Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Soiled Linens

Okay, crude warning: today's post is another one that's a little...disgusting. If you consider yourself dignified, refined, or "cultured," this may not be for you. But if you're just human like the rest of on. (Remember recently when I talked about the stain on the skirt? Yeah, this one goes even further than that.  *Note: there's also a place in, I believe Isaiah, that talks about straining in labor pains but giving birth only to can decipher that one.)

One of the things that I've always found rather difficult to believe about the Scriptures is the relatively calm reaction that the biblical characters seem to have to the presence of God. Remember Moses and the burning bush? "He saw the bush on fire, but not burning up, and he said to himself, 'I must go over and investigate this bush.'" Who's doing that? FIRE! Or when we read about the soldiers at Jesus's death who felt the earth shake and the tombs open and heard the curtain torn in two. They whisper hushedly amongst themselves, breathless, "Truly, this was the son of God."

I'm not buying it. Have you ever noticed the first words the angels of the Lord always speak to those to whom they come? "Do not be afraid." Why? Because it's terrifying when God just...shows up in your presence. It's paradigm-shifting. It's tremble-in-your-britches time. 

And it's important that we know this. Because that's the reaction so many of us have. When God comes into our lives with big plans and bigger promises, our breath catches in our throats. Our legs start to quiver. Our hands shake. We're's...well, it's not a calm moment. That's for sure. Not one of us rubs our chin, narrows our brow and says, "Yes, yes. Well, I must look further into this." 

Oh, my God. This can't be happening right now. 

Which is why I appreciate so much the story that we find in Daniel 5. It's crude, yes. But it's raw, real, and honest, just like the rest of the Scripture. These Hebrews, they didn't mince words, and they have very vivid images for the way things happen, for the way we respond to things. They're just about telling it like it was, and this is, well, one of those moments. 

In this passage, we see the new king, Belshazzar, throwing a big party for all of the elite. They're using the utensils and cups that Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the Temple of God when he captured the Jews and fell Jerusalem, and that's a big no-no. You don't use the sacred things for a pagan party. You just don't. So the hand of God, just a disembodied hand, comes down and begins writing on the wall in front of the king and his entire guest list.

When we see this scene played out in dramatic Hollywood fashion, we see a silence fall over the room, mouths fall open, and everyone just stare at the wall, watching to see what the words are. Waiting to see what the hand has to say. Which is...cute, I guess, but you mean to tell me not one person in that room was scared? Not one person screamed? Not one got up and ran away? C'mon. The hand of God Himself is writing on the wall and there's not any hint of panic? I don't buy it.

Thankfully, I don't have to. Because the Scriptures say exactly what happened, and here's where it gets a little crude. "As the king watched the hand that was writing, his face turned pale, and his thoughts so terrified him that he soiled himself...." The Hebrew literally says, "the knots in his loins were loosed."

That's what it says. It's Scripture. Right there, plain and raw and real and honest. And I like seeing that. Not because I love what's crude, but because I love what's real. I love knowing that these characters in the Bible were real persons. They had real reactions to encounters with God. It was a full-body experience for them. They were shaken when God showed up. They were anxious and nervous and terrified. The weight of their sin came heavy on them. Man, I can identify with so much of this. 

Not because, hear me, not because I'm "afraid" of God. But because I know that in His fullness, my emptiness is exposed. It's all I can feel of myself. Because I know that in His presence, my absent places echo all the louder. In His strength, my weakness trembles. I know that if God were to come down right now as a hand and start writing on my wall, I would not rub my chin and think, "Well, this is interesting. Let me watch for awhile and see how this plays out." I would, well...I would pull a Belshazzar. Probably. I'm just guessing. 

The Scripture doesn't tell us what happened every time God showed up, but it does tell us again and again and again and again that His first words upon arrival are almost always, "Do not be afraid." Because that's the reaction we, as human beings, are prone to have. And you know what? The fact that God acknowledges that's okay. It's okay to have a gut-level, instinct reaction to the sudden tangible presence of God in our lives.

In fact, I think it's good. It means we're paying attention. It means our hearts are in it. It means we're involved in what's going on. Now, once we realize it's God, we can calm ourselves down and reorient to His goodness and our faith, but right out of the gate? Right in the moment?

Maybe we soil ourselves. Seems like a very human thing to do.

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