Monday, November 15, 2010

"Can God Prepare a Table in the Wilderness?"

In suffering, we learn the nature of our confidence in God. Proverbs tells us “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge…” What is it that cringes in us, when we stand on the threshold of understanding, but our fear of losing control, fear of the opinions of others, fear of understanding the nature of the battle we are in? It is, after all, comfortable to enjoy the position of a reserve. Our plans fit comfortably in the small secure foxhole, our weaknesses are safe from scrutiny because they are un-known, and the dim roar of battle, while loud enough to make us feel important, is dull enough to feel “safe.” Most soldiers can look relatively capable in a foxhole…its getting out of one that we all fear. In short, we are remarkably good at fearing everything but God.

The Israelites are the chief testimony in scripture to Solomon’s assertion, “There is nothing new under the sun.” The chosen nation’s ungodly fears are easy to criticize and moralize over until we lay them side by side with our own. In Psalm 78, their response to the raging and often deadly cultural battle and the fears that accompanied it are laid out in detail. Being the chosen people was no piece of human cake. Their flesh didn’t relish the idea of being holy and set apart more than the modern man’s. When Moses brought the declaration from God and identified who they were, they balked; even though chattel-slavery was probably not their profession of choice.

Admittedly, the cosmic –sized coup with which almighty God “brought them up out of Egypt” and the wonders that He showed restored some confidence in their identity. But the Psalm states that they “forgot.” In other words, they did not truly fear God. They enjoyed the “magic tricks”, mighty escorts of fire and cloud, and the mighty procession “going up” from slavery with carts loaded with Egyptian gold. Unfortunately, they missed God’s point. It was never really about them. It was all about Him.

Psalm 78 verses eighteen through twenty were like a bucket of cold water for me yesterday.

And they tested God in their heart by asking for the food of their fancy.
Yes, they spoke against God: They said, “Can God prepare a table in the wilderness?
Behold, He struck the rock, so that the waters gushed out, and the streams overflowed.
Can He give bread also? Can He provide meat for His people?”
The parting of the red sea, any one of the great plagues, or the miracle of water from a rock, which they cite themselves, adequately and silently mocks their sarcastic demands. Rather than fearing the God who did all these things before them, they “tested God in their heart” assuming they deserved compensation for taking the trouble to be His chosen people. Notably, God did not give them a pass on excuses of over-stress, recently thirst-afflicted, tired and cranky, or just-recovering-from-oppressive-slavery. Verse 32 and 33 clarify.

In spite of this they still sinned, and did not believe in His wondrous works.
Therefore their days He consumed in futility, and their years in fear.
Unbelief or failure to fear God is a sin He must mortify in us. My own heart has whimpered “can He provide meat?”

The fear of God is not a natural human reaction any more than it is an ambiguous emotion. In fact, our natural fears serve to confuse our understanding of the fear of God because our emotion-driven reactions to trouble are nothing like it. The Israelites manifested one version of human fear, i.e. complaining and questioning. The current, purely emotional response to pain so often yields vague platitudes of purported happiness, a high aptitude for “putting a bold face on it,” and a confusion of mind steeped in the murky waters of a self-conjured hope that is unreliable at best. To answer the question “How are you doing?” with a “Doing good!” is the commonly accepted response in lieu of the real answer which may be as helplessly vulnerable as “I have no idea.”

In contrast, the assurance of God’s goodness is not an exclusively emotional resignation devoid of knowledge. It is founded on a concrete belief in the sovereignty of our powerful God. But what about emotions? We know that God has emotions and that they are an integral part of who we are. How can we feel rightly without being enslaved to human “wisdom?”

Psalm 78 was one of my favorite Psalms before yesterday. I have always especially treasured the beginning verses because of the generational call that echoes from them down the generations as God’s battle plan of the ages:
Give ear, O my people, to my law; incline your ears to the words of my mouth.
I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings of old,
Which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us.
We will not hide them from their children, telling to the generation to come the praises of the LORD,
And His strength and His wonderful works that He has done.
For He established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which He commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children;
That the generation to come might know them, the children who would be born, that they may arise and declare them to their children,
That they may set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep His commandments;
Now the passage has new meaning for me because of the following sixty-five verses of rebuke and warning beginning with these words:

And may not be like their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation that did not set its heart aright, and whose spirit was not faithful to God.
The King James Version translates the last “faithful” as “steadfast,” a word that speaks of firmness, establishment and confidence. These verses are the antidote to a disease of spiritual death in fear. Generational faithfulness is established through hope in God, not forgetting the works of God, and keeping His commandments.

God’s plan in the wilderness was not merely to perform mighty acts for the sons of Israel. He was building a nation and ultimately paving the way for His gospel and the saving of all the sons of men. His loving kindness is great enough that He can show love and compassion to every one of His children, and yet perfectly orchestrate the Plan before which all other plans dim in comparison. Neither our “help” nor the filling of our individual stomachs is necessary for the completion of His plan. Yet in perfect love, He redeemed us out of slavery and the death penalty for our sin, uses us for His glory, helpless though we are, and feeds us.

This then is the love of God for us. Until we recognize that we deserve nothing and that He gives us everything, even eternal life, there can be no right emotional response. The love that casts out fear is perfect. The oft-quoted verse is often referenced bereft of its context:

Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. - 1 John 4:17-18
This is clearly a love unrelated to the formless and indistinct love of modern definition. Jesus defines our love for Him:
John 14:15 – If you love Me, keep my commandments.
In obedience we must fear God alone and nothing else. “I’m doing well,” can no longer mean unspoken platitudes, or that I am doing well. By the grace of God I am well, always and forever, even when I don’t feel so, because He is doing well in me to the praise of His own glory. When our obedience to believe reveals the magnitude of His bestowed love and mercy, true emotions of gratitude, contrition, and love cannot fail to follow.

“Jesus said to him, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.”
Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” - Mark 9:23-24

1 comment:

Savories of Life said...

We like the same movies and music. Your blog is good. Read mine.