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Monday, October 04, 2010

Amazing God

There are a number of fascinating stories in the Bible. Many of them reveal much about the character and nature of God. Typically they run along the lines of revealing the wrath of God and/or the love of God. To be sure, He doesn't tolerate sin --- and the stories demonstrate that in spades. At the same time, His love for us is immense --- and the stories illustrate that point just as well.

But there are a few stories in the Bible that frankly make me scratch my head. I find myself reading them and thinking to myself, "Really God?" There are two such stories. While generally well known, they are tucked away in otherwise obscure sections of the Bible where they could be easily overlooked. They are the stories of the Tower of Babel and of Lot's wife.

Let's look first at Genesis 11:1-9. That's right, just nine (9) verses for the whole story. And yet that story has massive implications for all of mankind forever. It starts out well ... the whole world had just one language and a common speech. I imagine that meant there were never any misunderstandings and nothing ever got lost in translation. (It's a world I can only imagine!)

Anyway, the people make bricks and are building a city. They decide to build what would have been earth's first skyscraper - the Tower of Babel. God shows up for a visit and decides to take a tour. He isn't happy. It seems they are proud of themselves and are building monuments to their own greatness (at least in God's perspective). So God decides to mess with them. He confused their language, and literally the language of the whole world. And then He scattered them across the world.

Can you imagine? One day you're busy building. The next thing you know you wake up in a strange place and cannot understand what anyone is saying. Good grief! It must have been quite a shock for those poor people. I look at this and I think about how much time and money has been spent in the thousands of years since then ... trying to overcome language barriers. We're still spending gobs of money on that same effort today.

If you've ever traveled to a foreign country where English isn't commonly known, then you can appreciate the dilemma this caused. It is incredibly humbling when you can't figure which bathroom to use or which train to get on. It's even worse if you're in a grocery store in Tokyo, for example, and can't figure out what stuff is.

If you thought the one tree in the Garden of Eden caused a lot of trouble, consider what this stupid tower has cost us! And I just want to say, "Really, God? You did this to us on purpose? Do you know how much trouble this has been for us?"

Now let's go to Genesis 19:17 & 26. This is where God is fed up with the depravity of the whole population of Sodom and Gomorrah. He tells Lot and his wife to flee for their lives, for He (God) is about to destroy the city in a most spectacular way (raining burning sulphur down on everything). Now God's last instruction was, "Don't look back ... (as you are fleeing)."

We don't really know why God didn't want them to look back as they fled from the burning destruction of the city. But of course, Lot's wife couldn't resist. It must have been a spectacular show. (I imagine if it had happened in our modern day and age, she would surely have snapped pictures of it with her cell phone and uploaded them to Facebook that night from the hotel room!)

So she looked back. Lot's wife. Maybe they were driving away in the mini van. Lot is at the wheel and driving pretty fast. His wife checks to make sure they loaded everything in the van and then glances out the back window. Maybe she was curious. Maybe she just wanted to make sure they were in fact escaping the unfolding tragedy. Perhaps she would have said, "Lot, drive faster. The fire is spreading quickly!"

We don't know why Lot's wife felt compelled to look back. But God had been clear. He said not to. So ... ZAP! Now there is a pillar of salt buckled into the seat belt next to Lot in the mini van. Can you just imagine Lot's surprise? He's driving like a mad man to escape the enormous flames of burning sulfur. He glances over and there's no more wife. Maybe he thought, "Come on honey, this is no time for a joke." No doubt Lot was disturbed when he realized it was no joke. What was he going to tell the life insurance company?

Frankly, stories like this disturb me a little bit. Okay, they disturb me more than that. You know, the punishment doesn't seem to fit the crime. Oh I know, we can't understand the Lord's ways. Still though, I'd like to. I find myself reading this story and saying out loud, "Come on, God! Give me a break! You'd already said Lot and his wife were the only righteous people in town. And then one little slip up and you zap her. Was that really necessary?"

These aren't the only stories in the Bible that end this way. But they have a common theme. Someone does something, however innocuous it may seem to humans. But God disapproves. So God moves swiftly and implements corrective action. And it changes lives forever. Innocent people I mean ... they are the ones whose lives are changed.

The entire population of humanity, all generations that will ever exist after the Tower of Babel, are faced with the struggle of language differences and communications failures. We didn't build the Tower. Heck, we've never even seen the darned tower! I'm not sure I'd like it even if I did see it. But would all of mankind for thousands of years afterward need to suffer? Couldn't we just have torn the danged tower down?

Lot didn't look back. His daughters didn't look back. But their lives were forever changed now. No wife. No mother. Suddenly Lot is a single parent. You think there might not have been some bitterness and resentment on the part of Lot and his daughters. I mean, there was not even a body left to bury! Mom said no good-byes to her family. It was just over in a split second.

What are we to conclude from such stories? Does God still love us? Can His justice ever make sense in our human perspective? It certainly appears that obedience is a way bigger deal than any of us would have thought. I suspect obedience is also a way bigger deal than any of us would like it to be. I'm sobered when I read these stories. I think this God of mine is amazing ... in more ways than one.

So we read and we contemplate this amazing God that we serve. We've given ourselves over to Him completely. We are His to spend as He sees fit. So I look at my nice house, or consider my own curiosity --- and I try to remember that the same human behaviors in me right now have changed the course of history in the past. Might they change it now?

What measures might God go to in order to correct my own pride in my "things?" How swift and severe might His correction be if I stick my nose into places where it doesn't belong? I am humbled. And I'm confronted with these stories every single day when I flip on the TV or radio or call customer service number and am confronted with a language difference. Truly He is an amazing God.

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