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Powers that be

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

From Deuteronomy 4 and Matthew 5
Moses said to the people, “What great nation has statutes and decrees that are as just as this whole law which I am setting before you today?” … And Jesus said, “Do not think I have come to abolish the law. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.”

How old were you when you first asked, in one way or another, “Why is there evil in the world?”

Once upon a time, I think it was a spring day in the sixth grade after lunch on the Chester East Lincoln school playground, my friend held another classmate’s arms and I hit him with my fist, right on the jaw. Then I walked away. That classmate died recently, and in all these years I never took the courage to go to him and apologize, although I thought about him often. Obviously, I still do.

Sin and Death win when I accuse others but refuse to acknowledge my own guilt. Paul prefigures Freud’s theory of projection in Romans 2:1: “When you pass judgment on another, you condemn yourself because you, the judge, practice the very same things.” I am neither angel nor demon, and neither is the one I hit on the jaw. Threads of goodness run through us all, as do threads of evil. God’s grace sorts out these threads, but I cannot.

I’m sure my classmate did something to offend me before I hit him. So what does that prove? It proves nothing because I allowed the Law to hang on tight to that foothold of offense. My adolescent self-righteousness applied the law only to him.

We don’t grow out of this adolescence; it just gets worse unless we learn to see others’ points of view, unless we try on their shoes and walk a mile, unless we open our doors to those so much different from us they seem evil.

Now Jesus comes to fulfill the law, and he shows me how to bless those who curse me, how to turn my cheek and love my enemy. All of us are fearfully and wonderfully made. Everyone is the same kind of different as me. We all fall short of God’s glory.

Who will rescue me from this inglorious body of death? In this context the Law, so wonderful in its inception, becomes “a bondservant of the Powers. Sin and Death, along with their captive the Law are for Paul the sum of all evil” (Fleming Rutledge, Crucifixion, pp. 35-36).

There are various ways to say “devil.” Like … “Powers.” Rutledge’s words are less medieval but just as menacing when she describes “the existence of the unique, semi-autonomous agency whose status as the Enemy of God means that it operates from a sphere that lies outside of and beyond human control.”

The war in heaven involves us, but it is beyond our control. We can’t find the right questions about evil. It would be better if I stop asking God questions about evil and begin thinking, “What questions does God want to ask me?”

Of course, when God speaks it is scary. Job quaked in his boots as God said, “Gird up your loins like a man; I will question you, and you will answer me.

But the fear of the Lord is beginning of all wisdom, right? Rutledge nails it when she says, “The new understanding imparted by the Bible comes from a source lying beyond our ability to frame questions” (p. 20). Better to be still, ask God to know the offensive ways in me, and let Jesus show me the “unforced rhythms of grace” (Message, Matthew 11).

Father, in Job’s misery of unknowing you rescued him, but not by answering his questions. And Job said, “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. I repent in dust and ashes.” In this dust, in these ashes, I turn toward you and sit in silence until you choose to speak.

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