What’s right with this picture?

So you’ve spotted some spiritual “issues” that need to be addressed and are led to call them out. Let’s consider this:

Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother, to the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given to you by Christ Jesus, that you were enriched in everything by Him in all utterance and all knowledge, even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you, so that you come short in no gift, eagerly waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will also confirm you to the end, that you may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.

— 1 Corinthians 1:1-8

And then Paul lowers the boom, launching into a blistering review of the sinful behaviour the Corinthians had fallen into.

But he begins by reviewing not what the Corinthians do, but who they are;

  • sanctified in Christ Jesus
  • called to be saints — just like anyone else who calls on Jesus’ Name
  • deserving of grace and peace from God
  • enriched in everything by God
  • coming short in no gift

It’s the same as in his second letter to the Corinthians, where Paul reminds them that now that they are in Christ, they have become “new creatures” (2 Cor. 5:17).

Yesterday, I wrote about how the devil has co-opted the notion of justice, by allowing the testimony of just one person to bring down a person. He’s also co-opted the notion of identity, basing it on outward appearances — what one does, or the color of one’s skin — rather than one’s inward makeup. But God’s version of identity starts with those five points above: the state of the heart. Remind a person of that, encourage them in that reality, and sooner or later skin color doesn’t make a difference and one’s actions or “preferences” fall into line with God’s Word.

In fact, if you see someone in error, I’d suggest focusing on those positive aspects — “what’s-right-with-this-picture?” — without even mentioning the behaviour. Let that light overpower whatever darkness may be present.

And don’t reserve that for other people. We all feel temptation rising up or a need to “recalibrate”. That’s when it’s good to look at Paul’s approach and remind ourselves of who we are and — most importantly — Whose we are.

The enemy and the witness requirement

This is a theme that I’ve been turning over in my mind for a few weeks, now, praying for the right way to express it. Let’s see how this goes.

If you want to see how God is not in control of the world’s systems, consider the current series of allegations of sexual abuse or sexual assault — generally against men in a position of power. This is good: as women step forward, others are encouraged to do the same; men are then led to examine their own behaviour and attitudes. What’s more, young people are taking a long, hard look at their situations, since violence and abuse is hardly unique to a particular generation. (An initiative in one community in Yukon recently won an award for bringing young people — Indigenous and non-Indigenous — together to address a problem of violence against Indigenous women and girls.)

Clearly, using power and influence to extract sexual and other favours is demonic, but something else is at play. In the earnestness to see that justice is done for the victim, the general first response is to believe the accuser. The flip-side to this is that the accused is then presumed guilty until proven innocent, which goes against a basic principle of the law, at least in North America and the UK.

And there’s something else to consider:

[The Lord says,] “One witness shall not rise against a man concerning any iniquity or any sin that he commits; by the mouth of two or three witnesses the matter shall be established.”

— Deuteronomy 18:15

I got to thinking about this because I know that there are times when a person, for whatever reason, sets out to “get” someone and uses the “believe the accuser” mindset to level charges at that person. As we know, a person can be ruined by a single accusation, even if it’s false. But God sets out the rule for bringing an accusation: you need more than one witness.

“Whoever is deserving of death shall be put to death on the testimony of two or three witnesses; he shall not be put to death on the testimony of one witness.”

— Deuteronomy 17:6

So you see Satan at work here: abuse is evil enough, but allowing someone to be accused and de facto convicted on the strength of one person’s word goes against God’s direction for justice. The enemy, therefore, is playing both sides of the ball. (This is why pastors are generally advised to keep the door open and stay in view of other people when ministering to someone of the opposite sex.)

Of course, in reality, abusers tend to be crafty enough not to do things with witnesses around, and innocent people don’t think they need a witness for their every move. So what do you do? Jesus has the answer:

Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ 

“And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you as a heathen and a tax collector.

— Matthew 18:15-17

So you start by confronting the person who’s wronged you, and if they blow you off, then bring witnesses to hear the allegation and bear witness to the person’s response. And if there’s still no satisfaction, then take it to the next level. Jesus says to tell it to the church, but I believe that could also apply to the broader community. In other words, don’t go public with the accusation until the person in question has had an opportunity to respond either face-to-face or in the relatively safe environment of having a handful of people hearing.

I believe that would be God’s way to handle a situation like that. His way recognizes that both the abused and the abuser need healing. Not doing it His way leads to people getting defensive and trying to justify, rather than own, their behaviour.

And if you think that facing your abuser one-on-one — or even with a couple of witnesses — is a frightening prospect, Jesus reminds us, in the very next verse, of a vital fact:

Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

— Matthew 18:18

Don’t be afraid to come forward, but do it God’s way, and He will be on your side, step by step.

Wrath vs. Right

So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath;

for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.

— James 1:19-20

Some years ago, I came across that passage and it was a game-changer for me. We talked on Wednesday about “justice”, and how humans’ idea of justice is focused on revenge or “getting one’s own back”, while God’s idea of it differs significantly. Well, at this time in question, I was on the verge of litigation in a situation where I was dead-sure I was in the right. Unfortunately, I had just come out on the losing end in a conference with a judge, and as I headed home, my mind was filled with ways I was going to “nail” this other person.

“I’ll get witnesses!” I told myself, “I have documents! By the time I’m through with that person, there won’t be enough left to ……”

And I flipped open my Bible. And I saw that passage. And God said, “Are you going to do this your way, or My way?”

New to the faith as I was, I realized there was only one answer.

James’ assessment of the wrath of man is part of a broader context. He is careful to note that everything good in life “is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.” (James 1:17-18)

But more than that, this part of his epistle deals with temptation, which includes the temptation to react out of anger to a situation, rather than respond prayerfully. It’s a fleshly, soul-satisfying temptation to swing back if someone takes a swing at you; to get that last word – a verbal knockout punch that brings your opponent to their knees and makes them see things your way.

It’s soul-satisfying, but does it do any good?

James says it doesn’t. The “radio interference” of our own anger drowns out anything God is trying to do, and since He gives us the option of doing it His way or ours, we don’t come to the perfect solution.

But if every good thing comes from the Father of lights, then anything that doesn’t come from Him isn’t really good, even if it looks like we’ve won.

Here’s something to consider: our idea of justice involves someone winning (us) and someone losing (the other guy). If God is no respecter of persons, would He bless or ordain something that involved somebody losing?

Of course, in our anger at the time, we can’t begin to imagine a scenario where someone who’s hurt us even begins to win. That’s why, when we feel we are wronged, we have to step back, take a deep breath, and hand the situation off to God.

Even when we’re right.


*NB: in the situation I described at the beginning, things were resolved. It took more than ten years, but leaving it to God and not pursuing litigation led to a resolution that was wildly different — and wildly better — than anything I could have conceived, myself. 

Where is justice?

Often these days, you hear demands for “justice”. Justice for someone wrongfully arrested; justice for an oppressed group; even justice for the environment. Sometimes, it’s a simple demand to make something right, sometimes it’s a demand for recompense for a long-past wrong; sometimes, it’s a cry for vengeance, to “get one’s own back”.

Leaving aside the matter that vengeance belongs to God, let’s look consider the fact that there appears to be a lack of justice in our world.

“He [the Servant of God — the Messiah] will not fail nor be discouraged, till He has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands shall wait for His law.”

— Isaiah 42:4

The lack of justice, as I read that verse, relates to the fact that justice has not been established (duh), and that it’s Jesus who establishes it. Establishing justice on the earth is one of Christ’s principal goals. I should add — as I dive into my Strong’s Lexicon* — that “justice” is translated from the Hebrew mishpat, which carries the sense of “right, rectitude (attributes of God or man)”. Hold that thought.

We know that one of Satan’s principal goals is to prevent Jesus from accomplishing God’s will on earth. Failing that, which he already has, it’s to sow as much doubt and anti-Christian feeling into the world that as many people as possible will reject Jesus as Lord and Saviour.

So the absence of justice is the work of Satan. Turning to Jesus, “wait[ing] for His law”, is the solution.

It’s one of many instances in the Bible where the Lord calls on us to turn to Him, and then the problems we see around us will be resolved. Another example is His “very convenient truth” about environmental woes:

“If My people, who are called by My Name, will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways; then I will hear from Heaven and will forgive their sins, and will heal their land.”

— 2 Chronicles 7:14 (my emphasis)

I believe it will help to recognize the way the Servant operates. When we strive for justice, we tend to do it “our way” — looking for revenge or defining what “justice” looks like. But just before Isaiah 42:4, we read,

[So says the Lord], “Behold! My Servant whom I uphold, My Elect One in whom My soul delights!

“I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the Gentiles.

“He will not cry out, nor raise His voice, nor cause His voice to be heard in the street.

“A bruised reed He will not break, and smoking flax He will not quench; He will bring forth justice for truth.”

— Isaiah 42:1-3

Simply put, the Messiah, physically, couldn’t hurt a fly. What’s more, if justice is an “attribute of God or man” and we know that God is love, then our concept of “justice” is considerably removed from God’s. Ours is of the order of “you hate me so I hate you back”. God’s is of the order of “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21)

Justice is a “heart thing”, growing within our spirits and souls as we draw closer to God through His Son. Shouting in the streets, marching, disrupting other people’s lives and creating catchy hashtags only plays into Satan’s hands. God’s Word says Jesus’ Mission is to establish justice on the earth and create a situation where people from coast to coast will consider His law; and He won’t rest until that happens.

Sorry, Satan: you lose again. Sure, he’ll keep trying to take us down but in the end, he won’t succeed. God has handed us the Playbook and if we play it His way, there will be justice.


*Don’t be impressed with that bit of “scholarship”: it’s online.

Peter’s Big Idea

transfiguration

Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James and John, and led them up on a high mountain apart by themselves; and He was transfigured before them. His clothes became shining, exceedingly white, like snow, such as no launderer on earth can whiten them.

And Elijah appeared to them with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus.

Then Peter answered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; and let us make three tabernacles; one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” — because he did not know what to say, for they were greatly afraid.

And a cloud came and overshadowed them; and a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son. Hear Him!”

— Mark 9:2-7

Poor Peter. We know how he changed later, as he grew in the Lord: but for much of the Gospels, he is the poster boy for dynamic but misguided action. He’s the one who grabbed a sword and swung at the people who had come to arrest Jesus — and cut off Malchus’ ear. He’s the one who declared he would never abandon Jesus — and then fulfilled Jesus’ prophecy that he wouldn’t even admit he knew Him.

And on seeing Jesus transfigured, and this trinity on top of the mountain — Jesus the present, Moses the past and Elijah the future — Peter gets this big idea to memorialize the occasion with tabernacles.

But there’s a problem. First of all, given that Elijah and Moses were mere men and Jesus is the Son of God — and God, Himself, in the flesh — how could one possibly consider treating them all the same by building a tabernacle for each?

But the problem really starts with Mark’s telling us that “Peter answered”.

No one had asked Peter anything.

Now, Mark does write that Peter basically became a jabbering idiot at the sight, and I doubt any of us would have handled that experience with aplomb. It’s not as if they heard a warning, “What you are about to see may make you greatly afraid. Viewer discretion is advised.” No: they just follow Jesus to the top of the mountain and BOOM! He turns brilliant white and Moses and Elijah show up.

And so, in that setting, Peter has his Big Idea and starts blurting it out without thinking. And before we laugh at Peter for being a silly git, realize that what happened to Peter, James and John can happen to us. Those three were invited into the ultimate Executive Suite and when we go before the Lord in prayer, we, too, are going into that Suite. Our problem is that very often, we tend to talk to the Lord, tell Him what we want and what we think and then back, obsequiously, out of the Suite like a supplicant leaving the presence of the Queen of England.

We need to keep in mind God’s response to Peter’s big idea: “This is My beloved Son: hear Him!”

“Hear Jesus.” We are to spend time listening to Jesus in our prayer moments. Nicky Gumbel, in his “Alpha” series, likens it to walking into the doctor’s office, spilling out all your symptoms and then walking out without hearing a diagnosis and/or cure.

I think part of the reason why we do that is that we have a hard time believing that we are really talking to God and that He will actually reply to us. The evidence is there — take, for example, our discussion of Abraham, Moses and the Canaanite woman last week — but it’s still tough to get our heads around it. But merely reaching out to God, making our request or statement and then shutting up and spending time listening is an act of faith; it confirms that we believe God is there, and with that, we’re on the road to pleasing Him (Hebrews 11:6).

Above all, “Hear Jesus.” Don’t let’s get hung up in our own ideas and the things we think are right; let’s not put our trust in another mortal, no matter how holy or righteous they appear to be, but listen to the Son of God. That’s why He came to earth: to show that we can converse with God, through Him; that’s why He rose from the dead: to show that God’s Word, made flesh, is indestructible; and that’s why He knocked Paul off his horse and continues to nudge, warn, encourage and comfort us: to show that He is alive and there for us, 2,000 years on.

Boldness and confidence: Jesus is unique

Thursday’s thoughts about the importance of Christ Resurrected have continued to swirl around my brain over the weekend. Paul writes extensively about that importance:

… if Christ is not risen, then our reaching is empty and your faith is also empty. Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up — if in fact the dead do not rise … And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!

But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.

— 1 Corinthians 14:14-17, 20-22

If Christ is not risen, our faith is futile and we are still in our sins.

Jesus’ return in the flesh is connected with our ability to move past our sinful lives and become new creatures. It was the Holy Spirit that raised Jesus from the grave and it’s the Holy Spirit, when He enters us, that brings us back to life.

Don’t ask me to get more “rational” than that, or explain it in the neat “because/therefore” logical sequence my classmates and I were taught in eighth-grade English. That’s just the way it is.

And there’s something else to keep in mind.

Following Christ is the only “belief system” in which the human “leader” is still alive.

Other religions or faiths talk about Eternity in some form, but what others base their entire existence on an actual person (Person) being alive?

What others base their existence on the ability of anyone to have a conversation with said Person?

What others base their existence on that Person providing us with strength to overcome obstacles that would be insurmountable if we tried to act alone?

BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE!

Other faiths claim to be “one of many ways”, but what other “faith leader” states baldly and without equivocation, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life — no one comes to the Father except through Me”?

What other faith calls one to look outward and upward and putting others first, rather than focusing on self?

And what other faith is so readily dismissed as “just another religion”, when in fact it’s an all-pervasive way of walking through life?

We’re encouraged to come boldly before the Throne of Grace (Hebrews 4:16) and Paul later writes, “Do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward.” (Hebrews 10:35) How could we have that kind of boldness and confidence if the faith we follow didn’t set the standard?

He’s not there anymore!

If you miss Me at the top of the Cross

You won’t find Me nowhere

Come on over to the empty tomb

I’ll be walkin’ out there

— with apologies to Pete Seeger

I could bore for Canada on the close encounter with history that was my experience last month in Italy and England. I’ll spare you this time, save for an observation. Out of the dozens (scores?) of Christian images I saw in both countries — paintings, statues, icons, etc. — fewer than half a dozen showed the risen Christ. The vast majority were of Jesus and Mary, Jesus with children, Jesus teaching, and Jesus dead, hanging on the Cross.

I think it’s worth remembering that the cornerstone of the faith is that Jesus is not still dead: that the notion that He died as punishment and atonement for our sins is only part of the story. His walking out of the grave and appearing in a resurrected, flesh-and-blood form is the act that strips away the last vestige of control Satan had over us: the fear of death. By doing that, He regained the “keys to the kingdom”, taking back the authority we had traded to the enemy for a bite of good-tasting fruit.

If we leave Jesus on the Cross, how much use is He to us? Do we not become like Mary Magdalene, weeping at the tomb because the one Person who saw our humanity rather than our sin, and who loved us in spite of our past, has been eliminated as if this were a too-good-to-be-true dream? If we leave Jesus on the Cross, is He not just another mortal, in the same category as people canonized as Saints, Great Humanitarians or Really Cool People? If we leave Jesus on the Cross, do we not reduce His ministry to something that was only relevant to a three-year period, to a relatively small group of people?

But we know differently. We have the testimonies of people at the time, people throughout almost 2,000 years of history and, in fact, people we know and ourselves, saying Jesus is alive, in our hearts and empowering us to do great things for the good of everyone.

Yes – it’s important to consider Jesus Crucified — the suffering He endured so that, when we receive His blood, our sins are erased from The Book — but it’s equally important to remember that Jesus Resurrected is the part that saves us, releases us from the bondage of the world and puts Christ, alive, into our hearts.

Sodom and Gomorrah and human shields

My daughter, bless her, had a very wise word about yesterday’s post and the one before. The premise was “Arguing with God?” and she sent a note saying “that’s a sign of a REAL relationship. In a real relationship, people do argue.”

By “argue”, we’re not talking about the knock-down-drag-out-get-the-last-word-in kind, but (to borrow the Monty Python definition) “a connected series of statements designed to support a predetermined conclusion”. In a good relationship with God, we can state our case rationally and respectfully, using our knowledge of God and His character as a basis.

There’s something else to consider from those two posts: God’s determination to wipe out Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham asked God if He would destroy the righteous with the wicked, and eventually God said He would not destroy the place if there were ten righteous people living there. The fact that the next day, SHAZOOM!*, fire and brimstone rained on the place indicates that there weren’t even ten righteous people.

POTENTIALLY EXPLOSIVE STATEMENT ALERT. PLEASE FOLLOW THIS TO THE END.

A few years ago, a friend of mine said from the pulpit, “If God doesn’t do to Vancouver what He did to Sodom and Gomorrah, He’s going to have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah.” It was a dramatic statement, reflecting the darkness many people feel over the city, and it’s more than somewhat presumptuous — telling us what God should or shouldn’t do — but thinking about it, you get an idea of God’s mercy.

First and foremost, you can see how far a society has to sink before God takes action.

As I mentioned yesterday, the population of Sodom and Gomorrah was estimated to be about 1,200. The population of the City of Vancouver (not Metro, but the city proper) is around 648,000. So if ten righteous people was the threshold for Sodom and Gomorrah, that extrapolates to 5,400 righteous people in the city of Vancouver.

I don’t think you’d have any problem finding 5,400 righteous people in the city of Vancouver. (I don’t mean self-righteous people: I mean righteous people in the way Abraham was considered righteous — he believed God (Galatians 3:6) — living by the Word, loving others, looking up and not in.) You might be surprised at the places where you’d find such people.

This means that, for all the ways that the city has fallen away from God, the righteous people living there are the reason why God hasn’t done anything.

At this point, you can fill in the blank with any city you choose: if you have as little as 0.83% of a population who believe God, they amount to a human shield.

And THAT means, there’s a big responsibility for that 0.83%. The Apostle Paul writes that spiritual gifts are intended for the profit of all (1 Corinthians 12:7), so there is a calling on righteous people to lead others to God. Not to preach at them; not to rail against the darkness: but to shine the Light that is Jesus in all corners and crevices, like the woman searching for that one missing coin (Luke 15:8-10).

It’s a tough job, but somebody has to do it — and that “somebody” is us.

 


*

superduperman

(couldn’t resist it — from “Superduperman” in MAD magazine, 1955)

Arguing with God? (Part the Second)

SO … if you recall yesterday’s action-packed post, we were talking about three cases where people more or less took God to task over something they disagreed with.

That would be presumptuous in the extreme: trying to tell The Big Sir what He should or shouldn’t do, and yet:

  • Abraham interceded for Sodom and Gomorrah, and got God to pledge that He wouldn’t destroy the two cities if there were ten righteous people living there.
  • Moses talked God out of destroying all the Israelites because they had been disobedient and lacking in faith.
  • A Canaanite woman convinced Jesus to heal her demon-possessed daughter.

But did they, in fact, “convince” God, or get Him to cave in? Or was something else at work?

I believe there was, and much of it has to do with three things: faith, the authority God gave humans over the earth, and our ability to know God.

In the first case, Abraham argues that any righteous people in Sodom and Gomorrah would be “made like the wicked”. A good point, but then they discuss numbers and God leaves us all to realize that there were no righteous people in Sodom and Gomorrah.

(To give you an idea of the scale, some estimates say there were about 1,200 people living in those two cities, so not being able to find even ten righteous people there would be the equivalent of not being able to find 5,410 righteous people living in Vancouver (population 648,000). Indeed, the only people rescued from S&G were Lot and his family, and they weren’t exactly righteous, themselves. But as we find out later, they were part of God’s plan for Jesus’ earthly lineage. That’s another story.)

So God used Abraham to make His point — and in a way, to show how far a society can go before He’ll actually unleash His wrath.

In the second case, Moses declares that God’s name will be, essentially, mud, if He wipes out all the Israelites in the wilderness. The Egyptians will hear of it and use that news to mock God and tell the people living in the Promised Land that God is not able to bring His people through. Do you think God didn’t know that? Do you think He heard Moses and said, “You know: you’re right! I’d better give this another think!”?

I doubt it. But faith is the catalyst that allows God’s true will to work on earth, and I believe God was looking for someone on earth to state that faith — both the faith that God’s name must always be glorified and that God is merciful, just and full of forgiveness. With those words spoken — especially from a leader like Moses — God put aside His plan.

Two more things are worth noting. In Numbers 14:12, God says, “I will make of you a nation greater and mightier than they.” That’s quite an offer: He suggests that He will wipe out all those who lost faith in Him and make a greater nation from Moses. But Moses doesn’t even rise to that bait: he knows that God already declared that the great and mighty nation would come from Abraham, and since God is not one to go back on His word, if Moses agreed to that, he’d be doing so for personal gain — and assuming that God was a liar.

The other thing is that Moses didn’t have sixty-six books of the Bible to bear witness that God is merciful and full of forgiveness. Sodom and Gomorrah would have given plenty of evidence that God was perfectly capable of wiping out an entire disobedient nation if He chose to. But Moses spoke to God “as a friend” (Exodus 33:11), so had grown to know Him intimately.

Hold that thought for a moment.

And then we come the third case — the Canaanite woman. She runs into the roadblock of all roadblocks: the disciples try to shoo her away and Jesus says He has only been sent to the lost sheep of Israel. But she won’t give up: her daughter’s life is at stake; so when Jesus says “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs” (Matthew 15:26), she comes right back and says that even the dogs lick up the crumbs that fall from the master’s table. It’s at that point Jesus praises her faith and her daughter is healed from that moment.

It is great faith: she declares that even a crumb of Jesus’ blessing and authority is all that she asks — all that she needs — for her daughter to be healed. She knows that those “crumbs” are better than the “full meals” that religion has been handing her all her life.

Again, we see a case where the Lord holds out for someone on earth to declare their faith in Him. That also stands as an example for the disciples: that Jesus has come for everyone, regardless of their background.

So what does that mean for us? First, all three situations involve people interceding on behalf of someone else. If our prayers are selfish, they won’t go much past the ceiling; but if our heart and our perspective are focused on others — even with prayers that involve a personal benefit — I believe God is more likely to respond.

Second, these “arguments with God” involve stating His word in a situation — essentially, stating what we know of Him. It’s not a matter of having an encyclopedic knowledge of Scripture, but of desiring to draw closer to Him through Jesus Christ, and the best way to do that is by reading the Bible and through that, getting to know His voice. There’s a miraculous aspect of Scripture, that if you start reading it pretty much anywhere, something will appear that speaks directly into whatever situation you’re facing.

Our God is alive, accessible and big enough to withstand our arguments and questions. I also believe that He waits for us to declare His word over a situation, in order for His will to be done.

Besides, arguing with Him indicates that you believe He exists, which is an act of faith in itself … and without faith, it’s impossible to please Him. (Hebrews 11:6)

Arguing with God? (Part the First)

So in keeping with His practice of not doing anything without informing His prophets, God tells Abraham He plans to wipe out Sodom and Gomorrah.

And Abraham came near and said, “Would You also destroy the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there were fifty righteous within the city; would You also destroy the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous that were in it?

“Far be it from You to do such a thing as this, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous should be as the wicked; far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?”

So the Lord said, “If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare all the place for their sakes.”

Then Abraham answered and said, “Indeed now, I who am but dust and ashes have taken it upon myself to speak to the Lord: suppose there were five less than the fifty righteous; would You destroy all of the city for lack of five?” So He said, “If I find there forty-five, I will not destroy it.”

— Genesis 18:23-28

And the conversation continues, with Abraham appearing to “bargain down” the threshold of righteousness to forty people, then thirty, then twenty. Finally, the Lord agrees, “I will not destroy [Sodom] for the sake of ten.”

And Abraham ends the conversation.

And God rains fire and brimstone onto Sodom and Gomorrah and wipes the two cities out.

Did Abraham win “concessions” from God in that discussion? Hmm.

As the Israelites are wandering in the wilderness, God has had just about enough of their disobedience and lack of faith in Him; so He tells Moses,

“I will strike them with the pestilence and disinherit them, and I will make of you a nation greater and mightier than they.”

And Moses said to the Lord: “Then the Egyptians will hear it, for by Your might You brought these people up from among them, and they will tell it to the inhabitants of this land …

“Now if You ill these people as one man, then the nations which have heard of Your fame will speak, saying, ‘Because the Lord was not able to bring this people to the land which He swore to give them, therefore He killed them in the wilderness.’

“And now, I pray, let the power of my Lord be great, just as You have spoken, saying, ‘The Lord is longsuffering and abundant in mercy … pardon the iniquity of this people, I pray, according to the greatness of Your mercy, just as You have forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now.”

— Numbers 14:12-19 (edited)

And God doesn’t smite the lot of them — not all at once — but leaves them wandering in the wilderness until that entire generation, save for Caleb and Joshua and leaving Moses until last, have died off.

A woman from Canaan comes to Jesus and begs Him to heal her daughter, who is possessed with demons. He doesn’t answer, and the disciples try to shoo her away.

I am not sent except to the lost sheep of Israel.

Then she came and worshipped Him, saying, “Lord, help me!” But He answered and said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.

And she said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.”

Then Jesus answered and said to her, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour.

— Matthew 15:24-28

Hmm.

Is it possible to “change God’s mind”?

More tomorrow.