Christianity 201

January 5, 2021

God, Sin, and Successive Generations

Today we’re continuing with a theme we looked at yesterday.

Exactly one year ago we introduced you to Bible teacher Joanne Guarnieri Hagemeyer and her blog Grace and Peace. (Learn more about her personal story at this about page.) She’s currently offering detailed articles about the Gospel of John and also the Minor Prophets and also has a recent 3-part series about Elijah. Good reading; highly recommended! Click the title below to read this one at source.

Who Does God Punish?

“Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him.”

Isaiah 30:18


I think we call it the Fall of Humankind because the first humans were at the pinnacle of human experience, where everything was good, their relationships were healthy and filled with love, their work was satisfying and productive, their resources were ample, the world was their oyster, and their spiritual communion with God and each other was full.

Then, in a moment it seems, darkness fell from the serpent and the tree and the fruit, straight into their souls. Then, they fell, too. They fell from life to death, from glory to condemnation, joy to sorrow, harmony to conflict, satisfaction to suffering.

Here we are today, in this mess. Untold millennia later, we are still in that mess God described in Genesis 3. They fell from their great height, and it seems, ever since, their generations, including you and me, have been born down here in the rubble of their broken lives.

Genesis 2 and 3 is written with something of the sense of Rudyard Kipling’s “Just So” stories, in that, at least on one level, it explains why things are the way they are today.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I do see inspiration as the Holy Spirit active within the person writing. Still, the person can only write from what they otherwise know. A Stone Age author cannot speak of iron utensils, though the Spirit may give a vision of such. The best the Stone Age person might be able to do is use images and metaphors from their culture to try to describe the strange thing revealed to them.

That does make us wonder, though, about the accuracy of representation, as it is limited by current culture and language.

So, inspired, believing, but…let’s be careful about what we mean by accurate.

For instance, take a look at these two passages from the Bible, laid side-by-side.

I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me

The word of the Lord came to me: What do you mean by repeating this proverb concerning the land of Israel, “The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge”? As I live, says the Lord God, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel. Know that all lives are mine; the life of the parent as well as the life of the child is mine: it is only the person who sins that shall die.

From our 21st Century, Western Hemisphere, Hellenized culture and education, linear thinking, fact-based logical standpoint, there seems to be an inherent fallacy here. Either God does, or does not, punish the children for the parent’s sins. Can’t have it both ways.

I do accept the dilemma as distressing. It does seem to point to inaccuracy, and even seems to be contradictory, lending some strength to the biographical, subjectively written view of scripture.

But, what if we spread out a little bit, into the context of the passages? Can we retain a more autobiographical view of scripture? What if we read back a few verses, let’s say, in Exodus 20?

Then, we discover God is talking about something very specific: the worship and reverencing of God, over and above anything/one else. If we read forward one more verse, to verse 6? We find something strange, a promise to show steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love God and keep His commandments.

Trying to parse this out in a real family becomes challenging! If I love God, and follow His commandments, then He promises to show steadfast love to a thousand of my generations. But, what if my children do not love God, nor follow His commandments? Which vow will God now keep? The vow of verse 5? Or the vow of verse 6? So, there must be more going on here than contractual clauses in a covenant, even with an Biographical view.

To begin with, let’s lay the groundwork of the context.

Idols: A probable reading of this passage views idolatry as the central dysfunction of a humanist worldview. That would include, I’ll posit, anything we turn to give our lives meaning and purpose, joy and satisfaction, or even escape, that edges God out from the center. If paired with Paul’s explanation in Romans 1, then worshiping any other god than God results in futile thinking and senseless, darkened minds, claiming to be wise, but becoming fools. What kind of person would that be like? What would their home and family be like?

Jealous God: The word is qanna’ and when used of God means God’s protective love of His people.

Punishing children for the iniquity of parents

This phrase is a bit trickier. What is actually being said here is that God will “visit” the “iniquity” of the “fathers” upon the “children.” That is a little different than what “punishing” might convey.

Iniquity: The word is `avon [from Strong’s], perversity, depravity, iniquity, guilt, or punishment or consequence of/for iniquity

Fathers: The word is ‘ab [from Strong’s], father of an individual, of God as father of his people, head or founder of a household, group, family, or clan, ancestor, grandfather, forefathers — of person of people, originator or patron of a class, profession, or art, of producer, generator (fig.), of benevolence and protection (fig.), term of respect and honour, ruler or chief (spec.)

Children: The word is ben [from Strong’s], a son (as a builder of the family name), in the widest sense (of literal and figurative relationship, including grandson, subject, nation, quality or condition, etc., (like father or brother), etc.)

the thousandth generation: Again, this one is a bit tricky. The word is ‘eleph and it means a thousand as a numeral (to thousands), or as a company, such as a company of soldiers under one leader. It’s nice symmetry to say “third and fourth generation” and then to say “the thousandth generation,” but it might not mean exactly that.

I’ve underlined the meanings I have long held are intended for this text, and put together, I hear God saying,

“Do not look to anything else for your sense of meaning and purpose, for your sense of belonging, for your source of wisdom, truth, love, joy, satisfaction, or to meet your (felt and true) needs. This is idolatry, a dysfunction so profound that I will cause the consequences of it to be experienced in your whole household, every generation living there.”

To a head of household, this meant the corrupting not just of their own natures, but that of their lineage, from child to grandchild to great grandchild, all living within their compound, and under their leadership.

“If you look to Me for your source for all these things, I will amply supply through my steadfast love to all in your company, however many are in your household. (A thousand being a symbolically large number.)

To a head of household, this meant the experience of God’s steadfast love to every person, even beyond the family, to the servants and others coming within the breadth and reach of their household.

You and I experience to this day the consequences of our parents’ decisions. Addictions, alcoholism, financial decisions, where to live, what schools were chosen, family traditions, a sense of right and wrong, the list goes on and on. Those have a generational affect, for good or ill. I can well imagine how the saying God took issue with through Ezekiel came into being!

Because, it seems an untruth had seeped into the truth of what God unveiled in Exodus 20. The untruth, apparently, extrapolated God’s statement to mean that children had to pay for what their parents did, perhaps even with their lives. God cleared this up by stating in the strongest and most exhaustive terms that each person will be judged on their own merits alone, not on the merits of their parents (or anyone else).

The way I see it, there is no contradiction between these passages. Both accurately and consistently reflect the heart of God while at the same time illustrate how easy it is to misunderstand scripture, or take it to places it was never meant to go.

January 4, 2021

Justice Always Prevailed

Today’s featured author is someone I know personally, and we last shared his writing here exactly one year ago. Eric Wright is the author of both fiction and non-fiction Christian books, and is also a former missionary to Pakistan and former local church pastor. This appeared on his blog Country Inspiration. Learn more about his books at this link. Click the header below to read at source.

Where is the God of Justice?

A woman is killed by a drunken diplomat who flees so he cannot be prosecuted. A poor tenant farmer in Pakistan is cheated from his share of the crop by his landlord. “The whole of recorded history is one great longing for justice.” (Rushdoony) Atheists deny the existence of God by pointing to the apparent lack of justice in the world. They are not alone. Biblical prophets lamented the lack of justice, but without disbelieving in God. The martyrs under the throne of God cry out, “How long?”

Habakkuk complained to God, “Justice never prevails” (Hab. 1:4). Malachi wrote, Where is the God of justice?(Mal. 2:17). In Psalm 73, Asaph wrote about how his heart was grieved and embittered by the arrogance of the wicked who plan evil and scoff at heaven. “My feet had almost slipped…when I saw the prosperity of the wicked” (Psalm 73:1,2).

Asaph found an answer to his cry for justice in understanding that the wicked live in a slippery place. There is a cosmic moral law of cause and effect. Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows” (Gal. 6:7). The very first Psalm declares, “The wicked are…like chaff that the wind blows away”.

In Psalm 73 Asaph saw the terrible end of the unrepentant wicked. They face everlasting fire in hell. “The wicked shall be turned into hell. All the nations that forget God” (Ps. 9:17 KJV). A cursory look at history reveals that justice delayed in not justice denied. Think of the judgement of Sodom and the whole earth during the Flood. As prophesied, Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome all perished in terrible judgement. Think of Hitler, Stalin, Idi Amin, Pol Pot, Papa Doc Duvalier, and on and on to this day. The fall of cruel and proud men is terrible. No one will escape the justice of God!

Not everyone reaps in this life the evil they sow. 1 Tim. 5:24 explains: the sins of some men are obvious, reaching the place of judgement ahead of them; the sins of others trail behind them”.…only to be revealed in the final judgement.

Still, we may cry out, “Why Lord do you delay your justice?” Let us learn from Asaph. After crying out to God about the prosperity of the unjust, he realized that he had missed the first step in dealing with injustice. A search for justice must begin in our own hearts.

He cried, “when my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant” (Ps. 73:21,22). He came to understand that he had failed to keep his heart pure and free from bitterness, anger and self-righteousness. Jesus taught, “Blessed are the poor in spirit…the pure in heart.” Instead of being self-righteous we need to realize that “there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not (Eccl. 7:20, KJV). That includes us.

After confessing his bitterness, Asaph remembered what he had forgotten. Although a victim of injustice, he had forgotten that, I am always with you: you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you…God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Ps 73:23-26). The only way to live in an unjust world is to walk daily in fellowship with God. And to remember that if we have found mercy at the cross, Jesus walks with us and will never leave us. That is why he came at Christmas.

If we are to walk with God, we must understand God’s treatment of the unjust. We must remember that justice delayed is not justice denied. Delay reveals the weeping heart of God who longs to hear the repentance of the wicked in order to offer them mercy. This was Jonah’s complaint with God. He didn’t want to go to Nineveh of offer mercy, so he fled. But when he did preach in Nineveh and they repented, Jonah was angry. Why? He wanted Nineveh destroyed. He complained to God, I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity” (Jonah 4:2).

Clearly, like Jonah, we need a heart change toward the unsaved even those especially unjust. In Romans 2:4-6 Paul warns people to not ignore or despise God’s patient kindness and tolerance.

Sigh. So many of our problems with life are due to our impatience. God is a holy and just God. But he is also merciful and longsuffering. We need to trust him. He alone knows the Day of Judgement.


Facebook: Eric E Wright Twitter: @EricEWright1 LinkedIn: Eric Wright

August 12, 2015

Absalom, The Rebel

After several weeks away, regular Wednesday contributor Clarke Dixon returns. We don’t indent his stuff like we do other guest writers, since we like to think C201 is his second home online!  Clarke is a pastor (and motorcycle enthusiast) in Ontario, Canada.

Loving the Rebel

How do you love the rebel in your life? I’m not referring to an enemy, but rather someone you love deeply. They have hurt you, or hurt someone you love, or you fear that because of their rebellious decisions, they themselves will land in a world of hurt. Do you say “you reap what you sow” and let them suffer the consequences of their decisions? Or do you mount a rescue operation and try to fix everything?

We see this tension being played out in 2nd Samuel 18 as the army commander, Joab, treated the rebellious Absalom in a very different manner than what his father, King David, would have. Absalom had rebelled against his father and led much of Israel to follow him instead. This led to David fleeing Jerusalem with his loyal armies who now stood ready to fight the numerically superior armies of Absalom. As David’s men went out to fight he gave some very clear instructions regarding the rebel son Absalom:

The king ordered Joab and Abishai and Ittai, saying, “Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom.” And all the people heard when the king gave orders to all the commanders concerning Absalom. 2 Samuel 18:5

Though his son had rebelled, David’s heart was filled with compassion and hope for him. Joab, on the other hand, had a different attitude toward Absalom. We discover this when Absalom gets stuck in a tree and his misfortune is told to Joab:

Joab said to the man who told him, “What, you saw him! Why then did you not strike him there to the ground? I would have been glad to give you ten pieces of silver and a belt.” But the man said to Joab, “Even if I felt in my hand the weight of a thousand pieces of silver, I would not raise my hand against the king’s son; for in our hearing the king commanded you and Abishai and Ittai, saying: For my sake protect the young man Absalom!. . . Joab said, “I will not waste time like this with you.” He took three spears in his hand, and thrust them into the heart of Absalom, while he was still alive in the oak. And ten young men, Joab’s armor-bearers, surrounded Absalom and struck him, and killed him. 2 Samuel 18:11,12,14,15

Where David wants to be gentle with his son, Joab wants to eliminate the rebel. Where David wants to be compassionate, Joab wants to be practical, eliminating the possibility of any future rebellion. Where David wants to see no harm come to Absalom, Joab wants to ensure he never again harms another. David believes in second chances. Joab believes strongly in the Biblical affirmation that “you reap what you sow.”

So who is the better leader? And which one better reflects how you deal with the rebels in your life? Compassion or justice? Gentleness or practicality? “Let’s fix this,” or “you reap what you sow”?

Is there something we can learn from Joab and David here? At first we might not think so in that their lives seem to be in a greater mess than ours. However, their handling of the rebel points us to the One who really knows how to handle a rebel. Let’s take a look:

First, While Joab enforces consequences without compassion, God lets us sit with consequences because of love. Something we don’t see Joab doing is having any kind of conversation with Absalom. The opportunity is there to discuss the possibilities of repentance and reconciliation, but Joab does not go there. Instead he dishes out the consequences of rebellion with brutality, and, it would seem, out of hatred. On the other hand, God will let us sit with the consequences of our decisions, but when He does, He does so out of love. God does not rescue us from every bad decision like a “helicopter parent” but rather lets us learn from our mistakes. Learning from mistakes is important for our growth and our growth is important to God:

And you have forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as children— “My child, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, or lose heart when you are punished by him; for the Lord disciplines those whom he loves, and chastises every child whom he accepts.”

Endure trials for the sake of discipline. God is treating you as children; for what child is there whom a parent does not discipline? If you do not have that discipline in which all children share, then you are illegitimate and not his children. Moreover, we had human parents to discipline us, and we respected them. Should we not be even more willing to be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share his holiness. Now, discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Hebrews 12:5-11

God disciplines from a place of love. Do we lash out against the rebels of our lives like Joab, or do we let our loved ones sit with the consequences of their decisions out of love?

Second, while David was the absentee father who was not there for his son in a time of need, God is the loving Father who has made Himself present in our greatest need. We can imagine a very different ending for this story had David come across Absalom rather than Joab. But David was not there and was not able to help. At first David wanted to be with the army as they moved out, but they convinced him to stay behind because his life was more important than theirs. His life was too important to be put on the line. However, on hearing of his son’s death,

The king was deeply moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept; and as he went, he said, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!” 2 Samuel 18:33

In the end David wished he could have died in the rebels’s place. God is the One who did die in the rebel’s place through Jesus Christ at the cross. God is the One who made himself present to us, in Jesus, and even now through His Holy Spirit. Though it is a Biblical truth that we reap what we sow, it is also a Biblical truth that we reap what God has sown. He has sown and shown love, rescuing us from a predicament and calamity that we could never rescue ourselves from. Do we remain present in the lives of our rebel loved ones to rescue with a second chance when their predicament is too much for them? And do we have the wisdom to know when to rescue, and when rather to call off the helicopter so that a timely lesson may be learned? Do we love enough to put the hard work into thoughtful prayer and discernment?

But perhaps it is not David or Joab that you may relate to in 2nd Samuel 18. Perhaps it is Absalom. You are the rebel son or daughter who needs the Lord’s loving discipline. You are the rebel son or daughter who needs the Lord’s rescue and salvation. Absalom was the rebel son. Jesus is the obedient son who was obedient even to death on the cross. Your rebellion has its consequences. And Jesus suffered those consequences on the cross for you. Unlike Joab with Absalom, you are given the opportunity for repentance and reconciliation.

All Bible references are taken from the NRSV

 

May 21, 2010

Sorry for Sin

I’m quoting this from memory and changing at least one word, but in The Pursuit of Holiness, author Jerry Bridges says,

We never see sin correctly unless we see it as against God.

Sin isn’t like failing to stick to a diet, where we’ve let ourselves down, but rather we sin against God.

Repentance involves

  1. Being truly sorry for our sin
  2. Turning around; changing our behavior

Sometimes we are sorry for sin because we’re reaping consequences which we deeply regret.   While those consequences may be built-in results of what happens when we go against God — because His ways are higher; because His ways are best — that’s not the kind of sorry God is looking for.

It’s more like the song that says,

Regrets, I have a few…

Rather, His desire is that we’re sorry that we failed to see His plan as best.   We failed to live as though He was walking beside us.    We went off and did our own thing.  Now we’re sorry over the results, but we haven’t factored in being sorry for how it hurt Him when we took a detour off the path.

Perhaps somebody is reading this who needs to join in this prayer,

God, I’ve been sorry for _________ because of the consequences, but I haven’t yet said I’m sorry because I went against your ways; I sinned against you.   Forgive me.   Create inside me a clean heart, and renew inside me the attitudes and desires that are righteous.