The Boss Can Be Late

The boss is never late but delayed, they say. Thus, this display of semantic gymnastics encapsulates the impunity of power, widening the already yawning chasm between boss and underling. Both must never be late. The underling achieves this by effort and the boss achieves this by position: how dare you question me! Imagine a recently bereaved boss slightly deviating from policy in a fit of rage in the face of insensitive ungrateful underlings. Understandable, right? Continue reading

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Diabolical Bean Counting

Taunted by the Ten Commandments, I stood in muted sullenness wondering if I would ever earn the right to stroll down the New Jerusalem’s gilded streets. Like the proverbial roller coaster ride, my life was an unending juxtaposition of fist-pumping “sinless” triumph and shameful remorse-riddled tragedy. At times I caught myself casting a longing look at the ways of the mischievous, feeling trapped between wayward inclinations I could not give in to and Commandments I could not live up to. Spiritual limbo! I couldn’t help wishing I were Enoch, Elijah or Moses, already living in glory, safe from eternal condemnation but alas, my fate hung in the balance, steadily tipping toward hell.

Despite my inner swirling conflict, I found my halting faltering struggle to obey the taunting Ten kept me safe from the sprains, scrapes and bruises that seemed to be the lot of those who lived in mischief. Though I had my share of lesions and scars from my forays into lawlessness, I had a measure of joy mingled with respect for the wisdom of God in giving the Ten. My only cause for mourning was the hopelessness of my perfidy in face of the spotlessness of the ideal. Half a loaf was better than nothing but the Law called for a banquet. Clouds of despair flew across my soul, threatening to expunge the flame of hope. Then one day, I got a look at the sinless Jesus living with sinful humanity.

He was God in the flesh, showing that even without the panoply of divine power, God Himself could not but live in obedience to the Law. His obedience wasn’t a sullen bean counting one but a joyful enthusiasm. Flouting the rules with impunity, He did not keep the Law but lived it. By His own words, He declared Himself the fulfilment of the Law. By His life, He took cold words on stone and breathed life into them. The Law is not about counting deeds and misdeeds, it is about character. It is not a way of earning life but how to live it. It is our way to face off Law and grace but Jesus, in His injunction to “go and sin no more,” married the two.

The taunting I thought came from the Ten was really the diabolical laughter of Satan. Knowing that I fell hopelessly short of perfect observance, he twisted my view of the gracious God the Ten pointed to and had me view his perverted ungracious justice: diabolical bean-counting. Like a lot of Christians, I made the mistake of thinking the Ten began with “thou shalt not,” instead of,

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery,” Exodus 20:2 (NIV)

By beginning with “thou shalt not,” I was led to obsess with what I should not do. Salvation became a reward for not being bad instead of a gift. Redemption is the starting point of the Law. The same God who created the world is the same God who liberated slaves and forged them into a nation. How then could His law be enslavement? God’s redeeming power exercised in an atmosphere of love is the starting point of the Law. Redemption is a gift, not a reward; God’s initiative and not human triumph. The Ten Commandments are really Ten Promises. The God who created the world is the God who will lead us not to bean counting, but Lawful living. These promises and the rest of the laws were guidelines that immature God worshippers would follow until God Himself would come in the flesh, revealing how it’s really done.

Beginning with “thou shalt not,” casts a shadow of slavish drudgery but beginning with the Creator’s liberating initiative, singes the shackles and whispers promise to the struggling follower of God. The Law is an artist’s impression of the finished product: Christlike character. Thus far it is glorious but in the presence of a living, crucified and resurrected Jesus, it pales in comparison for Jesus is no caricature but the real thing!

It is not all fun and promises though, for the Law does spank us. My deceptive heart cannot be trusted to discern right and wrong unaided. Sin has tainted my thoughts and twisted my feelings so I cannot trust them. I look outside me for guidance thus, in addition to pointing out the right path, the law points out my wrongness and perfidy, not so I can try harder but so I can surrender to the God who liberates and straightens the crooked. Without His enabling power and attractive blueprint, I am hopeless. No bean counting could ever show me that.

photo credit: Theen … Solitary Confinement via photopin (license)

Abe

It is incredible that God figured he couldn’t destroy Sodom and Gomorrah without telling Abraham first. In fact, He let the two angels go into the city to carry out an independent investigation while He strolled with Abraham and bargained with Him. This is incredible, not only because the Almighty condescended to eat, stroll and discuss His plans with humanity, but because God was willing Continue reading

The Trouble with Good Boys

Wincing with fearful anticipation of the awful wrath of God, he begins his life of penance, a constant eschewing of all bad deeds in his attempts to do “the right thing.” Roaring applause and smiling nods of approval from all around him are his reward. Protective fathers snarl at all their daughters’ suitors but invite him for lunch as they loudly wish their sons could be more like him. With feet barely touching the ground when he walks, he is the hero; the quintessential good boy.

Behind their benign faces, good boys frown uneasily. They frown for one reason with many manifestations; from less benign manifestations such as a certain Delilah’s number lingering in his contacts, to malignant ones such as a growing resentment towards all things religious or a squeezing despair of ever reaching perfection. The manifestations are many but there is one underlying cause: despite his spirited attempts at avoiding bad deeds and straining to do “the right thing”, he is not a righteous being.

His righteousness is an illusion. Like a scratch revealing the stone wall as mere wallpaper, the simplest agitation reveals the malevolent sinner belying the smiling saint. The terrible things we do are not sin but its results. Murder is not sin but is caused by it. Sin is a software issue that crashes the hardware. Sin lies in our attitude toward God and reality. It is more perception than action; it is twisted perception that leads to twisted deeds. The good boy’s attempts are in vain for he is like a man trying to push start a car with no engine.

Good boys, just like bad boys, can only be truly good by relying on God. This is not to mean that they need not exert themselves but that they must draw strength from God. Only God can put an engine in the car, you need to exert effort in driving it. Only God can supply the stones for your wall, your part is to build it, stone by stone. Effort is indispensable in living a righteous life but only God can supply the strength and guidance. The trouble with good (& bad) boys is that they don’t trust God.

Believing the diabolical insinuation that God wasn’t trustworthy, Adam and Eve rebelled against Him and hid when He came to talk. The Israelites cowered with fear even when Moses told them not to (Exodus 20:18-21). Sin is the failure to perceive God’s goodness. This leads us to distrust God and look to ourselves for salvation. Thus, the bad boy who does his own thing and the good boy who tries in his own power to do “the right thing” are sailing in the same boat: away from God. The good boy is in worse shape though, because he doesn’t realize it; he thinks he’s sailing to God! Remember Saul who was surprised to find out that he was persecuting God when he thought he was serving Him? Remember the son who didn’t leave home but whose refusal to celebrate his brother’s return showed that he didn’t see himself as part of the family as he worked to earn what was his by birth?

God made us in His image: He endowed us with responsible benevolent creativity. We are designed to act from conviction not compulsion or impulse. In keeping with that God can neither demand trust nor manipulate us, not if the trust is to be eternal. Conviction demands evidence thus Jesus came to reveal God’s trustworthiness by living a life of total trust in the Father and unbridled goodness to mankind. The life of Jesus showed God’s eagerness for unfettered communion with mankind. His death showed that death by divorce from God is not arbitrary but consequent. His resurrection provides assurance that God is able and willing to restore that which is killed by sin, be it Christ or us. This is the trustworthiness of Jesus or the faith of Jesus or Jesus faithfulness (pistis Christus). Good boys need to realize that we serve a God whose “law cannot be enforced and whose favour cannot be won,” and rest in the knowledge that Christ can and will recreate all those who trust in Him.

“A sullen submission to the will of the Father will develop the character of a rebel. By such a one service is looked upon as drudgery. It is not rendered cheerfully, and in the love of God. It is a mere mechanical performance. If he dared, such a one would disobey. His rebellion is smothered, ready to break out at any time in bitter murmurings and complaints. Such service brings no peace or quietude to the soul.

“Christ assumed humanity, with all its humiliation and service, that he might set men free from the bondage of Satan. He knew that the service of Satan can bring only wretchedness and misery in its train. The sinner is a stranger to repose. He says, ‘I want my freedom.’ He hopes to get rid of all restraint by casting aside the law of God. But it is this desire that has made the world what it is today, corrupt as in the days of Noah, and polluted as the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.” (Ellen G White, Signs of The Times, 22 July 1897)

“… A mechanical obedience may hide the smoldering fire of rebellion, but it is ready to break out at any time against restraint. In the service of such there is no peace or light or love. The atmosphere surrounding their souls is not fragrant.” (Ellen G White, Medical Ministry page 177)

“…Jesus came to teach men of the Father, to correctly represent Him before the fallen children of earth. Angels could not fully portray the character of God, but Christ, who was a living impersonation of God, could not fail to accomplish the work. The only way in which he could set and keep men right was to make himself visible and familiar to their eyes. That men might have salvation he came directly to man, and became a partaker of his nature.” (Ellen G White, Signs of the Times, 20 January 1890 egwwritings.org)

God’s Whirlwind Romance

To be known and loved as you are is the essence of relationship. No relationship can last without the unrelenting pursuit of discovery, the desire to navigate the depths of a loved one and thus it is, that Adam and Eve were naked without shame. Theirs was an innocent love with transparency, not only between themselves, but between them and God. This was not to last, for the serpent’s whispers found a listening ear and with a bite of forbidden fruit, innocence was lost. No longer able to trust God to accept their no longer innocent selves, fig leaf aprons were no longer enough and so they hid. It was to show this, that God asked, “Where are you?” This question was not seeking the couple’s geographical location but was relational. It is a question born out of the Creator’s longing for His creation – it is the unchanging God detecting a change in the relationship.

In the book of Job, the tables are turned. God declares Job’s innocence, not in a forensic sense but a relational one. In a world of business transactions disguised as religion, Job stood out as a man in whose heart echoed the longing for open relationship with God. This longing percolated through the patriarchal culture that he lived in and expressed itself in the sacrifices he made on behalf of his children. Yet Satan brushed this piety off as mere payment for miracles rendered (an accusation more accurately aimed at Satan’s pagan religions). Thus, God allowed Satan to strip away all the goodies, confident that Job’s naked longing for communion with God would shine through all the more brighter.

It is an undeniable tragedy that Christianity has been reduced to a dispassionate assent to cold abstract doctrinal statements. In an attempt to counter the Enlightenment’s assertion that faith and reason could never reside in the same mind, Christians began to turn Christ’s life into a lifeless list of abstract logical arguments and many fell into the trap of believing that righteousness lies in assenting to abstract concepts. Independence from God is fatal (autonomy isn’t). It is the belief that one can ‘go it alone’ that is dangerous and it is all the more dangerous when it presents itself as intelligent independence of thought. To put it all in a nutshell, “think for yourself but don’t think by yourself.” Abstract theology is necessary but it is not all.

This is revealed in Job’s acceptance of God’s divine quiz. Job’s questions have troubled the faithful for generations. Trapped in the belief that God is an unrelenting dictator who cannot be questioned, it is difficult to understand how a blameless man can rail against God. At first, Satan said Job served God because he was on the receiving end of God’s blessings. This was evidently untrue. There is a danger that some would say Job served God because he would ‘understand it better, by and by’ but Job isn’t comforted by a revelation of the cause of his suffering and his inability to answer God’s questions shows that his trust in God is not dependent on his ability to understand reality. Job is comforted by God’s voice.

It wasn’t the loss of God’s goodies that troubled him as much as it was God’s silence. It was not knowledge of what caused his troubles that comforted him, it was God’s presence. Thus, God’s impossible quiz instead of intimidating Job, emboldened him to trust in the God who can tame the untameable leviathan. This was not to cut off Job’s and our curiosity but to remind him and us that at our very best, we are just sinners saved by grace. 

It isn’t wrong to stretch the mind and inquire but don’t take comfort in that. Take comfort in the knowledge that the same God who created all that gives us sustenance is working to save us all.
 
 

 

 

 

photo credit: Niccolò Ubalducci Photographer Niccolò Ubalducci Photographer via photopin (license)