Saturday, November 5, 2016

God, and God's Ways

Today's reflection on the Daily Texts:

God says, "O that my people would listen to me." - Psalm 81:13

Continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard. - Colossians 1:23

Two-year reading texts: Psalm 119:161-168; 1 Kings 2:1-38; John 12:12-19

Psalm 81 and the book of Colossians are both written to encourage people to follow God only, and not get their faith or worship mixed up with false gods, idols, or worldly powers. In the second half of Psalm 81:13, God's hope is expressed "that Israel would walk in my ways." Throughout the psalm, there is assurance that life goes better with devotion to God alone. Colossians steers people toward Jesus Christ, "in whom the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily," above every other power. Both Psalm 81 and Colossians acknowledge a believer's freedom in choosing how to follow God (there is more than one "way" in which the people could walk in Psalm 81:13; there are a variety of practices that are valid to observe, or not, in Colossians chapter 2) while strongly affirming that it's God who should be followed, and no other authority.

Pondering these points, I wonder what it is that makes people turn to idols anyway. With God, we find freedom and guidance, abundant life, and peace with God and with each other. So why turn to any other power? Do we want to be like other peoples? Are we trying to gain control or personal power in life, desperate for any way to gain an advantage? Is it too hard for us to see and follow a God who we can't see in physical form?

It's easy for us to scoff at people in Bible times who worshiped carved idols or made offerings at temples dedicated to other gods. We would never do that! And yet ... we turn to plenty of other things or people as our comfort in time of need, and we routinely put possessions or ideals ahead of simple obedience to God. Jesus broke it down very plainly for us, that the whole law can be summed up as loving God with everything we've got, and loving our neighbor as ourselves. And yet ... we live in a world where our faith supposedly plays a major role, but we find strife and competition and selfishness all around, including within ourselves. We do worship our own false gods.

Even the details of our faith can become false gods. In fact, they can become some of the most powerful idols for us. C.S. Lewis' book The Screwtape Letters gives an imaginary behind-the-scenes look at how this can happen. All we have to do is take our eyes off God and focus instead on some object or practice or tradition or belief related to God instead. When that thing becomes our highest good, even though it's connected with faith, it starts to lead us astray.

In our political season in this country, I think we're marching off down this path, instead of listening to God and walking in God's ways. We fasten ourselves to a "liberal" value of faith, such as caring for the poor, or a "conservative" value of faith, such as advocating for the life and health of the unborn. We dress our position up with some specifics related to the current policy and culture of our country. And then it's an easy step to demand of someone else, "How could you be a follower of God, if you don't believe like I do on this?"

I believe we're living in a time where our culture's whole way of making sense of the world and relating to each other is shifting, from a "modern" worldview to "post-modern." I also believe this is not in itself good or bad. It just describes a reality. But our ways of listening and following God may be different depending on where we find ourselves in this big shift. The anxiety about it can lead us to cast our whole society as a giant battle, us vs. them, right vs. wrong, godly vs. ungodly.

But it doesn't have to be this way. When both "sides" have drawn some core values from principles that come from God, doesn't it make sense that God might be inspiring people in different ways to work toward God's ultimate goal? If we're humble enough to keep listening to God, keeping our eyes on the One who originated our faith instead of the details we've fastened ourselves to, and if we're loving enough to dare to risk the belief that someone who believes and lives and acts and votes differently may also be following the same God along a different way, then we'll get a better, fuller picture of what following God means for all of us. And we'll be getting closer to God's goal of all people listening and walking in God's ways, loving God with everything we've got, and loving our neighbor as ourselves.

May we listen, and abide in God's word. May we seek God and God's ways, wherever we find ourselves. May we put God first instead of obsessing about our own interpretations. May we be a part of all people listening to God, and walking in God's ways.

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