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Monday, May 5, 2014

Faith and Whining

It is a peculiar literature, the Hebrew Scriptures. When one considers that it is a "history" of the Jewish People it is stunning how poorly those people are characterized. One searches in vain for truly righteous heroes. Of course, in the sanitized Children's Bibles which informed our youth that was not the case. The stories highlighted the high points, and carefully edited out that which would mar the reputation of various figures, but with few exceptions (Jonathan, for sure, probably Daniel and the boys, and the women like Ruth and Esther, and of course the Prophetic figures) the men (women are rarely a focus) are exceedingly fallible.

Abraham lies about Sarah being his wife and lets her be taken by another. Jacob is a conniver and slick operator. King Solomon is a dismal failure and David is not much better (arguably worse) although God recognizes David's love. Many of the key figures tell God that they wish they were dead, as they complain about this or that. While there are acts of heroism and even nobility, there are few instances of mythic greatness.

What is true of the individual is even more emphatically true of "the people." Reading from Exodus this week one is struck by the failure of commitment. God's gracious act of salvation is met, time and again, with whining and complaining. The Biblical verb, murmuring, convey the lack of faith. Over and again the people say, "we were better off in Egypt" or "why did you bring us out here to die?"

It is, clearly, not a story put together by anyone's PR department and there is little "spin" on the story to make them look good. Which is a reason to believe the claim that the Bible is inspired literature. It really bares witness to God's faithfulness (and justice) more than commend the people for their goodness. And in that sense it serves as a wonderful mirror in which to see our own lives.

We are a mix of good and bad, but in the end, our hope is in the Lord. It is easy to forget that, especially when intoxicated by our belief in ourselves and our confidence in progress and human ingenuity (though perhaps the past decade has deflated some of that optimism). When things go wrong, arguably, they are going the way they always have. Salvation is an intervention from above, not something generated within. Our preference to be "looking on the sunnyside" and whitewashing over the "uncomfortable negatives" is foolish. Face it, we are not much different from those wandering in the desert, nor are we better than the patriarchs and others whose foibles decorate the Biblical page. The key is focusing on God. Yes, He does get mad, even raging mad, with the faults and failures of His people. Yes He does judge and punish. Yet, always, He finds a way to "repent" of the evil He intends (whatever such a word means when applied to God!!!) and He shows mercy and kindness to those who do not deserve it.

In Easter season, resurrection is a reminder that God's salvation does not save us from death, but saves us out of death. Yes, we die, but death will not be the last word. We get what we deserve, but like ancient Israel, we do not perish forever, because "everlasting is His love.' So there is reason to trust and hope...

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