September 18, 2015

Be careful about assumptions

Nahum 1:1–3:19, Acts 16:6–40, Job 24:12–25

Pick a person, any person well known and list their strengths and weaknesses. Suppose ‘gentle’ and ‘hates to be interrupted’ were on the list. Could it be said that person is always gentle? Or always annoyed? Of course not. Nevertheless, some people say that God is always angry, or always merciful, or always does not care what people do. If people are complex, why not God?

Today’s readings show that God cannot be defined by just one characteristic. He can be a God of wrath AND a God of love. He can punish sin, but also forgive sin. We might be able to put people in a box but not God. Also, we sinful humans are far too quick to assume what He is doing and why.

For instance, Nahum wrote about God’s dealings with Nineveh. This city repented of their cruel and evil deeds at the preaching of Jonah, but a hundred years later they were back at it. Nahum declared: “The Lord is a jealous and avenging God; the Lord is avenging and wrathful; the Lord takes vengeance on his adversaries and keeps wrath for his enemies. The Lord is slow to anger and great in power, and the Lord will by no means clear the guilty. His way is in whirlwind and storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet.” (Nahum 1:2–3)

Notice the contrast here between “jealous, avenging, and wrathful” and “slow to anger.” So which is He? Verses 7 & 8 are also a conundrum: “The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him. But with an overflowing flood he will make a complete end of the adversaries, and will pursue his enemies into darkness.” (Nahum 1:7–8)

I’ve been God’s adversary and His enemy. Yet after He invited me to take refuge in Him, He put me under His protection. This seems to make no sense.

Job and ‘friends’ also debated God’s treatment of evil people. The ‘friends’ thought God dealt with the wicked in this life as well as the next, but Job said, “From out of the city the dying groan, and the soul of the wounded cries for help; yet God charges no one with wrong.” (Job 24:12)

He pointed out to his friends that God did not always punish evil as they insisted: “You say, ‘Swift are they on the face of the waters; their portion is cursed in the land; no treader turns toward their vineyards.” Then he argued that was not how God works in reality. He said, “God prolongs the life of the mighty by his power; they rise up when they despair of life. He gives them security, and they are supported, and his eyes are upon their ways. They are exalted a little while, and then are gone; they are brought low and gathered up like all others; they are cut off like the heads of grain. If it is not so, who will prove me a liar and show that there is nothing in what I say?” (Job 24:18, 22–25)

When people think God should be wrathful, He could show mercy. When people suppose He will be merciful, He may not but instead deal with sin in a vengeful way. How can a person know what God is doing? Nineveh responded to mercy once, but then took it for granted and returned to their evil ways; then they were punished. Job’s friends assumed Job was being punished therefore his ways must be evil, but they were wrong. God said so.

Today’s NT reading has a section that tells of God revealing His ways to His servants: “And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them . . . . And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’ And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.” (Acts 16: 6–7, 9–10)

These NT believers heard God speak to them and obeyed. They trusted God even when, “The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods. And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, ordering the jailer to keep them safely. Having received this order, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks. About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God . . . .” (Acts 16:22–25)

Humanly speaking, it takes in-my-face knowledge to know if someone is being punished for sin or tested to prove their faith. I would not know if God was chastening to correct, or if someone was in trouble for living a godly life. All this means that I must be careful in my judgments about what God is doing in another person’s life.

From firsthand experience, I know the consternation of being misunderstood. Better to be silent, or at least wait and see rather than make assumptions. A wrong assumption often leaves in me a deep wound. I wonder how God feels when I do it to Him? 

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