Thursday, February 11, 2010

God Sees

To deny a man his rights before the Most High, to deprive a man of justice—would not the Lord see such things? (Lamentations 3.35-36)

Schisms, Chasms, and Conflicts

The politics of Christianity have been its worst enemy from the beginning. The more one thinks about it, the more obviously they’re born of impatience. Any believer with a thimble-full of knowledge understands God alone has the final say. Meanwhile, He has given us His Word and Spirit to evaluate how we’re doing. It’s hard to conceive we need more than that. But we insist they’re not enough. After we open the Word and listen to the Spirit’s counsel, arguments still erupt about what they mean. With so many questions hanging around, we find it impossible to let them rest until God yields His opinion. Rather than admit we don’t know the answer, we presume to have the last word. Manmade doctrines and policies become so ingrained in Church culture, we no longer check them against God’s Word and Spirit. We forget we hatched these ideas and they’re just as apt to be wrong as right. Making up answers because we haven’t the patience to wait on God’s verdict is treacherous business.

Proverbs 14.12 warns, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.” Judging anyone or thing by what seems right destroys our unity, sullies our witness, and saps our spirit. The schisms, chasms, and conflicts that fracture the Church and break the hearts of its people have, to a one, begun by differences over matters we’re not qualified to judge. There are presently tens of thousands of Christian sects and spin-offs, each tenaciously clinging to its views, defiantly claiming it’s “right.” The damage this inflicts on our unity is enough to revile the practice. Yet its harm runs deeper, because it generates endless confusion and bitter attacks within the ranks. Instead of contenting ourselves to say, “God knows,” impatience goads us to profess, “We know.” Consequently, the Church, which should be a paragon of justice and righteousness, has earned a reputation for discrimination and error.

A Disdain for Justice

God’s Word is fairly explicit about what He wants. The principles of love, justice, and mercy laid down in the Old Testament resound through the Gospels and Epistles. The rest of the Bible’s content shows us how easily and quickly we screw up. Either we get overly zealous about pleasing God and invent a lot of rules, or we pound our heads against the wall, asking why He allows hardship to befall us when we disobey. Both responses indicate how little we know. And both reveal a disdain for justice—the first by fostering a judgmental climate that suffocates faith and hope, the second by shirking responsibility to love God and our neighbors. Neither comes to grips with the fact God isn’t merely the One Who decides what’s right and wrong. He’s also the only One Who sees what’s really going on. We’re told in 1 Samuel 16.7: “The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”


The Hebrew title for the Old Testament book of Lamentations is Eikhah, or How. Traditionally ascribed to Jeremiah, it contains five poems that mourn Israel’s degradation by its enemies and repeatedly asks how the nation fell into such despair. The first poem is written in the voice of a grieving widow, while the second connects Israel’s woes with its wickedness. In content and cadence, they suggest the prophet is too overcome to view his people’s misfortune from a more balanced perspective. But he comes around in the third poem, where his focus turns from “How”—with its implicit “Why”—to “Who.” His inability to find answers invites him to believe God alone sees and knows. What’s more, he recognizes the principles that account for Israel’s fate will ultimately apply to her enemies as well. “How could this happen” is answered by “Here’s how God works.”

This conclusion is a watershed for Jeremiah. Among the prophets, he’s one of the harshest and most punitive. His message and tone resemble those of a drill sergeant tasked with shaping up a brigade of losers. Yet by the time he writes Lamentations (which legend says occurred while secluding himself in a cave), the nation’s suffering has reached a scale that feels unbearable. Jeremiah asks, “Doesn’t God see we’ve been stripped of our rights? Doesn’t He recognize the injustice against us?” He knows God sees, and has every confidence He will be faithful. In verses 58 and 59, he writes, “O Lord, you took up my case; you redeemed my life. You have seen, O LORD, the wrong done to me. Uphold my cause!”

The same impatience that accounts for the Church’s politically driven, unjust doctrines and policies also thwarts those of us who’ve been hurt or disturbed by them. We also rush to judge those who differ with us and rally to have the last say. But despite how accurately our views reflect God’s Word and respond to His Spirit, the final say still isn’t ours. Whether or not others see what’s going on, God sees and knows. He also knows how to handle it. Yes, we must refute injustice at every turn. We must stand firm and speak out. Yet in our pursuit of righteousness we must take precaution against falling into the habits of the unjust. Psalm 1.1 says, “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers.” Instead of turning on our brothers and sisters, we turn our case over to God. He sees the wrongs against us. He upholds our cause. Patience, not politics, ensures His principles will endure. Those who’ve been wrongfully accused will be vindicated. And those who’ve exploited their position will be judged. That’s how God works.

Injustices and abuses we see God sees. He sees what's really going on and He knows how to handle it. He has the last word, and we must be patient with confidence justice will come.

(Next: Your Song)


genevieve said...

This is why there are over 33 thousand different denominations. Churches has split over petty doctrines. Most of them are man made.

I love reading and studying about the first century Christian church. Inclusiveness is what drew many marginalized people to it. Women, the diseased, the diabled, foreigners, and others were welcome.

kkryno said...

Hi Tim.

This spoke so well to me in relation to some personal events this last couple of weeks.

He truly does see, and is there beside us through troubling circumstances. I certainly have had an ongoing conversation with Him over the last few days.

Thank you for your clarity and the love you share in this forum.

Love, Vikki.

Tim said...

Genevieve, the number of splinter groups is appalling in its evidence of how many of us believe we have the pipeline to the truth. We rip our favorite scriptures out of the Book, nail 'em to a door, and--voilà--we're open for business. And, sadly, in most cases our business is excluding anyone who doesn't share our views, while trying to persuade anyone who'll listen to us we're right. You're right about the Early Church. The Apostles insisted on everyone being welcomed and preached unity among believers as a must-have, not a nice-to-have. But even then, there were groups that wanted to shut others out (the circumcision crowd, e.g.). This compulsion to be right is a burden we need to escape the instant we feel it creeping up on us. Trust in God's mercy and wisdom is what we need to embrace!

Vikki, while I'm sorry to hear you've been in the throes of trial lately, I'm so glad to hear you're bearing up with confidence and determination. I've found any time I've encountered conflicts or blatantly invalid ideas, answering with "God knows and sees" short-circuits the debate. Because what He sees and knows is so far beyond our comprehension, we can politely disarm anyone who believes he/she has the last word. We suspend the discussion and move on. Lastly, I'm grateful for your kind words. The love that exists here is because everyone who frequents and comments at S-F strives to abide in God's love. It's truly a blessing.

Thank you both for your thoughts on this topic. It's always a delight to hear from you!

Love and joy,

PS: Genevieve, I got two of very similar comments from you--probably a blogger glitch. I published the more recent one, but saved the earlier comment. If you like, I'll post that one too.