Friday, December 07, 2007

Ask Seek Knock

I got an email this morning from a guy nammed Luke. He had some difficult passages that he wanted answers to, and I believe he really is sincerely seeking. Pray with me for Him that God will touch Luke's life in a big way. I will give you his questions followed by my response to him.

Luke’s Questions: I have read passages in the bible which do not represent God’s infinite love and forgiveness.

Exodus 35:2
Deuteronomy 21:18-21
Leviticus 20:13

Plus there are many passages condoning slavery?

My Reply:

Dear Luke,

First let me commend you on your sincere and open take on the subject of understanding God and His word. I have been a pastor for 15 years and Istill come across passages in the Bible that I struggle to understand. That is where faith is essential and knowing that God is just and fair even when we may not see it.

As for slavery, there are two things that will help you.

1. Slavery was a way of life and part of every culture in biblical times. Though this does not make it right, as in the case of Israel's slavery in Egypt. The fact that it appears in the Bible does not indicate that God condones such slavery, but that He addresses the needs of the people in that culture. It would be like God giving instruction to drug addicts. He is not encouraging addiction, but how they ought to deal with their plight.

2. Not all slaves were slaves in the sense that we know it. According to Jewish law, those who had declared bankruptcy would become a slave until they had paid their debts. There was a strict limit to servetude of just 7 years when all jewish slaves had to be freed and every 50 years every debt was forgiven. In a lot of ways this was a simpler way of dealing with people who couldnot handle their bills. By being taken in as a servant, they were housed, fed, and trained in a skill. Also, at any time, a family member could redeem, or buy their freedom.

By this, we see that the Bible is very relevant to issues of its day. Not in a sense of condoning it, but in the sense that it helps people deal with real life issues.

Next, Let's address your specific passages.

Exodus 35:1 - 2 (NKJV)
1Then Moses gathered all the congregation of the children of Israel together, and said to them, “These are the words which the Lord has commanded you to do: 2Work shall be done for six days, but the seventh day shall be a holy day for you, a Sabbath of rest to the Lord. Whoever does any work on it shall be put to death.

This is probably one of the most difficult passages for us to deal with in our modern context. How does a God who claims to be all loving set in place a law that in our opinion seems to be self serving and oppressive. What we must accept is that God is God. For man to seek honor is wrong, but for God it is not only correct but natural. It is also important that this law was part of the Ten Commandments and was modeled for us in Creation. Where you and I struggle with this is that we feel that the punishment does not seem to fit the crime. We feel that if someone works on the Sabbath they should maybe be punished by being forced to donate all their earnings to charity or something. This mindset I believe stems from lesser view of God. What I mean by that is that we have ignored God for so long that it is hard for even believers to think of God as so reverent that to work on the Sabbath as a crime worthy of death. I think you would agree that God is deserving of all our worship, and that it is wrong for us to worship our paycheck, but I don't think we have a perfect understanding of the extent. remember that the law of the Old testament was given to man in order to set the standard of perfection that only Christ could meet. Yes we fail, But Christ came to save us who were under the law and to give us grace.
Let me boil it down as far as I see it. This law existed because 1. It was right for Israel to set aside one day to worship God. 2. God is infinitely deserving of all our praise. 3. to worship work over God is idolatry and worthy of capital punishment. 4. However Jesus came to free us from the law of sin and death, and the Old Testament serves just as an example of a law that was impossible for sinful man to keep.

Deuteronomy 21:18 - 21 (NKJV)
18“If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother, and who, when they have chastened him, will not heed them, 19then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his city, to the gate of his city. 20And they shall say to the elders of his city, ‘This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.’ 21Then all the men of his city shall stone him to death with stones; so you shall put away the evil from among you, and all Israel shall hear and fear.

A few safe guards are put into place here. First both parents would have to agree that this was the last resort. Second they would still be required to prove it before the elders (Court) of the city. Again it seems harsh, that the punishment does not fit the crime, but in that society it was extreme provision for keeping order. Wednesday of this week a troubled teen took the lives of 8 people in the mall of Omaha Nebraska. He had many emotional issues but one of the recurring themes on the news is how his father kept asking the police to put his son in Jail. It was as if he knew his son was capable of doing such a crime, but our system had no way of dealing with him. I am not making the argument that we need to change to the Old Testament way of killing the potential villains. I just point to this as a case where this would in fact have saved lives. It is important to understand that the middle east practiced preventative measures rather than punitive. What I mean by that is that without forensics and modern police work, they relied on severe punishment as a deterrent.

Leviticus 20:13 (NKJV)
13If a man lies with a male as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination. They shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be upon them.

This is obviously much more of a sensitive question and seems to be a much debated topic today. I think that it would be wrong to pluck this verse from its context and not admit that the same penalty existed for those who commit adultery and incest. Again I will remind you that the law existed as a standard of God's view of perfection. God's ideal is that a man and a woman marry for life. this is seen in the bible in that he created Adam and Eve, but also naturally as that is how children come about. To put it in the context of that day, it is important to remember that many of the ceremonial laws of the Jews existed to prevent diseases from becoming pandemic. Today it is hard to understand with our modern refrigeration and preservatives as well as health standards, but the risk was so great that they were even forbidden from eating pork which spoils quickly. Now bring that to sexuality and in a very practical sense it was important for the health of the nation that there be very stringent laws on personal morality. Imagine not being able to treat sexually transmitted diseases. Not long and the nation would be extinct. Take AIDS as an example. Personally it is hard for me to believe that it just came about in the last century. It very well may be the reason some tribes and people groups died off long ago. If sexuality was in Israel as it is today, and there were so many people who were not monogamous, it is very likely that a disease such as AIDS or other dangerous STD's would decimate the nation. Again, I think it to be extreme, but we must put it into their context. Their very lives depended upon it, as did the future of their nation.

I believe that makes one a Christian is not arriving in the place where you have all the answers but arriving in a place where you are faithfully believing while you still have questions. Jesus told us to ask, seek and knock, and the Bible is full of godly men asking sincere questions. I have enjoyed responding to your email and please let me know if you have any more questions.

God bless,