In which God says, “SRSLY???”

Today in Chronological Bible-Reading Land — the epic conclusion to the story of Israel’s great rebellion against Yahweh’s plan to lead them to the Promised Land!

Previously, on “The Book of Numbers”… Israel is racing toward Canaan, prepared to overrun them and inhabit the land promised to them by God. But when they arrive, they are cautious — they send twelve spies to scout the territory and report back. Once they see the giants who live there, ten of the spies are so afraid that they lose their faith and make the people believe the land is awful and they’re all going to die. Only two men — Joshua son of Nun and Caleb, a foreigner — stand between Israel and total rebellion against God. Will they be able to save their people?

Short answer: No. Unfortunately the people cave in to mass panic and basically say, “Wahhhhhhh, things are scary! Now we’re going to die horrible, violent deaths and our children will be carried off as plunder! It would have been better if we had died (horribly and violently…) in Egypt (after which their children would have grown up as slaves…) instead of coming here! Just kill us now — we may as well die in the wilderness instead!!”

Then God says, “SRSLY????”

And I don’t blame Him at all! You’d think after all those miracles that the nation of Israel was privileged to witness that they might have a teensy bit more staying power in the face of adversity. I mean, let’s review the list of miracles these folks have witnessed since being slaves in Egypt:

  • The Ten Plagues. You know — locusts and darkness and boils– oh my! (Oh yeah, and also that all of these plagues ONLY AFFECTED EGYPTIANS. What.) Exodus 7-12
  • The Parting of the Red Sea. Red Sea or Reed Sea debate notwithstanding, God arranged for a large body of water to allow Israel through… and then drown an entire battalion of Egyptian charioteers. Y’know, no big deal. Exodus 14
  • Bread of heaven. Once they made it to the desert, the Israelites were fed by God literally making it rain food. Exodus 16
  • Water from a stone. Then, once the Israelites were a bit thirsty, God made a rock become a water fountain… with enough for all two million Israelites. Exodus 17
  • Epic battle-wins. As long as Moses kept his hands raised to heaven, the Israelites would be winning battles. (Too bad Israel didn’t have a football team…) Exodus 17
  • God comes for a visit. When God and Moses had the first summit meeting (yuk yuk yuk), God set the whole mountain on fire and announced himself with trumpet blasts. (But even that wasn’t enough to stop the Israelites from worshiping a cow made of their melted earrings instead…) Exodus 19-20 God also frequently signified his presence with pillars of cloud and fire over the tabernacle. Exodus 33, Numbers 9, et al.
  • Holy Moses! After speaking with God face-to-face, Moses’ face literally glowed. Exodus 34
  • “…I got better!” When Miriam spoke against her brother, God struck her with leprosy… and then healed her. Numbers 12

So, after all this, after ALLLLLLL these miracles that they’ve witnessed with their own eyes… the Israelites are terrified of a few “giants” that are currently inhabiting the land that God has promised to give to them.

Sigh. Good thing God has more patience than I do! But after all this, even He gets a bit upset. He decrees that for their mind-blowingly stupid disobedience (okay, maybe God didn’t use quite those words…) their consequence is to wander in the desert for 40 years — one year for every day of spying — until all the Doubty Mc Doubtersons have died in the wilderness, like they wanted.

Whoops. Be careful what you wish for has gone to a whooooole new level here.

What really gets me, though, is that even after all this the Israelites persist in their childish whining and ineffective attempts to manipulate God. It goes something like this:

God: You’d rather die in the wilderness? Okay. Request granted.

Israel: …On second thought, all that milk and honey sounds real nice. How about we go to the Promised Land now? We’re just gonna stroll on over…

Moses: Don’t go over there, you dummies! God said you’re gonna die in the wilderness, and so you will. If you climb over that hill you’re gonna get whupped by the locals.

Israel: Oh, come on, it’ll be fun — Ow! Ow! Ow!

Wow. Seriously silly stuff. It gives me a lot more empathy for Moses when he gripes about the rough lot of being the leader and divine intercessor for these knuckleheads.

Anyway, so then presumably the Israelites realize that God means business and get ready for some serious sand dune-age. But then, my chronological Bible plan sends me to this beautiful psalm attributed to Moses. No idea if it actually lines up with this story, but it is certainly a thematic match for what Moses and the Israelites must have been feeling as the reality of “40 years of wilderness and then you die” set in.

In amidst the honest lamentations of God’s wrath and the shortness of life come some beautiful statements of faith and supplication, which are all the more powerful when you think of the probable context. (I think this psalm is very appropriate for Lent, too!) So today, I will leave you with these favorite bits from Psalm 90:

Teach us to number our days,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love,
that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.

May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us;
establish the work of our hands for us —
yes, establish the work of our hands.

Upside-Down Authority and Women in the Church

At the end of my last post I wondered why we humans turn God’s model of servant-leadership into dictatorship when we lead. This idea of “but a leader should be humble, at the bottom of the ladder” reminded me of a conversation I had with a friend one summer.

This was the summer that I began to question my denomination of origin — not with the goal of leaving (though I eventually did), but simply to answer my questions. My friend had plans to be a pastor someday, so I thought he would be a good person to help me understand my denomination. Regarding my questions about women being excluded from pastoral ministry, he said:

Well, being a pastor isn’t about being “in charge” — it’s about service, and pastors are supposed to be at the bottom of the ladder, leading out of humility. So all the women and feminists should stop feeling like they’re being denied some spotlight or authority — being a pastor isn’t about power, it’s about service. What’s the big deal about being excluded from that?”

There are two main problems with this statement.

1. Pretending pastors do not have authority in the church is unrealistic. 

Although my friend is correct in stating that the Jesus model for pastoring is one of servant-leadership and humility, that is rarely the reality today. Most pastors I know (with the exception of my dad and a few others) lead much more like presidents or CEOs than servants.

Even pastors who do lead with humility still wield a tremendous amount of influence. For children growing up in traditional churches, their shiny, white-robed pastors often mix with their image of Jesus and set the tone for those kids’ early faith. And most pastors generally get 20-60 minutes of uninterrupted speaking time from the pulpit each Sunday. So saying there is no authority or power to be had as a pastor is just plain unrealistic.

2. A lack of power or prestige does not make exclusion okay.

Even if pastoring was a low-influence sort of job in real life, does that make it any more just to exclude 50% of the population from it because of their anatomy? Yes, there are many other ways to serve God — but who are we to say that it’s impossible for God to call any woman to any of those ways, whether that be to preaching, legislating, or trash-collecting? I would much rather have a woman preacher who has a true and humble call to serve than a man preacher who seeks the influence that leading a church can give him. Which leads me to my next thought…

Doesn’t humility make a better pastoral baseline virtue than maleness?

I mean, really — if pastoring without a desire for power or control is *so important*, then isn’t it better to have humble servant-leaders for pastors no matter their sex than to be forced by gender exclusion to accept less-than-servanty pastors? Doesn’t excessive pride and desire for power corrupt the pastorate (and the church) more than having a vagina does?

I know I’m thinking practically here, with little biblical evidence. But I’m no Bible scholar, so I’ll let the real ones do that. My point here is simply to say that if it’s so easy for us humans to get God’s example wrong, then maybe we should be a little more careful before we start making rules about who’s allowed to do what.

What do you think? Should pastors focus more on humility? Do you think women can be called to pastoral ministry even if their church doesn’t allow it? Let me know in the comments!

Back to the Bible…

Wow. So I just looked and the last time I posted on here about my Bible-reading was in September. Yikes! Part of that is because, well, I haven’t been so good at my Bible-reading lately. (Which is bad not because reading the Bible every day makes you a good Christian, but because when I read the Bible daily-ish I feel more peaceful about life.) But no worries — I have returned to my Bible-reading plan of choice just in time to share with you some thoughts about Leviticus today! Woohoo!

I’m not gonna lie — I’m kind of excited to be done with Leviticus. It’s not the most engaging of narratives… in fact, it’s not a narrative, but a list of rules and guidelines. But even amidst all those regulations about goats and shekels I found an interesting tidbit today:

All the time that it lies desolate, the land will have the rest it did not have during the sabbaths you lived in it. (Lev. 26:35)

This comes during God’s explanation of the consequences for repeatedly rejecting and disobeying God’s laws. I find it fascinating that the earth/land is personified as a victim of the people’s sinful rejection of God. Because the people have forsaken God’s commands (including the lying fallow of the land during the jubilee years), one consequence of their disobedience is not only to be driven from their homes but for the land they have abused to be taken from them and let to rest as it should.

Hmm… yet another verse emphasizing our call to care for our earth. It makes me wonder how so many people thought (and still think) that the earth was/is our plaything to be used or abused at will.

Humans sure have a messed-up view of authority. For example, we are given “dominion” over the land — but as we see here, that should mean careful, tender guardianship, not selfish exploitation. Same with people (usually men) who really push male headship — if you really believe in that, it should mean you lovingly care for and support your wife, not control or rule her. Same with children — parents should take “raise them up in the way they should go” as a call to Christ-like modeling and tender care, not a controlling demeanor of punishment and “justice”.

God doesn’t control us! As strange as it sounds, God actually allows us the free will to make our own decisions, for good or ill, up to and including rejecting him. (And he gives us a lot of do-overs, too!)

So where do we get the idea that leadership equals domination and guidance equals control?

“I Need” comes with an “In Order To”. “I Want” does not.

Someone posed the question of what the difference is between “need” and “desire”. Here’s my answer, adapted for the blog:

Every “need” bears an implicit “in order to”. That “in order to” can be weighty or trivial, but it’s ALWAYS there.

I “need” food “in order to” live.

I *desire* to eat a pizza. I *need* to heat up the oven *in order to* cook the pizza in a reasonable and efficient way.

When we say “need” without an explicit “in order to”, there’s always an implicit one, and it’s usually more of the weighty variety:

I “need” food. (“in order to” survive, which I’ve determined to be what I should do in this context.)

Usually when we just say “I need X”, we mean I need X in order to achieve the ends I have determined to be sufficiently important to merit/warrant my acquisition of X.”

So when we use “need” by itself without specifying the “in order to”, what we’re really saying is “should”, because we’re implicitly referring to an underlying value/importance framework.

In that way “need” and “should obtain” are quite convergent. Whereas “need” and “desire” are quite divergent. Desire requires no explicit or implicit “in order to”, and so neither does it bear any explicit or implicit reference to supporting moral frameworks. “I want pizza” neither has nor needs a morally defensible “in order to”.

The difference between “desire” and “need” is that “I desire” is an impossible-to-refute assertion about my own feelings, whereas “I need” is a fully refutable claim that X is a prerequisite to Y, usually also implying that the Y is important enough to warrant (morally or in accordance to whatever other system is relevant to the discussion) the acquisition (or execution) of X.

That’s the difference.

UPSHOT:

When you say “I need X”, if it’s a significant situation, remember to ask yourself what your underlying “in order to Y” is, and try to be fair in your evaluation of whether it REALLY merits X, (in light of everybody mattering).

OTHER UPSHOT:

Sometime, you may “need” to do something that causes or risks an outcome as significant as you dying, “in order to” attain something sufficiently worthwhile.

In other words, in order to more accurately represent truth/reality, we need to stop saying “I need X” where our implicit “in-order-to” is “to keep me safe, secure, comfortable, and not dead”, and thinking that’s solidly and permanently sufficient.

Whether X is the avoidance of a mission/advocacy/service role that could kill me, or if it’s the utilization of insane costs to keep myself alive, it’s easy to see where the approach that says “I need X, period” is potentially very erroneous/dangerous/bad.

In other other words, we don’t actually unilaterally need to live in order to attain or serve what’s most important, most worthwhile.

I think that Christian readers in particular should especially agree with me on this point, because at the core of Christianity is the notion that Somebody decided that the “in order to” of redeeming our lives and creation was literally worth dying for.

No one shows greater love than when he lays down his life for his friends.

John 15:13