OT: Ex. 10:1-12:13
Well, I was relieved to see that even the crazy officials came around after the plague of hail, since it seems that their pleas to Pharoah to let the Israelites go were unanimous (10:7). Unfortunately, the bulk of my cynicism about hard-heartedness still remains. It finds its chief biblical support in the story of the rich man and Lazarus. When the rich man begs Abraham to send Lazarus back to warn his brothers, Abraham replies, "If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead" (Luke 16:19). As a child, I thought that statement was ridiculous, but the more I live, the more I believe it. People can be so hard-hearted.
But not here, not today! Nothing like a little deadly round of hail to pound some sense into people! The text makes clear that, were it not for God's intervention, Pharoah would himself have probably been reasonable. But God is determined to push this last plague through.
And it is a sobering one. Even when you know well the triumphant end to this story, you just have to pause and reflect on the suffering and sorrow that is about to happen in the land. One thing the Bible makes very clear is that innocent people will suffer for the sin of others. Something that is also present, and yet even harder to grasp, is that the suffering of innocents is within the will of God. Now, that is a deep concept. In fact, it is too deep for me to explore right now (though I WILL tackle it at some point). What I will say now is that we as humans have to be very careful how we respond to that concept. God's response to the suffering of innocents is, of course, perfect. In his infinite wisdom, he finds the balance between justice and mercy, between righteousness and compassion. He works all things for the good of those who love Him.
People, on the other hand, are not perfect. And I believe that our response to the idea of the divinely controlled suffering of innocents can easily veer off in wrong directions. For one, it can make us angry at God, doubtful of His goodness. It can rupture our faith and cause our hearts to become bitter. Another wrong reaction, I believe, is to deny the sovereignty of God's will and to instead see God as some kind of helpless Force in the world, as a Being who doesn't want suffering, but is for some reason incapable to stop it. Perhaps such a response believes that God's hands are "tied" by some sort of pre-existing regulations He has set for Himself, like a rule against interfering with human will. (Of course, today's reading blows that theory out of the water.) Still another erroneous reaction to this concept is to become uncompassionate toward suffering, and essentially to respond to the pain of others with, "That's life. Get over it." Life isn't fair (and I thank God that it isn't, or else I'd be destined for hell), but that doesn't mean that we are not to hurt with those who hurt, that we are not to do everything in our power to alleviate the suffering of others.
So...those are some wrong ways to deal with this concept, in my opinion. What is the right way? Psssh. Like I know. I could get all "C.S. Lewis" on you now and grapple intellectually with the concept*, but I'll instead share the biggest lesson that I've been learning recently. The reality of the suffering of innocents is a phenomenon with which I still struggle, but I do know that I must respond with faith that God is good and perfect. I'm seeing more and more that faith requires us to do things, to think things that, honestly, don't make a lot of sense. Just tonight, I read Luke and Anna the story of Elijah and the widow. It just doesn't make sense to give your last meal away, but that's what God asks her to do (through Elijah). It doesn't make sense to kill your only son, to dip in a river as a cure for leprosy, to step out of a boat and expect to walk on water. It doesn't make sense to turn the other cheek, or that you have to die to live. But I am learning to trust that, b/c those principles are from God, they do make sense.
So no, the idea that the suffering of innocents could be part of the purpose of a good and perfect God does not make sense to me. Even in the brief times that I have felt like I can noodle some logic out of it, all it takes is for me to actually SEE some horrendous suffering for all my "logic" to fail me. But I do trust in God. I trust in His goodness, and in His wisdom, and in His perfection. Now, more than ever, I seek to believe His words and to obey them, even if that means doing something truly stupid, like stepping out on water.
*As a seasoned "grappler," I believe that there is definitely great value in intellectual grappling (I love C.S. Lewis!!!). I LOVE that God gave us our brains, and I think He expects us to use them. However, I also believe that there are also some places in God that human reason cannot take us. Thus, I try very hard not to make an idol out of human logic.
NT: Matt. 20: 1-28
As a child, I thought that the parable of the workers in the vineyard was beyond unfair. To pay the one-hour workers as much as the all-day workers was just sooo mean! When I got that the "payment" was heaven in the parable, I wasn't so bitter. I mean, I don't care if someone converts on his death bed and gets to go to heaven. I'm happy for him! But reading it today, I still don't really understand Jesus' application: "So the last will be first, and the first will be last" (16). When I think of the Christian idea of the last being first, I think of the idea that those who serve will find life. Those who die to themselves will live. That kind of thing. I don't think of it as referring to the temporal point of your conversion. So...maybe I am misreading this parable. I don't know any other interpretation, though!
Verses 26-28 describe my interpretation of "the last being first." Jesus says, "Instead, whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave." Because I have heard those ideas all my life, I really, really love them. I wonder, though, how foreign they would sound to someone who is unfamiliar with Jesus!
Psalm 25: 1-15
What a wonderful psalm! There is so much to love, but today, I was especially drawn to the verses about God's guidance:
"Show me your ways, O Lord, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth and teach me"(4-5).
"Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in his ways. He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way" (8-9).
"Who, then, is the man that fears the Lord? He will instruct him in the way chosen for him" (13).
"The Lord confides in those who fear him; he makes his covenant known to them" (14).
I LOVE the idea that God chooses ways for us. The verse makes it sound to me that the way "chosen for" us varies based on the individual. That is a cool concept.
Proverbs 6: 6-11
Oh, how I love the ant:). I so admire him and want to be like him. As someone who needs plenty of sleep and who very much enjoys sleep, verse 10 pops into my mind at the most inconvenient times: "A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest." And you know what happens then. Nothin' good:).