Monday, November 10, 2008

Side-stepping the Law

Verse: Genesis 4:19-24, Judges 17:1-18-7, The Book of Esther.

One underlying thread in Bible stories is humanity’s inability to obey God’s Law. From the beginning of time, we humans have been unable to understand either God’s lovingkindness or His righteous Law.

In the book of Genesis, God mercifully places a mark on Cain warning all would-be avengers not to hurt him even though he had murdered his brother and bringing a curse upon the ground. Cain’s descendant Lamech reacts to God’s graciousness to Cain by usurping it. When he murders a young man, Lamech immediately declares that since God was gracious to Cain, God would be even more gracious to him.

The book of Judges is about human reasoning: people did what they considered right in their own hearts. (Judges 21:25) The Israelites had received the Law from Moses but the Law spoke to external matters. The human heart needed a law of its own, and sometimes the human heart needed to do end-runs around the Law. In the Judges 17 incident, a man named Micah stole silver from his mother. When he confessed that he did it, she lovingly worked around the commandment by declaring that indeed he had not really stolen it because it was a gift from her to him in the first place.

The Bible is full of situations where people did work around the laws. The book of Esther speaks of two incidents when King Xerxes ran afoul of the Law of the Medes and the Persians, which could not be changed. The first when he regretted giving up Vashti as Queen, the second when he allowed Haman to declare a genocidal war against Israel. In both cases, he had to live with what was written in stone. In the first incident, the law forced him to seek a new Queen although he still loved Vashti. In the second incident, he allowed the Jews to sidestep the unchangeability of the law by signing another law which said they could defend themselves.

But the greatest work-around the law, the greatest act of Grace was the birth, life and death of our Savior Jesus Christ. Milton wrote of the Fall, “Oh happy sin, that showed so great and good a God!” It is true we do not know what human life would have been like had our First Parents not sinned. What manner of Creatures might we have been! But, we probably would have discovered the depth of God’s love in some other way. And yet, how lovely to know that He would come to earth and live and die as one of us!

But the weird thing about human nature is that even when we have reached perfection in our own eyes, we have not reached it in God's eyes. God's ways are not our ways. And often in our perfection, we become less than loving towards those we consider not as wise or not as loving and not as spiritual and not as good as we are. So our attained perfection leads to delusion about our own holiness. The Bible says, "the fool says he needs to understand wisdom so his heart may know itself." Hey, that's what super-spiritual folks say. But the Bible calls such folks "fools."

The Bible says, "All our righteousness is as filthy rags." And "The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, who can know it?" And "For they say, 'Come not near me for I am holier than thou." And, "Your ways are not God's ways and your thoughts are not my thoughts. For as the heavens are higher than the earth so are God's thoughts higher than man's thoughts." In short the person who considers himself most spiritual hardly knows what true spirituality is. "The Fear of God is the beginning of wisdom."

But the most important thing is this: no matter how good we become, we can never really measure up.
Moral: God knows how difficult it is to obey the Law. Even more difficult to actually have obeyed it. That’s why He sent His Son. To save us from our sins, and to save us from ourselves when we think we do not sin. -C
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