OT: 2 Sam. 23:34-24:25
Well, today's theme in the OT, NT, and Psalms is: God is in control. How do you feel about that?
Let's take the main story in chapter 24, for starters, and go backwards:
70,000 people died from a plague. Why did they die from a plague?
Because God killed them. Why did God kill them?
Because David sinned by taking a census. Why did David take a census?
Because God told him to (24:1).
Huh? Everything that happens ultimately traces back to God causing it to happen. If that pesky verse 1 wasn't in there, it would just seem like a typical, though harsh, interaction between a sinful man and an angry God. But verse 1 puts everything firmly under God's control, both the sin and the punishment.
So...how do you feel about that?
Sidenote: I love David's explanation for his desire to pay for the sacrifice to God. He says, "I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing" (24). I think there are some elements of my "living sacrifice" that cost me nothing. Avoiding drunkenness, for example, is totally painless. I hate the taste of alcohol. Being submissive to my husband is perhaps the easiest thing I've ever done. My husband is simply amazing, and his treatment of me so closely reflects Christ that it is almost effortless to live in a harmonious marriage. I have to think, though, that my sobriety and my dedication as a wife are not the two things that God is most proud of. My truest offerings come when I keep a rein on my tongue, when I act with patience, when I live and think in a humble way. Those offerings are hard; they cost me something. In order to "burn" those offerings before God, I have to sacrifice something of my essential character. I have to lay on the altar the identity that I was born with, and I have to crucify my own will in order to do God's will.
NT: Acts 3:1-26
Here is another, "God is in control; how does that make you feel?" event. No, not the healing of the lame man. That part was great. The tie-in to the OT came instead during Peter's speech to onlookers, where he tells them, in no uncertain terms, that they killed the Christ. Regarding their involvement, Peter assuages them, saying, "Now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Christ would suffer" (17-18). So again, the people's murderous actions were caused by God, who orchestrated the whole event to fulfill His purposes.
I am much cooler with this scenario than the OT one, but it is the same concept in both stories. In both cases, God is firmly in control of the actions of the people...and yet, in both cases, the people do have some choice. David gets to choose his punishment, at least. And the people Peter talks to have a choice, too: "Repent, then, and turn to God, so that you sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord" (19). I think the NT incident, especially, shows how there is such a unique paradox at work when it comes to God's divine orchestration and our own choices. I think it is just beyond me.
Finally, here is our third instance of divine control. In verse 2, the psalmist says, "As the eyes of slaves look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid look to hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God, till he shows us his mercy." Now, this psalm does not explicitly claim (as our OT and NT readings did) that God directly caused the people's suffering. But it certainly acknowledges that God is the One who can fix it whenever He wants. From there, you can easily understand that it is God who is allowing the suffering to continue, and then realize that it was God who allowed it to happen in the first place. In some ways, that makes me realize how the difference between "God caused" and "God allowed" is really just semantics. An omniscient, omnipotent Being, after all, can't just be a passive observer. With everything that happens, God has to make an active decision, whether to allow it (or cause it) or to prevent it.
Now, I know that all this is light years beyond me, to the point where I feel kind of dumb for even exploring something so far out of my depth, but here is the result of my thinking. When I read the OT passage, I was dumbfounded by God's actions, which my human self found to be reprehensible. Then when I read the NT passage, I realized that God's action for which I am most grateful (sacrificing Christ) involved the same maneuvering of human will that I objected to so much in the OT. Psalms took my thoughts a step further. The psalmist helped me realize that this "problem" is present in everything that happens, good or bad. My puny mind just can't see how an all-knowing, all-powerful God can not to some degree orchestrate everything that happens.
And yet, that same all-powerful God can also give us free choice...but how those two things interact is for me to know.
In short, working through all that helped me to understand the OT story a little more.
"Understanding is a fountain of life to those who have it, but folly brings punishment to fools" (22). After pondering God as best I can in today's reading, I honestly feel like I don't have understanding, although I do think that I have the understanding that I need to live in a way pleasing to God. And that's what matters, really.