Pastor's Blog

. . . if my people who are called by my name humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7.14)

Most of us are familiar with that verse.  But it’s significant that the “i” in the first word ,“if”, is not capitalized.  This verse completes the previous verse:

When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people . . .  (2 Chronicles 7.13)

That word “pestilence” refers to an illness – a spreading epidemic, if you will.  Fast-spreading illness, the LORD told Solomon, can be a divinely sent messenger to stir an apathetic people and revive them spiritually.

Pestilence can also be a divine judgment, a punishment for sin.  King David had taken a census (presumably taking pride in the power of numbers) and God punished the whole nation for it.  David was to pick his poison:  three years of famine, three months of military defeat, or three days of pestilenceDavid took Door #3 – the pandemic – saying,
            “I am in great distress.  Let us fall into the hand of the LORD, for His mercy
              is great;  but let me not fall into the hand of man.”
  (2 Samuel 24.14)

A wave of illness ripped through Israel for three days, leaving 70,000 dead.  If that pandemic had persisted for two years at the same rate it would have slaughtered 8.5 million people!

Centuries later Hezekiah, David’s 11th great-grandson (that’s 11 great’s), was trapped in Jerusalem, besieged by the most fearsome war machine of the time, the Assyrian army.  Hezekiah trusted God, prayed for divine intervention, and in the morning found Jerusalem surrounded – by 185,000 Assyrian corpses (2 Kings 19.35). 

The biblical text says they had been stricken “by the angel of the LORD” (“angel” means messenger), and most biblical scholars take this “messenger” to be a lethal illness that providentially decimated the Assyrian army at just the right time to answer Hezekiah’s prayer. 

We know by experience and history how lethal such illness can be, wiping out large segments of a population in a brief time.

But was it only the invisible world of microbes at work by chance?  Or was there another invisible world at work utilizing the invisible world of microbes?

We often take literally the imagery of visions describing God’s judgment and so we expect burning stars falling from heaven and demonic stinging locusts rising from smoking pits. 

But divine judgment upon Israel usually showed itself in natural occurrences – war, famine, and pestilence – these three things the prophets regularly insisted were the tools of the God of Israel, not only to punish evil, but to call men (especially His own lethargic people) to humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways.

We are experiencing more than just illness.  The deaths caused by the virus are unsettling.  But beyond that, economies are shaking, governments are shaking,  national stabilities are shaking, the mental stability of people is shaking. 

Hearts are shaking.

Who is really doing the shaking?

Watching the Kyle Rittenhouse trial I was struck by the prosecution’s inferences that defending property from destruction by rioters demonstrates perverse and misplaced moral values – a valuing of property over human life, an expression of rapacious greed.

The prosecutors of Rittenhouse that minimized the riotous destruction as well as the rioters themselves who smashed windows, stole goods, and burned businesses, apparently believe that employment is oppression, work is slavery, and owning a business is a sign of greed.

To these people, destroying businesses is a way to take a heroic stand against these moral evils.  If the business owners and horrified citizens were truly good spiritual people, they wouldn’t mind having to part with worldly goods.  Jesus calls his followers to renounce this world, doesn't he?

Those who support such theft apparently believe that Jesus’ call to renounce this world is permission to divest others of their property with impunity.  Those that dare to protect their buildings using young armed men like Kyle Rittenhouse are selfish, greedy, and materialistic – the true villains .

For many this passes for deep spirituality.  Some would even see it as the teaching of Jesus.  They don’t recognize the deceptive and distorted half-truths of the one Jesus withstood in the wilderness.

I believe people accept these lies because there is a side of the Judaeo-Christian ethic with which they are either unfamiliar or, if they are familiar, they reject it outright.  I present here a pencil sketch of that other side for your consideration.

God places immense value on productive work.  Man was made for productive labor and work is a key part of the blessed life in Eden (Gen. 2.15).  Furthermore, the one positively-stated law among the Ten Commandments says:  “Six days you shall labor and do all your work” (Exodus 20.9).  Productive labor is neither an evil nor a curse, but a divine blessing, an outworking of purpose, the intention of God for us.

Likewise, the “stuff” our labor produces is a blessing from God (Ps 128.2).  Children are the fruit of one’s body and earnings and goods they purchase are the fruit of one’s labor.  Both blessings of life rightfully belong to the one that produces them, and for another to deprive one of these fruits is always a great moral evil.  “You shall not murder”“You shall not steal”; and not insignificantly, kidnapping, prohibited in Exodus 21.16, is literally in Hebrew “one who steals a man” and is a capital offense, even if the kidnapped person is found alive!

To attack one’s livelihood, or the fruits of one’s livelihood, is a form of attack on someone’s life.  The fruits of one’s labor express and reveal things about a soul, just as God’s creation reveals things about Him (Rom. 1.20). 

An attack on creation is a form of attack on the Creator.  So protecting the fruit of one’s labor from destruction, whether by fence or wall, locks or alarms, or by posting an armed guard, is protecting an extension of one’s life – one’s livelihood

It is not greed but a show of proper appreciation and thankfulness for blessing.

Today is my dad’s 83rd birthday and I woke up thinking about the impact he’s had on my life.  One of the gifts he gave me was an appreciation for the importance of history.

He was taught history in what I call a romanticized fashion;  it’s how my school teachers taught history as well.  Americans were always the heroes, the good guys.  American heroes were virtuous and you learned about their virtues because the goal was not merely to learn events, but to encourage the development of good character

That George Washington or Abe Lincoln were capable of doing bad things never entered my mind.  They were brave and virtuous and fought for truth, justice, and the American way, and this was a good thing.

I think I saw things this way because I learned what these men did in light of their writings and speeches which conveyed their ideals.  So, I was taught the ideals and those aspects of their lives that reflected those ideals.  American history was interpreted in light of those ideals and taught to reinforce those ideals.

I don’t recall learning much about the Trail of Tears or Wounded Knee or the details of slavery or Jim Crow laws until I was well into young adulthood.  They were mentioned as events that happened; but we didn’t learn much detail about them because they didn’t reinforce the ideals I was supposed to learn.

That’s what I mean by “romanticized fashion”.  The good and the virtuous is glorified while the evils and vices are either glossed over or played down.

I don’t regret learning in the romanticized fashion.  We need examples and heroes to emulate so presenting their virtues first lays a good foundation.  What happens if you start with vices?

That seems to be the way history is taught now.  Revisionist history, including the critical race theory causing so much upheaval these days, is a reaction to the romanticizing of history.  It sees romanticizing as lying and aims to demonize what was once romanticized by focusing on the faults and evils of our heroes.

Vice, it seems to be concluded, cancels out any and all virtue.  For example, if a man once owned slaves, there couldn’t possibly be anything virtuous in anything he said or did.  He was evil.  All his great accomplishments and spoken ideals are dismissed as disingenuous, viewed suspiciously through the lens of his faults.

If this is how we see the world and history, there are no heroes and there is nothing to emulate because there are no perfect people.  

Good people can do terrible things and evil people can do marvelous things. 
This is true of our heroes from the past, and it is true of all of us.

All virtue is tainted by vice.  But it is still virtue and worth holding forth as an ideal to be pursued – even if our heroes and we ourselves fall short of it.

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