishes.”  This echoes Psalm 47, which says, “God reigns over the nations…for the kings of the earth belong to God; he is greatly exalted” (vv. 8, 9).  This is a lesson that king Nebuchadnezzar was about to learn the hard way.

It took a long time before Nebuchadnezzar learned his lesson, but in the end he finally acknowledged that “the Most High…does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth.  No one can hold back his hand or say to him: ‘What have you done?’ ” (4:35).  As the Sovereign Creator, God does what He wants without questions.  He does not have to answer to anyone for His actions or non-actions.

This was the lesson that Isaiah learned and tried to teach Israel:  “You turn things upside down as if the potter were thought to be like the clay!  Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘He did not make me’?  Can the pot say to the potter, ‘He knows nothing’?” (Isaiah 29:16, see also 45:9, 10).  Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it?  Yet, is that not precisely what we often say or how we act when God seems to not work in the way we think He should.  We fall into completely denying Him (“He is not God…at least not my god.”) or accusing Him of not knowing what He’s doing (as if He should or would do what we would do).

After going through an interminable period of one trial after another, Job and his friends argued over what was the “cause-and-effect” of Job’s seeming down-turn in fortune.  Job didn’t want to accuse God, but did want to make his point to God that he should receive the equivalent of a “Get Out of Jail Free” card for all his troubles since he had been so good (i.e. “righteous”).  Job’s friends – rightly still called today “Job’s comforters” – argued that Job must have done something wrong and needed to repent.  Both Job and his friends seemed to think that they had some kind of “Club Membership” that allow them to skip life’s difficulties and traumas.  It is no wonder, then, that the Sovereign God finally shows up to put both in their places:  Job’s friends for falsely accusing Job, and Job for questioning God’s sovereignty.  (Turns out that we get into trouble spiritually when we take the judgment seat to pronouncement judgments against our friends and God.  It seems that seat is reserved for only One Being.)

God puts Job in on the spot, just as He does all humans who think they know better than God how to run the world, by asking him, “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?” (38:1).  After that, Job gets an earful from God as God goes through a series of questions that ask, in one form or another, “Where were you when I….?” and, essentially, “When I was creating this…what were you doing?”

Finally, God the righteous judges sits down to listens to Job’s reply after asking him, “Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him?  Let him who accuses God answer him!” (40:2).  Smartly, Job simply answers, “How can I reply to you?  I put my hand over my mouth” (40:3).  God is not through, however, and launches into another series of questions that ultimately sound like, “Since you think you can do a better job, Job, you come up here and sit on this throne for a while!”  Again, Job, getting God’s message loud and clear finally admits, “I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwartedI spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know” (42:2, 3).

Grand Coulee Dam at Night, Summer 2009

Grand Coulee Dam at Night, Summer 2009 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

Three of Daniel’s friends seemed to understand this about God.  They were placed in the ‘hot seat’ for their faith – literally.  They refused to bow to a golden image of king Nebuchadnezzar; even with the king and his royal entourage right in front of them.  (Talk about being “put on the spot” and peer pressure at the same time!)  They were threatened to be thrown into a fire furnace heated seven times hotter than normal; so hot it instantly killed the soldiers charged with throwing them into the furnace.  One would think – according to our modern American pop-theology – that then would have been a great time for God to show up.  He did not.

Divine interference would have been the preferred action before the fire in our thinking.  However, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego recognized God’s sovereignty in their situation.  Their response to Nebuchadnezzar’s angry threat was “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king.  But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up” (3:17, 18).  That, my friends, is faith in a big God who is Sovereign to do as He wills.  God did rescue them but in the midst of the fire, not before.  I cannot imagine these three Hebrew young men arguing with God, “Seriously?  Couldn’t you have showed up a little sooner!?

Perhaps some Muslims have an understanding of a sovereign deity better than American Christians do.  Granted, it has led many of them into a fatalism of their faith.  That has been a danger for Christians too.  However, when they do not readily recognize God’s plans or will, then they have learned to say, Inshallah” – “As Allah wills.”  Jesus, who as the Son of God knew the heavenly Father’s heart, will and plans better than anyone, also prayed “not as I will, but as You will” (Matt. 26:39; Luke 2:42).  No wonder He taught His disciples and us to include in our prayers, “Your will be done one earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:9 – 13; Luke 11:2 – 4).

It seems that God refuses to be tamed and be made nice for us to play with in our leisure. On the other hand, do we really want a God that we can put in our pocket like a rabbit’s foot lucky-charm?  Is a God who is always disposed to our whims really big enough to serve or worthy of worship?  I don’t think so.  The One who sits over all His creation and all the nations of the earth is too big, too untamable.  He does as He pleases.  We serve Him, not He us.  If this is true, and I believe it is, then we better get used to being more like Job when it comes to things we cannot explain.  Admit that God is too big to explain and shut up.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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Bleeding on the Altar of Self-sacrifice

Humanity’s relationship with the divine has always been a miserable one.  In the Judeo-Christian system of belief, the fault is laid at the feet of the first couple, Adam and Eve, in the Garden of Eden.  The shattering of an idyllic relationship with humankind’s Creator and surrounding creation was the result of their disobedience and rebellion.  Their offspring, right down to us who are alive today, still refers to that episode as “The Fall.”  A clear indication that something was lost.

Efforts by humanity to regain that privileged position with their Creator and with creation has resulted in a myriad of convoluted religious beliefs systems.  Of course, in the modern era, the idea that one can completely opt out of any and all religious belief systems is now an option.  Thus, atheism has become a religion and religious expression all its own.  However, for the majority of the world, some type of belief in a deity(ies) still exists.  It affects how life is conducted on every level of human existence.

One thing they seem to bear in common is some sort of system for sacrifice to appease their god(s) or spiritual beings (if they are animists).  There appears to be a human universal need to “pay for one’s sins” to gain approval from these divines.  A predominant idea throughout all religious systems is that reality involves more than just what can be seen.  There is a larger reality in the unseen world that affects what is going on in the seen world.

Where the Christian faith diverges from these other world religions is the view that a sacrifice is no longer needed (at least in the Protestant stream).  It begins with God’s revelation to the children of Israel, the Jews.  God, by his revelation through the ancient patriarchs – Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – then later Moses and then reaffirmed through the Prophets, set up a better sacrificial system.  More important, meaning and explanation accompanied the revelation for the sacrificial system that pointed to a time when sacrifices would no longer be needed.

The sacrifices of grains and animals really do not change the heart of humanity.  They only bear witness to the cost of our continued rebellion and disobedience to our Maker.  Thus, in God’s timing, He sent His son, Yeshua = Joshua/Jesus.  According to His divine plan, this God-man who lived a perfect life became a sacrifice for all of humanity and all of human sin.  Ironically, we killed him.

Our Jewish and Gentile fore-bearers unrighteously judged him, unjustly condemned him and then put him to death in a cruel fashion by crucifixion.  Nevertheless, because of the Son’s willing obedience to take all of humanity’s punishment, God raised him from the dead and restored him to his heavenly place of rule and authority.  A few hundred people testified to seeing him after dying and being buried.  We have their testimonies written down for us to digest, accept and believe or disbelieve.

One would think that this would be the end of the story – at least in the Christian realm.  But, no.  The story continues to unfold in human history.  There are many who reject the idea that one person, no matter how perfect, could die for another and that it would be enough to satisfy God’s demand for justice and judgment against human sin.  Still, there are many others who believe the story and accept the sacrifice of God’s son for their own sin.  They continually remind themselves of this by partaking in the Eucharist or Holy Communion.

Nevertheless, even among those who accept the story witnessed to by so many, believe upon it and choose to live their lives by it, there is a creeping attitude or idea that something more must be required.  So, Christians create their own altars for their own sacrifices hoping to add to what Christ already did upon the cross, in the grave and through the resurrection.  Even those who are children of the Protestant Reformation and think of themselves as holding to “evangelical” beliefs struggle with this issue.

This struggle is more particularly acute when Christians go through troubling times and hardships.  A whole “Christian” nation can take on this attitude in turbulent times.  We want to find a reason for our suffering – or bad turn of luck.  We too quickly turn back to a pagan view of God that determines we must have done something – sinned – to anger the deity and now he is poised against us.  So, we search for ways to satisfy the deity’s anger, appease it and regain its approval and blessing – or at least neutrality so as not to oppose us in our plans and desires for a peaceful and happy existence.

Pink Rhododendrun Flowers, Spring 2010

Pink Rhododendrun Flowers, Spring 2010 Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

I was reminded of this troubling trend in our Christian history when I came across how many responded to the Black Death Plague – also called the Bubonic Plague – in Europe during the middle ages.  I have just finished reading John Man‘s book, “Gutenberg: How One Man Remade the World with Words.  He highlights in one chapter the actions of “the flagellants.”

The popular idea then, much as it is now, is that the God of the Bible promised not only salvation in the next life but also constant support in this one.  However, in the face of the troubling Black Death (Bubonic Plague) epidemic He seemed impotent, if not hostile towards humanity through the disease.  The explanation?  God must be angry and was clearly out to punish all of Europe and the Church – either actively or by neglect and indifference.  So, God must be somehow mollified.  This took many forms, of course, but one of the radical forms were the crazed devotees who marched from city to city through Europe lashing themselves with iron-tipped whips while crying out for God’s mercy.  Fellow devotees would then follow them moaning and dabbing themselves with the blood of the flagellants.

Another radical form was to find blame in someone else and make them pay the price.  While today the Church likes to look outside itself and blame homosexuals, pornography, gambling, liquor, liberal politicians and other spiritual “enemies”, the Church then chose to blame the Jews.  Already labeled as Christ-torturers and child-murders, all across Germany the rumor spread that they were also “well-poisoners.”  Thus, one series of many Jewish persecutions took place all across Europe.

Jews were burned on a wooden scaffold in the churchyard in Strasbourg.  This was replicated in almost all of the cities along the Rhine river.  In Antwerp and Brussels, entire Jewish communities were slain.  In Erfurt, 3,000 perished as sacrifices for the cause of the Black Plague.  In Worms and Frankfurt, instead of facing the same fate, the Jews chose to go out in Masada-like fashion and committed mass suicide.  In Mainz, Germany, 100 were burned outside of St. Quentin’s Church on St. Bartholomew’s day.  All were ultimately sacrifices to attempt to appease “God’s” anger and restore deserved blessing and peace to Europe.

While reading about these sad episodes in human history, I could not help but think that we really have not come that far in the Christian faith.  There is still a propensity to want to “pay back” God for our sin.  When bad things happen, Christian too often look for a cause-and-effect.  We want an explanation; preferably an understandable one.  The fact remains that there often is not one.  God remains God and does not need to explain his actions or non-actions to us.  His goodness comes to those who deserve it and those who do not.  Likewise, bad things visit humanity indiscriminately – to good people and bad people.

Christians often think that their faith in God somehow gives them a “Club Membership” to a trouble-free life.  So, when disease, tragedy, disaster or unexpected death visit us, we think that our “Membership Dues” must not be paid up.  We think we must “sacrifice” something to get back in to the “Club” of God’s favor.  How wrong!

As a spiritual leader in churches, I have witnessed good Christian people go through all kinds of agony trying to find an explanation for why bad things happen to them.  Early on in my spiritual journey, I always thought that I owed them and explanation.  After all, I am the one who went to Bible School and Seminary.  I should have the answers, right?  What a relief to finally come to the conclusion that I do not.  And I do not have to have “the answer(s).”  The fact is that most of the time, there is no answer.

And perhaps that is just the point.  When God remains distant and in the shadows of human tragedy and suffering, it may be that He is there to witness our faith in action when it is needed most.  After all, no one really knows what they truly believe until they are put under the stress of a trial or spiritual test.  It is then that what we truly believe in our hearts – our souls – really comes out and is evident to us and all those around us.  It is then that we discover the real bankruptcy of our “faith” or when we realize how very vibrant and real our faith truly is for us.

At any rate, faith in what God accomplished through the Messiah should be sufficient for us.  There is nothing more that we can add to his sacrificial death or resurrection.  We cannot create another altar and offer our own sacrifices upon it.  There is no other altar, no other sacrifice and no other payment necessary to appease God’s wrath.  He only accepts his son, Jesus the Messiah.  No other.  Only those who come to him through what his son did are received by him.  There is no other way.

So, the next time you feel the tug to “offer a sacrifice” to please God, remember that He has already made one for you.  There is nothing more that you can offer.  There is no trophy, no price, no sacrifice anyone can offer to God where they will be able to say to Him, “Look what I have offered to you!  Are you not pleased with me?  Don’t you owe it to me to bless me and always keep me happy now?”  Such an approach is a bankrupt one.  It fails to recognize the cost of His son’s sacrifice and is an affront to Him.

If you are finding yourself bleeding on the altar of self-sacrifice because you thought you could earn God’s favor, it is time to get off of it and be set free.  No amount of guilt, hand-wringing, praying, fasting, giving, worrying, church attendance or any other spiritual flagellation will earn you any credits in His account book until you learn to accept and live in the forgiveness and grace freely given to you through Christ.  Like so many before me, I too have often “beat myself up” mentally and spiritually thinking that everything that went wrong was my fault and that I must have done something to displease God.  I have learned to recognize that as a subtle spiritual lie of the enemy of my soul, the devil.  He would have me do anything but accept and live freely in what Christ accomplished.

After all, self-sacrifice is just another form of self-worship.  Self-worship is what caused Satan’s downfall in the first place.  By attempting to make our own sacrifices and meet God on our terms, we are only attempting to do what Satan did before His fall from heaven.  Only God dictates the terms for the satisfaction of divine judgment and justice.  Otherwise, He would not be God.  So, He has provided the answer or solution.  He has already established the altar and received the sacrifice.  It is time for us to stop bleeding on the altar of our self-sacrifices and worship at the throne of grace and mercy.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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There are two powerful mental and spiritual weapons used to ensure the continued decay of our world and culture.  They are resignation and despair.  One teaches us to believe that it is no use attempting to change things the way they are, let alone hope for any change.  The other teaches us that the world is beyond hope and we will do good just to get ourselves out alive and unscathed.  These trap us into a world of hopeless worry and chilled inactivity.

Jesus introduced a different way to view the world.  It is a world that is under siege by evil spiritual forces and human wickedness.  It is a world which he invaded with his Kingdom to “undo the works of evil.”  When Jesus came to earth, he did not arrive to just check on conditions and then report back to heaven what he witnessed.  He came to change the human and world condition.  Everything about his life was a divine rebellion against the status quo.

The divine rebellion Jesus started was meant to bring everything on earth under the dominion of his Kingdom.  In fact, he promised not to come back “until the gospel of this Kingdom is preached to all the peoples of the earth.”  In other words, he fully expects his followers to continue this divine rebellion until every tribe, language, and people group has had an opportunity to join the rebellion.

While on earth, wherever Jesus went he proclaimed “freedom for the captives” and set people free from demonic oppression, sickness, and disease.  He rebelled against the wicked corruption of the religious leaders of the day.  The Son of Man refused to accept things as he saw them on earth.  His mission was to bring the Kingdom of God to earth to rescue it and redeem it from the stranglehold of its satanic ruler.  The all powerful weapon wielded against Satan’s rule was his death and resurrection.  He broke the back of Satan’s power in death.  He liberated death’s captives by his resurrection.  Through his complete submission to the Heavenly Father, he gained “all authority in heaven and on earth.”  One day, everyone and everything will declare that he is absolute Lord and God.

Until then, he has left the work of this divine rebellion against the status quo to his followers.  We continue his work of undoing the works of evil and setting spiritual captives free through his authority and the power of his Spirit at work in us.  We bring people into the Kingdom of God by baptizing them into this new world order and allegiance to its King.  We teach them the Way and how to observe what Jesus taught.  Then, we train them to join this divine rebellion and to not accept resignation or despair.

Most of the world’s philosophies would get us to accept things “as they are.” They push their followers toward quiet acceptance of the status quo.  Stoics claim that any unwillingness to accept the existing world is useless and vain.  They would get us to believe that “the way things are” is an expression of God’s will.  So, trying to change the world or pray that God would make changes is bad.  Buddhists tell us that the way to true spiritual enlightenment is to embrace the way things are in the world.  Even secularists hold a view that sees an inevitability to life and the world as it is.  It is better, they teach us, to accept life the way it is and deal with the reality of it than to attempt to hope for change; especially change through any spiritual means or belief in a god.

However, Jesus taught and modeled a different way.  Probably the most significant for his followers is prayer.  Whenever believers pray, it is by its nature a rebellion against the status quo – the state of the world as it is.  In particularly, petitionary prayer expresses a faith in God’s willingness and ability to bring change to our world.  David Wells, in an article in Christianity Today (Vol. 17, No. 6), states,

It is the absolute and undying refusal to accept as normal what is completely abnormal.  It is the rejection of every agenda, every scheme, every opinion that clashes with the norms that God originally established.  Our petitionary prayers are an expression of the unbridgeable chasm that separates Good from Evil, a declaration that Evil is not a variation on Good but its very opposite.”

Jesus told his followers that “At all times we should pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1).  So, if we succumb to resignation or despair, we surrender a biblical view of God that says God is present and has the ultimate authority and power to change things.  In essence, we say that it is useless to pray as Jesus taught us, “your kingdom come, your will be done.”  Why even exert ourselves to pray if God is not present nor able to change the status quo?  Thus, we end up striking a truce with all that is wrong in the world instead of being angry enough to call upon God and his justice, mercy, grace, and redeeming love.

When we pray, we are openly declaring that God and this world are at cross-purposes.  To not pray is to act as though they are not.  Unfortunately, most of us have gotten too used to talking about the world’s problems than praying about them.  It is easier for me to point my finger and shake my head at the world’s wickedness and evil than to engage it in petitionary or intercessory prayer.  I allow the resignation of “the way things are” and the growing despair over what appears to be hopeless situations to rob me of my most potent and powerful influence in the worlds as it is:  Prayer.

When I pray, “your kingdom come, your will be done,” it is more than a blanket prayer to cover all situations.  It is specifically asking the Lord of lords and King of kings to bring his authority and dominion to bear in a particular circumstance in my life or my world.  When I pray, “on earth as it is in heaven,” I am asking for that same supreme and absolute authority and dominion that God Almighty has in heaven to be displayed in a particular place and time here on earth.  It is to cry out as the psalmist did, “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down!”

Rose in Full Bloom, Bush House Gardens, Summer 2009

Rose in Full Bloom, Bush House Gardens, Summer 2009 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

Jesus’ life was filled with prayer.  He refused to live in the world or do the Father’s business on any other terms than the Father’s.  If he, the Son of God, required so much time in prayer to discern, discover, and disclose the will and mission of God in his life every day, how much more is required of us who follow him?  Or, do we think we are more capable than he?  Of course not.  More likely, like his disciples in a storm tossed boat in the middle of a dark night, we have surrendered to resignation and despair.  However, Jesus’ life and discipline in prayer was a divine rebellion against the world in its perverse and fallen abnormality.

If you are like me, the objection to this is on a very practical level, “But I have prayed and nothing seems to change!”  This is perhaps why “prayer” and “do not give up” or “persistence” is always coupled in the Bible.  Jesus tells the parable of the persistent widow before an unjust judge.  He was determined not to hear her case.  However, because of her persistence, she won her day in court and received the justice due her.

God is not an unjust judge.  In fact, Jesus’ comparison is to point out how much better God is than a corrupt and unjust earthly judge.  The main truths, however, do not concern the character of the judge but of the widow.  First, she refused to accept her unjust situation.  In her world during the time of Jesus, her unjust and unresolved situation would have been the status quo for widows who do not have an elder male to plead their case.  Jesus is making the point that his followers, also, should not accept or resign themselves to evil and wickedness in this world.  The other example we find in the character of the widow is that, despite her discouragements and setbacks, she refused to resign or despair.  She persisted in her cause; so should we.

The problem does not necessarily lie in our practice of prayer.  We are persistent.  Most of us would get an “A” on our heavenly report card for persistence and effort.  Where we are most challenged is in our understanding the nature of prayer.  Too often, we consider it a “Get Out of Jail Free” card in the great “Cosmos Monopoly” game.  Instead, prayer is my service and my part in the Kingdom of God’s warfare against the devil and his works upon the earth.

Prayer goes way beyond my private concerns, though it includes them, to include Kingdom wide concerns around the whole world.  It is more than just a religious experience or spiritual discipline then.  It is to stand in the courtroom of the world and plead “the case” against what is wrong and for what is right.  It is about my participation in the divine rebellion against the status quo until “all things are placed under his feet.”

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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