Saturday, 12 May 2007

Learning from Job

I was asked recently to write my testimony around Ezekiel 14:6 and the theme of God’s mercy in that if we repent we can be delivered. It stretched me and, I am glad to say, helped me find new insights into my relationship with God. This is what I wrote.

Turning from Idols

My parents weren’t Christians, nor were theirs before them so far as I know. But that is no excuse. Somewhere back then someone deserted God for idols. I guess I was at the end of an assembly line. Every time the world turned, out popped a sinner and I was the latest, the latest God-deserter, the latest idolater.

It seems strange to claim to have deserted a God you have never known, but God made us for Himself and that was not reflected in my life. Like a family leaving a newly born at the doors of an orphanage, my family deserted God at some point and walked away. And no matter how much they deny it, or how ignorant are future generations, the family connection is there. It sounds like desertion to me.

God made us for Himself and, in an attempt to renew that connection perhaps, my idol became quite sophisticated. I became a Mormon. No one blows their own trumpet like Mormons. Just ask Moroni. It’s like being wrong at the top of your voice.

But I didn’t know. I didn’t know it was detestable to worship a man as though he were God; or to view God as an exalted man; to doubt Christ’s promise to keep His own no matter what; to add to Scripture; to denigrate "God’s called out people" as abominable; to enter into secret practices and covenants; to deny grace and to want to be god. That I didn't know doesn’t make it less detestable, or me any less culpable—just detestable in my ignorance.

I am thankful for two things:

  1. For those Christians who saw past the wrong in my faith to the man who had such need and didn’t know it;
  2. For God’s mercy in that, as ignorant and detestable as my ways were, He made a way for me to repent.

God did something "to recapture the hearts of my people Israel, who have deserted me for their idols." (Ezekiel 14:5) It astonishes me that, no matter where you come in the assembly line, be it the first to desert (Adam) or the latest to do so in ignorance (Mike), God is prepared to do something to win you back.

"Repent and turn away from your idols," the merciful Lord says. "Thus [you] will be [Mine], and I shall be [your] God." (Ezekiel 14:6 and 11)

In the beginning God…

I began to ponder how we approach this whole area of thinking about our faith. As we develop an apologetic, a reasoned defence or explanation of what we believe, where do we start? The world starts with ‘me’; how I view things; the way it seems to me, as a man, or as a woman, or as a Welshman, or…put in your own nationality. And, even as Christians, we can easily give precedence to our own views, or the views of the particular group to which we belong.

In doing this we can feel disengaged from what God has been doing in the past, and might be doing elsewhere, as though my life is a clean slate on which God and I can make our own marks. It is this approach that gives birth to the idea that your faith is determined by where you are born, what your parents were, your temperament. Out of this come the extenuating circumstances we feel excuse us before God. We say, "I can’t help it", or, as the former Welsh Secretary, Ron Davies, said when explaining his strange and infamous behaviour on a certain London Heath, "We are what we are."

In reading Job I began to see a different approach. Although he regards himself as blameless (9:21 He does not mean sinless perfection here) and, unbeknownst to him, God himself takes the same view (1:8), Job nevertheless says:

How can a mortal be righteous before God? Though one wished to dispute with him, he could not answer him one time out of a thousand. His wisdom is profound, his power is vast. Who has resisted him and come out unscathed?…He alone stretches out the heavens and treads the waves of the sea. He is the Maker of the Bear and Orion, the Pleiades and the constellations of the south.
He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed, miracles that cannot be counted…How can I dispute with him? How can I find words to argue with him? Though I were innocent, I could not answer him; I could only plead with my Judge for mercy.
(Job 9:2-4, 8-10, 14 & 15)

As we present our "reasons to believe" we should remember Job, and the fact that this is the God to whom we are bringing people. While our theology is vital to our witnessing, we should remember that Job’s ‘comforters’ were the ones with all the theology, the tidy theories that explain how it all works.

"Job, God punishes the wicked and rewards the righteous. Repent of your secret sin and, ‘life will be brighter than noonday’." (Job 11)

They it was who claimed special insight and secret visions:

"I had a vision Job and learned that all men are sinful and you should take it like a man." (Job 4)
They it was who claimed to understand perfectly the justice of God:

"The lamp of the wicked is snuffed out…such is the dwelling of an evil man, such is the place of one who knows not God." (Job 18)

But it was Job who knew God and his place before him, "I could only plead with my Judge for mercy." As we witness we do use reason but there is a better reason than reason itself to come to God. He is there, and we are his, and our apologetic simply helps people to see clearly that, "Though I were innocent (‘we are what we are’), I could not answer him; I could only plead with my judge for mercy." This is the way of salvation. If our apologetic does not lead people to cry, "Brothers, what shall we do?" our "reasons to believe" are no reasons at all.

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