Sunday, March 23, 2014

When God Promises to Kill

"You shall not wrong any widow or orphan. If ever you wrong them and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry. My wrath will flare up, and I will kill you with the sword; then your own wives will be widows, and your children orphans."

The word of the Lord.

Thanks be to God.

No, really.

This is from today's Office of Readings, from Exodus 22. I know that Christians (not to mention non-Christians) can read stuff like this and feel compelled to go into significant contortions to try to get comfortable with words like this. We can end up with interesting theological positions, like the undoing of the inerrancy of Scripture, or the creation of an "Old Testament God" that is different from the God of the New Testament.

The Church and her liturgy teach us how to read Scripture, and one key to that is understanding both the old and new covenants in light of each other. The Fathers teach us by their example to read the Old Testament in light of how the Holy Spirit works in our hearts in the new covenant.

So when I read this piece from Exodus this morning, I was moved to tears in two directions at once.

There are aspects in which I am like the "widow and orphan" of early Israel. There are ways in which I am utterly helpless and at the mercy of others. There is that aspect of me in which God is my only defense.

And yet there is also the aspect in me through which I am the wronger of the vulnerable. I have the propensity to sin, and I do. And God promises, what? To kill me with the sword. Am I to shrink from this? No, this is exactly what I signed on for in baptism.

God puts His life into me in baptism, and when I live it out, living in the Holy Spirit, I am called to put to death all sin, because that is what contact with God does to us. Each day we get to choose -- God, or not God?

The most merciful thing God can do for us is to convict us of sin and place the cross in our lives so that our choice for sin gets crushed out of us. God never crushes our humanity. We get confused and lose clarity about what is our humanity and what is our idolatry. The love of God burns as a strong fire, and He bids us toss our idols into it to repudiate them. His fire destroys them. His fire does not destroy us. His fire, His love, envelops us. But we have to not shrink from Him in fear. We can be so accustomed to living without the experience of God's love, wrapped in serving our own idols, that we see God's love as our enemy.

The God who comes to save and protect me is exactly the same God who comes to refine the dross right out of me by the fiery furnace. This is truly one and the same act.

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