Saturday, March 01, 2008

He did me much evil

“O Lord, if you mark iniquities, who shall stand?” Psalm 130:3

“Elias was a man subject to like passions as we.” James 5:17

“For God sends rain on the just and unjust.”

These are two of my favorite verses in the Bible. I have many favorite Bible verses – and for many reasons, but these verses always make me smile. Why?

“Alexander the Coppersmith did me much evil.” 2 Ti 4:14

“But Diotrephes who loves to have the pre-eminence among them.” 3 John 9

First and foremost, the epistle writers are finger-pointing. And they are so human about it. As a Christian growing up in North America, I was taught to turn the other cheek when someone wounded me or destroyed me. It was pretty evident that turning the other cheek meant no finger-pointing. This means that if someone made you lose your job, took away your spouse, stole your money, etc that you were supposed to keep your mouth shut, forgive them, and silently keep the pain to one’s self.

But here we have John the beloved disciple and Paul both indulging in finger-pointing. Hey, if Paul was the only one to whine about someone, I’d let it slide. But John the Beloved Disciple? The guy who talks about “love” in almost every verse?

It’s curious to see this. Jesus is loving and he complained about bad guys. If one reads the Book of Acts, one can see that Alexander the Coppersmith is not particularly nice either. A worshiper of Diana, he started a riot when Paul preached about Jesus in Ephesus. Likewise, Diotrephes doesn’t sound like a particularly nice person. He refused to allow his small church to care for or help traveling missionaries. So John’s assessment of the guy is valid to me. And yet, in my oh so proper heart and my pseud-upper-class snootiness, and my cultural idea of classiness and stoic behavior, I just feel a bit uncomfortable about this finger-pointing. Alexander was a pagan, and Diotrephes was a believer, probably a deacon...at least he thought he had power.

I don’t know where I got the idea that we should not complain about another person. The Bible tells us to turn the other cheek when an enemy harms us, but often we assume that this means not saying anything to those who have harmed us. Some Christians will tell everyone how they have been misused, cut others do not even complain to the one who harmed them.

I’m not going to create a theology about the fact that the Holy Spirit shows the flaws of these writers. The Bible repeatedly tells us that complaining is a sin, and that we should rejoice in all things. I am not sure if we should complain about other people only when the church is threatened. But what is interesting about these two verses is that they were human enough to complain and their hurt and anger is apparent. Paul doesn’t sound too forgiving, and John tells Gaius that he’s going to give Diotrephes a good talking-to.

This leads me to Elias. James tells us that he was a man who was subject to like passions as we are and yet he prayed and God heard him. “Subject to?” Interesting phrase. According to Vine’s, it means “bound by.” It could also mean “in danger of being penalized for a misdeed” or “controlled by” Imagine that? Remember Elias? He battled Jezebel. He was burned out. He wanted to die so much and was so tired of living that he actually asked God to take him. And God answered him by letting him die.

Elias was moody, depressed, beaten. And God answered his prayer. John and Paul were none-too-perfect either. Although God had said “It is not good for the man to be alone.” Although the writers of the book of Proverbs had said, “He who finds a wife finds a good thing,” Paul’s attitude was “if you marry you’re going to be in trouble: don’t do it.” As for John, it’s pretty difficult to find something bad to say about him. After all, he was the one disciple who was manly enough to align himself with Jesus when Jesus was suffering. But...yes, there is this little matter of finger-pointing. He’s talking behind someone’s back here, and probably Diotrephes deserved it. But it’s not something we perfectionist Christians would be happy about. So, yes, John is not perfect. And, frankly, that makes me incredibly happy.

Often we think that God will only answer our prayers if we are perfect. While it is good to have a pure heart, a clean soul, and a holy mind when we pray, we have a loving God who remembers that we are human. Jesus told us that God sends sun and rain on both the just and the unjust. God is so loving and good that both the evil farmer and the good farmer can depend on him for rain and sunshine.

Jesus is a wonderful high priest -- not because he was good, but because he knows how hard it is to be good. Ask God for wisdom. Ask God for healing. Ask God for blessings. He loves you. You may be surprised that He will bless you even if you are not perfect enough for him to answer your prayer.
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