Two Hollywood movies came out this year depicting God’s mighty hand. I haven’t seen either one, but I know the storylines. The first was Noah. We know how God showed his mighty hand in that era of history. The second is Exodus: Gods and Kings. It’s not Charleton Heston, but Christian Bale. We know how this turned out too. The intriguing thing about “God’s mighty hand” is that in both episodes of redemptive history, God’s hand has two sides to it: one in judgment; the other in salvation.
The phrase itself appears seventeen times: sixteen in the Old Testament but only once in the New Testament. Peter used the phrase in his first letter to the exiles (i.e., Christians) to exhort his audience to fulfill their high calling in Christ even under the pressures of suffering and persecution. “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (5:6, 7).
Usually, especially as far as Hollywood is concerned, God’s mighty hand makes for some spectacular storytelling and some jaw-dropping computer generated graphics. But an examination of the biblical uses of the phrase show what “he cares for you” has to do with “the mighty hand of God.”
Yes, God’s mighty hand was at work pouring down rain for forty days and sending water up from the great depths. But God’s mighty hand was strengthening Noah to build that massive ark of safety. Yes, God’s mighty hand brought ten plagues on Egypt, defeated her ten most powerful gods and drowned the Egyptian army in the Red Sea. But God took the children of Israel by their hand and by his mighty hand led them from slavery into freedom and a new relationship with the God.
That’s the amazing thing about God’s mighty hand for the humble – we get his face, too. God’s mighty hand reveals many things about God. First, his uniqueness; there is no other god like him (Deut 4:34).
Second, his hand only begins to show his greatness implying there is more of himself to reveal and do (Deut 3:24).
Third, his mighty hand is the subject matter of spiritual instruction in the home (Deut 6:21).
Fourth, it reveals his mercy, pure and simple (Deut 7:8).
Fifth, it is a means of comfort in times of fear of the future (Deut 7:19).
Sixth, it is motivation for love and obedience (Deut 11:2).
Seventh, it is the basis of tithing and generosity (Deut 26:1-11).
Eighth, it will affect non-believers who hear about it to seek God’s help furthering God’s reputation in the world (1 Kgs 8:42; 2 Chron 6:32).
Ninth, God’s mighty hand shapes his people into his image. God delivers, gathers and judges his people to remove idolatry from their hearts, and afterwards he renews them in a deeper relationship with God.
Tenth, God’s mighty hand is a reason to worship God (Deut 5:15). This is the only mention of God’s mighty hand in the Ten Commandments.
Have you considered how God’s mighty hand has been at work in your life? (See Eph 2:10!)
There is a bumper sticker that you may have seen on cars around your town. It’ something of a prayer that says, “Jesus save me from your followers.” Let’s be honest. The sad truth is that some of Jesus’ followers do reflect on him poorly. On the other hand, poor followers don’t mean Christianity is bunk. Let every man be a liar, God remains true – with a capital “T.”
And God’s Truth, if Susan Brooks Thistlewaite, Professor of Theology and past President of Chicago Theological Seminary, is scarier than All Hallow’s Eve (see her editorial at http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/on-faith/wp/2013/10/28/five-christian-theologies-scarier-than-halloween-2/). Ms. Thistlewaite, also a frequent editorialist for the Washington Post’s “On Faith” column, lists five Christian theologies that are more frightening than Halloween. She admits that Halloween isn’t scary now because it has been substantially tamed by “Gothic and horror literature like Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein.” But if you “want to be frightened this week” take a look at some Christian teachings “that actually are scary.”
What scares Ms. Thistlewaite are these five “theological themes:” Christian dominionism, hell and damnation, women submitting to husbands, creation science, and God’s hatred of gays.
An appropriate sigh here.
In her view, these theologies are about power and manipulation, anti-science ignorance, male privilege and abuse, and (she suspects) the cause of the recent government shutdown.
Ms. Thistlewaite asserts that Christian dominionism was the theology behind the shutdown. Does she really expect us to believe that there are so many Christians in the House and the Senate that they arm-wrestled the government into a shutdown? Or that it wasn’t really a chasm-wide divide of ideologies and maneuvering for partisan power? No, she insists; it’s the ‘vast right-wing Christian theologian’s” conspiring together.
The actual theology to which she refers is called “Christian Reconstructionism.” Ms. Thistlewaite must have read Deborah Caldwell’s Huffington Post Religion page editorial that creates suspicions and conspiratorial theories of collusions between Tea Partiers, the GOP and a minority wing of the Protestant church intent on ruling America by laws from Leviticus. Ms. Caldwell uses the hackneyed tactic of guilt by association and then asks, “What are we to make of all this?” She answers later, “I don’t know.” So much for unbiased journalism. It’s enough to just throw some meat to the dogs. (See the Caldwell article at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/deborah-caldwell/christian-dominionism-debt-default-_b_4097017.html).
Hell and damnation, with its fiery hot threats of demons waiting to catch sinners hung over an abyss is scary because it’s about the abusive use of ecclesiastical power as “a club to manipulate people, producing true horrors instead of faith journeys.” (She would despise Edwards’ sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” as a way to “create and sustain ‘hell on earth.’”) Hell contradicts God’s love and mercy. It’s chic to jettison any talk on hell these days. All people and dogs “go to heaven and look down on us approvingly.” I agree, the doctrine of hell is scary. God intended the place called hell for those who reject his Son. Therefore, hell has at least two purposes, both good news. One is that hell points us to the place of rescue from it. Trust in Jesus Christ is for anyone convinced that they deserve God’s rejection for rejecting God’s Son. Hell is also a place for the execution of God’s justice in the history of humankind. Who is really opposed to rescue and justice?
According to Ms. Thistlewaite, the submission of women to male authority always ends in physical abuse based on the “just battering” tradition of violence against women by their husbands. The “front door of such a ‘religious’ home becomes a doorway to violence.” I’ve been in plenty of those “religious” homes where strong and convinced women with sound Christian theological backbones gladly receive a worthy husband’s authority as a great joy. I actually live with such a woman. She is strong theologically and convinced of God’s truth and even when I fail to live up to my calling as a Christian husband, she respects as well as corrects me. And on top of that, by God’s grace we raised two daughters with the same backbone. It is a convenient target to say that Christian women have been battered into submission. The ones I know have not. They find God’s design for their function in marriage. The function of woman makes her no less important or equal before God as his image-bearer any more than the function of a janitorial engineer makes him or her less important or valuable than the company CEO. They are equal as people created in God’s image, functioning in different ways. The women I know see their functions as a way to fulfill God’s commands to them to serve with their husbands as the vice-regents God intended. The misguided notion of Ms. Thistlewaite is that battering and violence are the same thing as submission. I wonder if she thinks this way when she submits to the speed limit laws of her town.
Creation science is scary because it is theology not real science. While I have some quibbles with the way the Bible is used to prove science (the opening chapters of Genesis are not Moses’ scientific lecture about the creation of the universe but rather a revelation of the Who behind the what and the power of God to create something so massively wonderful.) My only question to Ms. Thistlewaite here would be this: “Is the theory of evolution real science or theory masquerading as a theological truth?” To my knowledge, “theory” still precedes “of evolution” because there has been no definitive proof of the origins of man as Darwin and subsequent Darwinians have taught.
And the biggie: “God hates gays.” This is the ultimate “scary dangerous” homophobic Christian theology. It is widely assumed that gay-bashing is a Christian thing. Christians are the intolerant ones, the unloving ones. After all, who should tell us who we are to love or what we are to do with our bodies? Well, the god that Ms. Thistlewaite cites is none other than the “State.” She writes, the “states are making progress on passing marriage equality.” Make no mistake, Ms. Thistlewaite has a god to which she bows and demands all others to worship – the State. The State defines marriage, not the God of the Bible.
At the end of her article, Ms. Thistlewaite writes, “What really scares me, not only this week but all year through, are the Christian theologies that prey on our legitimate fears of human finitude, physical suffering, economic uncertainty, environmental destruction, and the threat of war in order to accelerate anger and alienation . . . . There’s no treat in that, only being tricked.”
It is true that we humans fear infinitude: what happens after death? We are vulnerable to physical suffering and economic uncertainty. Evil can come through other humans as much as it can come from a tsunami. Anger is everywhere. I know plenty of people feeling the pain of alienation. But it is also true that Jesus addressed these very human fears and vulnerabilities by telling us to “take on his yoke” where we would find “rest for our souls” (Matt 11:29). If humanity could have solved these dangers by now, don’t you think we would have? After all, it’s been a few thousand years and the fears haven’t gone away even with the advance of our technologies and multiple gods.
It is also true that Christianity gets lumps from the sinful behaviors of some of its followers. Jesus said the unbelievers had the right to judge the authenticity of our faith (John 13:34, 35). Christians can be rightly judged to be unloving by those who are not Christians when our hypocrisy is blatant.
But more recently, an avalanche of criticism has been heaped on Christianity through a manipulative tactic. Christianity has been distorted so that it can be set up as a straw man for the angry left who also wants to find a convenient scapegoat to sacrifice for our social and cultural ills. The angry left isn’t getting its way, so it resorts to abusive tactics, too.
Why just Christians? No one seems to criticize fiery Muslim theologians calling for “death to the infidels.” No one seems to reference their extreme anti-life, warlike and violent policies that nearly conquered Europe; the roots of those dreamy gone-by days feeding the same angry rhetoric in Tehran’s mosques today. No one criticizes Darwin’s theories that fueled Nazi hatred and slaughter of Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals and Christians in the run-up to World War II.
It’s a good time to be a Christian. Why? Because, as our culture and society decay by departing from its moral moorings inherent in God’s creation (and resident in everyone’s conscience (see Romans 1:18-32)), the heart-hatred for God and the rejection of his Son Jesus Christ will become more blatant and obvious. True Christians (can there be any other kind?) will shine brighter for the gospel and the Son. Christians will continue to be vilified, increasingly scorned, rejected and some will be killed. It’s happening around the world today.
It happened in the most scandalous way in AD 33 when the Son of God received the same treatment.
1. In caring for his own
Ps 35:27 Let those who delight in my righteousness shout for joy and be glad and say evermore, “Great is the LORD, who delights in the welfare of his servant!”
Ps 37:23 The steps of a man are established by the LORD, when he delights in his way;
2. In correcting his children
Prov 3:12 for the LORD reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.
Heb 12:5-7 And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?
3. In steadfast love
Micah 7:18 Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love.
4. In justice
Matt 12:18 “Behold, my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased. I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles.
Prov 11:1 A false balance is an abomination to the LORD, but a just weight is his delight.
5. In truth
Prov 12:22 Lying lips are an abomination to the LORD, but those who act faithfully are his delight.
Ps 51:6 Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.
6. In those who stand for & correct error
Prov 24:25 but those who rebuke the wicked will have delight, and a good blessing will come upon them.
7. In keeping his promises
Deut 30:9, 10 The LORD your God will make you abundantly prosperous in all the work of your hand, in the fruit of your womb and in the fruit of your cattle and in the fruit of your ground. For the LORD will again take delight in prospering you, as he took delight in your fathers, when you obey the voice of the LORD your God, to keep his commandments and his statutes that are written in this Book of the Law, when you turn to the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.
Deut 28:63 And as the LORD took delight in doing you good and multiplying you, so the LORD will take delight in bringing ruin upon you and destroying you. And you shall be plucked off the land that you are entering to take possession of it.
8. In creation
Pro 8:27-31 When he established the heavens, I was there; when he drew a circle on the face of the deep, when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep, when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside him, like a master workman, and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the children of man.
9. In ways of making his name great
1 Sam 12:22 For the LORD will not forsake his people, for his great name’s sake, because it has pleased the LORD to make you a people for himself.
Isa 42:21 The LORD was pleased, for his righteousness’ sake, to magnify his law and make it glorious.
10. In preaching
1 Cor 1:21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.
Gal 1:16 [God] was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone.
Think about these things! (Phil 4:8)
In a recent passage from William Gurnall about the Lord’s pleasure in the death of his Son from Isaiah 53, Gurnall expounded further about why God was pleased: through the death of his Son, God could show mercy.
God delights in mercy. Why does God wait on sinners so long? Months, years, preaching to them; it is that he may be gracious in pardoning them, and in that act delight himself. Princes very oft pardon traitors to please others more than themselves, or else it would never be done, but God doth it chiefly to delight and gladden his own merciful heart. Hence the business Christ came about – which was no other but to reconcile sinners to God – is called ‘the pleasure of the Lord.’ Isa 53:10). The Lord takes such joy and pleasure in this, that, whereas other fathers – whose love to their children sinks infinitely beneath any comparison with the love of God to Christ – mourn at the death of their children, and most of all when violent and bloody, God takes content in his Son’s death; yea, had the chief hand in the procuring of it, and that with infinite complacency: ‘It pleased the Lord to bruise him.’ And what joy could God take in his Son’s death, but as it made way for him and his poor creature that were fallen out, and at open war one against another, to fall in again by a happy accord? And now, speak, O sinner! If God doth so affectionately desire to be reconciled with thee, doth it not much more behove thee to embrace the peace, than it doth him to offer it? (William Gurnall, The Christian in Complete Armour).
Clearly, the Bible teaches that God delights to show his mercy. The prophet Micah wrote, “Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love” (7:18).
Gurnall’s comments made me wonder what else pleases God or what other things he delights in. I’ve found twenty of them; ten in this blog, ten in the next. This is a good exercise. Forcing yourself to think of ten things in any category helps to think deeply, expansively and biblically. So, with no particular order and with some negative examples of things that don’t please God here are the first ten.
1. In those who keep their promises
Ecc 5:4 When you make a vow to God, do not be late in paying it; for He takes no delight in fools. Pay what you vow!
2. In those who repent of sin
Ezek 18:23 “Do I have any pleasure in the death of the wicked,” declares the Lord GOD, “rather than that he should turn from his ways and live?
Ezek 33:11 “Say to them, ‘As I live!’ declares the Lord GOD, ‘I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways! Why then will you die, O house of Israel?’
Isa 1:11, 18 “What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the LORD; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats . . . “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.
Ps 51:14-17 Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
3. In the death of his Son
Isa 53:10 But the LORD was pleased To crush Him, putting Him to grief; If He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, And the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand.
4. In His Son
Isa 42:1 Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.
Prov 8:30 then I was beside him, like a master workman, and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always,
2Pet 1:17 For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,”
Col 1:19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,
5. In His friends:
John 15:15, 16 No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.
6. In those who love his Son
Matt 3:17 and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
Matt 17:5 He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”
7. In Obedience
1Sam 15:22 And Samuel said, “Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.
Amos 5:21 “I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
8. In his saints who fear him:
Ps 147:10,11 His delight is not in the strength of the horse, nor his pleasure in the legs of a man, but the LORD takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love.
Isa 65:11, 12 But you who forsake the LORD, who forget my holy mountain, who set a table for Fortune and fill cups of mixed wine for Destiny, I will destine you to the sword, and all of you shall bow down to the slaughter, because, when I called, you did not answer; when I spoke, you did not listen, but you did what was evil in my eyes and chose what I did not delight in.”
Heb 11:5 By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God.
Ps 41:11 By this I know that you delight in me: my enemy will not shout in triumph over me.
Luke 2:14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
1Kings 3:9, 10 Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?” It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this.
9. In righteousness
Isa 62:1 For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet, until her righteousness goes forth as brightness, and her salvation as a burning torch. 2 The nations shall see your righteousness, and all the kings your glory, and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will give. 3 You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God. 4 You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate, but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the LORD delights in you, and your land shall be married.
Prov 11:20 Those of crooked heart are an abomination to the LORD, but those of blameless ways are his delight.
10. In those who boast in the Lord
Jer 9:24 but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.”
Think about these things! (Phil 4:8)
In the spirit of full disclosure, I want you to know that I did not see the entire half-time show at the Superbowl game last night. I saw about the first five minutes and the last five seconds. It’s not that I’m not a fan of Beyonce (I’m not) nor that I’m a football purist and watch the Superbowl to watch a football game (I do). It’s just that I had to walk our dog so that she could do what dogs do. Do I really need to explain? We are living in a 23 foot RV, so one of my jobs is to walk the dog. Half-time was a good time for doing my chores. So, my remarks on Beyonce and the Second Commandment must be taken with this circumstance in mind.
Now, rewind to about three Sundays ago. My wife and I were sitting in a Sunday School class studying the book of Deuteronomy. This particular day the teacher, Josh (an elder and an excellent teacher), was taking the class slowly through the first four commandments. He began the class by talking about the second commandment which reads, “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain” (Deut 5:11). Josh told us that this particular commandment was drilled into his head by him mother. She absolutely would not allow anyone in the house to swear using God’s name. “Gosh darn its” might have been just barely allowable because we all know what that phrase replaces.
Josh asked the class to think more broadly about this command. What is it really saying? Is it just about swearing God’s name in fits of anger or frustration or normal conversation? No. It is more paradigmatic, he said. It’s about taking God’s name lightly or in ways that are contrary to his holy character. So, bottom line, it’s about taking God lightly. It’s about using anything related to God as if it were as common as a Starbucks – one on every corner. But the commandment wants to “drill into our heads” that he is not just another god. He not equal to anything anyone can imagine. He is the unique God; alone Supreme, high and lifted up. When God looks around at all the options for gods humanity has created, he says, “Who is like me? There is no other.” So, any reduction of God’s name or character to phrases like “the man upstairs” or “the big man,” or “God is my co-pilot” are expressions that let us know that the person who says such a thing probably thinks God is just like one of us (as a dumb song ask a few years ago); just a “slob like one of us.”
What’s Beyonce got to do with the second commandment? Only this. In the first five minutes of the show, I saw all I needed to know about the character of this show. Wearing very little clothing, jumping, grinding, jiggling and bumping her way through her routine, appealing to the sensual side of her audience. I grabbed the leash and Liza Doodle and I went “for a walk.” We were gone long enough so that when we got back to the RV, Beyonce came the end of her performance. She took her closing pose and said, “God bless you all.” That caught my attention right away and I thought about Josh’s teaching three Sundays earlier. “God bless you”? Really? That phrase following that performance was a contradiction. Did she really think that her performance was for God’s glory? Did really she think that her performance was filled with the substance of God’s holy character? Was her performance filled with the weightiness of the Almighty? Beyonce, like every other human being on the planet, is created in the image of her Maker. She has singing talent. Anyone who can sing the National Anthem a capella and do it well clearly has talent. Her talent is from God but her departing “God bless you” was an example of what God doesn’t want going on with his name. In Josh’s way of thinking, it’s as if God said: “Don’t take my name lightly and publicly associate my character with that which appeals to the flesh.”
If we want the blessing of God — and I do — then receive his blessing according to his holy character. Knowing God in his holiness will put us in the right heart condition for receiving it.
For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.