Saturday, January 31, 2009

Who's In Control?

Deuteronomy 18:15-20

These past several weeks as I have been thinking through a particular situation, I have had to constantly remind myself that none of us is enslaved to any particular thing or person or concept – unless we choose to surrender to that thing or person or concept. We have minds that can reason and a free will that can respond according to what pleases us or that suits a particular situation. So even though we are bound to a certain degree by legal and moral obligations, for instance, we are simultaneously free at any time to do as we please, go where we please, believe as we please, and love whom we choose – all in spite of any legal or moral obligations. It is that we are in complete control, right? We just have to be willing to live by the consequences that come as a result of our choices.

I am reminded of a woman I knew years ago who got caught up in an adultrous affair. “Caught up”? How about “jumped in”? She reasoned that their illicit union must surely have been the will of God because, she reasoned, they couldn’t help falling in love. She says they didn’t mean to (the affair destroyed a marriage, by the way) but that it just happened. What she was tellling me, then, was that she and her boyfriend had been compelled by something beyond their nature and ability to reason and had essentially forced them to act against their will. Oh, if I had known then even what little I think I know now.

She was talking smack, and her thoughts and ideas were pure rubbish. She was an adulteror, and her boyfriend was no less guilty. He left his wife and children to be with this new “love” – this “love”, incidentally, which did not last a couple of years. But between the two of them, they just could not help themselves. What did actually make this thing worse was that while the man claimed no real religious affiliation, she was all too quick to point out that she was a “saved” Christian. I guess that’s how she figured everything she would do is pretty much ok by the Lord because, after all, do we not pray the Lord to “lead us NOT into temptation …”?? So if something tempts us beyond our perceived ability to resist, it must be the Lord’s fault … or His will. Right? Because do we not believe, overall, that the Lord is ultimately in control of all things?

It is downright blasphemous to insinuate on any level that the Lord is the author of sin or that He would allow us to lead such a sinful life that is biblically prohibited from everyone else. It is the epitome of arrogance to suggest that the Lord makes exceptions for some when the Bible clearly says otherwise.
But is there a certain level at which the Lord functions entirely on His own and independently of man’s desire and will? For instance, the United Methodist Church, among many others, teaches that the baptism of an infant, as a Sacrament of the Church, is as valid as the baptism of an adult who is making his or her profession of faith for the very first time. The reason is simple: the baptism is an act of God, not of man. Therefor if He does it at all, He does it right. There is no valid reason to require such a thing to be done again.

John Wesley once taught, and United Methodists still believe, that prevenient grace is that act by which the Holy Spirit is at work within us long before we call out to Him. It is a matter of Who loves whom … first. Even still, fundamental control might still be an issue especially on this level. I think there is no question that in the grand scheme of things, clearly the Lord God is ultimately in charge. Jesus Himself tells us that “the end” as we may think of it will come only when the Lord God decrees it, and not one moment before. No doubt, then, about who is “large and in charge” and clearly in control ... of the big picture.

Moses reminds the Israelites in Deuteronomy that there will come an end to his time but that another prophet “like him” will come from among them who “shall speak to them everything that I [the Lord] command.” (18:18) Here’s the kicker, though: “Anyone who does not heed the words that the prophet shall speak in My name, I myself will hold accountable.” (18:19) There is an element of man’s free will to decide for himself whether he will receive and embrace the prophet’s words, but there may also be consequences depending on man’s response.

What defines Christianity, however, is not a matter of who is ultimately in control. Christianity, instead, is relational without coercion. That is to say, this incredible thing which took place some 2000 years ago is that thing we commemorate today. In spite of our sinful nature and in spite of the harsh reality of man’s rejection, the Lord still chose to redeem us in an incomprehensible way. It was HIS act then; it is HIS act now. Our response, or lack of response (which is a response in itself) does not change the essential element of what took place – or why it took place. And yet we are still entirely free to choose. That’s love. And our response will determine whether we were ever His to begin with, as the saying goes: “If you love something, set it free. If it returns to you, it is yours and always will be. If not, it never was.”

It is important, particularly on any occasion in which the Sacrament of Holy Communion is to be shared, that we bear in mind what it means to make a choice to come forward and receive the Body and the Cup of Christ. Such an occasion must never be reduced to a mere act we choose to do because we are “supposed” to. Rather, this must necessarily be for us the ultimate reminder that even as evil seems to triumph – remember that man tortured and murdered Jesus because they didn’t like what they were hearing – in the end the ultimate control over life and death is clearly and firmly in the hands of the Almighty God and Author of Life.

He chose Life when He chose you. And He chose you when He asked Christ to go to the Cross. This must be known and embraced before this Bread and this Cup will ever mean anything to you or me. And He is FIRMLY IN CONTROL because this was HIS CHOICE for you … and even for me.


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