Saturday, 16 January 2016

God & Human Failure

God and Human Failure

Or how does God respond to humans messing up his plans?

The answer to this is important in in our quest to save the West. If God alone can save, and we as nations and cultures have screwed up, is there anything in the Bible that reveals enough of God's nature from past events that we can guess what his response will be in our present circumstances.

It seems to me that no-one – absolutely no-one - thwarts God's ultimate purposes. Having said that, human actions certainly may cause a great deal of pain and mayhem. Also we may have very fuzzy and self-centred ideas about what God's ultimate purposes are, so people may think (wrongly) that his purposes have been thwarted!

Some examples to think about:

Adam and Eve: when our first parents sinned by falling for the devil's line “you can become like God, knowing good and evil” that should have ruined God's plans that he could have the intimate friendship with that we see depicted in such homely style in Genesis 3:8. with the humans he created “in his image”. Certainly their sin caused them to hide from God – a human problem right to this day! Certainly there was judgement – cast out of the garden, a curse on the earth: life would be hard and end in death . But there was mercy, (Gen.3:21) God made garments for them. There was still some communion with God possible for humans, there was and is above all God's future.

1 Peter 1:20 tells us Christ was “chosen before the creation of the world”. Our human rebellion did not thwart God's plans or even take him by surprise! It did of course bring death destruction and misery to Adam and Eve's descendants – not that we can blame them – every one of us has followed in their footsteps by choosing so many times to follow our fallen nature rather than follow God's ways. What God did to save us from the eternal consequences of our choices involved a great deal of pain for him: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son …” But Revelation ends with a new Jerusalem, described in better-than-Eden motifs “on each side of the river stood the tree of life … yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse

So God's ultimate purpose of having humans who chose to love him enjoying for ever all the delight of a close friendship with him and a communion with each other unpolluted by sin was not thwarted.

Abraham and Ishmael: I though initially this would be a counter-example but looking closer it demonstrates the same point. Indeed So do all Abraham's mistakes. God has promised Abraham (still named “Abram” at that stage) a son through is wife Sarai/Sarah. She appears barren. She gives Abraham her maid as a concubine. That was the law and custom in the ancient near east. Marriage contracts of that period have been unearthed that lay down that if the wife cannot bear children she is to provide a surrogate whose children will be legally regarded as hers.

However God's purposes are to be carried forward by a son of promise – to be born by Sarah. Hagar despising her mistress was wrong as was Sarah's cruelty to Hagar. Demanding that Abraham sent Hagar and Abraham's son Ishmael away was seriously bad by the rules of their times. The very fact that over the centuries of the scriptures being transcribed and transmitted no-one thought to “whitewash” Abraham – their spiritual “father” – but left all the unsavoury details untouched speaks to the accuracy and integrity of the scriptural record!

At the end of the day God's purposes stood despite all these, and other (like Abraham passing Sarah off as his sister when they sought refuge in Egypt) human wrongs.

Choosing a king: Remember when ancient Israel chose to have a king? That was not part of the plan.

God had provided Moses to lead them out of Egypt and through the desert wanderings to the very edge of the promised land.

Over the next few hundred years whenever there was a crisis requiring a national leader to rally the tribes and lead them into battle God raised up one for that purpose. The book of Judges records this vividly. But … this made them different to the nations round about them. These nations all had kings. Being different was part of the plan, they were the people of the one true God, they were to trust him, and specifically not try to ape the peoples round them!

As Samuel grew old – and may have been part of the problem by appointing his own sons as rulers - the people of Israel demanded a king 1 Sam 8:5 “They said to (Samuel) 'You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead us such as other nations have.

Understandably Samuel did not like this, but it was also against God plan: 1 Samuel 8:7ff “the Lord told (Samuel) '… it is not you they have rejected; they have rejected me as their king. As they have from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods. … now listen to them but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights'.”

That is a scary thought for every one of us: God gives them what they ask for even though it his best plan for them! We should be so grateful for those times when God does not give us what we ask for in prayer – he is protecting us from our own ignorance and dumb choices! But I take comfort – and warning from the story of Baalam (Numbers 22). He was warned! Only when he persisted was he allowed to go when he would have been so much better to have stayed.

OK God gives them a king, even though they asked for the wrong reasons (to be like other nations), even though they were in fact rejecting God as their real King (who appointed leaders as needed), and even though kings came as good, bad and just plain greedy.

But God's ultimate plans were not upset. Re-arranged perhaps, but the repair - if repair it was – to his plans was so seamless that looking back we cannot see how it could have been any other way.

Jesus, God's own son sent to reverse the curse of the fall was the Messiah, the son of king David. The prophesies using kingship to describe Jesus; the examples of Israel's kings being bad shepherds requiring God to announce he would step in and be the good shepherd, how would it have worked had there been no kings? Unanswerable questions of course, but I do find it breathtaking how brilliantly God counters human (and demonic) moves against his purpose!

One more quick example: the North-South split.

Remember how King Solomon for all his good start went bad at the end and how God sent a prophesy that ten of the twelve tribes would be torn from his dynasty. (1 Kings 11:29ff)

The North rebelled against Solomon's son Rehoboam, and from then on there were two kingdoms, “Israel” in the North with Samaria as its capital and “Judah” in the south based on Jerusalem.
The North generally got into more trouble, but God still sent them prophets to warn them to come back to him – Amos and Hosea for instance. My point is that he did not abandon the North to their own devices. Sadly the history is that they disobeyed him and fell to the Assyrians who were excessively brutal and the original population were carted off and dispersed while foreigners were brought in to replace them (ie the Samaritans of Jesus day were not ethnic Israelites).

On the other hand God passed up many good opportunities to merge the two kingdoms again. This should give us food for thought when we are told that merging churches which have split sometimes centuries ago is some sort of Christian imperative!

Just to complete the story, the South survived until the Babylonians were the expanding power, they were comparatively humane, so while the Judah-ites were deported they were kept together, maintained their identity and seventy years later a remnant went back to Jerusalem. And from them at the appointed time in the town of Bethlehem was born God's Messiah - Jesus.

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