Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Reminding God To Act On His Own Behalf

When is the last time we heard a prayer in church asking God to act on his own behalf?  We petition him for our needs, for our friends' needs, for our family's needs, for the needs of those less fortunate than ourselves, but when is the last time we asked God to act in order to save face?  It is remarkable how often we see just that in the Bible.  Abraham's discussion with God over Sodom and Gomorrah centers around Abraham reminding God that he is not a god who kills innocents.  Moses asks God not to destroy the Israelites in the wilderness, not for the Israelites' sake, but for the sake of God's reputation.  Here in II Kings, Hezekiah does something very similar.

King Sennacherib of Assyria has demanded tribute and besieged the city of Jerusalem.  He has already conquered all the other fortified cities in Judah.  In other words, Judah is one city away from suffering the same fate as Israel: annihilation.  In the midst of all this, Sennacherib sends representatives to give Jerusalem a message.  The message is pretty simple: you will fall.  After all, look at all the other nations who have fallen already.  And more importantly, don't for a second think that Jerusalem's god will save it.  Have any of the gods of the other nations and cities been able to save them?  Obviously not.  Jerusalem's fate will be no different.

It is at this point that Hezekiah prays.  "Open your ears," he says, "and open your eyes."  Hear how Sennacherib is mocking you!  Granted, at the end of his prayer, Hezekiah does ask God to deliver them, but it is "so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you...are God alone."  All the other powers and authorities have been shown a sham.  Sennacherib has proven that all other gods are nothing but wood and stone.  Is God going to allow the same to be said of him?  If not, he better do something about, or all the other nations will think the same thing of him that they do the rest.  God needs to act to save his own reputation.

This may seem very sacrilegious, but I sympathize with Hezekiah on this one.  God is losing face.  He is being mocked, and if that is going to change then he needs to step up.  I was thinking yesterday about what the book of I Samuel says about God at the beginning of Samuel's story, that "the word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not wide spread."  God seemed largely absent.  Frankly, that is how I would describe our present time, and quite a bit of time before us.  It has been so long since people knew the voice of God that most churches teach in some way or other that God doesn't do "that sort of thing" anymore.  The Pentecostal movement seems to be the only Christian movement that largely disagrees, but sometimes I wonder if they hurt our cause more than help it, as far as conveying God's presence to modern, American culture goes.  (I can't figure out a softer, kinder way to say that.  Sorry to any Pentecostal who might come across this.)  Personally, I don't need miracles and visions to believe for myself, otherwise I'd be an agnostic and find a much more peaceful profession.  However, if the promises I repeatedly talk about are true, that God is working in the world to heal and restore and redeem, it would be nice if God would more regularly work in the world to show that.  (Having said that, I realize how cynical that sounds.  As a disciple of Christ, one of my main responsibilities is to witness to those same things in my lifestyle.  So, if I were living a more healing, restoring and redeeming life, the world would see the activity of God more often.  I realize my reflections today are a bit one-sided.)

Anyhow, I say all that to say: God doesn't seem to mind us praying for him to prove himself.  In stories like Hezekiah's, God is not the enemy to be feared, as if we might ask for the wrong thing or be too forward and get zapped in response.  God is the only one capable of rescuing us from our enemies in this world, and if he doesn't appear to be doing what he promised, it seems he might actually expect us to call him on that.

So, God, you promised us that you would place all powers and authorities under the Lordship of Christ.  Do you hear the world mocking that promise?

Stopping point: II Kings 19

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