“Job cursed God,” a seminary student told a group of us. I was in college and had decided to attend an on-campus Bible Study. That was the first, and last time I attended. I pointed out, rather sheepishly (not really) that if Job cursed God, then the whole point of the book would be lost! Of course, the seminary student chuckled at my lack of proper understanding (like of Job 1:22 and 2:10, “In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.”). But then, I recently started going through the book again ….
Remember those highly important, yet secretive little notes passed between desks in junior high? Each person in the chain must be trusted not to open the note, not on the way to the intended person, not on the way back. Yes, you guessed it, this was before cell phones and texting. Their content was simple, but vital. They had check-boxes with ‘like,’ ‘really like,’ ‘friend,’ and ‘love’ written next to them. One’s entire future depended on which box was checked. It meant the difference between getting a date after school, or walking home with despair. In reading certain verses in the Bible, it can really be the same sort of thing.
I’m working on a graphic novel with my oldest daughter. It’s a story that I’ve had for some time and have been working on in parts over the past few years. It’s gone through some different versions … but something hit me as we were talking it through: Is the Gospel a story device for us to use? Or, putting it another way, is Christian Fiction safe? Or does it do harm?
I remember a time when a friend of mine was visiting and a carnival set up near our house. This friend had a few brothers and we were all pretty close in age. For some reason, he was the only one who came to visit. We wanted to go to the carnival, but thought that perhaps it would cause his brothers to feel left-out. My friend’s comment was, “I think they’ll be happy for me.”
I won’t leave you in suspense, we didn’t end up going. But for some reason, that event has stuck in my mind. I’ve thought about it many times over the years. It happens to line up with the third earmark of love: It does not envy!
If there’s a human out there who got past the patient/long-suffering and kind benchmarks with flying colors, this one might sting.
Okay, it’ll smart.
Seriously, it’s something that is worse than a plague. I’ll illustrate with another pop culture reference: I Am Legend. Before it was a Will Smith action/horror movie, it was a 70s apocalyptic movie called The Omega Man, starring none other than Charlton Heston.
Before that … okay, it was a book by Richard Mattheson in which a plague swept the world, turning everyone into zombie/vampires … except THE LAST MAN ON EARTH (the title of the first movie with Vincent Price). The end of the movie
finds that the healthy protagonist is the problem, killing off the “normal” vampires during the day, unseen by them. The twist is that the vampires have learned to live with their illness, and the one man who doesn’t have their sickness is actually the scourge of humanity.
Envy is just like the plague and we’re all like the vampires. We all have envy. It’s a sign of the flesh. Unless you’re born without a sin nature, you envy. That’s the default.
Politics operates on this principle. One group pits everyone against the 1%, another group entices people with promises of a booming economy that will give them easy pay.
Advertisers use envy ALL THE TIME. This product will make you more attractive than your friends. This drink will give you the good time that everyone else is having. This phone will give you the family life everyone else has already discovered!
Envy. It drives politics and the economy.
But it doesn’t fuel love. In fact, it’s the opposite of love. Here’s what Matthew Henry says:
Charity suppresses envy: It envieth not; it is not grieved at the good of others; neither at their gifts nor at their good qualities, their honours not their estates. If we love our neighbour we shall be so far from envying his welfare, or being displeased with it, that we shall share in it and rejoice at it. His bliss and sanctification will be an addition to ours, instead of impairing or lessening it. This is the proper effect of kindness and benevolence: envy is the effect of ill-will. The prosperity of those to whom we wish well can never grieve us; and the mind which is bent on doing good to all can never will ill to any.
Unfortunately, we’re pulled into envy so fast. If a friend gets a promotion at work, we’re happy for them … but we might start to wonder why we haven’t had that success. We might compare ourselves to that friend and start thinking they didn’t really deserve that promotion, that wife, that life.
In other words, we start to put ourselves in the place of God, deciding what should or shouldn’t be.
The world is full of this sort of thing. We make our own destiny! We alter the course of history! And, to the extent that our personal responsibility to do our work affects the lives of those around us, that’s true.
The Christian view, however, is that God is in supreme control. He ordains all things, including the promotions, firings, economy booms and great depressions. He rains down on the righteous and the unrighteous. He has in mind the discipline for all whom He calls to Himself. Christians trust that His will is perfect and all things will work for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose.
In light of such a belief, we have no reason to envy. We should rejoice at everyone’s good fortune, even if they don’t appear to deserve it. Because, guess what? none of us deserve what we’re getting. We’re all equally deserving of God’s wrath. Yet, He’s patient, kind and merciful to us. Gracious, even, giving us what we don’t deserve.
Perfect love doesn’t envy. All of us need to pray for God to put that love in us, then test ourselves to see if we have accepted that gift from Him. Have we stood up on those lame legs, believing that He has healed them?
He’s commanded us to love one another. With pure love. To quote a Peter Furler song, get up, get off your seat, move your feet, just do what He said!
When we think of the Ten Commandments, probably the “law” that seems the most out-dated is “Thou Shalt Not Commit Idolatry,” or put another way, “Thou Shalt Not Make Unto Thyself Any Graven Images!”
Whew! Well, thank goodness we no longer carve images out of wood and bow down to them. But, look at those wacky Catholics! Boy, they sure didn’t get the memo! As for most civilized people, we’re waaaaay beyond that primitive stuff.
So, did God write a law akin to the law that if your car spooks a horse you need to hide it until the animal settles down? (that’s actually a law in Pennsylvania). Or, maybe it’s like the law in Missouri against driving down the highway with an uncaged bear. Or, laws that require a woman to get her husband’s permission before going to the stylist in Michigan!
Something tells me that God wasn’t short-sighted. He is the first and the last. Nothing is outside of His awareness and we don’t “out-grow” God’s laws. When He tells us that idolatry makes the top ten, we better understand that it’s a problem.
But, you might say, I don’t have any carved idols. In fact, I haven’t bowed down to anything since the time Justin Beeber was in town! And, his acting is wooden, so touche!
No, really, who worships carved idols? Nobody except some Aborigine somewhere, right?
We know the answer that people will worship their cars (what a sweet ride!) or sports (gotta have my ESPN!). The Sunday School answer is that anything that takes our attention away from God is idolatry.
That’s true, I might add. But it’s not the whole story.
How about our desire to know the future? Sure, we don’t put much stock in it, right? I mean, those fortune cookies are just lame. But, how about horoscopes? How about visiting mediums? Or rares? *rimshot*
Seriously, how many times have we seen some supposed Christian “declaring” what is going to happen? Something super-specific like “There will be an amazing event this year that will shake you to the core!!” Or maybe, “An old world leader who’s riddled with cancer will die this decade!” Or, “I’m seeing thousands of mis-matched socks that will be found right after you spend money on new pairs!”
Do you ever get sucked into believing the “predictions” of some “prophet” or sooth-sayer? Do you think that they are tapping into some force that allows them to predict the future?
If the answer was a “nooooo, not really,” then it’s probably really a “yes, I do!” And it shows the idolatry of our hearts more clearly than someone who waxes their car every day or follows all the sports stats religiously.
Idolatry, after all, is trying to tap into God’s power apart from God. This definition is synonymous with paganism. It’s believing that there’s power out there that does what only God can do, but God is trying to chase us away from it. Sound familiar?
It should. It’s what Satan told Eve in the garden. If she’d eat the forbidden fruit, she’d become like God, her eyes would be opened, etc. The same is true with idolatry. We start to believe that there’s this power we can tap into. We can speak things into existence. We can declare the future, and it will happen. We can invoke God’s power by our own will.
That’s straight up idolatry. It’s blasphemy. Our words cannot create anything. Only The Word of God creates. It is through Christ that all things were made and in Him sustained. (Col. 1:16-17). And yet, there are so-called Christian preachers who tell people this stuff. They tell them that they can declare money into their accounts (and then pay the pastor, I suppose). They tell them they can declare health to themselves (though the Apostle Paul couldn’t heal himself of the thorn in his flesh and couldn’t heal Timothy of his stomach issues).
These false teachers are wolves. They prey upon our natural desire to have money and health. They’re snake-oil salesmen who claim to offer a power that only God work. Anyone who believes them commits idolatry.
So, do you think there actually is this power? Do you think God has warned us away from witches because they can tell the future and affect things magically? If so, consider this passage:
Set forth your case, says the LORD; bring your proofs, says the King of Jacob.
Let them bring them, and tell us what is to happen. Tell us the former things, what they are, that we may consider them, that we may know their outcome; or declare to us the things to come.
Tell us what is to come hereafter, that we may know that you are gods; do good, or do harm, that we may be dismayed and terrified.
Behold, you are nothing, and your work is less than nothing; an abomination is he who chooses you. Is. 41:21-24
The idols and the false prophets cannot tell the future. They cannot explain the past. They cannot do harm or terrify anyone. Their works are ‘less than nothing,’ and those who believe in them are an abomination.
Short version: God has all power and he doesn’t share it with idols and false prophets. Idolatry is ascribing the power or attributes of God to anything else.
Have you ever doubted God? Who hasn’t? It’s in our nature to question what all this means and evaluate how our lives will seem to be a random set of events that amount to nothing. We agree with Solomon’s wisdom in the book of Ecclesiastes that “all is vanity” and “striving after the wind.”
But do we realize what we’re doing when we entertain those doubts? Essentially, we’re listening to the flesh, which veers quickly to the words of Satan, “Did God really say?”
Worse, we begin listening to worldly wisdom that tells us we are the architects of our future, or we make our own luck.
Some Christians will say, “God doesn’t drive parked cars!”
Is this true? Does God need us to get moving before He can use us?
Others say we need to follow the rules of Karma, and that if we are one with the positive forces in the cosmos, then things will turn around to our favor.
Maybe you’re wondering, is God even real, or is it just “the Universe” like so many like to say.
There’s a movie out, The Case For Christ, following Lee Stroble’s research that convinces him of the ‘proof’ that Jesus was a real man, and thus, Christianity is true. The title suggests a trial of sorts, and it is a compelling story. It captivates us because we like trials and arguments. A large number of TV shows involve lawyers and trials. We enjoy parsing through the evidence to see what really happened.
This is also the topic of Isaiah chapter 40 and 41. God puts himself on trial against the idols. Actually, the idols, and the world corridors of power are on trial against God, just as Pilate was standing before the judgment bar of Christ, not the other way around.
In chapter 41, in particular, God challenges the people and their idols to tell the future, explain the events of the past … do good, do evil, show power.
Of course, the idols and the rulers cannot do any of this. Through Isaiah, God has already declared what will happen, despite people’s attempts to secure themselves against the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Egyptians. None of these great nations can do anything to God. They actually serve His purpose.
We often think that our lives are filled with meaningless suffering or unjust turns of events. Yet, God is sovereign in every aspect of what happens. When we doubt this, we’re actually being tempted to trust in our idols. Granted, we don’t have little statues made of wood and metal or shrunken heads of our ancestors, or bones plastered into the walls of our house (I’m assuming most of us don’t!) But, our idols are just as much “less than emptiness.”
We trust in the politics of today. Many trust that Donald Trump will protect Christian morality through Supreme Court nominations. Many trust in a job with the right company to provide for their needs.
It’s not immediately wrong to read the paper and make evaluations on a Presidential nomination, or seek to be gainfully employed. But, it is wrong if we start assigning God’s hand to things that we think are fitting into some plan or design of our own making. In other words, some people have determined that one way is God’s Will, and then begin constructing a path of likely scenarios that will accomplish it.
That’s worldly wisdom. That’s actually sooth-saying. We want to know the future, and we attempt to read the tea leaves or look into the crystal ball to declare the outcome. Some use the Bible to do this. They assign numbers to the letters and try to unlock secrets about the future (this is called Numerology).
God tells us not to do this. It’s witchcraft. It’s attempting to do what only God can do.
Only God directs events. Only God can tell the future. Only God can explain events that happened and what they mean.
Sometimes, God reveals the good reason for some tragedy to us in our personal lives. We come to realize the good that God was working. But other times, God simply asks us, as He did to Job, “Where were you when I created the universe?” God repeatedly says through His writers in Scripture, “Who counseled me with wisdom and taught me justice?”
The answer is obvious. No one did.
God may leave us waiting for an answer, showing us enough light for one step at a time. And we should respond in thanksgiving for that light, and that step.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Do you not know? Do you not hear? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to dwell in; who brings princes to nothing, and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness.
Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown, scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth, when he blows on them, and they wither, and the tempest carries them off like stubble.
To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him? says the Holy One.
Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name, by the greatness of his might, and because he is strong in power not one is missing.
Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the LORD, and my right is disregarded by my God”?
Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength.
Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.
But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, the offspring of Abraham, my friend; you whom I took from the ends of the earth, and called from its farthest corners, saying to you, “You are my servant, I have chosen you and not cast you off”; fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
Behold, all who are incensed against you shall be put to shame and confounded; those who strive against you shall be as nothing and shall perish.
You shall seek those who contend with you, but you shall not find them; those who war against you shall be as nothing at all.
For I, the LORD your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, “Fear not, I am the one who helps you.
A Useless Message?
Isaiah wouldn’t be considered a successful minister. Despite his prophecies, kings did what they wanted, repented only when it seemed they had to, then returned to their selfish, prideful ways.
Isaiah is remarkable because his prophecies pointed down the vast corridors of time to Jesus Christ, our Lord. He reminds us of God’s sovereignty over all matters of life. He reminds us that we don’t even have a frame of reference to interpret God’s ways.
That could be frightening. Imagining God looking down on humanity, regarding the lofty princes and powerful nations as “less than nothing,” and the people as grasshoppers, dust on the scales. We make no impact at all to God.
We don’t like that idea. We like to think that we have a purpose and make our mark on history. We want to be somebody. We want to make a name for ourselves. We believe we can reach the stars or build a tower to heaven. We prefer to think that we can know the deep things of knowledge both of good and evil, and that in that pursuit, we’ll become like God.
It’s all absurd. It would be like the comedy sketch Jim Gaffigan did about the toddlers who try to run away. “Where do you think you’re going?”
Only, with God, it’s even more absurd.
Who Is Like God?
There is nothing to which we can compare God. He is intimately involved in his creation, including all the stars in the galaxy, which he calls by name, not missing a single one.
Think about that when you think you’ve been forgotten by God. He doesn’t regard people the way we do. Pomp and status in our society means nothing to Him. When Jesus stood before Pilate, it was actually Pilate who stood before Jesus, his soul on trial.
With all our striving, we grow tired. Even when we are young, we do not possess the strength to go on forever. There comes a time when we are exhausted, hemmed in on every side.
True Hope of Deliverance
But if we look to the Lord, He renews our strength. He gives power to the faint. Though we be as lame, weak people, we’ll be more than conquerors by His might.
The promise that continues in chapter 41 is to God’s people, not to people in general. It is only the repentant who have put their faith in the absolute justice and holiness of God’s nature, have renounced all claim of control on their life that can then rest in the declarations that follow.
Our enemies will be as nothing at all. We’ll look for them and not find them.
The Lord holds us in His right hand. We need not fear. He is our Lord.