| Where Recherche duTemps Perdu|
---- meets Kirchliche Dogmatik
This week has really flown by. Over the last weekend we enjoyed the presence of our friends Scott and Jana and their daughters, Anastasia and Charis.
It has continued to be hot, and I'm continuing to spend the majority of my productive time right here in front of the laptop talking to the dragon. He never responds, so I have no idea what he thinks about Max Müller's theory of the origin of mythology, though it would be interesting to get a dragon's side of the story. By the way, that's Dragon Naturally Speaking, the voice-to-text software from Nuance, not an oversize reptile hoarding a treasure. I now have version 11.5, which came as a free update, and it's just unbelievable how easy and accurate it has become. I know I get excited about every new version or update, but every new version or update deserves it. A while ago I mentioned this software to Leo, our social worker in conjunction with the neurology clinic in Indianapolis, and he has brought it to the attention of a number of his clients, all of whom suffer from neurological problems, and they're finding it as helpful as I am.
Assuming that this is still Saturday, which it actually isn't any more, yesterday (Friday) was pretty much a total loss thanks to a headache that kept me from sleeping since I didn't have any Imitrex in the house. A muscle relaxant finally put me to sleep, and when I woke up it was a hundred years into the future. At least that's how it felt. Somehow the world eventually made the same leap and caught up with me again.
|Bible Reading: 2 Kings 19|
|v. 6b: "Don't be afraid because of the words you have heard, that the king of Assyria's attendants have blasphemed Me with. " (HCSB)|
As I said the other day, the Rabshakeh of Hezekiah's time shared an important attribute with all of the Rabshakehs throughout time and around the world. He didn't know when to stop. He was making fun of the people; okay a lot of people deserve to be made fun of. He was attempting to undermine Hezekiah's integrity in the eyes of the people. But the people could judge for themselves, and they had lived through some exciting morale-boosting times prior to the Assyrian invasion. Surely there must have been a handful of people who would have bought into the Rabshakeh's empty promises, but this group of deluded people would not have been very large. He took potshots at the people's trust in Yahweh, while once more casting doubt on Hezekiah, who was encouraging the people to trust in God. So far, not so good, but within the bounds of ancient Near Eastern trash talk. However, the Rabshakeh took one extra step that undoubtedly made a lot of difference. He blasphemed God himself.
The understanding of gods operative among the people of the ancient Near East was that all the gods of all of the people in their various locations were real, and that the people of each country were responsible to their own god, while their god would fight on their behalf. So, there was no shortage of "my god can beat up your god" kind of rhetoric. However, by and large, even if you thought that the god of the enemy was not as strong as your own god, you certainly knew that he was stronger than you. Thus, you could taunt the people about their god, but you would not usually taunt the god himself. Not unless, of course, you are the Rabshakeh, who is supposedly speaking for the king of Assyria. Note that he was using the first person singular when he bragged, "Who among all the gods of the lands has delivered his land from my power?" (18:35) Now he was not talking about god vs. god, but about human being vs. God, and I very much doubt that in his mind there was a clear distinction between the power of King Sennacherib and his own power.
"We are brilliant," the Rabshakehs of the contemporary world exult. "We in the twenty-first century know so much more than people of previous ages. We have proven that events, which people used to call miracles and acts of God, are really only instances of the laws of nature." Really? Aside from the dubious nature of such argumentation, let me ask you, Rabshakeh, what exactly have you personally proven? Yes, there have been brilliant people who have contributed a lot to our knowledge of the world that God has created. But that makes them brilliant, not you. How much have you discovered that makes you smarter than God or the people who believe in him? Just as our Assyrian Rabshakeh claimed the authority of Sennacherib for himself beyond simply serving as spokesman, your basic Rabshakeh loves to claim for himself achievements that he has not earned.
Please understand. Not every person who does not believe in God is a Rabshakeh. Furthermore, there are plenty of people with Rabshakeh-like attributes found throughout Christendom and the rest of the world of religions. It's just the Rabshakehs with their extra swagger, their in-your-face attitude, their never ending need to talk and to call attention to themselves that makes them stand out. There is nothing worse for a Rabshakeh than to be ignored. For example, I just love the reaction from confirmed atheist Rabshakehs on my position that due to their world view their opinion on how to recognize a miracle is irrelevant.
But let us get back to our current Rabshakeh. First he claimed that he had been commanded by God to conquer Jerusalem. Then he said that God could not stand up to him (as personifying the king of Assyria). God was paying attention.
As much as Hezekiah may have done a great job of showing up the Rabshakeh by not personally appearing at the gate, the inescapable truth was that he had virtually no chance of surviving a prolonged siege of Jerusalem. Now, think about this state of affairs in the light of the basic pattern of Old Testament history and theology. As we noted before, this impending doom seems so incredibly unfair because Hezekiah had been such a devoted King. Bad kings should be punished, and good kings should be rewarded. Some reward! These events really could have been a challenge to what he believed. The God to whom he had been so devoted had apparently let him down.
For a lot of people, who have a paperthin understanding of God, this could have been the official end of their faith. I mentioned the other day that it is a part of being God's creature that we should feel the tension between the reality of an all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-loving God and the reality of evil and suffering in the world. But I concluded by saying that our feelings are not the last word on the subject. The tension has a resolution built in. The apparent inconsistency is caused by our understanding of God as infinite in his knowledge, power, and love. Well, if he really is infinite, and if his attributes are incompatible with the present evil in the world, it stands to reason that he simply is not done yet with the process of sweeping evil out of the world. He may even be making use of the evil that is currently in the world in order to bring about a much better world than this one. I am not interested here in the precise formulation to solve the philosophical problem of evil, but my point is the more fundamental one that, since the tension was caused by our understanding of the magnitude of God in his attributes, we can also rely on the God with those attributes to solve the problem.
So, let us take careful note of what Hezekiah now did. First of all, he was too mature in his faith to renounce God because God had allowed him to be in this desperate position. Even though I'm insisting that the issue caused by the reality of evil in the world is real, it is, nonetheless, a useless gesture to dismiss your faith in God in protest. If Hezekiah had done so, there would not have been one less Assyrian soldier parked outside of Jerusalem. I very much doubt that God would have felt punished by Hezekiah if he stopped believing in him. The only thing that would be different would be that he had now given up the only reasonable source of hope because only God would have the ability to rescue him. All of us would like easy, comfortable lives devoid of suffering or other evils. Atheists may tell us that we should give up belief in God because we are obviously not living those kinds of lives. But if the absence of such lives counts against the reality of any deity, it is not the God of the Bible because he never promised them to us.
Second, Hezekiah did not start any kind of futile activist project. He did not call for an assembly of the people so that he could make a lengthy speech refuting the Rabshakeh point by point. He did not instruct the priests to give sermons on the next Sabbath on the topic of "What's right with God's people." He did not order the production of "Trust Yahweh" buttons, lapel pins, or stickers. He did not ask each citizen to contribute one brick to add to the height of Jerusalem's walls. Hezekiah was not a man of gimmicks, and he was not about to invoke any at this point.
Hezekiah went to the temple to pour his heart out to the Lord.
Some people reading this may want to join Hezekiah there. Stop being mad at God. Stop trying to do God's work for him. Just go into your private corner and cry your heart out in the presence of your heavenly father. The "Assyrians" in your life don't have a chance against him.