No reboot necessary
Isaiah 1: If your sins are blood-red, they’ll be snow-white.
If I have the idea that the prophets are all about denunciation and condemnation I need to spend some time with this passage. Yes, God is fed up with their religious charades; their going-through-the-motions spirituality; their under-the-table shady deals. The Lord says he’s going to put a stop to it. However, it doesn’t have to be with defeat, misery, and destruction. “Let’s be reasonable about this,” the Almighty says, “we can fix this, and when I’m finished things will be better than before.” All it takes is their being sensible and cooperating with God. This isn’t about having a sword hanging over their necks. It’s about grace and mercy, not justice. It’s still true today. If God wants to do away with us it’s his right and it’s just what we deserve. However, rather than hitting the “delete button” on humanity he offers restoration. This passage is filled with sunlight and hope. Plus that, it’s a genuine offer from Heaven’s Throne to each of us. Come on; let’s be reasonable about this…God can fix things, making them right between us and Him. It’s too good an offer to refuse.
Take Away: Rather than a re-start of humanity the Lord wants to restore us. That’s grace.
The God of justice
Psalm 35: Punch these bullies in the nose
This Psalm is one of David’s Psalms of complaint. All David wants to do is serve the Lord. However, his enemies are making fun of him and taking advantage of every downturn in his life. David asks the Lord to act on his behalf and foil the plans of his enemies and ruin the fun they’re having at his expense. When all is said and done, David wants to hear his friends say, “see, everything works together for good for David, the servant of God.” Modern Christians are somewhat uncomfortable with David’s attitude toward his enemies. We know that the One we follow taught us to turn the other cheek. It’s probably reasonable that we filter our reading of Psalms of complaint through the Sermon on the Mount. Also, it’s helpful to view David’s desires for his enemies in the broadest possible terms. In other words, we may not join David in hoping God will strike down our enemies but we can join him in longing for the day when God sets all wrongs right. God is love, and he is also just. When we experience injustice not only in our lives, but in the lives of others it’s acceptable for us to look forward to the time when God gives those bullies a punch in the nose!
Take Away: The day is, indeed, coming when the Lord will set every wrong right.
Balancing the books
Psalm 10: God’s grace and order wins.
As did Job, the Psalmist considers the inequities of life. The wicked say, “God is dead” and continue down their evil paths. The Psalmist seeks God, knowing God is just and tries to understand how a just God can allow injustice to continue. He concludes that he hasn’t seen the end of it all yet. Sooner or later (and he hopes it’s sooner) God’s going to make things right. When he does, he says, the “orphans get parents” and the “homeless get homes.” That doesn’t mean I become a fatalist who makes no effort to right the wrongs in this world, but it does mean that I don’t get overwhelmed by it all and give up in despair. My best efforts will make a difference in the lives of those I minister to in the Name of the Lord, but a day is coming when the Lord will square every account. God will balance the books.
Take Away: The Lord has the last word in human affairs.
Believing against the evidence in the justice of God
Job 24: If Judgment Day isn’t hidden from the Almighty, why are we kept in the dark?
One topic that surfaces often in the book of Job is that of “inequity.” Job considers how often it is that the innocent suffer while the wicked get away with their evil. Still, Job’s sure of this: God knows what’s going on. Job doesn’t understand why it is that God doesn’t immediately make things right (he says “God does nothing, acts like nothing’s wrong”) yet he believes God is a God of justice and that sooner or later the Lord will act. This is a huge statement of faith for a man who’s experiencing his own “fate worse than death.” Even though the wicked appear to get away with it all Job says that “God has his eye on them.” Even as Job suffers his own personal torment, he still trusts that, in the end, God will make things right. This is a powerful understanding of the nature of God.
Take Away: We may not understand the here and how but we can understand that, ultimately, the Lord will make all things right.
Getting away with it
Job 21: They’re given fancy funerals with all the trimmings.
Zophar admits that, for a while, evil people get away with it. However, he says, their good times are always short-lived and then everything falls apart for them. Job is having none of it. He replies that he’s watched things too, and it isn’t very often that such people get their just deserts. In fact, he’s attended their funerals and heard the lies said about them even as their bodies were lowered into the ground. The big theme of Job’s story is “will a man serve God for nothing.” Then, as things play out, we’re confronted with the issue of human suffering. Is it possible that people suffer and it isn’t because God is angry with them? Now, we meet yet another theme. It’s the reverse concern. If it’s true, as Job contends, that sometimes people suffer through no fault of their own, is it also true that sometimes evil people get away with it? Is it possible that some enjoy all the pleasures of sin all the way to old age and never hit the brick wall of God’s judgment? I think that before this ordeal Job was fairly comfortable with Zophar’s philosophy. At least he hadn’t given it much thought. Now, he finds himself dealing with the issue of how unjust life can be. All the time God remains silent, allowing Job and his friends to grapple with it all. For most of us, reading through these discussions is more philosophical than anything else. Once in a while though, these issues become quite serious and they did for Job so long ago.
Take Away: Some people live their entire lives believing things to be true that aren’t. Once in a while though, we’re given the opportunity (or maybe “forced” is a better word) to get a fresh grip on “truth.”
Looking for justice
Job 14: If we humans die, will we live again?
This is one of the most famous statements in the book of Job and it comes as Job laments the unfairness of life. A tree can be cut down and yet be the source of new life, but Job hasn’t seen that with human beings. When a person, good or bad, dies and is buried it appears that it’s the end for them. Is there a possibility of resurrection? Job hopes so. After all, if God is good and yet people who serve him come to tragic ends and that is that, well, something is wrong! This insight doesn’t stop Job from his suffering and questioning, but it’s a brilliant insight concerning human suffering. We may not always see the full picture of God’s justice and goodness now, but the final chapter of his dealings with human beings isn’t written at the grave. If God’s justice isn’t seen this side of the grave, it must be seen beyond it.
Take Away: Without Easter Job has arrived at a theology of a resurrection. Isn’t that neat!
Life after death?
Job 13: How many sins have been charged against me?
In response to Zophar’s counsel, Job replies with some choice insults. He doesn’t need Zophar to lecture him. In fact Job already believes all the things his friend has said. Beyond that, Job assures him that everyone believes that stuff. Since Zophar and Job believe the same thing (that bad things only happen to bad people) Job again turns his attention to God. He wants to know exactly what sins have been charged against him. Perhaps there needs to be an audit of God’s bookkeeping system so the error against Job can be found. Still, even as he pleads with God to tell him what he’s done wrong, Job’s reminded of the uncomfortable fact of the unfairness of life in general. It may be that Job has never admitted this to himself before. It’s only as he sits here in absolute misery listening to his friends saying all the same things he’s said many times that he acknowledges that life isn’t as neatly ordered as he has believed. Both good and bad people alike have plenty of trouble come to their lives. It seems to Job that even a lowly ditch digger gets a day off once in a while. Shouldn’t God make life easy for human beings who only have a short life anyway? And, since our lives are so limited, is there something more, beyond this life? Job has no Easter story to draw from, but even in this distant day, he’s considering the possibility of life after death as a way God might “balance the books” of life.
Take Away: We know more about this than Job does; that ultimately the Lord will set all things right.
Seeking a righteous response
1Kings 2: The final verdict is God’s peace.
On his death bed David reminds Solomon of some unfinished issues that need attention. Solomon’s response is to execute some people. This isn’t pleasant devotional reading but there’s at least an insight into why David sets this agenda for his son. When Joab’s executed we’re reminded that he’s killed some innocent people. Then we read, “Responsibility for their murders is forever fixed on Joab and his descendants; but for David and his descendants, his family and kingdom, the final verdict is God’s peace.” We see that these executions aren’t for revenge but rather are for justice. David believes that if the crimes committed by these people are left without response that he and his descendants will be responsible in part for what happened. The concept here can only be carried so far and it’s important to remember that Solomon isn’t acting here as a vigilante. He’s acting in the capacity of king, head of the government. But let’s step away from the specific of executions and also lay aside the role of the government here. When I do that I’m still reminded that if I stand by while some wrong is done, declaring, “It’s none of my business” I become a part of that wrong. That’s true not only for government but for individual citizens as well.
Take Away: Sometimes doing nothing makes us as guilty in the eyes of the Lord as if we have done something.
The long arm of the law
1Kings 2: Do what God tells you. Walk in the paths he shows you.
The transition of the throne from David to Solomon will not be bloodless, but considering the day and age, it comes close to it. David calls for Solomon to come to him and they have a father-son (or maybe better, a king-king) talk. Some of what David says is lofty, truly uplifting. He encourages Solomon to walk in God’s ways. If he does that, the Lord will lead and bless him. Some of what David says sounds cold and calculating. There are some people who have acted in ways intended to promote their own agendas rather than his but for various reasons they’ve never been brought to justice. From his deathbed David lists them for the new king. He doesn’t tell him what to do in each case but he reminds him that he thinks something should be done. At its worst, this is just plain old revenge. At its best, it’s a cold reminder of reality. This, I think sums up David’s life. On one hand, he’s a hard pragmatist who’ll unflinchingly kill a man he thinks is a threat to the kingdom. On the other hand, he’s a man who loves God with all his heart, who can write soaring poetry and lift the spirits of all those around him. One thing is certain: there’s nothing lukewarm about David and that’s abundantly clear in this, his final appearance in the Bible.
Take Away: Let’s let David’s unhesitant devotion to the Lord inspire and challenge us in our own relationship with God.
There, but for the grace of God….
Judges 9: Just then some woman dropped an upper millstone on his head and crushed his skull.
Not all the inhumanity of Israel’s “dark ages” of Judges comes from the belligerent peoples surrounding them. A lot of the bleakness comes from within. Gideon apparently makes himself into a sheik and fathers lots of children. When he dies there’s a power struggle that’s won by Abimelech, the son of Gideon and one of his maidservants. Abimelech seals the deal by murdering his seventy brothers. However, he’s better at murder than he is at leading and within three years there’s mounting opposition to his rule. Abimelech acts to quash the rebellion and arrives at Thebez, a town known for its fortified tower. As this wicked leader prepares burn alive those who have taken refuge there a woman drops part of a millstone on his head, thus bringing an end to the short and evil leadership of Abimelech. This is an ugly, if somewhat interesting story of a bad man who does bad things and then dies in a violent, unexpected way. No doubt, the detail of his inglorious death is told to us that we might see the judgment of God on Abimelech. In the larger view, I’m reminded that when God is removed from their lives just how much these descendants of Abraham look like the other heathen of that land. When I look around my community and see people doing stupid, self-destructive things to themselves and one another; when I see them blindly pursuing worthless things; and when I see them stubbornly traveling down the wrong road I’m wise to remember that without the Lord in my life that could easily be me. One response then, is to be thankful for what the Lord’s doing in my life. It’s not about me – it’s all about him. Another response is that, rather than feeling superior, I’m to be compassionate to them. These are people who are like me. They just don’t yet know the Life Changer I know.
Take Away: There, but for the grace of God, go I.