Tuesday, July 29, 2014

From Grumbling to Thankfulness

Are you a good person? No, really - do you think you are a good person? Every now and again I fall into the trap of believing that I am a good person, or at least that I'm not THAT bad. I mean, come on, compared to THAT guy over there, I look pretty good. Someone might ask: "Alright, smarty pants. How do you define 'good'?" That's the question, isn't it? Does being a good person mean: good compared to others? Or is there some inherent quality that makes someone good?

Questions; questions that need answering.

Isn't it true that one of humanity's greatest faults is our tendency to have a higher view of ourselves than we ought to? I was recently talking with a non-Christian friend about the story of Job and how impressed I was at his attitude towards God in the face of such destruction. Through no fault of his own, the Devil ruined every aspect of Job's life, by taking his family, his wealth, his health ... everything. But through it all, not once did Job curse God. On the contrary, his response is too incredible to not quote: "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I shall return there. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord." (Job 1:21, NASB). My friend responded: "I don't think I would or could respond like that." And you know what? I think it is the natural response of humanity to not respond like Job. We wouldn't ... and we couldn't respond like him.

The world tells us that we are the product of random evolutionary processes, being descended from animals. They conclude from this that we are basically good, or at least morally neutral. The idea of being evil is right out of the question. It is easy to understand how they can conclude that God would be unjust in His dealings with Job. After all, what did Job do to deserve this? 

That question, and that line of reasoning, demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of a proper view of God and man. There is no other explanation for it. I say this not to point fingers or to judge - in fact, I have pity on my friends who have this perspective.

I've entered the book of Numbers in my Bible study (a book with an unfortunately uninteresting title). What amazes me is how the Israelites continue to grumble and complain against the Lord over and over again. Think with me for a moment. The true and the living God remembered His promise to Abraham and delivered this tribal group from bondage to the Egyptians after 400 years. This deliverance wasn't done nonchalantly, either. Yahweh came to Egypt with miracles not seen before nor since! After ruining Egypt, the Egyptians were begging Moses to take his people out from among them. He then parted the Red Sea to deliver the Israelites from Pharaoh's desire for vengeance! Again, no small event!

God Almighty has delivered His people from bondage and promised to make them into a great nation, because of the promises He made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He appeared as a pillar of cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night to direct them as they traveled. Then the Lord gives them commands to live by, and Moses meets with the Lord on Mount Sinai to receive these new commands. While Moses was away, the people abandoned the Lord with incredible speed and wicked creativity. They came to Aaron (Moses' brother) and asked him to create an idol for them to worship. Aaron agrees, and gathers their gold and makes them a golden calf. Here is the later interaction between Moses and Aaron:

"21 Then Moses said to Aaron, “What did this people do to you, that you have brought such great sin upon them?” 22 Aaron said, “Do not let the anger of my lord burn; you know the people yourself, that they are prone to evil. 23 For they said to me, ‘Make a god for us who will go before us; for this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him. ’ 24 I said to them, ‘Whoever has any gold, let them tear it off. ’ So they gave it to me, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf.”" (NASB).

A couple things stood out to me while reading this. First, Aaron's ready acknowledgement that the people are "prone to evil." What a perfect description of humanity in its present fallen state! We are conceived as sinful creatures, sin every day, and invent new ways of doing evil. Second, Aaron's laughable explanation for how this golden idol came into being: "[They gave me the gold], and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf." Uh huh. This honestly reminds me of Adam's reply to God in the garden: "The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate" (Genesis 3:12, NASB). In both accounts, excuses are made all in an attempt to pass off responsibility. They aren't taking their sin seriously.

Reading through Exodus and Numbers are instructive examples of what not to do. Israel rebels and complains ---> and God, being just, must punish sin ---> atonement is made ---> and God has mercy on the people. Over and over and over again. Korah's rebellion is an example that comes to mind. Korah, Dathan and Abiram, along with 250 leaders of the congregation gathered against Moses. These "men of renown" were jealous of Moses' position and threatened he and his brother, Aaron. By the Lord's power, the earth opened up and swallowed Korah alive, along with his household and possessions. Fire consumed the other 250 leaders.

The people nearby were naturally scared and ran for their lives. That doesn't surprise me. What does is the behavior of the entire congregation on the following day: "But on the next day all the congregation of the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron, saying, "You are the ones who have caused the death of the Lord's people."" (Numbers, 16:41, NASB). The Lord's wrath was demonstrated in the form of a plague until Moses made atonement for them.

Now, you would think that in light of the many miracles and deliverances of the Lord, the people wouldn't behave like this. They regularly saw his sheer power, and knew what He required of them, but they continued to rebel against His commandments. Even when they saw Korah's household get swallowed whole, and other leaders burned alive with fire, they had the audacity to complain the very next day. I mean, holy cow! (No pun intended). But if we know our Bibles, we know that even if you or I were in the same situation, apart from the grace of God, we would behave in the exact same way.

I find it easy to sit back and chuckle at the foolishness of those Israelites, haughtily thinking to myself that if I saw the regular power of Yahweh that I would offer better obedience. And I would be wrong. In and of ourselves, we utterly lack the ability to do what is pleasing to God, even when His power is clearly seen.

Remember the story of the rich man and Lazarus ... the rich man was in a place of torment, but begged Abraham to send Lazarus back from the dead to warn his family so that they will repent. Here is Abraham's response: "If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead" (Luke 16:31, NASB). How could this possibly be? It seems logical to believe that a dead man coming back to life, and then warning you to repent, would have an affect! But this is not the case. Man cannot repent by his own power (John 6:44); but rather, this must be granted (2 Timothy 2:25).

There is some obvious application from the Israelites' repeated failures. We should take to heart the commands of God, and believe that He really does care about how we live. Our lives should be a passionate reflection of the Lord's holiness. When we don't understand why God has brought a set of circumstances upon us, we should be careful not to complain against Him - even privately in our hearts! Instead of being a bunch of complainers, we should radiate with thankfulness for what God has done for us. The Israelites had much to be thankful for: out of all the nations, they alone, were chosen to be in a special covenant relationship with the true and the living God. They were promised a bountiful land to inherit, and also were given a sacrificial system to point them towards the coming Messiah.

How much more thankful ought we to be since Christ has already come! God the Son emptied Himself by taking on human flesh, to glorify Himself by delivering His elect people from sin! Above all people, we have the most reason to be overflowing with joy and thanksgiving. This will aid our witness for the gospel, but also will be pleasing to our God. I will close with these beautiful words from the Apostle Paul:

"14 Do all things without grumbling or disputing; 15 so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world, 16 holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I will have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain. 17 But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all. 18 You too, I urge you, rejoice in the same way and share your joy with me." (Philippians 2:14-18, NASB).

Thanks for reading,

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