I've been reading lately from the book of Numbers (a reading-thru-the-Bible thing -- I knew you were wondering why Numbers, of all things). This is the uncomfortable part of the Bible. Where God tells the Israelites to annihilate the Canaanites. Totally. In fact, in their first battle, they spare the Midianite women and He says, "Hello? Did you hear me? I said to kill them all!"
This is the stuff that atheists point to and say, "Yeah -- that's a loving God." And it is troubling. But as I'm reading it, I have other thoughts floating through my head that mingle with these stories and . . well, somehow, I think they all head somewhere . . .
- I was remembering a deep discussion with a friend in 9th grade. We were talking about some radically Pentecostal friends of hers who believed that women cutting their hair was a sin -- as was wearing pants, or makeup. What we wondered was, if this woman genuinely believed that cutting her hair was a sin . . and then she cut her hair . . had she sinned? She'd deliberately chosen to defy God. Isn't that the essence of sin? Is sin the behavior, or the rebellious attitude behind the behavior? Hmmmmm
- The story of Balaam is right before this in Numbers. (Check it out -- a donkey talks. Really.) I've read it before, but not thoroughly. What I noticed this time is that Balaam, the "prophet" for the Midianites, claims to be speaking the words of the LORD. That's LORD, in all caps, meaning Yahweh, Jehovah, the Israelite God. Apparently, the Midianites weren't innocent, ignorant heathens. Apparently, they knew Jehovah. In fact, they even got a specific clear warning from Him through Balaam to leave the Israelites alone -- a warning that even Balaam ignored. Hmmmmmm
- I wrote a skit last summer about a person looking down a terrifying path that God clearly wants her to take, and deciding she can't do it. Her faith just isn't strong enough. And she expects God to walk away from her, because she failed Him. But He doesn't. He understands. He wishes she would go, because He has blessing waiting for her there, but if she decides not to, that isn't going to destroy their relationship. He knows her heart. She's not acting out of rebellion, but out of weakness. "He knows we are dust . . ." Hmmmmmm
- The first part of the Sermon on the Mount is all about "you have heard it said" that this action is sin, "but I say to you" that the attitude of the heart that leads to that action is the sin. The Pharisees kept every piddly part of the law, but Jesus said you wouldn't enter the kingdom of heaven unless you were MORE righteous than that. Unless your heart attitude was right. Hmmmmm
- I told you I'm squirming through Anne Lamott's book. I'm not sure why -- I think because she claims to be a Christian, to have given her life to Jesus, and yet she . . . well, she still sins. A lot. I don't know why that bothers me -- as if I don't sin. A lot. I guess I think of my sins as small, hidden, tucked-away ones that are easily excused, while hers are big, blatant, before-the-world ones that will "harm her testimony". Ick. I sound like such a Baptist right now. And I don't mean that affectionately.
I'm not sure where I'm headed with this. It's just that they all seem connected somehow. Sin isn't cutting your hair, or being a wimp, or sacrificing your child on an altar. Sin is deciding to be your own god -- and if you've decided that, good or bad behavior doesn't matter anymore. You're a sinner. You may be a good sinner, who's loved and respected in your community and seems to live a charmed life, but you're still a sinner. You may be a bad sinner, who reeks havoc on the lives of others and suffers the consequences of your own actions -- but you're a sinner because of your heart.
And only God knows the heart. Only God knows when He has been permanently rejected as your deity of choice. Only God knows when the rebellious heart of an entire nation -- or group of nations -- has passed the point of no return.