If you touch a hot stove, you get burned.
If you spend more money than you make, you go in to
If you stand in the rain, you (or your jacket) will
If you don’t have water in the desert, you will
It seems that there are consequences to our
actions. Some people go so far as to
imagine that every action has some sort of consequential (if not equal and
opposite) reaction—a butterfly flaps it’s wings in Columbia
which eventually causes an Avalanche in Austria.
One question that seems to bubble up this week is
whether or not God is subject to the same rules of logic and society and human
relationship to which we are bound. Can
we assume that the Action = Consequence logic works with God as we might
observe it working in the world around us?
This week we are presented with several examples of
biblical logic, If / Then statements, and examples of actions and
consequences. Not all of those
consequences seem logical in light of our own experiences or understandings and
In Exodus we see Moses in a space where he is
pretty consistently questioning his call out of slavery. These are Israelites
who have not yet received the Ten Commandments from Yahweh, and the rest of the
group is not as confident as Moses because none of them have actually had the
chance to speak with God yet. Right
before this scene, the people had been desperate for food and suddenly manna
and quails appeared to feed them. They are early in their time in the wilderness
and they arrive in Rephidim (which means “resting place”). It seems they are still expecting a
comfortable journey out of slavery and a quick and expedient resolution to
their problems. And so they blaze up
with complaints about their thirst so loud and angry (“testing and quarreling”
in the text) Moses is afraid they might stone him to death before it is
over. So he prays to God for help with
these people and God intervenes and provides them water from a stone. The people gripe and God comes through for
them again, or so it seems. (Notice the Elders got to see God….at least God
says he will stand in front of them on the rock.)
Does this mean they had God on a string? Is this how we are to relate to God? We make an angry pleading request and God relents?
When we read Psalm 95 we see a writer who, looking
back at history through his own experience and the experience of Israel projects that the Testing and Quarreling of the Israelites came with a
price. The Psalmist believes that
because of their quarreling and testing of God, that generation did not enter
in to the Promised Land. He emphasizes
the importance of only trusting God and never testing God.
The assumption seems to be that we as humans have
God at our beck and call, any time we test God, God will respond AND there will
be consequence to our testing.
In the story of the Samaritan woman at the well we
see another application of this logical, Action = Consequence scenario. At first, the woman is caught in the cultural
assumptions about how she and Jesus are from different backgrounds and their
society places expectations on how people of each gender will or will not
act. She assumes because she is a
Samaritan woman and he is a Jewish man, he will not talk to her. She assumes because he has no bucket, there
is no way he could offer her any Water. She assumes that water from the well is all that is needed to quench
thirst. The Disciples assume that it is
only physical food that would offer Jesus (or them) the nourishment necessary
for life. Jesus offers the Samaritan
woman different provisions, not in response to her complaint about what she
has, but as an alternative to what she has.
And in Romans Paul again constructs this entire
section based on assumptions of how We understand human relationships to
work. He knows that for him, it would be
difficult for a human to die for another righteous person, much less an
unrighteous one. And so he extrapolates
that because he (or you or I for that matter) would have a difficult time
sacrificing ourselves for other humans that might be sinful or ungrateful, God
would have the same difficulty; and as a result, this should make us (as human
recipients of the sacrifice) all the more grateful.
As American society, we seek rational
outcomes. We look for cause and effect
relationships. We strive to develop
skills and abilities that enable us to achieve specific things. But the recorded experience of Israel – which
informed the life of Jesus Christ and his teachings – didn’t often play out in neat
cause and effect scenarios.
When reading the lectionary for any week, a key
question is what ties these verses together. One theme this week is our expectations of action and reaction and God’s
response. Another theme is how we
respond to provision. A third might be
how the readings differ in perspective on human relations with God.
This weeks’ scriptures need to be wrestled
with. They don’t fit our logic
structures in tidy ways and they raise fascinating questions for us.
- When does God respond to our cries for help?
- What is the appropriate response for God’s provision?
- Do our physical needs trump our spiritual needs?
- What other themes surface for you as you read?
O Lord my God,
teach my heart where and
how to seek you,
where and how to find
Lord, if you are not here
where shall I seek you?
But you are everywhere,
so you must be here,
why then do I not seek
Lord, I am not trying to
make my way to your height,
for my understanding is
in no way equal to that,
but I do desire to
understand a little of your truth
which my heart already
believes and loves.
I do not seek to
understand so that I may believe,
but I believe so that I
and what is more,
I believe that unless I
do believe I shall not understand.