Friday, March 13, 2009

A Thousand Generations

He is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations who love him and keep his commands.

                        Deuteronomy 7.9

Descent in Decadence

Yesterday Bernie Madoff pleaded guilty to defrauding thousands of investors—many of them friends and colleagues—of millions of dollars. Last weekend, Walt and I watched W., Oliver Stone’s surprisingly sympathetic portrait of our last President as a witless and unwittingly naked emperor subjected to global disgrace by his deceitful administration. For over a month, Web sites and tabloids have breathlessly followed the fallout of a domestic violence case involving two pop music stars barely out of their teens. Must I go on listing widely chronicled incidents of infidelity, treachery, abuse of power, and other examples of craven behavior mesmerizing the masses? I can, you know.

What makes faithfulness so hard for us? Why does its failure excite us? I once thought we lapped up stories of high-flying betrayal as a kind of reverse condescension that viewed such outlandish treachery as beneath us. Now, I’m convinced we’re all, to some degree, impacted by the trickle-down of greed, immorality, and presumed impunity behind scandals we relish. Still, we can’t get enough. I pray God’s help, because it’s clear we’ve learned to believe—nay, celebrate—the worst in us, to devote undue interest to unfaithful villains when we should press one another for faithfulness in all things. In Romans 1.25, we find a similar descent into decadence befalling people of its day: “They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator.” We’ve accepted lies of human treachery as universal truth and lost all sight of the One who made us, Who is, always was, and will always be faithful and true.

Back Where We Started

Belief in unfaithfulness so tightly grips our world that even as believers, we’re sometimes riddled with doubt and cynicism about God’s promise to remain faithful to us. When prayers aren’t immediately answered or clarity isn’t available on demand, our first impulse is assuming God’s vanished for parts unknown, like a con artist running off with our life’s savings or a lousy husband who steps out to buy cigarettes and never returns. That’s how we do. Abandonment, dishonesty, infidelity, and every other abuse we associate with unfaithfulness don’t exist in God. They can’t exist in Him, because He’s perfect.

Furthermore, nothing shakes God’s commitment to love us. He’s impervious to time and human progress. And that alone is why He’s faithful. In Malachi 3.6, He tells Israel: “I the LORD do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed.”  His promises to Israel’s ancestors remained in effect long after they left this life. But He finishes His statement with a bold explanation of why it feels like He’s left the scene: “Ever since the time of your forefathers you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you.” (v7) And here we are, back where we started—with our unfaithfulness, doubt, suspicions, and insistence on expecting God to think and act like us, instead of raising our minds and motives to think and act like Him.

God’s Covenant

Deuteronomy 7.9 reminds us God pledged His love to a thousand generations, a poetic way of saying His love, mercy, and acceptance bear no expiration date. God’s covenant to ancient Israel is no less applicable to us in our time. The love He displayed for dozens and dozens of Bible personalities is equally available to us. He is the faithful God. We have to know that, no matter how ridiculously unfaithful the world we live in becomes. Psalm 40.10 says, “I speak of your faithfulness.” Sometimes when it feels like we’re reaching for a God Who isn’t there, we need to talk to ourselves and express our confidence in Him to others by faith. We need to show the faithfulness and trust we’re seeking from Him.

2 Thessalonians 3.3 says, “The Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen and protect you.” The first letter to the Thessalonians nears its conclusion with, “May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.” And 1 Corinthians 10.13 (a personal favorite) says, “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.” These and numerous other promises of God’s faithfulness invariably depict acts of love—strength, protection, mercy, etc. His faithfulness is a fact, not a feeling, just like His love. Yet while love is a gift, faithfulness springs from mutual trust. Hence, Deuteronomy tacks a condition on its declaration of God’s faithful, timeless love, reserving it for “those who love him and keep his commands.” Given the eternal reliability of God’s love covenant, living in a time and culture reeling drunkenly with unfaithfulness, returning our love and obedience at most are paltry demands.

We've become so mesmerized by our unfaithfulness we've lost sight of our faithful God.

(Tomorrow: Let's Talk)


Göran Koch-Swahne said...

So we have, just as we seem to be absorbed by the "problem of Evil" or the "problem of teodicé", when Goodness is so infinitely more interesting ;=)

Tim said...

Exactly, Göran! When we were kids and our family drove past a car accident, my parents would tell my brother and I to lower our heads as the traffic crawled past the crash scene. Of course, as we got older, curiosity overwhelmed us and we snuck a glance. Thankfully, what we saw wasn't so gruesome to scar us for life--it was a fender-bender and it turned out Mom had been overly cautious.

But our fascination with faithlessness and (as you point out) Evil and asking God to justify Himself all remind me of the "rubber-necking phenomenon." We're driven to look at what we don't need to see, talk about what we can't understand, and risk what we can't afford to lose--when we should obey our Father, look away from these things and speed past them.

It's always the same thing anyway: we don't know what really happened, why, who's at fault, etc. The best we can do is imagine all sorts of grim scenarios, most no doubt overblown and far more exciting in our minds than the mundane human error we're actually looking at.

Goodness, faithfulness, love, mercy, etc., are ever more exciting and intriguing, if for no other reason, they're far more mysterious than treachery, evil, and doubt.

Thanks, Göran, for pointing this out. Blessings of Goodness and Faithfulness always--may they follow you always!


Göran Koch-Swahne said...

Thank you, Tim!