How could God change His mind in Numbers 14? I mean, really!?

Everybody knows God knows everything. Past, present, and future, he has a lock on it. Yet, in Numbers 14 he seems to change his mind about striking the children of Israel with the pestilence and disinheriting them. Also, in Judges 2:181 Samuel 15:35, 2 Samuel 24:16, and 1 Chronicles 21:15, the observers got the same impression. For the past few years, this question hasn’t bothered me in the least. The only thing that has bugged me is how to explain it to non-believers. I have no problem with it because I know and love God, so I trust his Word not to contradict itself. In his book, Now, That’s a Good Question, R.C. Sproul gives an answer that seems credible to me.

Using a word like repentance with respect to God raises some problems for us. When the Bible describes God for us, it uses human terms, because the only language God has by which to speak to us about himself is our human language.

Strictly speaking, that’s not quite true; God’s Holy Spirit speaks to Christ-followers through his Word, allowing us to grasp by faith, spiritual truths that sail miles over the heads of non-believers. We may not be able to explain the concepts coherently, but if we listen to God with our faith-ears, we know that even apparently contradictory statements are true.

The theological term for this is anthropomorphic language, which is the use of human forms and structures to describe God. When the Bible talks about God’s feet or the right arm of the Lord, we immediately see that as just a human way of speaking about God. But when we use more abstract terms like repent, then we get all befuddled about it.

I love Sproul’s use of the word, “befuddled,” but if the “we” he refers to are Christ-followers, it only applies when we try to explain it to outsiders. I can do it with my fingers, on this keyboard, but when put on the spot I get all … well … befuddled.

What in Moses’ words and actions would possibly have provoked God to change his mind? I think that what we have here is the mystery of providence whereby God ordains not only the ends of things that come to pass but also the means.

The beauty of God’s sovereignty is, he doesn’t have to conform to our concept of cause-and-effect. Our issues with his actions have no effect on his purposes, and actually serve to bolster our faith in his loving wisdom.

God sets forth principles in the Bible where he gives threats of judgment to motivate his people to repentance. Sometimes he spells out specifically, “But if you repent, I will not carry out the threat.” He doesn’t always add that qualifier, but it’s there.

With God’s will, there are no if’s, and’s or but’s, and he never really changes his mind. It just seems that way to us. We must simply, “Trust and Obey.”

C.S. Lewis on Suffering

Refiner’s Fire

My title for this post sounds like a total bummer, but Uncle Jack’s contribution is just the opposite.

The Christian doctrine of suffering explains, I believe, a very curious fact about the world we live in. The settled happiness and security which we all desire, God withholds from us by the very nature of the world: but joy, pleasure, and merriment, He has scattered [freely]. We are never safe, but we have plenty of fun, and some ecstasy. It is not hard to see why. The security we crave would teach us to rest our hearts in this world and [obstruct] to our return to God: a few moments of happy love, a landscape, a symphony, a merry meeting with our friends, a bathe or a football match, have no such tendency. Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home.
From C.S. Lewis’ The Problem of Pain

I doubt there’s a better explanation for our suffering. Besides that, the greater our suffering in this world, the greater will be our joy when we meet our Savior face-to-face.

Sin produces suffering, but not in a direct proportion. Sometimes the relatively innocent suffer greatly, while truly evil people seem to get off scot-free. Once again, that isn’t God’s fault, as due to God’s gift of free will, and the sin that flows from it, suffering is anything but proportionately distributed. Yes, to those who are not Christ-followers it seems terribly unfair, but justice and fairness are not related. Christ-followers take the fact that God is ultimately just by faith, even though we may not see the short-term justice of any particular situation.

How can we “blindly” place that kind of confidence in a Being that we can’t see? Because we can see what he has done in and for us, and we love him because he first loved us. Christ-followers are the most fortunate people on earth, since we perceive all beauty with gratitude, as a blessing from God, and if we have our heads on straight, we even perceive all suffering with gratitude, as a refiner’s fire allowed by God.

Admittedly, suffering isn’t fun, but thanks to God’s perfect wisdom, it will amplify our blessings in this world, and the next.

Faith Thoughts

Sometimes my mind gets locked into word-association games. Driving home from work, I listened to a song about faith, and began thinking of words related to its concept. I came up with belief, trust and confidence, and tried to relate them to faith, to discern their differences in meaning. First, they all flow from faith. The dictionary tells us belief is an idea or concept held to be true. It can be based on evidence, or not. Trust and confidence are closely related as the belief that something won’t let us down. That’s why we assume a rope won’t break when we’re dangling by it a thousand feet above jagged rocks.

After checking any number of dictionaries, the Biblical definition of faith is—wonder of wonders—far and away the best. “Now faith is the essence of things being hoped, the evidence of things not having been seen.” (Heb 11:1)

Faith is an abstract idea, rather like love. They both require actions to demonstrate their existence, and a source other than the person exercising them. Really, that’s not such a strange idea. Breathing uses muscles which require energy. That energy comes from the food we acquire, chew, swallow, digest and metabolize. And none of that will happen without the oxygen we breathe. It’s a “chicken or egg” conundrum, answerable only by attributing those actions to God’s special creation.

Jesus provided a prize example of faith’s purpose in Luke 17:5, when he and his students discussed forgiveness. They couldn’t see how it was possible to forgive someone 7 times a day, so they asked Jesus to increase their faith. They understood that Jesus was their source of faith, and they didn’t even have seminary diplomas.

But there’s another conundrum: To ask for faith, one must exercise faith. So where does one get that faith? The answer is in vs. 6: “If you had faith like a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and be planted in the sea'; and it would obey you.”

Okay, where do we get that mustard seed of faith? It’s part of our God-given, human nature, like our capacity for love and our human spirit, that God meant to give us spiritual vision. But we perverted all that when we sinned. Since we have warped spiritual vision, we search for tangible things in which to invest our faith, and find plenty of perversions to fill the bill. Only when God’s Spirit takes the scales from our eyes can we see the only worthy Object for our faith. At that point we must choose, whether to continue our quest for perverted substitutes, or to gaze at His beauty in wonderment, and place that mustard seed of faith in Him.

There begins a lifetime of choices between growing that faith, or killing it. Thanks to His Holy Spirit, Jesus’ disciples know which way to go … we just have to do it!

Encouragement From Psalm 119

They’s a whole lot of bowin’ goin’ on.

I normally think of Psalm 119 as the God’s Law-Psalm, as that’s pretty much what it’s all about. Today, however, BibleGateway dot com treated me to a surprise:

Psalm 119:165 Great peace have those who love your law;
    nothing can make them stumble.

For one thing, if you and I struggle against God’s Law—meaning his expressed will for your life—peace will be the last thing you experience. And if that’s the case, you won’t stumble because you’re already as low as you can go. Far better to find yourself on your face before God voluntarily.

Some religions require the faithful to prostrate themselves toward a holy city … or else! Or they might require you be circumcised. Or pray through a set of beads. Or any number of different religious mandates. Christ-followers have no such requirements. All we have to do is love our neighbors as ourselves, and bless those who curse us. Easy as pie, right?

Not right! Following the law of Christ is far more difficult than following all those religious formalities. You don’t have to do anything, other than keep your mind and motives pure and unstained by the world system. Oh, and the apostle James mentions religion in his New Testament book:

If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. (James 1:26-27)

And then there’s Apostle Paul:

20 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22 (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? 23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. (Colossians 2:20-23)

WOW! They said a mouthfull. But at least you don’t have to get on your knees and bow to Mecca three times a day.

C.S. Lewis on Kindness

The Good Samaritan

Uncle Jack frequently took an “out of the box” position on issues of common consent within the Christian community. One such issue was kindness. He wrote in The Problem of Pain:

Everyone feels benevolent if nothing happens to be annoying him at the moment. Thus a man easily comes to console himself for all his other vices by a conviction that “his heart’s in the right place” and “he wouldn’t hurt a fly”, though in fact he has never made the slightest sacrifice for a fellow creature. We think we are kind when we are only happy: it is not so easy, on the same grounds, to imagine oneself temperate, chaste, or humble.

Ouch. Lewis differentiates between active and passive kindness. Leaving others alone is not kindness, even though you do them no harm. Conversely, neither is inserting yourself in others’ business a kindness, even for the most benevolent purpose, unless, that is, you are invited. Jesus is the prime example of that sort of wisdom, illustrated in Revelation 3:20 Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. That was the Lord’s offer to the Laodicean church, after he said they were lukewarm and about to be vomited out of his mouth.

To be redemptive people, we must follow Jesus’ example; he showed kindness to “sinners,” but was aggressive toward the self-righteous. He healed lepers, but told the lawyers they were like whitewashed tombs, full of corruption. And most of all, he showed kindness to us, carrying our sin-guilt to the cross so we could live eternally.

TRANSCENDENCE

This film tackles a … shall I say … transcendent theme, and at least from a materialistic world view, tackled it rather well. Johnny Depp and company made the futuristic scenario believable, and even evoked my sympathy for the god-like artificial being that Dr. Will Caster (Depp’s character) became.

Dr. Caster presented a lecture early in the film where an anti-technology activist in the audience asked a probing question, “So … you want to create a god? Your own god?”

To which Dr. Caster, echoing atheists throughout history, answered, “That’s a very good question. Isn’t that what man has always done?”

That is a very insightful answer, as in a way it is true. Man, left to his own devices, naturally creates his own gods; the history of religion attests to that fact. And that is why God, in Christ Jesus, intervened in our history to save us from ourselves. In TRANSCENDENCE, Dr. Caster tried to do the same thing through technology. One could say it would be the high-tech version of the Tower of Babel.

This film echoed another atheistic view as well; the town’s people, and many others who bused and drove in, submitted to the computer’s “networking” them, allowing themselves to become automatons. Non-believers in Christ view our discipleship in the same way, if they have any thoughts on the subject at all. I would that God did control us in that way, but he has always refused to invade our personal volition, which is one of the chief attributes he shared with us at creation.

TRANSCENDENCE is a great bit of futuristic entertainment, and I recommend it to Christ-followers who are well-grounded in their faith. For anyone wavering on the brink of that solid rock who is Christ, however, it could stimulate the wrong kind of speculation. Remember, we must take human wisdom, and most especially human entertainment, with great quantities of salt.

Bringing Psalm 42 Home

Psalm 42 speaks to me today as balm to my depressed soul. It doesn’t counter this depression, but encourages me in it.

Depression always looks for a scapegoat, and as I refuse to allow my depression to place the blame on my faithful God and Savior, it falls on me by default. Why would I tend to blame God? Because for years I’ve begged him to motivate me, to grow me up into a true man, ie., a Christlike man, but I still wallow in my passive depression, unable to move against this mess I’ve created around me.

I’m talking about a literal mess, as interpersonal relationships evade me at present. I look around this apartment and see tons of stuff closing in on me, chores that I haven’t done, my body settling out of condition, and words not writing themselves (even though I now type away).

Is God not strong enough to overcome my lack of will? I know better than that! Does he not love me as his word leads me to believe? That cannot be, as I know his love experientially.

That leaves just one possible explanation; my loving, faithful, gracious Lord is working in the background, unseen and unfelt, and in his perfect timing this will all make sense to me.

Psalm 42 has two very similar verses that directly minister to me:

42:5 Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance.

42:11 Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him, the help of my countenance, my God.

God is who he is, and I shall yet praise him.

To The God of My Life

Psalms 42 blessed me this morning. And when I began a word-study on it the blessing multiplied. This psalm is a maschil (instruction) that King David designated for performance by the uber-talented sons of Korah. If that name sounds familiar, their father participated in a rebellion against Moses, God’s appointed leader.

This Psalm begins with, As the deer pants for the water brooks, so pants my soul for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? 

We know King David was rich, both materially and spiritually; God considered David a man after his own heart, so if that lofty king hungered and thirsted after intimacy with God, should you or I do any less? As if to make sure we know that he sought only after the only true, living God, King David specified that fact.

We have all experienced something akin to unrequited love, so how must God feel when we take him for granted? If your soul doesn’t pant for intimacy with God, you just don’t know him.

My tears have been my food day and night, While they continually say to me, “Where is your God?” If you think no one has ever challenged you with that question, think again. The popular entertainment and news media ask it when they shove worldly values and philosophies at you. And what about the government schools, especially secondary schools? Their atheistic professors openly challenge anyone who professes faith in God. Many church kids who attend secular colleges have no problem adopting naturalistic ideas, but for the few who have seriously committed their lives to God, their “tears have been (their) food day and night.”

Christ-following students and workers in a secular environment can deeply relate to verse four: When I remember these things (in the first three verses), I pour out my soul within me. For I used to go with the multitude; I went with them to the house of God, With the voice of joy and praise, With a multitude that kept a pilgrim feast. The world has never catered to believers, and even less, now that most people subject themselves to a constant barrage of worldly influences. When speaking of faithful believers, the word “multitude” no longer applies. Even our churches are giving in to the world’s complacency; while worship-leaders often raise “The voice of joy and praise,” how many in the pews enthusiastically join them? You’ll find more joy and praise at sporting events and political rallies than in church.

Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance. Good question! This is the part of Psalm 42 that first cemented my attention. As King David reproved himself for entertaining discouragement in the face of God’s glorious might, I must follow suit. How often have David’s psalms opened my eyes to my pity-parties, and jerked me straight? Sure, the guy really knew how to praise God, but he also wasn’t afraid to reveal his weakness, which suggests to me Apostle Paul’s triumphant declaration in 2 Corinthians 12:9 And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

In verse six, the musician-king reiterates his discouragement, illustrating for my benefit the instability of his roller-coaster emotional ride: O my God, my soul is cast down within me; Therefore I will remember You from the land of the Jordan, And from the heights of Hermon, From the Hill Mizar. But immediately he runs back to his Source of victory: Deep calls unto deep at the noise of Your waterfalls; All Your waves and billows have gone over me. King David realized that God had allowed all his trials, his “waves and billows,” for his divine purpose. Now David cries out his triumphal statement: The LORD will command His lovingkindness in the daytime, And in the night His song shall be with me— A prayer to the God of my life.

In the daytime of God’s glory, and in the night of my discouragement, his song shall be with me, and so I utter my own prayer to the God of my life: Father, all praise and honor comes to you for your incomprehensible grace toward me through your Son’s blood and in his name.

Philip Yancey on … Lots of Things

Philip Yancey has gained celebrity by thinking, and writing, outside the evangelical Christian box. One Scripture passage that comes to mind, that might be one of Yancey’s theme statements is:

Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. (Galatians 5:1 NKJV)

Today’s church may not mandate such commandments as circumcision and observing the Sabbath, but it imposes such rules as each denomination or congregation deems necessary to “be a Christian.” With the same spirit as the Jewish religious leaders of Jesus’ time, we try to formalize Scripture’s principles into sacrosanct commandments, then presume to apply the Biblical model of church discipline against those who fail to obey them. That exactly fits Apostle Paul’s definition of a yoke of bondage.

Apostle John said, If anyone claims, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how is it possible for him to love God whom he has not seen? (1 John 4:20 EMTV) Whenever we act out negative emotions toward someone, we aren’t loving them, and on the love-hate scale that certainly falls on the hate side.

We can’t like everyone; even Jesus disliked the hypocrites who judged all those who didn’t live up to their artificial standard of piety. Temperament-conflicts can put us off toward someone, but when we allow that dislike to become disregard, we do not love them as Christ does. He died for the ungodly, and that is anything but disregard.

Romans 5:6-8 EMTV
(6) For while we were still weak, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.
(7) For scarcely on behalf of a righteous man will anyone die; yet on behalf of the good, perhaps someone might even dare to die.
(8) But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Yancey learned about God’s grace the hard way, after he had rejected religious Christianity because of the ungodly attitudes he witnessed as a child. Now he lives and preaches grace, and so must we.

Sanctified Bellyaching

Israel’s King David didn’t mince words about the trials he endured while hiding, first from King Saul, then from his own son Absalom. In some of his psalms he actually seemed to indulge in self-pity—hardly a kingly trait.

Rather than providing grounds for indictment, however, these psalms reveal King David’s honesty and the Scriptures’ credibility. If the Bible’s source-texts were, as cynics allege, nothing more than some religious guys’ imaginations run amuck, they wouldn’t include any stories involving their heroes’ dark-sides. Unlike King David, though, such critics are driven to find, or fabricate, any evidence that might besmirch the Bible’s reliability.

If you are inclined as I was to criticize David for his whining, think again. He balances all his complaining with the most heartfelt, beautiful praises to God. Psalm thirteen is a great example of his transparency:

Psalms 13:1-6 NKJV
(1) To the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David. How long, O LORD? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me?
(2) How long shall I take counsel in my soul, Having sorrow in my heart daily? How long will my enemy be exalted over me?
(3) Consider and hear me, O LORD my God; Enlighten my eyes, Lest I sleep the sleep of death;
(4) Lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed against him”; Lest those who trouble me rejoice when I am moved.
(5) But I have trusted in Your mercy; My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation.
(6) I will sing to the LORD, Because He has dealt bountifully with me.

King David, in all his psalms, exemplifies a right relationship with the Existing One(LORD), and how such a man after God’s own heart prays. We all would do well to engage in such bellyaching, including the praise that balances it.