October 19, 2010

Being A Christian Ain't Easy (Part 3 - What Shall We Do With Those Humans?)

What started as a simple story to illustrate the truth of John 3:16-18, turned into a major piece well beyond the confines of a blog post.  But I wanted to include the story and not compromise on the length, so I decided to warn you and let you decide to read it or not.

(Before starting, readers must realize this is totally imaginary on my part. The concept of a conversation between God and other Heavenly bodies has roots in the Book of Job where God allows Satan to test Job. Like that story, this tale is intended to make a point not record a conversation. The Biblical basis for this story is John 3:16-18)

"For God so loved the world that he gave His one and only son, that 
whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. 
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, 
but to save the world through Him. Whoever believes in Him is not 
condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned 
already because he has not believed in the name 
of God's one and only Son." (NIV)

The Problem

The six friends walked and talked their way through the flower garden to the patio where Sarah and Leah had prepared a delicious breakfast.  This was the cottage of Abraham who was out with his friend David on a mission for God. Abraham loved his home but missed the outdoors and the fresh air.  These mission trips gave him the chance to re-visit his old earthly home and be invigorate.

As the six approached Abraham's cottage, one of the companions was taking a bit loud and was particularly animated with his hands emphasizing his comments.

“I think you should start over again just like you did with that first group. It was a mistake to let Noah live.  His descendants are just like his neighbors were.”

“Now Michael, just calm down, I don’t want to start over.  I have developed affection for these people. We will have to find another way,” said the oldest and tallest of the six. He appeared to be their leader.

“We have seen it over and over; they just will not obey your laws.” 

“They are hard headed.”

“But I love them.”

“But we made them in our image, what do you expect? If you give them free will, they don’t always choose wisely.”

And so went the banter back and forth between the six as they reach the patio and sat at the table.  As they
loaded their plates with grapes, cantaloupe, fresh bread and eggs, their conversation did not stop. The old
leader just sat back, put another juicy grape in his mouth and listened with a quite smile on his face. “I couldn’t have picked a better group of advisors.” he thought. Michael and Gabriel are a perfect match. Michael is forceful and demanding. Sometimes he gets a little ahead of himself and doesn’t think things through.  But in a fight, I want him on my side. Gabriel, on the other hand, is more thoughtful and often has some pretty good suggestions although I sometimes have to give him some direction.  He does whatever I tell him and does it with dignity.  He represents me well.” His attention turned to the other three companions.

His son, Jesus, was the youngest looking of the six although he had been involved at the beginning and was responsible for actually building the earth project and designing the humans.  He had a real attraction to his handiwork and wanted it to succeed. In fact, it was Jesus who had searched for a righteous man on earth when the decision had almost been made to wipe them out and start over again.  When he found Noah and presented me with his plan, he made such a passionate plead that I decided to exempt Noah and his family and the animals from my wrath. I was so mad at the people we created. Since they ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they had been determined to lead lives of that pushed them further from me. I was determined to destroy them all and create a new line of humans, but Jesus has a way of soothing my anger and finding the right way to navigate through any problem.  I hope he has a solution for our current problem.

And that brings us to the two humans in the group.  One had been reluctant at first to help.  But as he grew into the job, he became my most useful tool in shaping my chosen tribe.  His name is still mentioned in hush respectful whispers among the people.  His strength of character and dogged determination were what was needed to take that rag tag group and shape them into a strong nation.  His natural intellect allowed me to give the people a written history and a set of rules by which they should live.  Moses was my man and I am sorry I couldn’t let him into the Promised Land but he got them ready for the transition from nomads to settlers.  Good man, that Moses.

The old man at the end on the table with the ruffled hair and the hairy coat was content to listen to the conversation.  “I know Elijah; he does not speak without thinking.  He will take in all the arguments and then speak.  That’s why I like him so much.  He represented me forcefully and then mentored Elisha when his time had come. We could not have come this far without his faith” thought the leader as he quietly nodded his head to Elijah and smiled at the old man. Yes, I may have another job for you old man, just wait.

The leader pushed his thoughts to the background and returned to the men at the table. “Gentlemen, gentlemen, you haven’t touched your food.  Stop your arguing and eat what is put before you.  You will need your strength as we discuss our situation.” intoned the quite but forceful voice of their leader.  They had heard this voice before and knew enough to obey it without comment. 

“While you eat, let me summarize the situation.

“The humans were created in our own image. They were given free will. I had hoped they would love and respect me and be my people on earth. Unfortunately, they have not done this. We have tried several solutions. I’ve given them my laws, thank you Moses, they find ways to pervert them or work around them. I’ve given them kings to lead and unite them but only a few of the kings have obeyed me, as even they could not avoid the temptations Satan lay before them. I’ve sent prophets to them. I’ve given the prophets great voices and great powers and they have not turned from their wicked ways. Elijah, I thought we had them when you humiliated the prophets of Baal at Mount Carmel. But alas, we did not.”

“So now gentlemen, we find ourselves again asking, ‘What is to be done with these hard headed humans?’”

The Possible Solutions

As usual, Michael was the first to speak. “As you know, I have affection for these humans.  But the truth is quite simple; they have no affection for you, my Lord.  And in my opinion, they never will.  Their freedom of choice and their naturally sinful nature will always keep them from loving you as we do. It is my recommendation they be destroyed and we begin again to develop the people you desire. This time we might delay giving them free will until they have matured more.”

“For once, I agree with Michael, at least on the nature of the humans.  But I disagree on the solution”, interrupted Gabriel. “I also do not believe they will ever be the loving people you desire; it is just not in them to obey your rules willingly. You can start over as many time as you like, but free will has a way of driving them from you.  However, instead of destroying them I have a different recommendation.” Gabriel was warming up to his idea and he struggled to keep from blurting it out. “We created this world and these humans. You created the rules of nature which govern everything.  The humans are the only part of your creation which does not seem to work in harmony either between themselves or with you. Why destroy everything because of them? I suggest we remove ourselves from the operation of the earth, forget about having a special people and let them do as they wish with the gifts you have given them thus far.  Probably they will destroy themselves and their world by themselves.  You have created a massive universe with thousands of possible places where a new creation can be started. Let’s find one of those places and start over. Our experiences with this world will allow us to develop a better world.” Exhausted from the rapid fire delivery of his recommendations, Gabriel finally took a deep breath and quickly sat down.     

“My Lord, may I speak freely?’

“Of course, Moses, go right ahead.” 

“Thank you. As you all know, it was through me, that my Lord’s commandments were passed on to the people with whom you entrusted me.  I delivered the ten basic commandments you wrote on the stone tablets.  Over the years in the desert, we used those laws to develop other laws.  The punishments were set. We instituted the rituals for worshiping you and built your Ark.  With your guidance, a method of sacrifice was agreed upon and based on which transgressions were to be forgiven.  I lived with those laws, rules, rituals and sacrifices for forty years before you saw fit to bring me to your side. While here, I observed my people as they struggled to obey your laws. I have observed them from afar over the years.

“I mean no disrespect, my Lord, but your laws are too strict and not within the capacity of the people to obey them! They struggle with the demands of living on a daily basis and sometimes those demands are in conflict with the intention of your laws.  A brief, but all true example, will illustrate.  When kings hunger for more power and more land and more people to plunder, they reach out to grab it wherever it may be found.  With their large armies, they attack our villages and kill our women and our children and rape our daughters.  When a man sees this outrage against his family, he can not help hating the invaders and seek to destroy them.  And yet I have heard you say many times, “Love your enemies.  To hate someone is the same as murder, which you forbid.’  The truth is, my Lord, your laws are to difficult for my people to obey.  They may desire obedience, but they are incapable of it!”

“My recommendation is quite simple; loosen the laws so they can be obeyed.  You should send a new prophet to the people. One who can lead the people in writing new laws they can obey. Your people will love you for it and they will be able to obey.”

The table was silent as the others soaked in Moses’ radical proposal. “Keep the people intact but loosen the rules” thought the friends.  And to a man, each also thought, “Sounds good, but surely God will not compromise his laws.  He spent too much time developing them; but an interesting proposal, however.”

God looked at Elijah and could see the fire beginning to rise in his eyes and his hands twitch. “And what say you my friend Elijah? You have been surprisingly quiet.”

Elijah pulled himself up to his full height much like the mighty grizzly bears rears up on his hind legs before attacking.  Remembering Elijah’s fiery confrontation with the prophets of Baal, they prepared themselves for a similar confrontation on this thorny situation. 

“My Lord, my good friend and mentor Moses has spoken his mind and, with all respect for his perspective, I must emphatically disagree with his recommendation to loosen your laws to make them easier for the humans to obey. Your laws were crafted after much thought and they have been the backbone of the Hebrews for generations.  The laws can be obeyed if the people have the will and motivation to obey them. 

“I believe it is time to send the Messiah who has been promised.  This Messiah should be a mighty King who can unite the people and throw off the shackles of domination by foreign powers.  He can establish your worship throughout the land and expel all who would seek to worship idols.  With the respect that flows from that power, a nation of people who love you, my Lord, can be developed.  In the past, they followed strong leadership from their Kings and their prophets.  The Messiah will exceed even the greatest of these.  His reign will be everlasting.  The people will see the benefits of your favor and can not but fall to their knees and give you the love you desire and, more importantly, deserve.”

And with that, Elijah abruptly sat down.

As Elijah sat down, God leaned forward and placed his hands on the table.  “My son, do you have anything to add to this discussion?” he asked. All eyes focused on the end of the table opposite God. Jesus had indeed been quiet through the discussion, which was definitely not his normal demeanor.  He seemed deep in thought as if he were searching for the right words.

“Abba,” he started using the more personal title instead of the formal ‘Father’, “I do not have a solution to our situation, but I do have a few thoughts.” “As you know,”I have been on earth walking among and talking with the people. I spent time with the Hebrews in Judah as well as Israel. As you suggested, I also visited some of the gentile nations. The Greeks and the Romans were first on the list, but I also traveled to the Far East to visit the Chinese and the Persians.  On a whim, I crossed the great ocean to visit those humans who are just now beginning to develop their civilization.  On the way back, I also visited the descendants of Abraham’s eldest son Ishmael.  They are a warrior tribe, but have a spark of Father Abraham’s faith.”

“I lived among them, taking various trades, so they would feel free to talk with me about their lives.  As I suspected, all the people were basically the same. The babies coo the same, the mother moans in childbirth the same, a man sweats and his muscles are sore the same, a soldier’s blood runs red and drains the life from him.  All of this without regard to the color of their skin or where they lived or the gods they worshipped.  This was as we expected in the beginning. During this time, I rekindled my affection for all of our people, not just those who consider themselves to be the “Chosen People.”

Aside from their daily lives which are hard, most interesting were their ideas about the various gods they worshipped. They all recognized your existence, Father, although they had many names for you.  When they worshipped many gods, they always had a chief god.  The Greeks even have a statute to ‘The Unknown God’.  They have many gods, but recognize there is still an unknown god they seek to know.”

So I suggest we craft a solution to our problem that opens up our family to all the people of the earth.  We are responsible for all and we must give all an opportunity to know you and realize the joy of being a child of yours.”

My second suggestion is in regard to our chosen people, the Hebrews.  The common people work hard for their livelihood. Many do not live into adulthood. They, quite frankly, do not have much time for worshipping you. I know that you gave them the Sabbath to rest, but the sheppard can not rest when the sheep wanders off. The clumsy oxen can not be left in the ditch just because the farmer can not work to pull him out. Frankly Father, the Sabbath was made for man not the other way around.  Unfortunately, the priest attempt to enforce the Sabbath as if keeping the Sabbath laws were for you.”

“The people are honest and earnestly desire to obey your laws. The problem, I fear, is with the attitudes and corruption of their priests, the very ones you had Moses assign especially to the priestly functions.  Many of the religious leaders walk among the people with the finest and most expensive clothes barely acknowledging the sick and lame. The beggar gets none of their attention.  The widows and orphans are left to gather food scrapes from the dump or beg for mercy from other families.  They are haughty and arrogant.  They pray loudly so everyone will praise them, but their hearts are not in the prayers.

“Any solution we develop must provide for the people to have direct access to you without requiring the priest’s intervention.  No longer should the priest have the power to deny someone access to you.  Direct access to you will allow people to come to you at any time instead of waiting for the priest.  It will deepen their devotion.”

“And thirdly, my Lord, I have a concern about sin and the rituals for seeking forgiveness of those sins.   The people I visited, like everyone has indicated, are not capable of going for any length of time without sinning in some way.  Some of the sins are quite small, a envious glance at a neighbor’s good fortune, and some are much more grievous such as adultery and murder.  All sin must be punished, so you allowed Moses to institute a system of sacrifices to wipe away the sins of the people.  It is with this system of sacrifices that I have a problem.’

“Since the sacrifice must be preformed by a priest at the Temple in Jerusalem, many of the people are forced to wait at least a year and perhaps several years for their sins to be forgiven. Some are never able to journey to Jerusalem. In fact, I foresee a time when the Temple in Jerusalem will be destroyed and not re-built. This will eliminate the ability to sacrifice forever. Father, I have a radical proposal.  A single sacrifice should be made for all people's sins, present, past and future. This sacrifice must be perfect in everyway and must be sufficiently precious to cover all sins from all people! People should be allowed to remember it and have faith that this one sacrifice was made to wash away their sins. “

“Gentlemen,” God rose as he spoke, “I have heard enough to make a decision about what to do with these humans. Let me sleep on my thoughts and tomorrow I will tell you what we shall do.” As he dismissed the others, God walked around the table to his son’s side, “Let’s walk together, I have an idea.”

The Decision

Moses was the first to arrive with Michael close behind him.  They joked as they sat at the table poking fun at each others girth. “But mine is all muscle,” laughed Michael. Before Moses could reply, Gabriel lobbed an orange at Michael, “Here big man, squeeze us some orange juice.” God, Jesus and Elijah came out of the door in a somewhat serious mood and greeted those already there.

“Make room for one more, I’ve asked King David to join us this morning.”

As if on que, David appeared from the flower garden and greeted the others. “My Lord, it is good to see you again. I have completed my mission as you requested. I will be happy to report to you at your pleasure.”

“Thank you David.”

God stood up at the head of the table. The others turned their attention to him forgetting their breakfast and individual conversations. He took a sip of water and cleared his throat.

“I have come to a decision about our situation with the humans.  Gabriel and Michael, with all due respect to your service to me and with respect for your continuing good advise, I have decided not to destroy the human race again nor will I abandon them. You see, I love them very much and desire their adoption into my family.  I will do everything possible to save them from the fires of Hell to which they will surely go if their sins go unpunished and unforgiven.”

“Moses, I was right to select you to lead my people at the critical time in their existence. You were the protective and forceful leader they needed. But, my friend, the laws I gave you were not haphazardly conceived. They were developed with a great deal of thought and consideration. Standards are not meant to be compromised and that is why I allowed for means of obtaining forgiveness when the people broke my commandments.  So, the laws will not be abolished nor will they be changed.  I do, however, recognize there must be a different way for the human to receive forgiveness.  Jesus also questioned the system of sacrifices made by the priest.”

“Elijah, you suggested I sent the Messiah promised to the people.  You would have the Messiah destroy the enemies of the Jews and protect them from any enemies that might arise against them.  Obeying my laws would flow from the people’s respect for the character and power of the Messiah. This option was seriously considered and would be consistent with their past history where I focused my attention solely on them.  But Jesus had a comment that, frankly, changed my mind.  He suggested, we open up the family to all peoples, Jew and Gentile, regardless of skin color, race, culture, or any other distinction.  I am inclined to agree. Elijah, I will send the promised Messiah, but not just to save the Jews, but to save all people who will recognize and give loyalty to him.”

“Jesus suggested a supreme sacrifice be made once and for all time to cover people sins from the past, in the present and in the future. This suggestion has merit and is the cornerstone of my decision.”

“So this is my decision. We will send the Messiah to the earth. He will be born of a human woman and will grow into full human manhood. King David, you have never failed me. I give you the mission of finding the proper human family for the Messiah.  The husband must be from your own birth city of tiny Bethlehem.  The young woman must be a virgin. Both must have a love for me that is not surpassed. The linage of the Messiah must trace back to you, David, on both the adoptive father’s side and on the mother’s side.  It is my intention, the Messiah will grow to maturity not knowing he has been sent from me. I want him to experience all the temptations of being human. He will need to have these experiences so his mission can be fulfilled.  Elijah, work with David, and find a second man, a relative of the Messiah, who will grow into maturity and become a mighty prophet.  In fact, Elijah, he must be so powerful in his message, some, my friend, will think you have returned to preach.  His job will be to make smooth the path for the Messiah’s mission. You will be his mentor as he grows up.

“Moses, you will be the mentor of the Messiah. You will see he knows the laws I have given the people.  He should know the psalms and the proverbs and the history of the people.  He must know all the prophecies of the coming of the Messiah. When he speaks, it must be with the authority of knowledge.  Neither you nor Elijah will identify yourselves, but will appear throughout the young men’s lives as friends, neighbors, strangers. The two of you will continue to mentor the Messiah as he begins his mission and will meet with him, as yourselves, as often as he needs you.” 

“When the time comes, I will announce to the Messiah, that he is truly my Son.  I will then lead him into a time of solitude where he will remember who he is and the extent of his mission.”

“His mission will be multifaceted.  But two things he will do are of upmost importance.  First and primary, He will become the perfect sacrifice that takes away the sins of the world. No longer will individual sacrifices needed to be made.  His sacrifice will be sufficient for all mankind.  He will suffer the weight of the guilt and the burden of all sin.  He will experience the agony of being separated from me.  He will feel forsaken and alone.  It is necessary for him to experience this pain so all mankind will not have to experience it.”

“Secondly, he will provide hope by conquering death.  On the third day after his sacrifice, I will raised him from the dead and allow him to return to the people so they may see him and not fear death.  After a period of time, I will bring him back to me and send them my spirit who will remain in their hearts to help them.”

“There are other details, but this is my decision.”

Needless to say, God’s announcement caused quite a stir among the guests. On everyone’s lips was one question, “Who will he sent?” Some suggested Adam since he was the first man.  Michael and Gabriel were also put on the list.  After all, who was more precious in God’s sight than the two archangels who remained loyal to him when Lucifer led his rebellion?

After a few minutes, the scraping of a chair on the stone patio could be heard as one of the companions stood up. “I will go Father. I was with you in the beginning and all that was created was created through me. I found Noah; I was with Samuel when we found David. I love these people and would do anything for them. I must go, live among them and be sacrificed so they may become a child of God as we all are.”

And God said, “You are my one and only Son and are the most precious thing I have. I had already determined it must be you.  That you would offer yourself for this, makes me proud of you.”

And the group broke up, each man going to begin his individual assignment. And God sighed, " It feels good when a plan comes together!"

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