Defending God

You are having a great conversation with a non-believer about God. Then they ask a question about one of those uncomfortable passages in Scripture, for instance perhaps one of these:

Timothy 2:11 “I permit no woman to teach or have authority over men; she is to keep silent.”

Matthew 5:40 “And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.”

Ephesians 6:9 And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. (OK to have slaves?)Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yoursis in heaven, and there is no favoritismwith him.

 

You feel like they have put God on the spot. After all, that is what the Bible says, but you don’t want to lose the chance to win them over. So you perhaps try to soften the meaning of the words.

 

Do we have to defend God? Do we have to make up excuses, or to try to explain things away that are embarrassing, or that we don’t quite get ourselves? In the end, when we downplay or amplify anything that God has said, we risk causing damage much worse than if we merely let His words stand unexplained.

 

I think of the very first example of this in the Bible: God had said: “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.”

The serpent purposely misconstrues those words when he says “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

In defense of God, Eve then says “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’ “.

 

Why are we not content to let God defend himself? We see that Eve chose to step in, to defend God’s honor, and in the process she tries to make God’s words closer to what she feels this other wants to hear. Don’t we do the same thing, albeit perhaps in the opposite direction, when we perceive that the other that we are talking to wants a softer, more comfortable God? Once Eve had let herself stretch the truth just a bit, there was an opening for greater damage.

 

Maybe we need to be willing to trust God to defend himself, and instead focus on the need of the person at hand. I think of how Jesus handled the woman at the well, as also he did others, in each case addressing their need, but not equivocating on the reality of their sin. I can’t help but think that Eve would have been much more able to resist the serpent’s follow-up temptation if she had stood simply on God’s Word as it was spoken, neither weakened or amplified. And perhaps if we trust God’s difficult to swallow words enough to let them stand unaltered, then perhaps we can trust his words of grace to stand unaltered as well. And we can share that good news with more passion – and compassion.

When you get your big break…

What is the first thing you choose to do when God bountifully blesses you in your business or job?  Suppose you got a big promotion –  or landed the deal of the century.  What would you do?

Here is what 3 business partners did, in Luke 5:4-11:

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.  Simon answered, “Master,  we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything.  But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”  When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break.  So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink. 8 When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!”  For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid;  from now on you will catch men.”  So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.

Really Peter?  The most profitable day of your life, and you just walk away? Immediately?

Clearly, when Jesus healed his mother-in-law, Peter took notice, otherwise Peter would never have gone out after a long fruitless night, when all he really wanted was to get to bed, and let his just-cleaned nets down to be gunked up again.  Perhaps he felt he owed Jesus one,  or at least some respect as a rabbi. I bet he was thinking “Man, I wish he had gotten int James and John’s boat instead”.  I wonder if, when he said “because you say so, I will let down the nets.” his tone of voice said “are you crazy?” or “I’ll humor you” or was really whiny.  And how much muttering under his breath, or in his mind went on before he got out to the deep water?

And then there are the two partners on shore sitting there winking, grinning, and poking each others ribs as they anticipate the jibes they will be able to throw at Pete once the teacher has left, and is out of earshot.

What could cause three normally level-headed businessmen to give up a going concern for a life where you never knew when or where you would get your next meal?  What could cause you to take that kind of risk?  Would you really be willing to drop everything in an instant for His call?

Or would you rationalize that God means for you to just use the bounty he has given you, without making a big change?

Listen to this parody (lyrics here) and see if this is you.

The Whisperer

1 Kings 19:11-12

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord,

but the Lord was not in the wind.  

After the wind there was an earthquake,

but the Lord was not in the earthquake.  

After the earthquake came a fire,

but the Lord was not in the fire.  

And after the fire came a gentle whisper.

So much for Earth, Wind, and Fire.

If you have never seen God work in your life, perhaps it is because you expected an earthquake, and missed the whisper.  My son recently had an essay question something like: “Tell about an event that seemed insignificant at the time, but later you realized had a profound effect on you life or the way you think.”  That is not an easy question to answer if you have not lived long or learned to listen for a whisper.

I feel truly blessed to have been given on a few occasions  insight into the effects of God’s behind-the-scenes whisper.  I am a reasonably successful computer programmer, and about eleven years ago, I received an email  by mistake, out of the blue, from someone  I did not know.  In it they asked  if I (actually if the person they intended the email for) would  come and be the pastor of their church in another state.  I happened to be looking for another programming job at the time so I wrote something to the effect of “My background is entirely in computer programming, are you sure this was intended for me?”  And that was the end of it.

Except that about eight years later I began to consider becoming a pastor, and a few years later have begun planning and training in earnest for it.

I think that God takes great delight in the way that his whispers have shaped and changed our world.   And, because He very much does enjoy it when His people get into the act, He quite often whispers to us something like “Encourage Jim” or “Stop by Tom’s house” or “Ask Elizabeth how you can pray for her.”  And whether we see the results or not, His whispers to and thru us significantly impact individuals and society.   Saturday, Joe, a salesman that I know recounted how eighteen years after last speaking with a belligerent scoffer, he met the man again, now a believer and a pastor who attributed his change to Joe’s testimony!

Even though Elijah heard the words that God whispered that day, he was too caught up in himself and the world to hear what God really had to say.  And he missed an opportunity.  Let us train ourselves to listen for God’s whispers.

God is there, and he is not silent.  But he often only whispers.

No Change in Character

Malachi 3:6  “I the Lord do not change.  So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed”

Have you ever thought how bad it would be for you and I if God did change? If  you work for someone where one day your actions please him, and the next day the same actions don’t, not only would it be frustrating, but also eventually you would be out of a job.  Does that affect your feeling of security?  Now imagine that instead of just being your boss, this person capriciously determines whether and what you eat.  Feeling insecure yet?  Now consider if that person had the power to grant you life or death.  Wouldn’t you feel better in the hands of someone who doesn’t change their mind over time?  As the ultimate person of power over the universe, if God was not unchanging we would be in a precarious position, always uncertain, waiting for the axe to fall as it would inevitably  – only we would have the agony of not knowing when.  But as He tells us in the Bible, He does not change.  And we know that He does not lie: when you are the ultimate power, what would you gain by lying?  Instead you just state the reality and expect everyone else to deal with it.

In Malachi there are plenty of warnings of discipline to a people who were behaving badly.  These people were inconsistent, they did vacillate and change;  and you’d think God would justifiably take their evil as reason to destroy them.  But God does not change.  His behavior is not dependent on ours.  In this verse he tells the people that they will not be destroyed, as they clearly deserved.  An the reason given is simple – “I the Lord do not change.”  In other words He does not go back on His promises, on what He has already decided.

This should give you and I great confidence in our situation.  We can trust God’s promises.   When he says that all we need to do is believe that His son Jesus died and rose from death for us, we can take supreme comfort in knowing that we who believe will likewise rise from the dead to life eternal.

Despite our continuing and sometimes awful failings.   Be glad that God does not change.

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