Friday, May 13, 2011

Joshua 7: Achan

I'm reading Joshua 7 today.  Here's how The Message translation opens:

"Then the People of Israel violated the holy curse. Achan son of Carmi...took some of the cursed things. GOD became angry with the People of Israel."

When the Jews stormed over the fallen walls of Jericho, God had told them everything in Jericho was set aside for destruction.  All people, animals, and property were to be destroyed. Undestroyable items like gold and silver were to be given to God.  It seems inevitable to us that one of the 40,000 soldiers wouldn't be able to resist. And so it happened that Achan took a beautiful robe, and some silver and gold and hid them under his tent.

As a result, God was angry with all of Israel, and He allowed their enemies to defeat them and kill 36 Jewish soldiers.  Whoa there!  Why was God angry at all of Israel?  Today in North America, being the most highly individualized culture in the history of the world, it's really tough for us to see how that's fair.  Achan should be punished for his own sins!  And I think God agrees with that principle (that's what Ezekiel 18 is all about). 

But living in China, which is a fairly collectivist culture (seeing things in terms of the group you belong to instead of the individual you are), I can begin to understand why it may have been necessary to deal with early Israel in this way.  "A little yeast leavens the whole lump of dough," as Jesus said. A collective group feels much more like a body than a collection of individuals. They have "groupthink" in which everyone generally comes to the same opinion. They have almost a mob mentality, in which it is really hard to resist doing what everyone else is doing.

In China, where one person in a milk company substitutes cheap chemical additives for the actual cream in the milk, the whole company lost face when it came to light, even more so than it would have in America. People all over China stopped drinking milk entirely for a year after it was revealed. How unfair! How can we punish the entire diary and milk industry for one person's mistake?  First, in a collectivist society, one person doesn't do that unless there's a widespread corruption making it possible to go against the group.  Second, it's the way of nature to some extent.  If your knee gives out, your whole body ain't going to win the race. 

It may be nearly incomprehensible to us today to understand why the whole Jewish nation should suffer for one person's mistake, and why that one person along with all his family and possessions should be stoned and burned.  But after living in a collectivist culture a while--it's starting to make sense.  But let's take it a little more personally before we leave it.

Are there any areas in your life you are secretly compromising in?  What secret sins do you indulge in but try to separate from the rest of your life?  You know it's going to influence the rest of your life as well.  Find those points of compromise and stone and burn them out.  As long as you harbor these compromises willfully, can you expect to be whole and healthy?

Monday, May 9, 2011

Does God suffer more than us?

Does God suffer more than us?  I think it's an interesting and meaningful question.  What do you think?  I hope you'll send me an email or write a comment if you have some thoughts.  These are my thoughts:

I know that some people picture God as an old grandfather, half deaf and half dead.  Others picture him as some cosmic Buddha, with a placid smile always pasted on his face.  But to both of these the Bible says boldly, "Ha ha!"  Even early on in the Bible, when God seems more transcendent, we see him personally interacting with people: walking with Adam and Eve on late afternoons chatting, warning Cain he's heading the wrong way, having mercy on Cain, and finally feeling heartbroken and regretful about making people in the first place and wiping their disease off the face of the earth with a massive flood. 

Then there are the prophets, speaking God's voice, which wails brokenly at times, and shouts furiously at others.  He tells Hosea to marry a prostitute, so the people can understand the jealous anger and heartbreak that God is feeling at their faithlessness.  He sighs with frustration, just like Jesus did before healing a blind and deaf man. Yeah. In case you missed it, Jesus is the clue that God cares very, very deeply.  He wept over Jerusalem, he shouted and whipped hawkers out of the temple,He told jokes and held children on his lap.  DO WE THINK WE FEEL MORE DEEPLY THAN THE GOD WHO MADE US?

Once, when God drew near to me, I was flattened by his passion. His hatred for my sin and his love for me were like a massive sun, and my emotions were little candle flames in its daylight. 

And who, do you suppose cares more about the brokenness of the world we live in?  God right now is present at every rape, at every husband and wife's shouting match, at the scene of children being molested and young men being tortured by others.  He's forced day after day to live with our nearly complete self-absorbtion, all the secret thoughts we have and the smiling masks we paint over them, with our depressions, our hates, our despairs, and our chasing after the passing shadows of this world instead of listening constantly to Him. We don't even know the depth of our own brokenness, and He knows the whole world's.

And if you think He doesn't care about it with every fibre of his Fatherly being, you don't yet know him very well.  DO WE THINK WE CARE MORE DEEPLY THAN THE GOD WHO MADE US?

So, God waits.  He waits to set all things right at last, to heave a huge shuddering sigh of relief and sob in His soul with joy that at last all evil is extinguished and all good comforted and praised.  His love compels Him to wait: to wait until more of His children have turned from the evil that would sweep them away also in the destruction and run into the safety of His light.

So be aware of what God is feeling today: He knows every single broken thing happening, he cares about them more strongly than we do, and he is eager to fix it, pinned back only by his loving patience, "not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to eternal life."  And meanwhile we His dearly loved children question and doubt him.  Does God suffer more than us?