Tribulation Saint

Historic Christianity in the Twenty First Century

Month: May, 2018

THE HOLINESS OF GOD

 

The Old Testament prophet Isaiah tells about a vision he had when God commissioned him to be a prophet.  “In the year king Uzziah died, I say the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of his robe filled the temple.  Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew.  And one cried to another and said:

‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;

The whole earth is full of His glory!’

And the posts of the door were shaken by the voice of him who cried out, and the house was filled with smoke” (Isa. 6:1-4; NKJV).

King Uzziah was a king of the southern kingdom of Judah, and he died in 742 B.C.  Seraphim (the plural of “seraph”) were angelic beings in heaven.  But what did they mean when they cried out, “Holy, holy, holy”?

The basic idea of holiness connotes being set apart from what is commonplace and ordinary.  God is not like other things in our experience, and therefore He should not be treated like other things.  Rather He is due our utmost reverence and respect.

In what way is God different from everything else?  First of all, He is exalted high above all of creation.  Isaiah saw Him “sitting on a throne, high and lifted up.”  Psalm 99 speaks of the Lord as “great in Zion, / And He is high above all peoples” (Ps. 99:2).  As much as God loves us, and wants us to love Him, the fact remains that He is the Creator and we are His creatures, and between us there is a vast difference which should never be forgotten or overlooked.  We must always approach Him with the reverence and awe that is due someone who is infinitely greater than ourselves.

But what really separates God from ourselves is our sin.  When Isaiah saw his vision of God in all of His glorious majesty, his immediate reaction was,

“Woe is me, for I am undone!

Because I am a man of unclean lips,

And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips;

For my eyes have seen the King,

The Lord of hosts.”

(Isa. 6:5)

To behold the absolute moral purity of God is to be struck by our own depravity and moral pollution.  We are like Adam and Ever, who after they had sinned, “hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God” (Gen. 3:8).  Sin and righteousness are absolutely contradictory and incompatible; to love what is good is to hate what is evil.  And so it is that God cannot come into direct contact with a depraved and morally polluted human race.

This meant that when God chose Israel to be His chosen people special precautions had to be taken.  When God met Israel at Mt. Sinai, the people had to ceremonially cleanse themselves, and God instructed Moses to tell the people, “Take heed to yourselves that you do not go up to the mountain or touch its base.  Whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death” (Ex. 19:12).  Later, a tabernacle was assembled, a large tent that served as a kind of mobile temple that signified the presence of God among His chosen people.  But special rules applied here as well.  The Ark of the Covenant, a special chest that contained the tablets on which the Ten Commandments were written, was kept in a special part of the tabernacle called “the Holy of holies.”  Only the high priest was allowed to enter there, and even he could only do so once a year, on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.  Even here precautions had to be taken.  Among other things the high priest had a special robe that had little bells sewn on its hem, “and its sound will be heard when he goes into the holy place before the Lord and when he comes out, that he may not die” (Ex. 28:33-35).

The sanctity of God’s being and presence, His separateness from sin and pollution, was underscored by several historic incidents.  On one occasion the Ark of the Covenant had been captured by the neighboring Philistines, who returned it after a series of disasters befell them.  The ark wound up at the Israelite city of Beth Shemesh.  There, unfortunately, some of the men looked inside the ark.  As a consequence a number of men in the city were struck dead (I Sam. 6:19,20)  On a later occasion, when an attempt was made to move the ark from one location to another, one of the drivers  of the cart it was on touched the ark to stabilize it, and was also struck dead (I Chron. 13:9-12).  Such were the terrifying consequences of treating God’s person and presence carelessly!

So what are the practical implications of God’s holiness?  First of all, it should inspire a profound sense of awe and reverence on our part.  “The Lord of hosts, Him you shall hallow; / Let Him be your fear, / And let Him be your dread” (Isa. 8:13).  Because of Christ’s atoning death on the cross, we may now “come boldly to the throne of grace” (Heb. 4:10), and yet God still remains God and we are still mortal human beings.  Let us bow in reverence and worship His holy name!

But secondly, the holiness of God requires that we also should be holy in the way we live our lives.  If we profess to know Him and love Him we should hate sin the same way He does.  “Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14).  As Christians God had given us a new nature, but we must still live in a fallen and sinful world.  In order to please God, then, we must be “sanctified,” “set apart from the sin and corruption of the surrounding society.  We are to be lights shining in the darkness.  We must live by God’s standards, not the world’s.

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GOD’S GOODNESS

 

 

We have seen, then, that God is the all-powerful Creator and sovereign Lord of the universe.  But what kind of king is He – good or bad?  Is He a benevolent ruler, or a cruel tyrant?  What is it like to have a relationship with Him personally?  Is it even possible to have a relationship with Him?  In short, what is His character like?

Moses, in the Old Testament, found out in a particularly dramatic episode recorded in Exodus chapters 33 and 34.  Moses had led the children of Israel out of Egypt, and they had arrived at Mt. Sinai where Moses received the Ten Commandments.  But no sooner had Moses received the Commandments then the Israelites turned to idolatry and thereby provoked God to anger, threatening to destroy the venture before it had hardly begun.  Moses interceded and God relented.  But this raised the question about what to do going forward.  God said that He would send His “angel” to guide and direct them, but that God himself would no longer be present with them.

Moses, then, was faced with the crushing burden of leading the nation almost by himself.  Moses once again interceded and pled for God’s presence.  And then Moses made this extraordinary request: “Please, show me Your glory” (Ex. 33:18; NKJV).  God granted the request, and arranged to reveal Himself to Moses on top of the mountain.  On the appointed day Moses stood on the mountain, the Lord descended, “And the Lord passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and fourth generation’” (Ex. 34:6,7).  It was a definitive revelation of God’s own character.

So what is God like?  The word translated “merciful” (Heb. rachum – “compassionate” – NASV) basically involves a sense of tender compassion, especially towards those in weakness or distress.  The classic description is found in Psalm 103:13:

“As a father pities his children,

So the Lord pities those who fear Him.”

(The word translated “pities” comes from the same Hebrew root as rachum).

It is the very helplessness of the child that motivates the father to help him.  He does so because he has a natural sympathy and compassion for his own offspring.  So too, when God sees His spiritual offspring in need He is moved with compassion.

Then the passage says that God is “gracious,” which stems from the idea of showing favor to someone with an open-handed generosity.  If anyone suffers need and cries out to God, God says, “I will hear, for I am gracious” (Ex. 22:27), and “The Lord will give grace and glory; / No good thing will He withhold / From those who walk uprightly” (Ps. 84:11).

The text goes on to say that God is “longsuffering,” or “slow to anger,” as it might also be translated (NASV, ESV, NIV).  The text does not say that God is never angry, but that He is “slow to anger.”

“The Lord is merciful and gracious,

Slow to anger and abounding in mercy.

He will not always strive with us,

Nor will He keep His anger forever.

He has not dealt with us according to our sins,

Nor punished us according to our iniquities.”

(Ps. 103:8-10)

While God may be justly angry with us, He does not give us the full punishment that we deserve.

Then the text says that God is “abounding in goodness and truth.”  The word translated “goodness” (Heb. chesed) is often translated “mercy” or “lovingkindness.”  It points to a disposition on God’s part to respond to the needs of His creatures.  It would include the care that He exercises over His creation in designing things in such a way that they function together harmoniously – “The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord” (Ps. 33:5b).  It is also seen in His willingness to rescue those in distress:

“Nevertheless He regarded their affliction,

When He heard their cry;

And for their sake He remembered His covenant,

And relented according to the multitude of His mercies.”

(Ps. 106:45).

And then the text says that God is full of “truth,” or “faithfulness” as the word might also be translated.  The word implies consistency or reliability.

“The works of His hands are verity and justice;

All His mercies are sure.

They stand forever and ever,

And are done in truth and uprightness.”

(Ps. 111:7,8).

Interestingly these last two terms are often combined together to form a single phrase, as they are in our text: “and abounding in goodness and truth” (Ex. 34:6), or as it might be translated, “and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (ESV).  And yet the two terms are not exactly synonymous, but rather complement each other, as in Psalm 85:10:

“Mercy and truth have met together;

Righteousness and peace have kissed.”

“Mercy” or “lovingkindness” is a kind regard for the individual.  “Truth” or “faithfulness” is a devotion to principle – God always does what is right and what He promised to do.

In the New Testament these ideas are combined to form the concept of “love,” and the Geek word agape is often used for this distinctively Christian type of love.  “God is love” we are told in Scripture (I John 4:16).  “In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him.  In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (I John 4:9,10).  The love of God is self-sacrificing and directed toward the undeserving.

The practical implications of this are far-reaching.  We do not live in an impersonal, amoral universe ruled by the law of the jungle.  We are creatures of an all-wise and benevolent God and are accountable to Him for the way we live our lives.  And He, in turn, is “merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth.”  That means that in the hour of trial we can look to Him for help.

“I will cry to God Most High,

To God who performs all things for me.

He shall send from heaven and save me;

He reproaches the one who would swallow me up.   Selah.

God shall send forth His mercy and His truth.”

(Ps. 57:2,3)

We still live in a sin-cursed world, filled with pain and sorrow.  Yet God can bring us safely through.

But if God is love, if mercy and compassion are a part of His essential character, then it follows that this is what He expects from us as well.

“He has shown you, O man, what is good;

And what does the Lord require of you

But to do justly,

To love mercy,

And to walk humbly with your God?”

(Micah 6:8)

Do we “love mercy”?  Our natural tendency as fallen human beings is to be self-centered and to take advantage of each other.  But God wants us to be genuinely concerned about others – our family members, our neighbors, our fellow-workers, and the customers with whom we come in contact.  That means that we will never want to insult them, or offend them, much less lie to them or cheat them.  Rather we should be generous and kind toward all, always ready to help them in times of need.  Because that is the way God is Himself, and that is what He expects of us.

 

THE LEGACY OF MARX

Karl Marx (1818-1883), philosopher and German poli

Karl Marx

 

 

This past Saturday, May 5, saw the bicentennial of the birth of Karl Marx, arguably the most influential philosopher in modern history.  What made him so influential was that he was not your typical armchair philosopher – delivering dry lectures in some ivory tower somewhere.  Instead he laid out a political agenda that ultimately affected the lives of millions of people worldwide.

Marx and his colleague Friedrich Engels laid out their agenda in the Communist Manifesto, published in London on the eve of the revolution of 1848.  In it they described in vivid detail the rapacious effects of free-market capitalism as it developed during the Industrial Revolution, leaving a large segment of the population socially uprooted and economically impoverished, at the mercy of wealthy industrialists.  (In describing the conditions of the working class they could easily have been describing how many of the supporters of Donald Trump feel today.)  What Marx and Engels claimed was happening was a class struggle that would eventually result in the overthrow of the bourgeoisie, the triumph of the proletariat and the abolition of private property.

Some of the things advocated by Marx and Engels in the Manifesto have become widely accepted today in modern, industrialized countries: a progressive income tax, central banks, and public education.  But other things are more troubling: the abolition of property in land and the establishment of “industrial armies, especially in agriculture.”  At one point they called for the abolition of “the bourgeois family.”  And all of this, according to them, will come about by means of violent revolution.  Between the classes, they say, is a “veiled civil war” until “that war breaks out into open revolution, and where the violent overthrow of the bourgeoisie lays the foundation for the sway of the proletariat.”  The Manifesto concludes with a ringing call to arms: “The Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims.  They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions.  Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communistic revolution.  The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains.  They have a world to win.”

What is remarkable about the Manifesto is the absence of any call for social justice, let alone an appeal to morality.  Rather what underlies the authors’ call for revolution is a sense of economic determinism.  Revolution is inevitable because history is a perpetual class struggle.  “What the bourgeoisie therefore, produces, above all, is its own grave-diggers.  Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable.”

This, in turn, leads to a cultural relativism.  The only reason we hold to certain beliefs is because we are economically conditioned to do so.  To their “bourgeois” critics Marx and Engels say “Your very ideas are but the outgrowth of the conditions of your bourgeois production and bourgeois property, just as your jurisprudence is but the will of your class made into law for all, a will, whose essential character and direction are determined by the economical conditions of your class.”  “The selfish misconception that induces you to transform into eternal laws of nature and of reason, the social forms springing from your present mode of production and form of property . . . this misconception you share with every ruling class that has preceded you.”  Thus, for the proletarian, “Law, morality, religion, are to him so many bourgeois prejudices, behind which lurk in ambush just as many bourgeois interests.”

Marx and Engels may have thought that they had found the cure for every human ill, but in their case the medicine was worse than the disease.  The violent overthrow of governments and forced collectivization of property did not yield the promised blessings.  Instead we had dysfunctional economies which led to chronic shortages and, on occasion, mass starvation.  Some modern apologists for Marx have tried to exonerate him by arguing that the Communist dictators of the 20th Century had misinterpreted his writings.  But to read the Communist Manifesto it becomes evident that Lenin and Stalin, Chairman Mao and Pol Pot, were simply following the agenda that had been laid out for them by Marx himself.  And Marx’s sad legacy still lives on.  Practically no one believes in dialectical materialism, but Marx’s attack on “bourgeois morality” still lives on in the identity politics of today.

The underlying problem was Marx’s philosophical materialism.  It has the effect of at once eliminating the existence of God and dehumanizing man, making him little more than a creature of prevailing economic conditions.  There is a denial of universal truths and moral absolutes.  The end result is the collapse of Western Civilization itself.  All that is left is the law of the jungle.

The Christian answer to all of this is that God does, in fact, exist.  We live in a rationally ordered universe created by an intelligent Supreme Being.  Truth and morality are determined by Him and revealed through His Word.  We were created in His image, we have the ability to differentiate between right and wrong, and will ultimately have to give an account to God, our Creator and Judge.  And yes, capitalism can be a rapacious and oppressive economic system, creating a huge disparity of wealth between the privileged few and the disadvantaged many.  But the underlying problem is man’s sin and rebellion against God; and economic oppression is just one form of human depravity.  And the answer to the problem is not armed revolution, which simply replaces one oppressive regime with another.  It is repentance toward God and the new birth, through the preaching of the gospel.

Getting rid of morality is not the answer to economic oppression.  It is coming to terms with the will of our Creator.

“For He is coming to judge the earth.

With righteousness He shall judge the world,

And the peoples with equity.”

(Psalm 98:9; NKJV)