Monday, July 2, 2018

What God Has Done

Read the Scriptures, and one of the things that stands out rather quickly is how deeply and thoroughly the people of God have always known His story. Every time Israel gets into trouble, they repent and restore their  hearts by recounting what God has done - from the beginning of time through Egypt and even into the wilderness. The Psalmists retell His story, reminding the people through praise of His wondrous works. Even in the New Testament, we see this kind of thing happening, even as the emphasis turns from God-at-large to Jesus the Christ. God's people tell His story.

Not only do they tell His story, but they know His story. Not in an academic way, not in a way that allows them to quote it when necessary to prove their point, but in an intimate way. When Israel talks about the God who plagued Egypt, they are so close to the story that they can almost hear the flies buzzing in their ears, smell the blood of the firstborns. When Paul talks about the blinding light on the road to Damascus, his eyes instinctively close. When the psalmist recounts the way that God fed His people manna in the wilderness, the people become aware of how their stomachs growl. 

These are a people who know God's story because they have kept it close to them, because it is as real to them today as it was in the days that it was happening. Because these are not just things that God has done; they are revelations of who God is. 

One of the challenges of the church today is that we've lost this kind of connection to God's story. In a couple of ways. 

First, we don't know the stories as intimately as Israel and the early church knew them. We just don't keep them as close to our heart. We've settled for knowing some of the big names, some of the grander schemes, some of the broad, sweeping strokes of God's involvement in history, but we just don't know, off-hand or in-heart, the full revelation of God as He has given it to us. 

We've picked and chosen what's important for us to know. In the beginning, check. Giant flood, cool. Mass exodus, of course. Kings David and Solomon, sure, the former of which wrote most of the Psalms and the latter of which, the Proverbs. Jonah and the whale, duh. Jesus and the disciples, Paul, Revelation. In these scant details, we claim that we know what God has done, where He has been, what's going on. Vaguely, of course. Enough to get by, maybe even pass the test.

Extra credit if you also happen to know about Esther.

But second, we've shifted the emphasis of a lot of these stories, to the point that when we tell them, they aren't even about God any more. He's just a small His own stories! 

Think about the way that we talk about it. God created the world; we can't away from that one. But then, there was a flood and Noah built a boat, Israel wandered in the wilderness for forty years, David and Solomon wrote songs and wisdom, Jonah got swallowed (and spit out) by a whale, Jesus came and lived and died, which led to Paul's missionary journeys, and finally, heaven or hell, and even here we talk about them as places that don't necessarily depend upon God. 

This is far different from the way that God's people have told His story from the very beginning of it. We've left out God; they never would. Take the narrative of Noah. We talk about a flood and a boat; God's people historically have talked about how God sent a flood on the earth, and why, and that it was God who helped Noah build the boat. They talk about God's mighty hand leading Israel out of Egypt and providing for them in the wilderness, not an emphasis on the human wandering. They refer to David not only as a man after God's own heart, but as God's chosen, and Solomon as God's chosen heir. Jonah was a prophet of the Lord, who not only sent the man to Nineveh but brought the whale to him. Jesus lived redemptively as part of God's incredible plan for all of creation, which led to Paul, who never failed to mention that he got his entire start when the Lord blinded him and restored his sight. The same Lord, we must say, who rules the heavens and mourns hell. 

It's such a subtle shift, but it's an important one. When we tell God's stories without God in them, without explicitly naming Him or revealing Him, we create just a little distance. And then a little more. And then a little more. And all of a sudden, the only thing we know about God was that He "did" things; we've lost the revelation of Him because we haven't kept Him close to His own stories and certainly not to our own hearts. All we're left with is a little book learning, no longer an intimate relationship. 

And the truth is that the way we approach God's stories influences the way we approach our own, and we are now living in a world that lacks the powerful testimonies of the Pauls and the Stephens and the disciples and the church. Because we are no longer close to our God; He is no longer an intimate and integral part of our stories. 

The truth is: most of us, especially those who do not give credit to God for the things He's historically done, have no idea what He's doing now. We have no idea what He's doing in us. And when we tell our stories, we no longer tell His. 

Because in losing His history, we've lost His revelation and we don't even know what He's capable of.

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