Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Treachery, the all-too-common sin

"I brought you into a bountiful country, to eat its fruit and its goodness. But when you entered, you defiled my land, and made my heritage an abomination." Jeremiah 2:7

Jeremiah 2:7 comes in the midst of the Lord's indictment of His people for their idolatry. His words begin with a memory of Israel's youth, when she followed the Lord out of Egypt into the wilderness as the first fruits of His increase. He then asks what He has done to deserve their idolatry, providing several examples, including the one above quoted, where Israel has forsaken the Lord and His commandments. The Lord recites a litany of grace in His dealings with Israel--He led them out of Egypt (where they were in bondage), through deserts and pits, drought and the shadow of death, in a place uninhabitable. Then verse seven. The Israelites took the gifts that God had given to them and used them to prop up and worship God's enemies.

Imagine such a scenario today. It would be as if your father gave you a portion of his land to keep for yourself and provide some of the increase for the father as gratitude for his gift. The son does this, but in addition to offering the tithe, the son also provided for his father's rivals from his increase. If giving the father's enemies weren't bad enough, the son invited the enemies to settle on the portion of land, which the father had given him, and even acknowledged gratitude to the enemies, as if the giving of the land and the providence of its increase had been their doing. Imagine a U.S. citizen allotting a portion of his land to member of Al Qaeda, or North Korea, for the purpose of settling in and making use of the resources there. Would not the government swoop down and exile or execute the citizen for treason? Would not the father disown the son, or at least remove him from the inheritance?

The more shameful realization comes in recognizing that there is no good thing that any of us possess that has not been given to us by God. Our minds, our families, our liberties, our possessions, our times and talents, and so on--all of these things belong to God and have been allotted to us as an inheritance for uses that not only benefit us, but bring honor to the One who has given it. To make use of these things in ways that defy God, dishonor Him, or otherwise break faith with His requirements of us is to engage in treason.

There is a danger (though it is built upon a misconception) in recognizing that all sins, from the most petty to the most egregious, are rooted in treason. The danger is that the notion of treason becomes cheapened in our estimation, and we act as if it were something easily forgiven, or an acceptable casualty of circumstance. But who of us would tolerate such treasonous acts upon our own person? Isn't it the case for most that when a trusted friend has forsaken that trust our inclination is to cut that person off entirely? Isn't this especially so when the trust isn't simply broken, but broken for the purpose of aiding our rivals? Such friends would be considered enemies, and would be anathematized from our fellowship.

Thanks be to God that he is not a man! One of the reasons God calls us to love our enemies is because that is precisely what He did in delivering us from our treasonous guilt before His holy throne of judgment. Nor is God's love of the sort that winks at treasonous acts as though it were a slight thing. His love is a consuming fire, chastising the traitor so as to ward him off from the temptations to follow down that path. Too often, I think, we Christians want to bask in the softness of grace--and it is a comfort beyond the most vivid imagination. But there is a firmness in grace that seems much more prominent in Scripture. It is the grace of being welcomed back into the camp after you've deserted and given arms to the enemy. You deserve death, but instead you get the lash and a chance to prove yourself loyal again. There is comfort there, too, but I don't think it preaches well to the contemporary culture, which is inclined to think of itself as the sovereign, and the Lord as the gatekeeper or financier of our wealth.

Or, to put it another way, we are a generation of traitors who have grown comfortable with the self-deception of trying to engage loyalties on opposing sides. The tragic irony of it all is that, if we truly were sovereigns rather than slaves, we would have eradicated such traitors long ago. The Lord is long of nose (Ex. 34:6), but it is not as though He does not see past the end of it, nor remember all that goes on in secret or in broad daylight.

"If you will return, O Israel," says the Lord, "Return to me; and if you will put away your abominations out of my sight, then you shall not be moved. And you shall swear, 'The Lord lives,' in truth, in judgment, and in righteousness; the nations shall bless themselves in him, and in him they shall glory." For thus says the Lord to the men of Judah and Jerusalem: "Break up your fallow ground, and do not sow among thorns. Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, and take away the foreskins of your hearts, you men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, lest my fury come forth like fire, and burn so that no one can quench it, because of the evil of your doings." Jeremiah 4:1-4

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