OT: Numbers 14:1-15:16
Today's reading really conveyed the difference between forgiveness and consequences. God forgave the Israelites for their fear and rebellion, but there were still consequences for their lack of faith. In His words, "I have forgiven them, as you asked. Nevertheless, as surely as I live and as surely as the glory of the Lord fills the whole earth, not one of the men who saw my glory...will ever see the land I promised" (14:20-23). This response from God demonstrates the principle that Moses highlighted in his speech to God: "The Lord is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children for the sins of the fathers to the third and fourth generation" (18). It seems unfair that God would punish children for the sins of the fathers, but by "punish," God doesn't mean "hold accountable." It's just how "natural" consequences work. You can see it even today when the consequences of parents' sins affect their children. We also saw it in the punishment of the Israelite adults in our passage today. They are the ones barred from Canaan, and yet, their children have to live with them those extra forty years in the desert. As God points out, "Your children will be shepherds here for forty years, suffering for your unfaithfulness, until the last of your bodies lies in the desert" (33). As a parent, that makes the consequences of sin even more steep. I would hate to think that my sins would have a negative effect on my children's lives. To me, that's all the more reason not to sin!
With my talk yesterday about fear and distress, this lesson struck me as an interesting counterpart. I don't want to get too deep into semantics, but I am interested in the emotions here, because I feel a lot of emotions myself:). God tells us to fear not, and the Israelites were undoubtedly frightened by the spies' bad report, but was that why they were punished? My first instinct is to say no: they weren't punished because of their fear, but because of their rebellion and lack of faith. They were not going to go into the land. They weren't going to do what God wanted them to do. Their fear influenced that decision, but it was not what they were punished for, per se. Hmmm...I don't know. Joshua tells them not to rebel and not to be afraid in 14:9. God is specifically angry with them because they treat Him with contempt and do not believe Him in verse 11. Plus, I think His words in verse 18 are interesting: "...tell them, 'As surely as I live...I will do to you the very things I heard you say." It reminds me of the Proverb we read recently: "What the wicked dreads will overtake him" (Prov. 10:24a). Hmmm...I am going to have to ponder further this relationship between fear, lack of faith, and Gethsemane-level distress and sorrow. It occurs to me that we can't necessarily help our emotions, but we can decide what to do with them. Must think further.
NT: Mark 14:53-72
Oddly, I can't think of any off the top of my head, but the plot to kill Jesus reminds me of a certain type of movie plot. You know the movies that start off with seemingly ordinary people, and then the events of the movie push them to extremes of bad behavior? And the point of the movie seems to be to expose the corruption that lives in the heart of the average, law-abiding citizen? No? Never seen a movie like that?:) I really have, but I can't think of specifics. Okay, got one: one of the subplots of the movie, Traffic, involved an upper-class American woman, played by Catherine Zeta-Jones, who has no idea that her husband is a drug lord. She is a completely innocent, normal citizen. But when she does find out about her husband, she tries to protect her family, and as such, gets pushed into increasingly desperate, immoral situations. The climax of her subplot has her riding in her nice Suburban, on the way to pick up her kids or something, while on a cell phone with an assassin who she hired to kill the witness to her husband's crimes, who is in federal custody. The assassination attempt gets botched, and she increasingly loses her composure. And so the viewer ends up with this image of this totally put-together, wealthy woman, yelling hysterically into the cell phone, "Shoot him! Shoot him in the head!"
It seems that the teachers of the law are in a similar "movie." They seemed all put-together beforehand. They seemed like good, "Law" abiding citizens, devoted to Torah and to personal holiness. And yet, the circumstances of Jesus pushed them to extremes that totally revealed the darkness of their hearts. Opposing Him is one thing. Killing Him is quite another. And furthermore, the lengths and means to which they go to kill them are even quite another thing. In the Law, God gives reasons to kill a person who is rebelling against Him. But because Jesus doesn't break the Law, the teachers of the Law can't do it outright, like God says. No, they have to scheme and bribe; they have to manipulate the masses and summon false witnesses. And they can't just kill Him, no. They have to spit in His face, to beat Him, to torture Him. Their behavior through this whole process lays their hearts bare. It ironically proves everything that Jesus has been saying about them. They are whitewashed tombs: their insides are filled with corruption and death.
Ooooh, here is a point in favor of those who say that you can build a theology (be it original sin, pro-life arguments, etc) around a psalm. Paul very carefully builds "his" doctrine of man's sinfulness and God's grace around this psalm in Romans 3. He uses it as his main text to prove a major point about the human condition in a book devoted to the deliberate building of a coherent doctrine. Hmmm...
I still have reservations: the psalms are all different; he was divinely inspired, and we're not; and there is a ton of figurative language throughout the psalms. And I still don't think I buy completely into the idea of original sin, despite its seeming support in Psalm 51. (Someone help me out here: the Church of Christ does not believe in original sin, right? Right? I'm not trying to tow the party line here, but I really want to clarify that that is what I've been taught. I'm beginning to get confused on that point.) However, despite my continued objections, Paul's use of this text provides a strong point for another view.
Oh, but yeah--the psalm itself:). Um, it's really good. It's hard for me to separate it from Romans 3, but, as I've noted with other psalms, it always strikes me how despair over humanity has been present throughout history. I'm not downplaying the despair that we might feel now, but it is interesting to note that those feelings have always been there. As such, I tend to view those feelings as very valid, but not necessarily apocalyptic. What I mean by that is that often, people tend to look at society and conclude that we can't get much worse, and that at this rate, we have got to be close to the end times or to some apocalyptic-style disaster. And maybe we are. But I also see how people have had these thoughts all throughout history, and so that awareness tempers my panic. Instead, it helps me focus on what I can do in the situation, which is to be a strong, steady light in dark times.
"Wealth is worthless in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death." It is always good for me to be reminded that the external factors aren't what keep me safe. I know it in my head always, but reading the scriptures helps to remind my heart.