Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Horror of "IF"; the Impossible Covenant

     You know what I'm talking about... usually in English, and in retrospect, the "if" is followed by "only".  Lev. 26 (and its repetition to the new generation in Deut. 28) uses language and assumptions we use everyday.  Our car is in the shop, and to procure a rental, a man patiently explained to me all the "ifs" of his company:  if I cause damage to the car, I'm liable.  If I bring it back with the gauge on E, I pay an even more ridiculous price for gas.  And so on... as a quick personal note,  I have been waiting to write this for some time;  if there is a passage in Lev. with greater applicability and transparency than ch. 26, please let me know!
     The "if"s in our everyday lives are useful and good (I'm sure the car rental company would agree!);  they provide an invaluable deterrent to our selfishness, and force us to weigh the consequences of misbehavior.  At first glance however, the conditions of Lev. 26 do the same thing;  they make a common-sense, causal link between behavior and consequences.  I believe God has hardwired every person with the insight that good behavior should be rewarded, and misbehavior punished (Rom 2:15).  Thus, the provisions of the Old Covenant, when given to the people of Israel, were not rejected, but immediately, heartily affirmed (Ex 19:8, 24:3). 
"Locked on to slumbering consciences!"
     So all's well and good!  The world makes sense to us when we are young, and when toy thieves, bullies on the playground, and all those awful people are arrested, tried and convicted (in the court of parental correction!), we have a deep-seated sense of vindication, relief and of justice done for the good of all.  But then sometimes, just sometimes, things start to get confusing:  we start to make choices that make perfect sense to us, but others see as wrong!  When Mom said "No cookies!", surely she meant "No [more than a couple] cookies!", right?  "Play nice with your friends" undoubtedly includes the exception clause:  "unless they're mean to you!".  So the best thing that can happen, but rarely does at those tender ages, is the divine targeting of our hearts by the dawning realization that hits with the force of a bomb....  we're the bad kids.  We're the thieves, the bullies and the ones who are frequently looking at our father's shoes (because we're bent over his knees!). 
     But that's not what usually happens, and didn't with Israel:  they looked at God's Law and thought it was a great idea, for everyone else... God certainly wouldn't need all those dire threatenings with them personally, but it sure would come in handy for all the Sabbath-breakers, blasphemers, and idol-worshippers!  And slowly, throughout the course of the Old Testament, we're led to the unmistakeable conclusion that God really did mean all of Israel in Lev. 26 and Deut. 28:  even the best, most godly individuals' lives are marred by ugly adulteries, murders, ungrateful bitterness and idolatry.  So for Israel as a nation, for every people, tribe and tongue, for all of us, the "if"s of the curses of disobedience are really "when"s;  these chapters are not only a constitution for one nation, but a prophecy of our inescapable depravity.  So the careful reader finds:  "And when all these things come upon you..." (Deut. 30:1).  This is why one man I know, when he reads the O.T., does this:  "And the people of Israel (insert my name here) did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and served the Baals." (Jdg 2:11).  
     So why would God give us a covenant, a law we can't hope, on our best day, to keep?  How... mean!  But the bitter medicine of our sin doesn't go down easy:  most of us are willfully blind to our culpability before God.  We need a simple, finger-pointing standard that we can't escape...

An unwelcome sight?
"Take this Book of the Law and put it by the side of the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, that it may be there for a witness against you.  For I know how rebellious and stubborn you are. Behold, even today while I am yet alive with you, you have been rebellious against the LORD. How much more after my death!" (Deut. 31:26-27)
     What in the world can we do in a nation that is frantically removing every objective moral code ?  Set them back up!  We must patiently, carefully, and above all, meekly put God's unchanging moral law before ourselves, our families, our coworkers, and everyone we can reach.  The tragedy of our national biblical ignorance is that we must convict people, using the Law before they understand and value the gospel.  As Martin Luther puts it: 

               “Be a sinner and sin boldly!”

                                because only sinners see their need for a Savior (Mt 9:13).

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