The Bible wasn’t written to tell God what he has to do

gavelAs we continue talking about baptism (I’ll get back to Acts 2:38), there is something important that needs to be said. The Bible wasn’t written to tell God what he has to do. Whether it’s about salvation, end times, heaven/hell, or the sun rising in the east, God continues to be God.

Specifically, God will have mercy on whom he chooses to have mercy. He will have compassion on whom he will have compassion. When someone asks, “Can a person in ___ condition be saved?”, answer is always yes. They can be saved. God is still God.

God has revealed to us that he cannot lie. He also does not change. But he does “repent” from punishment. It’s the story of the book of Jonah. He also forgives sin when the heart is right. Isn’t that the story of Aaron’s sons Eleazar and Ithamar? God can accept those who don’t meet all the requirements, like when David ate the showbread or when Hezekiah prayed for the people who weren’t ritually clean and God allowed them to participate in the Passover.

We need to remember how God described himself in Exodus 34:

“The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.” (Exodus 34:6–7)

Slow to anger. Quick to forgive.

And also a God who punishes. Even as we recognize the right people have to throw themselves on God’s mercy, we have no right to preach the exceptions. Jonah preached doom in Nineveh, despite being convinced that God would show mercy. We don’t get to decide when God will extend mercy beyond what he has revealed. God retains that right. Will he do it at times? Most probably. But only when he chooses; not when I choose.

The Bible wasn’t written to tell God what he has to do. Human logic doesn’t have that power either. In the end, we have to let God be God.

Not what God had in store?

blame God cartoonHerschel Sims is a young man who deserves a chance to get his life back on the right track. A local hero here in Abilene, he led Abilene High to a state championship in 2009. He then went to Oklahoma State and had an excellent freshman year. Then he got in trouble with the law and got kicked out of school. Now he’s at ACU, hoping to play football again. I hope it goes well for him.

In an article in yesterday’s Abilene Reporter-News, Sims made the following statement:

They miss me up there, and I miss them dearly. It just wasn’t what God had in store for me.

Wait a minute! I know that’s a common theological outlook, but surely we can see how ridiculous this point of view is.

God didn’t set young Mr. Sims up to fail. He didn’t lay a trap for him, causing him to forge checks he had stolen from a teammate. This isn’t God’s fault.

It’s not about what God had in store for Mr. Sims. I hope that God will take this mistake and use it to change Sims’ life. God can take man’s sin and bring good out of it.

But God isn’t responsible for that sin. Sorry, Mr. Sims. I’m guessing that God had very good things in store for you. You messed up and missed out on them… as we all have. I hope and pray that you’ll know how to receive the blessings God sends your way in the future. May we all get better at overcoming sin.

Cartoon from The New Yorker (January 16,2012)

Why not try God’s way

We’ve seen that human solutions are never as good as divine ones. We’ve seen that evil rulers and nations are sometimes agents of God to bring about a greater good. We’ve seen that God’s timetable for dealing with evil often spans decades and centuries.

So let’s tie some of this together. What are the sorts of things that make us forego “Sermon on the Mount” responses in favor of violent responses? It’s usually things like:

  • Said dictator/country/terrorist is so evil that we must act
  • Said situation is so urgent that we must act
  • Military action will solve this situation permanently

Problem is, none of that squares with what we see in the Bible. God and God alone takes care of evil. He often uses other evil people to do it. (which is something to consider when we choose to step into that role!)

God takes care of things on his own time. Part of faith is being willing to wait on the Lord, rather than rush ahead to human solutions.

And our solutions are never as good as God’s solutions. Our wars “solve” one problem and create a new one. World War II was won by working with Communist leaders, which led to the Cold War. The Cold War was fought by arming Muslim extremists against the Soviets, which led to Al Qaida and other terrorist groups. And so on.

What if Christians tried doing things God’s way instead of man’s way? It’s at least worth a try.

Photo from MorgueFile.com

Waiting on the Lord

Soldiers were coming to kill their babies. On a regular basis. The Israelites had suffered as slaves at the hands of the Egyptians for hundreds of years. None of them knew what freedom felt like. But this was much worse. Genocide.

Exodus chapters 1 and 2. Egyptians were killing Israelite babies. God’s people cried out to him and he heard their voice. He sent them a deliverer.

Eighty years later.

Eighty years. It was a crisis, an emergency situation. All human reasoning says that something had to be done at that moment. Divine reasoning agreed… and allowed the baby to be born that would bring about justice. Eighty years later.

But that’s the Old Testament, you say. Right you are. Let’s look at the book of Revelation. Christians were being persecuted. One had been killed. More were about to be killed. The people wanted to know what they should do: fight or flee.

God had a different plan: stay and suffer. And he would take care of the Romans. A couple of centuries later.

A couple of centuries later.

Human reasoning says, “Take care of it now. Bring about justice by your own hand. Something must be done immediately.”

Divine reasoning says, “I’ll take care of it. In my time.”

Do we have enough faith to wait on the Lord?

Drawing by Distant Shores Media/Sweet Publishing

Bad people used by God

drawing by Annie Vallotton, Good News Bible

Habakkuk was troubled. To put it mildly. His nation was full of corruption. Injustice. Abuse of power. The good people, like Habakkuk, prayed. God didn’t answer.

Chapter 1 of the book of Habakkuk records his lament:

How long, O Lord, must I call for help,
but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, “Violence!”
but you do not save?
Why do you make me look at injustice?
Why do you tolerate wrong?
Destruction and violence are before me;
there is strife, and conflict abounds.
Therefore the law is paralyzed,
and justice never prevails.
The wicked hem in the righteous,
so that justice is perverted.

(Habakkuk 1:2-4)

Then God did answer. Literally. He answered Habakkuk and shared with him the plan: God was going to raise up Babylonia, a “ruthless and impetuous people” (1:6), to punish Judah.

Habakkuk didn’t like that answer at all. He tried to be respectful, but he knew that God must be overlooking the fact that Babylonia was evil. They were the bad guys. Could God possibly use evil people to punish “the good guys”?

O Lord, are you not from everlasting?
My God, my Holy One, we will not die.
O Lord, you have appointed them to execute judgment;
O Rock, you have ordained them to punish.
Your eyes are too pure to look on evil;
you cannot tolerate wrong.
Why then do you tolerate the treacherous?
Why are you silent while the wicked
swallow up those more righteous than themselves?

(Habakkuk 1:2-4)

God later reassures Habakkuk that the Babylonians themselves will be punished for their misdeeds. But the short answer is yes, God uses the wicked to punish people, even people more righteous than they.

In fact, if we look at the biblical record, God rather consistently uses bad people as instruments of judgment. It’s the rare exception when he uses the righteous.

Yesterday we talked about telling God what to do. About how simple solutions usually aren’t simple and rarely solve anything. Here’s today’s question:

How will you react if God chooses to use evil people today to do his will?