Friday, July 21, 2017

Belief vs. [In]action

Belief vs. (In) Action
20 July 2017
            The following partial quote is taken from a Facebook post which referenced an article in “Faced with evidence that only massive government action — a financial rescue coupled with fiscal stimulus — could have prevented a complete economic meltdown, one conservative made a startling confession: “Maybe it was a good thing we weren’t in power then — because our principles don’t allow us to respond to a crisis like this.” The quote immediately called to mind Jesus’ statement in Mt.9:13 and 12:7- “Go and learn what this means, I desire mercy and not sacrifice’”, which itself is a quote from Hosea 6:6:For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,
the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” Hosea goes on to say, “But like Adam they transgressed the covenant; there they dealt faithlessly with me” (6:7). The sentiment is echoed in Ps.40:6-8, Micah 6:8, and Isiah Ch.1. My intention here is not to take up political sides but to consider the relationship between belief (doctrine, or theology, or principles) and relationship (individual and corporate) within the framework of the visible presence of God on earth; a role which was once Israel’s but now belongs to the (worldwide) church.
            First, a little background. Coming off the flood, God puts His redemptive plan in motion by calling one man and one woman (sound familiar?)-Abraham and Sarah-the recipients of His promises and His covenant. In the course of time Abraham’s relatively small family ends up in Egypt, where eventually they become a huge family. Moses leads them out of bondage in Egypt and they are well on their way to becoming a great nation. Except they are not a nation, great or otherwise, at least not yet. But God has plans for them; His presence guides them and His intermediary (Moses) instructs them (as Moses himself is instructed by God). God’s mission for His new nation is to move into the promised land, demonstrate God’s presence and execute God’s judgement as directed by God Himself. Oh, and by the way, while judgement is being executed a pagan or two will become a believer and figure in the line of God’s own Son.
            God equips Israel for this mission by giving them His laws. These laws covered three main areas. Ritual Law (or Ceremonial Law) governed Israel’s worship; that is, how Israel was to relate to God. Civil Law was for the ordering of Israelite society-how individuals related to one another. Moral Law was and is based on God’s nature and character. Civil Law was specific to Israel as a nation and is replaced in this country by our constitution. Ritual Law was fulfilled (as opposed to replaced) by Jesus. Moral Law remains and is the basis for the command “be holy because I am holy”-repeated in Leviticus and 1 Peter. The civil Laws themselves had two categories-those which lay out a principle (apodictic) and those which were case-specific (casuistic). Once the full body of the Law was presented to and agreed upon by Israel it became a covenant (cf. Dt.26:16-19). The covenant brought with it blessings for obedience-accurately demonstrating God’s holiness (presence, nature and character) and curses for disobedience-causing God’s name to be blasphemed among the nations. This last is an important point and not to be missed-it goes to the heart of our discussion.
            As an aside here, this whole Exodus procedure is a word-picture of what happens to believers. We are led out of our bondage and placed into the ‘New Israel’-the Church, Christ’s body-although we have no idea what that means. And, of course, Moses was a type of Jesus-taught by God, empowered by the Holy Spirit-God with us (cf. John’s Gospel). The mission remains the same-to be the presence of God in the here and now-except now we have the actual life of God within us; mediated by Jesus Himself and made real by the Holy Spirit. God’s presence, made possible by God’s Son, taught and enabled by God’s Spirit-all three in perfect harmony and agreement (four, counting the individual believer-billions, counting all believers). This relationship-what Richard Foster calls the ‘with-God life’-was and remains the original plan. At least, that’s how I see it.
            Now, by the time of Hosea, the covenant had been broken and the promised curses were well under way. One of the many roles of the Hebrew prophets was to remind Israel of the ancient covenant and in some cases, bring God’s charges against her (cf. Isaiah, for example). In fact, Hosea’s very life was an illustration for Israel; Hosea representing God and his unfaithful wife representing Israel. The point here, however, for this discussion, is that Israel may have abandoned the moral laws, and some of the civil laws, but they kept the ritual law, and in the keeping that law they thought they were ok (or at least they pretended to be ok). This is the message of the prophets-you are not ok. You are not accurately demonstrating my [God’s] presence. You are nowhere near the holiness I require. What you believe is not enough. It is wrong and you are wrong. My intent here is not to get into the specifics of Israel’s disobedience-Isaiah 1, for example, gives a pretty clear picture of that. Get a good reference Bible and check it out for yourself. Follow the references. My aim is simply to point out what was happening, and what God’s response was.
            By the time Jesus comes this whole business was extremely refined (or totally out of control, depending on your point of view). Remember apodictic law vs. casuistic law? The religious leaders of Jesus’ time seemed to have eschewed apodictic law in favor of casuistic law and they invented lots and lots of cases-building walls of their laws around God’s laws-do’s and don’ts to prove themselves holy. Jesus, for His part, was (being God) interested in the welfare of His creatures-moral law-and if that meant eating with sinners and plucking grain on the Sabbath, well, that’s what He did. He was, after all, God present (as opposed to God’s presence) and was intent upon changing people’s minds about God (and God’s holiness). John 19:7 sums it up nicely: “We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he [is] claimed to be the Son of God”. Do you see it yet? We have a belief, and according to that belief many must (unnecessarily) suffer. Our law (belief) does not allow for relationship (the greater good).
            One more point here. It is no accident Jesus uses the command ‘Thou shalt not kill’ kill as the first illustration of the deeper (moral) meaning of God’s Law (Mt. 5:21-26). This commandment more than any other sets up the conflict between our pride-who we think we are-and the humility we should have before God-who knows who we really are. Compared to God, none of us can justify pride of any sort (cf. 1Cor.4:7). Which makes the great value He places on us even more remarkable (cf. Ps.8) and the cruel disdain with which we treat each other even more heinous. Responding to the crisis was Jesus’ belief; we are the crisis and the cross was His response. Today we must be the response, to the extent that we allow Jesus to respond through us.
            So, here’s the question-do your principles prevent you from responding to the crisis, or does Christ in you enable and equip you to respond to the crisis?
He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good;
and what doth the Lord require of thee,
but to do justly, and to love mercy,
and to walk humbly with thy God? (Micah 6:8)


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