Divine Will

Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah; and they said to him, “Behold, you have grown old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint a king for us to judge us like all the nations.” But the thing was displeasing in the sight of Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” And Samuel prayed to the Lord. The Lord said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in regard to all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them. Like all the deeds which they have done since the day that I brought them up from Egypt even to this day—in that they have forsaken Me and served other gods—so they are doing to you also. Now then, listen to their voice; however, you shall solemnly warn them and tell them of the procedure of the king who will reign over them.” (1 Samuel 8:4-9)

What’s the deal with this passage? Although God spoke as though Israel was opposing His will in asking for a king, He told Samuel to listen to their voice and do what they asked.  Samuel then warned the people of how a king would mistreat them, yet the elders still insisted they wanted a king.

This is an interesting passage. The elders of Israel seemed to be going against the Lord’s will in asking for a king.  Yet, they were also seeking God’s will in the selection of a king.  They didn’t just go out and anoint their own king.  They asked the prophet, Samuel, to appoint a king over them.

Samuel complied, and based on God’s guidance anointed Saul to be king over Israel. Later, Saul disobeyed God, and God subsequently rejected Saul as king and had Samuel anoint David as king in place of Saul.

What’s going on here? If the elders of Israel are rejecting God in asking for a king, then why are they asking for God’s selection for a king?

Why did God first indicate He didn’t want Israel to have a king…then anoint Saul as king…then reject Saul as king…then anoint David as king? Does God really have that much trouble making up His own mind?  Does God not know His own will?  If it wasn’t God’s will for Israel to have a king, why did God tell Samuel to appoint a king?

In an attempt to make sense out of these apparent contradictions, some people explain this passage in terms of God’s divine will versus God’s permissive will.  The general idea is that God has a perfect divine will He wants us to follow, but also has an imperfect permissive will he allows us to follow.  So, they would say it was God’s divine will for Israel to not have a king, but in His permissive will God allowed them to have a king…and to suffer the consequences of their bad choice.

The whole divine will versus permissive will explanation doesn’t really make a lot of sense to me, though.

This perspective sets us up to try to view God as having multiple wills. Rather than helping us better understand the passage, I think it just makes it more confusing.  How could God have a divided will when everything about Him is perfect?  God knows all things and can clearly foresee future events before they happen.  He is not constrained by time and space as we are.  So how could He have a divided will, or how could He change is mind?

“God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent; Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good? (Numbers 23:19)

two year old colt

Archie – Our 2-year-old AQHA stud colt

Reading this passage reminds me of the evening I decided to train Archie, our young stud colt, to tail lead.

What I mean by the term tail lead, is simply that if I lightly pull a horse’s tail to the right, I would like him to step his hindquarters right. If I lightly pull his tail to the left, I would like him to step his hindquarters left.  This is not usually considered a super important horse training lesson.  A vast majority of horses go their entire lives without ever learning to tail lead and it doesn’t cause their owners any concern.

I’ve come to like teaching a horse to tail lead, mostly because it is useful when handling, grooming, maneuvering tight spots, etc. Most horses know how to step away from pressure applied by the handler.  Sometimes, it is more convenient to ask the horse to step his hindquarters toward me (rather than away from me) and tail leading allows me to effectively communicate that intent.

Also, tail lead training is a good lesson in building communication between horse and handler. It’s just one of many…but the many small things add up over time to result in big changes for the horse.

On this particular day, I had Archie at our farrier’s barn along with several other horses. While our farrier was trimming and shoeing other horses, I decided to use my time to train Archie.  The timing was intentional on my part.  By teaching Archie something new while in an unfamiliar location, I was also helping him learn to focus on me and respond to my cues no matter where we are.

Holding Archie’s lead line in my left hand, I grasped his tail with my right hand. Then I firmly tugged on his tail.  As expected, Archie promptly stepped his hindquarters right, away from me.  I simply held the same tail pressure and moved with him.

Now, at this point, anyone watching me (like my farrier maybe?) might have questioned what I was doing and why. They might have wondered about my intent…my will for Archie’s behavior.  I set out to teach Archie to step toward me when I lightly pulled his tail.  Instead he was strongly resisting the pressure and continually stepping away from me…while I simply went with him.

After a few minutes of moving around in circles, Archie paused…and I promptly dropped his tail. I petted and praised him like he’d just won the Kentucky Derby!  All he had actually done was stop moving away from me.  Anyone watching me at this point might have wondered if that was my intent…for Archie to simply stand still when I tugged on his tail.  I certainly praised him plenty for simply standing still for a moment!

Still holding the lead line in my left hand, I once again grasped Archie’s tail in my right hand and tugged. Again, he stepped his hindquarters right, away from me.  Again, I simply went with him and waited until he paused moving.  Again I promptly dropped his tail and praised him.

We did this several more times with the same results. Except, with each repetition it took him less time to stop moving.  Each time he acted a little less bothered and was a little quicker to stop moving away from me.

Then, one time Archie only started to move away, before deciding to stand still. I simply held the same tail pressure.  Again, he shifted his weight away and moved one hind hoof away…then he moved the hoof back to his left and I immediately dropped his tail and praised him.

Next time, Archie braced right without actually moving right. After a few seconds, he softened and tentatively stepped left.  I promptly dropped his tail and praised him.

After a few more minutes practice, Archie got to where he would move left toward me fairly quickly when I tugged his tail.

Then I switched things up. I moved to Archie’s right side and repeated everything again, from the right side.  We went through the same process from the right side, and after a few minutes Archie would step right to a right tail-pull.

Then I move back to Archie’s left side…and Archie was totally confused!

At that point he was totally lost on which way I wanted him to step when.  He understood I wanted a step and he was willing to do what I asked, but he was very confused on the proper response to a cue from left or right.

So, we kept working on first one side and then the other until Archie was able to tell the difference between a left cue and a right cue…and the proper response to each.

At that point, Archie understood what I wanted and responded fairly well. However, his first response was to brace against the tug, before deciding to soften and go with me.

So, we continued to work on it with lighter and lighter cues.

By the time we quit for the night, I could stand to Archie’s left and lift his tail. Before I even applied any pressure, Archie would softly shift his weight left.  Then when I actually started drawing his tail toward me, Archie would smoothly step over before any real pressure was even applied.  And he responded just as softly and promptly working from his right side.

It was a really fun training session in which we accomplished all I had hoped for!

If anyone had been watching the entire training session, by the end it would have been pretty obvious Archie and I had accomplished what I had planned from the start.

Early on, that would not have been as obvious. The first time I tugged Archie’s tail, he stepped away from me and I simply went with him.  At that stage, it didn’t look like I was teaching Archie to tail lead.  It looked more like I was just letting Archie drag me around by his tail.

Then when Archie paused his movement for just a moment, I dropped his tail and profusely praised him, as though he had done exactly what I wanted…even though it wasn’t anything close to what I really wanted. If we paused the scene at that one spot, it would have looked as though I didn’t know my own mind and was doing a poor job of communicating my intent to Archie.

In actuality, I had a specific intent for that training session, and the entire session went according to my plan. Archie exercised his free will in accordance with his instincts throughout the whole training session.  Yet I had anticipated his choices in advance and had already planned for them.  Even as I allowed Archie to do what felt comfortable to him, I was working out my plan to bring about my will and purpose for Archie.

Furthermore, at no time in that training session was Archie rebellious toward me. Archie simply followed his natural instincts to respond to my cues in the way that felt most comfortable to him.  Archie was not intentionally subverting my will.  In fact, he seemed perfectly willing to do what I asked once he came to understand my intent and was allowed time to become confident doing what I asked.

The training session was never about punishing Archie or forcing him to conform to my will, nor was I ever angry with Archie. From start to finish, I worked with Archie in what was comfortable to him, even as I taught him to understand my desired response and helped him become comfortable doing what I asked.  I broke the task into small training segments that Archie could understand and helped him learn one stage at a time until he had accomplished all I wanted for that training session.

I am a novice amateur horseman. Yet I was able to plan well enough to incrementally work out my will and purpose through my horse’s imperfect choices, to bring about my will in his life.

God is creator of heaven and earth…the great I Am…the one who is, who was, and who is to come. How much more can God incrementally work out His will and purpose through our imperfect choices, to bring about His perfect will in our lives!

Throughout the Old Testament narrative, a primary objective of God’s will was to bring a Savior into the world. The first messianic prophecy was given in the third chapter of Genesis, right after Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, when God foretold the seed of woman would crush the serpent’s head.  From there, God continued to unfold further revelations of His plans for the coming Messiah (Christ).  Among those revelations are several prophecies that Messiah would be a descendant of King David, that He would inherit David’s throne, and that He would rule over all the earth.

This was God’s divine plan from the beginning.

God always wanted Israel to have a king. That King is Jesus Christ, direct descendant of King David and heir to David’s throne.  What we see in 1 Samuel is the incremental unfolding of God’s divine plan being worked out through the imperfect choices of His people.

Samuel was offended the people wanted a king to take care of them. God simply went with them as they sought comfort in a king, much as I went with Archie as he initially moved away from me when I tugged his tail.

God personally selected a king based on what the elders were looking for. They wanted a strong domineering king who would build up an army by force and defeat Israel’s enemies in battle.  God responded by giving them Saul, who was all they asked for.

Several years later, the people came to realize they wanted more from a king than what Saul offered. After Saul died in battle, they wanted a godly king…a king who pursued God’s heart…a king who acted justly and loved mercy.  They were ready to covenant with David to be king.  And, eventually, Jesus became heir to David’s throne.

God was not being double minded nor was He changing his mind. God simply worked with the elders of Israel from their perspective at that time, to bring about His perfect will in their lives, through their imperfect choices.

This is what God does. This is what God still does, today, in the lives of His children.

God works thru the imperfect choices of His children to bring about His perfect will. Click To Tweet

Perhaps someone reading this post is in an abusive relationship. Perhaps you have been living in quiet despair, believing you must have taken a wrong turn and made choices outside God’s will for your life.  Perhaps you have stopped believing God’s best plan for your life is even a possibility and have simply been hoping for some measure of God’s mercy in trying to live out a second-best life in God’s “permissive” will.  Perhaps you have even started to believe maybe you deserve the abuse as punishment for your wrong choices.

If that’s the case…if you are in a situation similar to what I have described…then let me assure you God’s perfect plan for your life is not off track. Nothing you have done has taken God by surprise.  He has known His plan for you from the beginning and is continuing to bring about His purpose for you through your imperfect choices.  Just as I worked with Archie from where he was, God is working with you from where you are.  If you belong to Christ, you can trust Him to bring about His perfect plan for your life.  And God’s perfect plan includes your walking in liberty in Christ, free of any abusive covenants of bondage.

God established Saul as king over Israel based on their imperfect choices. Yet, when the time was right, God removed Saul from the throne and established David as king…with the ultimate goal of establishing Jesus as king.

You can trust God to do the same for you. God is faithful!

Covenant Vows

Shortly after Israel’s great deliverance from Egypt, God made a covenant with the nation of Israel that He would be their God and they would be His people.

You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings, and brought you to Myself. Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. (Exodus 19:4-6)

Notice the if…”if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant…”

Like most covenants, God’s covenant with the nation of Israel had conditions. Covenant conditions may take the form of terms (as in a written contract), vows (as in a marriage) or commandments (as between God and man).  The covenant conditions are the basis for the covenant relationship…they define the relationship agreed to in the covenant.  If the covenant terms are not kept…if the vows are violated…if the commandments are broken…the covenant is broken…it becomes null and void.

We see an example of this in Jeremiah 3:8 where God said:

And I saw that for all the adulteries of faithless Israel, I had sent her away and given her a writ of divorce, yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear; but she went and was a harlot also.

The Kingdom of Israel (comprised of the ten northern tribes of Israel) had so egregiously violated God’s commandments for so long that God finally divorced them, legally dissolved the covenant, and allowed them to be conquered and cease to exist as a people group. Today, scholars refer to them as “the ten lost tribes of Israel.”

In God’s covenant with Israel, the covenant terms were The Ten Commandments, which God spelled out immediately after saying He would make a covenant with Israel (Exodus 20:1-17). Later, God wrote The Ten Commandments (the covenant vows) in stone and they were placed inside the Ark of the Covenant.

One of the ancient customs associated with covenants was to write the covenant vows on paper, then roll the paper up in a tiny scroll and place it inside a locket worn as jewelry…similar to a charm worn today on a bracelet, necklace, or headband. Similarly, God instructed Israel to build the Ark of the Covenant in which the stone tablets containing The Ten Commandments were to be placed.  The covenant vows were placed inside the covenant box.

What about the New Covenant?

We know Jesus fulfilled the Old Covenant (both the Abrahamic Covenant and the Mosaic Covenant) on our behalf. We now reap the benefits of the old covenant when we enter into covenant with Jesus Christ.

But what are the conditions of the New Covenant?

Jesus clearly spelled them out at His last supper with His disciples.

If you love Me, you will keep My commandments. (John 14:15)

He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him. (John 14:21)

If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. (John 15:10)

Do you see how closely His wording parallels the words God said to Israel? “If you keep My commandments…”  The commandments are the covenant terms…the covenant vows…the conditions on which the covenant relationship is based.

So what are the commandments Jesus was referring to? God gave Israel The Ten Commandments as their covenant vows.  What are Jesus’ commandments for the New Covenant?

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34-35)

This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:12-13)

Remember, this was the same meal at which Jesus enacted the New Covenant. It was also a Passover Meal…the remembrance meal of the Old Covenant…an annual renewal of Israel’s covenant with God.  In the last supper, Jesus simultaneously fulfilled the Old Covenant and enacted the New Covenant.

And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood.” (Luke 22:19-20)

At the same covenant meal, Jesus both declared the New Covenant and declared the covenant terms…a new commandment to accompany the new covenant.

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.

Jesus had previously explained very clearly the difference between those with whom He is in covenant and those with whom He is not in covenant…those whom He knows and those whom He “never knew”…those who keep His commandment and those who do not.

“But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left.

“Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’

“Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’ Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’ Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matthew 25: 31-46)

Israel had ten commandments…ten covenant vows. We have one…love one another as Christ has loved us.

God carved the commandments of the Old Covenant on stone tablets to be placed inside the Ark of the covenant. Where is the commandment of the New Covenant written and kept?

“But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. (Jeremiah 31:33)

The one who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. We know by this that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us. (1 John 3:24)

Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and anointed us is God, who also sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a pledge. (2 Corinthians 1:21-22)

The terms of our covenant with Christ…our New Commandment…the covenant vow of the New Covenant…is written in our hearts and sealed with the Holy Spirit who transforms us to His image, enabling us to keep our covenant vow. He gave us the commandment…and He gives us a new heart so we can keep the commandment.

The New Covenant is not, as many claim, an unconditional covenant. It is very much a conditional covenant and the conditions are clearly spelled out.  However, it is a covenant in which our covenant partner enables us to keep the vows through His transforming power.

What a wonderful Savior!

 

Your thoughts?

 

On Counseling Against Divorce

picture of a divorce decreeAs discussed in this post a couple of weeks ago, Paige Patterson (president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas) has been in the news, lately, for audio recordings of statements made in 2000.  In those recorded statements, Patterson purportedly said abused women should focus on praying and “be submissive in every way that you can” and not seek divorce.  He went on to say, “I have never in my ministry counseled anyone to seek a divorce and that’s always wrong counsel.”

As disturbing as this 18 year old recording is (and it is definitely disturbing), even more alarming is Patterson’s current refusal to recognize or admit (the biblical word is ‘confess’) there was anything wrong with his prior statement.

Patterson has issued several statements claiming to have been misrepresented or misunderstood.  He has apologized for a separate incident in which he spoke of a 16 year old girl in a sexually objectifying manner.  He has ‘apologized’ for people having misunderstood him.

However, on the topic of his counsel to an abused wife, not only has he refused to apologize, but he has also doubled down…asserting the advice he gave was sound advice and biblically based.  He clarified that he has counseled “on more than one occasion” women to leave abusive husbands, and that physical or sexual abuse of any kind should be reported “to the appropriate authorities.”  He then reaffirmed his position on divorce, “I have also said that I have never recommended or prescribed divorce. How could I as a minister of the Gospel? The Bible makes clear the way in which God views divorce.”

Sadly, many Christians have backed Patterson’s position as being sound biblically-based counsel.

So, let’s review Patterson’s position.

Patterson (with the support of many Christians) counsels abused wives to focus on praying, “be submissive in every way that you can” and not seek divorce.

This is horrendous counsel!  Study after study has demonstrated being more submissive generally invites more abuse.  It props up the abuser’s skewed perspective that he is somehow justified in abusing his spouse.  Likewise, study after study has demonstrated that the abuse tends to escalate over time, becoming increasingly harmful as the abuser seeks higher levels of power, control, and self-gratification.

The counsel of Patterson and other proponents of Divorce Mythology condemns an abused spouse to a lifetime of continued, ongoing, escalating abuse, with no hope of escape or peace.

That counsel does not sound much like the Good News of the Gospel.  It has little in common with the oft-repeated biblical theme of Redemption from covenants of abusive bondage.  It has no place in the description Jesus gave of Himself at the start of His earthly ministry:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor.
He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives,
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set free those who are oppressed,
To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord. (Luke 4:18-19)

Nor is it reflected in how our God of Divorce modeled divorce from an abusive partner who repeatedly and willfully violated the covenant vows.

Yet, despite strong biblical evidence to the contrary, Patterson and his supporters (in apparent idolatry of the institution of marriage) have concluded divorce is forbidden…thereby condemning those they counsel to a lifetime of slavery to evil.

Now, this is the point on which Patterson and his supporters call foul, claiming he has been misrepresented and misunderstood.  After all, Patterson claims he has “on more than one occasion” counseled women to leave their abusive husbands.

Clearly, by “leave” Patterson did not mean “divorce,” since he also said, “I have never recommended or prescribed divorce.”

So, he counseled them to leave…without divorcing…which leaves the abused spouse still legally bound to her abuser…for life.  The legal bond provides easy access for the abuser to continue tormenting her.  In many cases the marriage gives him legal access to her finances, providing yet another avenue of ongoing abuse.

Moreover, the whole premise of forbidding divorce is this crazy notion that no matter how egregiously the marriage vows have been violated, no matter how unrepentantly the abuser has trampled the sacred vows in his treachery against the spouse he swore to love, honor, and cherish…that somehow the abused spouse is still under obligation to the covenant vows.

With divorce forbidden, the pressure to reconcile with the abuser is incredibly high.  If divorce is forbidden, she is still married with all the legal and covenant obligations that implies.  The abuser, knowing this, will take full advantage, faking repentance to regain control…and conning church members, family, and friends into becoming allies of the abuser, “How can you be so cold-hearted toward your husband?  He feels really bad for what he did.”

And because he is still her legally wedded husband, she has no good response…and may be ensnared in the trap of returning to her abuser.  After all…doesn’t the Bible have much to say about how we are to treat a lawfully wedded spouse?

Meanwhile, Patterson apparently sits unconcernedly on the sidelines, claiming “as a minister of the Gospel” he has no other choice.

Contrast Patterson’s position with God’s position toward Israel when they were enslaved to Pharaoh:

I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage. I will also redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. (Exodus 6:6)

God made a point of saying He would not only deliver Israel from bondage, but He would also redeem them.  He not only physically separated Israel from their oppressor, but He also brought about the dissolution of the covenant bonds, so they had no legal obligations or ties to Pharaoh.

Since Patterson claims he is following scripture in giving this counsel to leave without divorcing, let’s see what scripture actually says on this topic.

When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favour in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness in her: then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house. And when she is departed out of his house, she may go and be another man’s wife. (Deuteronomy 24:1-2, KJV)

The Law given to Moses by God clearly makes provision for divorce by requiring a certificate of divorce to legally dissolve the marriage, leaving both partners free to remarry.

Note that the certificate of divorce is scripturally required.  If a man separates from his wife, God requires him to legally divorce her.  A man is not biblically permitted to separate from his wife while trying to retain some sort of legal control by refusing to divorce.

God did not forbid divorce.  He did forbid separation without divorce.

God did not forbid divorce. He did forbid separation without divorce. Click To Tweet

Some claim that Jesus gave commands concerning divorce that reversed the commands God gave Moses.  But that makes no sense.  In The Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said,

Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:17-19)

Jesus did not replace, reverse, add to, subtract from, or abolish the law given to Moses.  He supported the law and transcended the law by showing righteousness can never be attained through strict adherence to external rules, because true righteousness is a condition of the heart.  In the same sermon, Jesus went on to say,

For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:20)

Our righteousness must exceed that of the Pharisees, because the Pharisees were seeking to attain righteousness thru strict adherence to external rules.  Jesus continued His sermon with a series of examples beginning “You have heard…” in reference to the law and continuing “…but I say unto you…” with a demonstration of how God calls us to transcend the law through our heart attitude.

In the first of this pattern of examples, Jesus said,

You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not commit murder’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell. (Matthew 5:21-22)

Jesus starts with the law, “Thou shalt not commit murder,” then goes on to transcend the law by showing that just keeping the external law is insufficient.  Righteousness is a heart condition, and a heart that harbors bitterness and anger cannot be righteous.  Jesus did not overturn, void, replace, add to, or take away from the law, “Thou shalt not murder.”  Rather, He transcended the law by demonstrating that righteousness is more than rigorously keeping external laws.  Righteousness is a matter of the heart and can only be attained through the power of the Holy Spirit in giving us a new heart and making us a new creation.

Then Jesus moved on to the second in this pattern of examples:

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:27-28)

Again, Jesus is agreeing with the Old Testament Law as being righteous and true…and He again transcends the law by showing external behavior is insufficient for righteousness.  If someone desires in their heart to commit adultery, their heart is evil, even if they don’t physically violate the law.  Stricter rules do not help.  We need a new heart thru the power of the Holy Spirit.

In His third in this pattern of examples, Jesus addresses the Law of Divorce from Deuteronomy:

 It was said also, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: but I say unto you, that every one that putteth away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, maketh her an adulteress: and whosoever shall marry her when she is put away committeth adultery. (Matthew 5:31-32, ASV)

Again, Jesus quotes the law from Deuteronomy, “Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement.”  He does not reverse the law, alter the law, nullify the law, add to the law, nor take away from the law.  Once again, Jesus transcends the law by demonstrating the heart issue:

…but I say unto you, that every one that putteth away his wife (separates without a certificate of divorce), saving for the cause of fornication, maketh her an adulteress: and whosoever shall marry her when she is put away (separated without a certificate of divorce) committeth adultery. (emphatic parenthetical phrases added for clarification)

In quoting these two verses, I chose the American Standard Version as being truer to the original Greek and consistency of translating the same word the same way throughout.  Many English translations use the word “divorce” to replace “put away” in some instances.  However, the original Greek uses the same word (apolyo) all three places in these verses, and the most literal translation is “put away”…which could be either with or without a certificate of divorce.

The law Jesus quoted from Deuteronomy explicitly requires a man to provide a certificate of divorce if he puts his wife away (separates from her).  We know Jesus was not contradicting, changing, overturning, adding to, or taking away from the law given to Moses…as Jesus had just stated He was not doing that.  We know Jesus was, in fact, transcending the law by demonstrating righteousness is a matter of heart condition that cannot be attained through rigid conformity to external rules.

Therefore, it is clear that just as in the two previous examples, Jesus was supporting and agreeing with the original law while also demonstrating its insufficiency without a righteous heart.  In these two verses, Jesus agrees with the law that, yes, a man must provide a certificate of divorce if he separates from his wife.  Then He goes on to say that if the man separates from his wife without legally divorcing her, then he is guilty of causing her to commit adultery…and causing anyone who marries her to also commit adultery…because she is still legally wed to her first husband who failed in his obligation to grant her a legal divorce when he separated from her.

Jesus did not forbid divorce (which would have directly contradicted the law God gave to Moses).  Jesus agreed with the law forbidding separating without divorce.

Jesus did not forbid divorce. He forbade separating without divorce. Click To Tweet

Jesus did not equate remarriage after divorce with adultery (which would have directly contradicted the law God gave Moses).  Jesus transcended the law by saying a man who separates from his wife without legal divorce has taken upon himself the guilt of any future adulterous relationships she may enter into.

Lest anyone mistakenly turn this into a gender-biased issue in which God’s intent for a woman separating from her husband is somehow different from a man separating from his wife, the Apostle Paul expounds on this same theme.  In giving pastoral direction to a woman who is separated from her husband but still legally married, Paul instructs her to either reconcile with her husband or divorce.  Paul is very clear in admonishing her to not indefinitely remain married-yet-separated.

…but if she does leave, she must remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband… (1 Corinthians 7:11)

In this verse, ‘unmarried’ (agamos) clearly means ‘divorced.’  I discuss this further in this post and this post.

The counsel Patterson claims as the only advice he could give “as a minister of the Gospel” directly contradicts what the Bible says on the topic.

I want to add one more thing.  Some of the people reading this post may currently be separated from their spouse while legally married.  This post is not intended to heap guilt onto your already overly-stressed life.

As Jesus so eloquently demonstrated in the Sermon on the Mount, righteousness can never be attained through strict adherence to external laws.  No law could ever address every possible situation in human relationships.  Jesus sent us the Holy Spirit to guide us in difficult life decisions.  It is not my place to tell you what needs to be done in your unique and very personal situation.

Furthermore, I believe temporary separation to find safety, to find healing, to make decisions, is often wise.  I believe permanent separation without divorce is usually unwise and tends to lead to a very stressful unsettled state of existence.

This post is intended to demonstrate the falseness of counselors claiming biblical authority in always counseling abused spouses to never divorce…to separate if needed but never divorce.  As a general rule, this counsel is usually both unwise and biblically unsubstantiated.

 

Your thoughts?

 

Enduring Hardship

Knockout sporting his new headstall

Sunday morning dawned a cool, clear, beautiful Spring day!  🙂

I rose early to sip a cup of coffee before slipping quietly out of the house to saddle Knockout for a quick ride before church.

I carried a pair of shears for trimming brush along the path.  The first time trimming brush with Knockout went so well, I decided to trim another short trail loop.

After a relaxed trot to the back pasture, we entered the woods and I pulled out my shears as we approached the first overgrown bush.  Knockout showed considerable concern.  He was clearly uncomfortable with both the shears in my hand and the close proximity to the bush!

Honestly, I was a bit surprised.  A few weeks ago when I first introduced Knockout to trimming brush, he was much calmer than I had anticipated.  So, I was expecting to pick right up this time.  But that’s not where Knockout’s head was that morning.

So, I followed Ray Hunt’s advice to “work with the horse you have today.”  We took a few minutes to incrementally rebuild Knockout’s confidence with both the shears and close proximity to thick brush, and within five minutes Knockout was nice and relaxed as I snipped away with leaves and small branches falling on his head and around his shoulders.

About halfway through the trail, I moved Knockout toward an overgrown pin oak branch.  Knockout acted tense about this particular branch and kept trying to move away from it.  This surprised me, since he had been so relaxed up to that point.

Thinking Knockout might be bothered by the shear number of little branches and leaves on a pin oak, I decided to start snipping at the edge and gradually work our way closer.  That worked pretty well, but then we reached a point Knockout started acting nervous again.  I thought maybe the small pine log lying in the trail was a concern, but studying it carefully I didn’t see any sign of snakes or other danger…and decided if the log was causing him angst, then he needed to learn to relax near the log.

So, once again we spent a couple of minutes rebuilding confidence, until Knockout was standing relaxed with his front hooves straddling the log.  He stood for several minutes in that position as I snipped all the branches I could reach, then I asked him to step closer to the tree.

AND…he backed completely out of reach!  …and acted hesitant about coming any closer…

That’s really not like him.  So, once again I scanned the area to try to figure out what he was concerned about.

That’s when I saw it.  That pine log he had been straddling was completely covered in fire ants!  The ants were hidden beneath the log, but swarmed Knockout’s front legs when his weight disturbed their home.

I felt so bad!  Poor Knockout!  🙁

I quickly dismounted and brushed the ants off his legs as best I could.  Then I remounted and we found another way to access the pin oak branch without stepping near the fire ants’ log.  Knockout was good as gold the rest of the ride, and we finished trimming that particular trail loop.

Riding home, I couldn’t stop thinking about how stoically Knockout stood relaxed for several minutes while fire ants swarmed and stung his legs.  Simply because I asked him to, he stood there unflinchingly enduring the pain of those stings, until I asked him to move.

Had I known what he was enduring, I never would have asked him to stand in that specific location.  It was never my intent for him to be stung.  Yes, I wanted him under the pin oak limb, where I could reach to trim.  However, it was never my intent for him to suffer needless hardship.

I wonder how many times I do that with God?  How many times do I remain in a difficult or painful situation far longer than necessary, believing that is where God wants me?

I don’t mind asking Knockout to do hard things.  Knockout was initially uncomfortable standing near the thick brush, and I asked him to do it, anyway.  I had a plan and a purpose in asking him to do that.  My purpose included working together to clear the trail.  It also included building Knockout’s confidence in uncomfortable situations.  So, clearly, Knockout’s comfort is not my highest priority.  I don’t mind putting him in uncomfortable situations…but it is always for a good purpose.

I would never intentionally make Knockout uncomfortable unnecessarily.  Being close to the shears and the dense brush was a necessary discomfort that was part of my plan to fulfill my purpose for Knockout.  However, the fire ants were a source of needless pain that served no purpose.

Yes, I am very proud of Knockout for being willing to stand quietly, enduring the pain of fire ants, for my sake.  But that was never my intention for him, and I was quick to brush the ants off and help him avoid their abuse.

I think we sometimes have similar miscommunications on God’s intent for our lives in regard to abusive or toxic relationships.

Yes, God often calls us to do things outside our comfort zone.  Yes, He asks us to love others with some level of vulnerability and giving of self.  He makes it clear that our comfort is not His highest priority in our lives.

Yet, when He asks us to do uncomfortable things, or to endure uncomfortable situations, it is always with a plan and a purpose.  God does not delight in seeing us endure needless pain.  Yes, He delights in our willingness to trust Him in difficult situations…but that doesn’t mean He wants us to endure needless pain.

God loves us much more than I love my horses.  If I grieve over Knockout’s needless pain at the sting of fire ants, how much more must God grieve over our needless suffering at the fickle whim of an abuser?  And just as I hurried to brush the fire ants off Knockout’s legs, our Heavenly Father hastens to deliver us from abusive relationships.

God does not call us to needlessly suffer for Him.  He calls us to trust His faithfulness in all of life’s circumstances.

For the Lord is good;
His lovingkindness is everlasting
And His faithfulness to all generations. (Psalm 100:5)

What a faithful friend!

 

Escaping Abuse

The topic of divorce to escape abuse has been much in the news this week.

Over the weekend, Paige Patterson’s comments in an audio tape from 2000 resurfaced.  In that tape, Patterson (president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas) purportedly said abused women should focus on praying and “be submissive in every way that you can” and not seek divorce.  He went on to say, “I have never in my ministry counseled anyone to seek a divorce and that’s always wrong counsel.”

According to the Washington Post, Patterson pushed back this week, claiming he had been misrepresented and mischaracterized.  He went on to clarify he has counseled “on more than one occasion” women to leave abusive husbands, and that physical or sexual abuse of any kind should be reported “to the appropriate authorities.”

Patterson then reaffirmed his position on divorce, “I have also said that I have never recommended or prescribed divorce. How could I as a minister of the Gospel? The Bible makes clear the way in which God views divorce.”

According to Christianity Today, many evangelical Christians agree with Patterson’s perspective on divorce.  Even the many recent strong statements against abuse mostly fall short of taking a strong position in favor of divorce as a godly response to abuse.

Yes, the Bible does make clear the way in which God views divorce…which is drastically different from how Patterson seems to view divorce.

In Deuteronomy 24:1-4 God makes clear His intent that divorce should include an official certificate of divorce to ensure both parties are declared legally free of obligation to the covenant vows, with both parties free to marry another if they so choose.

In Matthew 19:3-9, Jesus reaffirmed the words of Deuteronomy, declaring the law given to Moses made provision for just divorce, because of hardened hearts…the heart of one spouse being hardened against their covenant partner.

In Jeremiah 3:8, God boldly proclaimed He has divorced the Kingdom of Israel, issuing a Certificate of Divorce in accordance with the law in Deuteronomy, for this very reason…because Israel had continually hardened their hearts against Him, their covenant partner, in repeated abusive violations of their covenant vows.

And in 1 Corinthians 7, Paul clearly states that a divorced person is free to remarry, and that marriage is preferable to undue temptation.

When the nation of Israel was enslaved by Pharaoh who abused them and issued orders for their infant sons to be killed, did God stand idly by, encouraging them to submit to their covenant partner?  Did God tell them they must remain true to their covenant no matter how abusive their partner might be?

No!  God was not idle.  He actively worked to deliver Israel from bondage.  God redeemed and delivered Israel from their covenant with an abusive partner!

When we were enslaved to Satan, did God stand idly by, encouraging us to submit to our covenant partner?

No!  Jesus redeemed and delivered us from our covenant with the kingdom of darkness, delivering us into the Kingdom of Heaven!

Yes, the Bible is very clear on the way in which God views divorce.

So…why is Patterson, like so many evangelical Christians, so confused on the topic?

Maybe it’s time to stop viewing scripture through the lense of our religious cultural perspective and pay closer attention to what it really says.  Maybe it’s time to stop treating scripture like it was a legal document to be studied and interpreted by lawyers digging for rules, loopholes, and exception clauses…and start reading scripture as a revelation of God’s character.

 

Your thoughts?

 

 

Thou Art Mine!

knockout round

Our 5-year-old AQHA gelding

This is a picture of Knockout, my 6-yo AQHA gelding.

Knockout is my horse.

He is my horse because I bought and paid for him.  Just as importantly, he is my horse because he has chosen to trust me and I have committed to train him.

What does it mean to be my horse? It means he is different from other horses.  He behaves very differently from a wild untamed horse, especially when I’m near.

When I approach Knockout in the pasture, he steps toward me rather than fleeing. He lets me halter and lead him wherever I want him to go.  Knockout stands still while I groom and saddle him.  He loves treats, belly rubs, and soothing talk!  He lets me ride on his back and agrees to carry me wherever I ask.  We have worked out a nonverbal system of communication that allows me to tell Knockout what direction I want him to go at what speed…and he responds to my ask.  He has good manners, respects my personal space, backs or advances on a light touch, trailers well, and stands for the farrier.

Knockout and I have developed a relationship based on mutual respect and mutual trust. He is my horse and I am his master.  And I’m pretty proud of him!  🙂

Our relationship wasn’t always as trusting as it is now. He had some previous bad experiences with humans and wasn’t very trusting.  We’ve both had insecurities to overcome.  The first time I rode Knockout, he tried to bolt then bucked me off when I checked him.  We’ve gone through phases where he acted like he didn’t want anything to do with me.  And we’ve gone through phases where I wasn’t sure I could ever learn to trust him or earn his trust.

But even then, he was my horse…because I bought and paid for him…and because he chose to be willing to learn to trust me.

The more time we spend together, the more he acts like my horse. Over time, his behavior has changed to make it obvious he is my partner, not just some wild horse running around our pasture.

Now, those changes have required work…and they are still ongoing. He’s still far from finished out.  But we’ve come a long ways from where we started.  He acts more like he belongs to me today than he did a year ago…and a year from now he’ll act even more like he belongs to me.

This training and learning is hard work for both of us. Knockout consistently shows up ready to work and ready to give me his best effort.  If he wasn’t willing to work so hard, we could not have progressed as well as we have.

However, Knockout is completely incapable of learning to become a saddle horse through his own effort.

Suppose I had told him on the first day, “Knockout I want you to learn to be a saddle horse, and I need you to study and work real hard at it.  Some of those other horses in your pasture are trained saddle horses, and I want you to watch them and do what they do.  Work hard and learn how you must behave to truly be my horse.”

How do you think that would have worked out?  Not too well, right?  No amount of his watching the other horses or running around the pasture trying to learn reining skills would have taken him even one step closer to the goal.  He would never have managed to gain even the foggiest notion of what he was supposed to be doing.

See, Knockout is really only responsible for being willing to learn to trust me. The rest is up to me.

Knockout has absolutely no idea what he needs to learn. It is up to me to teach him in a way he can learn to understand.

I challenge him a lot!  I take him places he has never been.  I ask him to go places he’s uncomfortable going.  I ask him to learn to do new things, then I ask him to do those things better and faster.

I ask a lot of Knockout and he gives me a lot.  But the end result is up to me.  He’s not responsible for learning to become a finished out saddle horse.  That’s my responsibility.  His only responsibility is to be willing to trust me…to learn to pay attention to me…to learn to respond to my cues.  The rest is up to me.

Knockout is a really smart horse, and sometimes he tries to anticipate what he thinks I want him to do before I ask. That generally does not work out well.  I don’t want him to work for me.  I want him to work with me…in response to my cues.  I don’t need him to work hard at becoming the horse I want him to be.  He just needs to be willing to trust me and pay attention to me…the rest is up to me.

As a Christian, it is easy to start thinking my job is to go out and work for Christ…or to wage war against sin…or to study hard to become more Christ-like…to make my calling and election sure by becoming more righteous. And certainly a healthy Christian life does include plenty of hard work, study, effort, and self-discipline.

But the thing is, I am no more capable of making myself a child of God than Knockout is of making himself a finished out saddle horse. No amount of effort on my part can move me one inch closer to godliness…unless that effort is directed by the Holy Spirit.

No amount of effort on my part can move me one inch closer to godliness. Click To Tweet

Jesus already bought and paid for me. I have already chosen to place my trust in HimI am His and He is mine.  Sometimes I don’t act much like I belong to Him…but I act more like His now than I did previously…and I will learn to act more like His than I do now…as I spend time with Him…as I abide in Him…as I rest in Him.

We tend to fall into the trap of dual-phase thinking…of thinking we must choose one of two paths…of choosing between apathy and hard work and believing hard work is the godly choice. Viewed from this perspective, we are concerned about folks we see who claim to be Christians yet show no fruit in their lives…and we wonder do they really belong to Christ?  So, in an effort to ensure we don’t make the same mistake, we resolve to work hard to become more godly.

But the dual-phase paradigm completely misses the reality of being conformed to the image of Christ by simply resting in Him…and this is the only way to become godly.

Resting in Christ is not a passive apathetic rest.  It is an attentive intentional rest.  It is staying focused on Him ready to respond to His cue, while trusting Him completely with the results.

Knockout cannot become a finished out saddle horse by just running around the pasture as though I did not exist. Neither could he make any progress on his own through hard work and determination.  Rather, he must simply trust me…and leave the rest up to me.

Likewise, my job is to simply trust God and spend time with him…to seek His will and learn to know His voice…to learn to respond to His cues. The rest is up to Him.  He has promised to complete the good work He has begun in me.  He has promised to conform me to His image.  He has already redeemed me from sin and He promises to also deliver me from sin.  He has promised to bring about in my life the destiny which He predestined for me before the foundations of the world.

He is faithful! And I can trust Him.

I am His…and He is mine!

 

Your thoughts?

 

Three Days

“The Son of Man is to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill Him; and when He has been killed, He will rise three days later.” (Matthew 9:31)

This week, Christians around the world are celebrating the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Bible has much to say about these events.  Four eyewitness accounts are given of these events in the gospels, and the New Testament epistles provide further elaboration.  These events are the cornerstone of the Christian faith.

Yet, we’re told surprisingly little about what happened in Sheol (or Hades…the place of the dead) during the three days Jesus was in the grave.

The four gospel accounts are based on eyewitness testimony by the apostles and others. Since all the eyewitnesses were living, we have no direct account of what transpired in Sheol.

We are told Jesus preached to the spirits in prison, that He now holds the keys of death and of Hades, and that many of the dead were raised.  Yet we know very little of what actually transpired in Sheol during those three days Jesus was in the grave.

Since I often write on the topic of redemption, it is not surprising I am sometimes asked what I think happened during those three days of silence from the tomb. It is a topic I have somewhat avoided, because the Bible simply does not provide an authoritative answer.  Although I certainly have my own speculations, they’re exactly that…speculations.

But maybe it’s worth speculating…

Although the Bible is largely silent on what transpired during the Great Exodus from Sheol, it provides rich details of what transpired during the Great Exodus from Egypt. Since the Great Exodus from Egypt is clearly a prophetic precursor of Christ’s work in Sheol, let’s see what we can learn from it.

God’s covenant people were enslaved in Egypt, held in bondage by covenant to an abusive ruler. While enslaved in Egypt, they occupied a separate region called Goshen, where they experienced God’s protection even while enslaved.

In much the same way, God’s covenant people were enslaved in Sheol, held in bondage by covenant to Satan. While enslaved in Sheol, they occupied a separate region called Abraham’s Bosom (or Paradise), where they experienced God’s protection even while enslaved.

God told Moses:

Furthermore I have heard the groaning of the sons of Israel, because the Egyptians are holding them in bondage, and I have remembered My covenant. Say, therefore, to the sons of Israel, ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage. I will also redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. (Exodus 6:5-6)

What transpired afterward is the well-known Exodus story we are all familiar with…the story that is commemorated in the Jewish Passover feast…and which has inspired numerous movie depictions.

What transpired was that God showed up in Egypt…accompanied by ten plagues…each more devastating than the last. Each plague specifically targeted one of the false gods of Egypt, exposing them as frauds.  God countered the false gods, not with empty arguments, but with power and judgment.  The truth of God’s identity rolled over the lies of the false gods like a tidal wave of destruction.

The final plague, the death of the firstborn, targeted Pharaoh himself…the Egyptian sungod…cutting off the inheritance of the Egyptians much as Pharaoh had attempted to cut off the covenant inheritance of the Israelites by murdering their infant sons.

God redeemed Israel from their covenant with Pharaoh…bringing about their just divorce from Egypt and dissolving all legal ties and all covenant obligations to Pharaoh.

Most redemptions require a payment on behalf of the person being redeemed from slavery.  However, in Israel’s redemption from Egypt, the only payment made to Egypt was the ten plagues…while Israel was paid Egyptian silver and gold.  These were the payments deemed by God as just redemption from Egypt.

In the end, Pharaoh was so desperate for God to leave Egypt that he ordered the Israelites to leave, thereby dissolving their covenant.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh; for under compulsion he will let them go, and under compulsion he will drive them out of his land.” (Exodus 6:1)

I speculate that Christ’s redemption of His people from Sheol was similar to the redemption from Egypt.

Sheol is described as a place of darkness, despair, and torment. Into that dark kingdom of death strode the Lord of Light and Life.  The lies of Satan were steam-rolled by the power of the living Christ.  The pillars of deception and despair were vaporized by the truth and hope of Christ.  Satan’s stronghold began to crumble and those enslaved found new hope.

And I speculate that Satan was so desperate for Christ to leave that he begged Jesus to take all His chosen ones out with him, thereby dissolving his covenant claim.

“…for under compulsion he will let them go…”

Here is what Isaiah prophesied about the coming Messiah’s dual work of judgment and redemption:

Because you have said, “We have made a covenant with death, and with Sheol we have made a pact. The overwhelming scourge will not reach us when it passes by, for we have made falsehood our refuge and we have concealed ourselves with deception.”

Therefore thus says the Lord God,

“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a tested stone, a costly cornerstone for the foundation, firmly placed. He who believes in it will not be disturbed.

“I will make justice the measuring line and righteousness the level. Then hail will sweep away the refuge of lies and the waters will overflow the secret place.

“Your covenant with death will be canceled, and your pact with Sheol will not stand.  When the overwhelming scourge passes through, then you become its trampling place.

“As often as it passes through, it will seize you. For morning after morning it will pass through, anytime during the day or night, and it will be sheer terror to understand what it means. (Isaiah 28:15-19)

Glory! What a Savior!  Our Redeemer lives!

He joins us in our place of bondage.  He protects us as He judges our oppressor.  He redeems and delivers us into liberty in Him.  He resurrects us to new life.

 

Your thoughts?

 

Rilian’s Dual Destinies

Prince Rilian of Narnia was a man with two destinies.

Two opposing prophecies had been spoken over Rilian…two opposing powers had predestined plans for his life.

In some ways the two destinies may seem similar…but they were actually polar opposites.

Prince Rilian was born son of King Caspian X and his wife, Lilliandil. As sole heir to the throne, Rilian was destined to become King of Narnia after Caspian.  He was expected to rule Narnia with kindness, justice and honor.

When Prince Rilian was twenty years old, his mother, Queen Lilliandil, was killed by a green serpent. In his grief, Rilian relentlessly pursued the serpent, seeking to avenge his mother’s death.  He spent extended periods hunting the serpent until one day he did not return, and many knights and champions were lost searching for him.

Two children from our world, Eustace Scrubb and Jill Pole, together with their guide Puddleglum the Marshwiggle, were sent by Aslan on a quest to find Prince Rilian. They eventually found the prince in Underland, in the depths of the earth below Narnia.  Initially they did not recognize the prince, and Rilian, himself, claimed to have no knowledge of Narnia, King Caspian, nor his own identity.

As they conversed with the prince, he told them:

…Sirs, I am a man under most strange afflictions, and none but the Queen’s grace would have had patience with me. Patience, said I?  But it goes far beyond that.  She has promised me a great kingdom in Overland and, when I am king, her own most gracious hand in marriage…

The land is already chosen and the very place of our breaking out. Her Earthmen have worked day and night digging a way beneath it, and have now gone so far and so high that they tunnel not a score of feet beneath the very grass on which the Updwellers of that country walk…

Then the thin roof of earth which keeps me from my kingdom will be broken through, and with her to guide me and a thousand Earthmen at my back, I shall ride forth in arms, fall suddenly on our enemies, slay their chief man, cast down their strong places, and doubtless be their crowned king within four and twenty hours.

The Queen of Underland turned out to be a witch who held Prince Rilian under an enchantment. The Overland country they planned to invade was Narnia, and the witch was the serpent who killed Rilian’s mother.

As Rilian said, after his enchantment was broken by killing the serpent, “All these years I have been the slave of my mother’s slayer.”

The witch offered Rilian a kingdom and her hand in marriage. While under her enchantment, that sounded to Rilian like a very nice destiny indeed.

In actuality, the kingdom was already his by birthright.

The ‘strong places’ they planned to throw down were actually Prince Rilian’s strong places. The ‘chief man’ he was to kill was his own father, King Caspian.

The witch offered Rilian nothing that wasn’t already rightfully his. Had he remained under her spell, Rilian would have usurped his own throne and ruled as the queen’s slave.  He would have attacked and defeated his own kingdom, ruling over it as a tyrant.

Two destinies…both as King of Narnia…

One destiny was to be the rightful king, ruling lawfully in honor, justice, and love.

The other destiny was to be a usurper of his own throne, murdering his own father, and ruling as a puppet-tyrant enslaved by the witch who murdered his mother.

Thankfully, he was delivered from the enchantment in time to choose the destiny of honor and justice.

The Bible tells a similar story of dual destinies.

God created man in his own image and placed them in authority over the earth, to rule over it.  Then the serpent came and tempted them to disobey God, “You surely will not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

They were already like God! Click To Tweet

God created Adam and Eve in His own image and had already placed them as rulers over all the earth.

The serpent offered them nothing that wasn’t already rightfully theirs. Click To Tweet

Much like Prince Rilian, the choice before Adam and Eve was whether they would rule as rightful rulers or whether they would usurp their own kingdom and become slaves of the serpent…ruling as the serpent’s puppet-tyrants.

Catastrophically, they chose the serpent’s enchantment.

As a result, we all inherit their dual destinies. Every one of us, as a descendant of Adam, are born with a dual destiny to become either a child of God or a slave of Satan.  This is the consequence of Adam and Eve’s sin which God warned of…this is the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil…this is what it means to be in covenant with good and in covenant with evil.

What about The Silver Chair from whence the book derives its name?

While under the witch’s enchantment, for one hour each day Prince Rilian was in his right mind and wished to be delivered.  Yet he was bound in a silver chair that held him captive until the hour of lucidity passed.

What is (or was) our silver chair? In those moments when the Holy Spirit penetrated the fog of our self-deception and willful blindness…when we saw with clarity how enslaved we were to our own sin…when we wished to be delivered to live a life of honor, justice and love…what kept us bound until the hour passed?

Could it have been our pride? Perhaps our love of things of this world? Our personal comfort? Misplaced loyalties? Anger? Bitterness? Unforgiveness? Discouragement? Fear?

We are all born with dual destinies. Click To Tweet

We have before us two covenants…a covenant with good…and a covenant with evil.

Two destinies…one choice…

Which destiny do you choose?  Are you ready to see your silver chair destroyed?

 

[Linked to Messy Marriage, Redeemed Life, Tell His Story ]

 

Aslan’s Will

In rereading C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, I’ve been fascinated by Lewis’ portrayal of how Aslan’s will is worked out in Narnia.

In the Narnian creation portrayed in The Magician’s Nephew, Aslan literally sings creation into being.  Aslan’s will is worked out through his own voice with changes in melody and rhythm preceding changes in the appearance of newly created beings.  The creation scene is portrayed as a beautiful symphony of creative expression of Aslan’s will.

Similarly, in the biblical Genesis account we see the earth’s creation spoken into existence through a series of “Let there be…” imperatives from God, the Creator. Then at the start of his gospel account, John, speaking of Jesus as The Word, said:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. (John 1:1)

Reading these two biblical accounts I sense a joyful creative expression of God’s will, similar to that described in Lewis’ fictional portrayal.

On the day of the Narnian creation, Aslan also instated a Son of Adam and a Daughter of Eve as the first king and queen of Narnia. From that point on, we see a very different approach to Aslan’s will being carried out.  Once mankind is established as rulers over Narnia, Aslan begins working out his will primarily through humans or in response to the prayers of humans.

Even on the first day of creation, Aslan sent Digory and Polly on a quest to retrieve an apple to be planted by Digory to protect Narnia from evil. Aslan could have simply sung the protective apple tree into creation, himself.  Instead he saw fit to assign that task to Digory.

We see this same pattern in the biblical record. Prior to creating Adam, God carried out His will directly through His Word.  After instructing Adam and Eve to rule over the earth, His will was carried out on earth primarily through mankind…through His children…and through their prayers.

In Prince Caspian, both Cornelius (Caspian’s tutor) and Glenstorm (the centaur who was also a prophet) repeatedly referred to signs in the heavenly bodies indicating that the time had come for a major positive change in Narnia.  These signs and prophecies clearly indicate a predestined will of Aslan for Narnia to be freed from the oppressive rule of Miraz and for Caspian to be crowned as king over all Narnians.

However, supernatural help was withheld until Caspian blew Queen Susan’s horn…the magical horn given to Susan in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe that was promised to always bring help in time of need.  When Caspian blew the horn, his cry for help (prayer) called the four children from their world and ushered Aslan’s return.  Clearly, Aslan’s will was being worked out throughout the story.  Yet, his active participation awaited Caspian’s plea for help and was largely enacted through his servants, the Pevensie children.

In The Silver Chair, Aslan’s will for Prince Rilian to be freed from his enchantment is carried out by Eustace, Jill, and Puddgleglum the marshwiggle.  Although the three adventurers failed to follow three of the four signs given by Aslan, they still persisted in searching for the Prince.  Aslan’s will was carried out despite their many errors, as they were easily distracted and made many mistakes.  Yet Aslan’s will for Rilian to be freed was carried out through them.

At the beginning of the quest, Aslan explained their task to Jill.

“Please, what task, Sir?” said Jill.

“The task for which I called you and him here out of your own world.”

This puzzled Jill very much…

“I was wondering – I mean – could there be a mistake? Because nobody called me and Scrubb, you know.  It was we who asked to come here.  Scrubb said we were to call to – to Somebody – it was a name I wouldn’t know – and perhaps the Somebody would let us in.  And we did, and then we found the door open.”

“You would not have called to me unless I had been calling to you,” said the Lion.

So, we see this intermingling of Aslan’s will with human will. Aslan’s sovereign will is carried out through the stammered prayers and flawed actions of humans.  Yet His will supersedes and orchestrates their wills.  Were it not for Aslan’s involvement, the quest would surely have failed through the many errors of the humans.  And they would never have even prayed their stammered prayer had He not called them…and even in their prayer they did not know even a fraction of what they were asking for.  Yet Aslan orchestrated His perfect will to be carried out through their imperfect pleas and choices…without ever violating or forcing their wills.

Through these fictional tales, Lewis portrays complex biblical truths.

There are numerous biblical examples of God’s will being carried out through His people. One example is the Great Exodus from Egypt.

In Genesis, God told Abraham:

Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years. But I will also judge the nation whom they will serve, and afterward they will come out with many possessions.

So Israel’s slavery in Egypt and their Exodus was all part of God’s preordained plan, foretold to their ancestor, Abraham, hundreds of years in advance.

The book of Exodus opens by telling us a new Pharoah arose who did not know Joseph…was not faithful to his covenant with Joseph’s descendants.  The new Pharaoh enslaved the Israelites, forced them to hard labor, and killed their newborn sons.

Then we are told:

And the sons of Israel sighed because of the bondage, and they cried out; and their cry for help because of their bondage rose up to God. So God heard their groaning; and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God saw the sons of Israel, and God took notice of them.

The Israelites prayed to God, and God was faithful to His covenant with them.

As the story unfolds, we see that God worked through Moses to redeem and deliver the Israelites from their bondage to Pharaoh.

So, God’s redemption and deliverance of Israel was in response to their prayer and was enacted through Moses. Yet, it was all part of His perfect pre-ordained plan given to Abraham hundreds of years earlier.

Just as in C.S. Lewis’ fictional tales of Narnia, God works out His perfect will through the imperfect prayers and flawed choices of His people.

Do you sometimes feel as though you are unimportant? As though your contributions to the world are insignificant?  As though you make too many mistakes to be of any heavenly good?

If you are God’s child then you are His chosen vessel through whom He works His will and purpose in this world. Click To Tweet

That’s how God’s will gets done in this world…through us…through our prayers and our actions.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; (1 Peter 2:9).

Be who God has created you to be…and trust Him to work His perfect will and purpose through you.

Aslan’s Redemption

“You have a traitor there, Aslan,” said the Witch.

“Well,” said Aslan, “His offense was not against you.”

“Have you forgotten the Deep Magic?” asked the Witch?

“Let us say I have forgotten it,” answered Aslan gravely. “Tell us of this Deep Magic.”

“Tell you?” said the Witch, her voice growing suddenly shriller. “Tell you what is written on that very Table of Stone which stands beside us?  Tell you what is written in letters deep as a spear is long on the fire-stones on the Secret Hill?  Tell you what is engraved on the scepter of the Emperor-beyond-the-Sea?  You at least know the Magic which the Emperor put into Narnia at the very beginning.  You know that every traitor belongs to me as my lawful prey and that for every treachery I have a right to a kill.”

“And so,” continued the Witch, “that human creature is mine. His life is forfeit to me.  His blood is my property.”

“It is very true,” said Aslan, “I do not deny it.”

In my current rereading of C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, I was struck by this passage in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe.

Those familiar with the story will recall that Aslan goes on to forfeit his own life in exchange for Edmund’s. However, Aslan later comes back to life…through the power of the Emperor’s older deeper magic that the Witch did not know.

What a clear illustration of our redemption through Jesus Christ!

Notice who Edmund’s accuser is…and who his defender is:

“You have a traitor there, Aslan,” said the Witch.

“Well,” said Aslan, “His offense was not against you.”

Edmund betrayed Aslan. He betrayed his own brother and sisters.  He betrayed their woodland friends.  Edmund sought out the Witch to tell her where his siblings were hiding, who was hiding them, where they were going, and where they were to meet Aslan.

Edmund became a traitor to Aslan by allying himself with the Witch.

Yet, Aslan offered Edmund forgiveness while the Witch accused him.

Lewis’ illustration is consistent with biblical teaching. The Bible calls Satan the accuser of the brethren…who accuses them before our God day and night and says Jesus Christ is our Advocate with the Father.

Realizing we have sinned against God, too often we mistakenly act as though God is angry with us, looking for any excuse to condemn us to Hell for any unconfessed sin. Yet the Bible clearly says Satan is our accuser and Jesus is our defender.  God’s position toward His children is loving concern and a desire to deliver us, rather than of angry vengeance.

Even for those who have not believed in Christ, we are told, “God demonstrates His love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

Like Edmund, we were all traitors. We all treacherously allied ourselves with Satan in his war against God.  Yet Jesus, in accordance with the Father’s will, died so we could be rescued from Satan’s dominion.  Even while we were still traitors against God…still allied with Satan…Christ died for us.

Why was it necessary for Aslan to be killed?

The Witch had valid legal claim over Edmund. Edmund belonged to her.  She owned him, as a slave, to do with as she pleased.

“You know that every traitor belongs to me as my lawful prey and that for every treachery I have a right to a kill.”

“And so,” continued the Witch, “that human creature is mine. His life is forfeit to me.  His blood is my property.”

“It is very true,” said Aslan, “I do not deny it.”

The Witch had valid legal claim over Edmund’s life. Aslan gave his life in exchange for Edmund’s.

Notice there was not a question of strength. The Witch knew Aslan was powerful enough to take Edmund by force.  Her claim to Edmund relied completely on legal rights for which she called on Aslan’s righteous justice.  If the situation were reversed, she would not have followed the path of justice.  Yet she relied on Aslan to be just.

So, Aslan offered his life in exchange for Edmund’s.

Aslan died to redeem Edmund from the Witch’s claim…one life exchanged for another…so Edmund would be free of the Witch’s claim…free to live a life of honor, love and justice in right relationship with the Emperor-beyond-the-Sea.

The Bible has much to say on the topic of redemption.  Today, we often use the word redeem in a rather loose manner to refer to anything good that comes from a bad situation.  However, scriptural use of the word redeem is much more specific.

In Leviticus 25, Moses gave us the Law of Redemption, in which redemption clearly refers to transfer of legal ownership being restored back to the rightful owner.  In biblical context, redemption means to justly bring about the end of a covenant of bondage by which someone or something belonging to God is being held captive.

According to Leviticus 25, right of redemption is a reserved right by the rightful owner.  When an Israelite sold land or sold themselves into servitude, they retained right of redemption…the right to cancel out the purchase contract by refunding the purchase cost.  The reason given for the right of redemption is that they belong to God.

What Aslan did for Edmund is what Jesus did for us.

Jesus gave His life in exchange for ours. Jesus died and descended into that shadow world called Sheol (Hades or Death) to redeem us from Satan’s valid legal claim over us.

I once belonged to Satan. Satan once had a legal claim over my life which the Father acknowledged to be valid.  Satan could not hold me by strength, as God is much stronger.  Rather, Satan held me by legal claim, for which he completely relied on Father’s justice.  So Jesus gave His life in exchange for mine.  Jesus redeemed me from Satan’s legal claim, so I could cease to be a slave to sin and can now walk in righteousness and love, as a child of God.

Hallelujah, what a Savior!

 

Your thoughts?