Thursday, May 31, 2012
God is Not on Our Side
The text Mary led our discussion on was from Joshua 5, where the Lord's chosen people, the Israelites, were camping near Jericho awaiting Joshua's command to lead them into the Promise Land. Wandering around out on the plains one evening Joshua encounters "a man with a drawn sword in his hand." Joshua approaches him with the most important of questions in that scenario, "Are you for us or for our enemies?" If you know the story, you know that this "man" is actually the Commander of the Lord's Army.
So, since the Commander of the Lord's Army is addressing the Lord's chosen leader of the Lord's chosen people, the answer to "Are you for us or for our enemies?" should have been, "Do not fear. I am on your side. I am hear to fight against your enemies."
As a matter of fact, had Mary read the text and inserted that answer in there, I would not have been the wiser. However, that was not the answer given by this mysterious figure. When asked, "Are you for us or for our enemies?", the Commander of the Lord's Army said, "Neither."
I know I have read that story before. I know I have taught on it before. I know I have been taught it before. I have even seen the Veggie Tales rendering (see minute 10:40 on) of that exchange more than a handful of times.
How did this answer escape me until now?
This one word - "Neither" - has been reverberating in my mind and heart all week. It strikes me at a profound level how our nation, our churches, and, especially, how I myself desperately need to hear this message that God is NOT on our side.
It is so very easy in my personal conflicts to assume that my cause it right, that my adversary's is either innocently mistaken, willfully hardhearted, or in need of an infusion of better theology (by better, of course, I mean my own).
It is so very easy in our religious disagreements to assume that our way or reading Scripture is simple and plain, unbiased and humble, fair and unadulterated, logical and obvious. It is so easy to assume that the other group is intentionally manipulating the truth for their own personal agenda or simply blind to how corrupted their view is by their circumstance, culture, or training.
It is so very easy in our social issues and international conflicts to assume that our cause is just, that we are in the right, and that our enemies are bent on destroying what is right and good in our world. The only time we want to ask for God to change things in our nation is those prayers aimed at God changing those that don't think, act, look, live, like us.
When I approach another person, I want to know whether the sword that they wield will be for my cause or for my opponent's. When I approach God, though, he simply says, "Neither."
"Shawn, I don't fight for you nor for those in conflict with you.
Church, I don't fight for you nor for those who see the world differently than you.
America, I don't fight for you nor for those who fight against you."
This story in Joshua 5 is a necessary antidote to the universal human ability to convince ourselves of the divine favor the must rest upon our own agendas - whether these concern our finances, military action, relationships, social causes, spirituality, etc.
If God was unwilling to say that He was on the side of the very people He had specifically elected as His holy nation to carry out his eternal plan of salvation, then certainly we cannot assume or presume that God is on our side. God is not on our side. God is on His own side. I think we and, most significantly, I need to worry more about prostrating myself on the ground, acknowledging that I am God's possession, and confessing my willingness to do whatever He wants. And I better be willing to acknowledge that all the methods and programs and efforts and battles I am getting myself into - all while asking for God's blessing - can and should and will be condemned as irrelevant at best and destructive at worst. I exist to submit to God as He works out His Kingdom's agenda in His world, not to ask His blessing over the agenda of my nation, my community, my church, or my life.
And I must avoid the greatest trap of the truth that God is only on His own side: Aiming to take God's approval of the agenda of those I disagree with/don't like rather than off of my own. As one of my trusted accountability partners said this morning, "We all want to conscript God into our own causes."
It is a courageous and fearful thing, however, to fall our our face, remove our shoes, and say with Joshua, "I am at your command. What do you want your servant to do?" (v14, NLT).