One aspect that is continually reinforced through the Bible is the authority of God over His creation. This goes beyond ability to control events on Earth, into the realms of defining moral standards and concept of what is right.
On occasions, this concept may be offensive to some, but if the Bible is true it cannot be avoided. To the average nominally-Christian person, Western society would be considered to be largely following the standards of Christ and God. Once you start scratching beneath the surface though, the harmony starts to break down. From some of the events of the Bible, God would abhor the standard of the society, and the society would abhor the standards of God.
The book of Job is a curious component of the Bible. It sits apart from history and time, and focuses entirely on fate of one man through affliction. The man Job is placed in a position of affliction, and for most of the book, he discusses his fate with three friends. He starts with words like:
Job 3:1.: After this Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth. 2. And Job spoke, and said: 3. "May the day perish on which I was born, And the night in which it was said, 'A male child is conceived.' NKJV
He quite clearly shows the depths of his misery. Job asserted his innocence, but yet did not condemn God for his position. In doing so, he claimed that it can be the wicked that prosper.
Job 12:4.: I am a joke to my friends, The one who called on God and He answered him; The just and blameless man is a joke. 5. He who is at ease holds calamity in contempt, As prepared for those whose feet slip. 6. The tents of the destroyers prosper, And those who provoke God are secure, Whom God brings into their power. NASB
It is in the concluding chapters that the position and character of God is revealed. It is here that God asserts his position and justifies his actions. Chapter 38 is important in the sense that God puts His position into context.
Job 38:1.: Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said: 2. "Who is this who darkens counsel By words without knowledge? 3. Now prepare yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer Me. 4. " Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding. 5. Who determined its measurements? Surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? 6. To what were its foundations fastened? Or who laid its cornerstone, NKJV
The chapter continues with a similar set of rhetorical questions. This was to emphasise the relative position of the creator and the creature. It is not just showing that God is superior to humans in power, but instead so much greater that a comparison is absurd.
Job Responded to this the Chapter 40,
Job 40:3.: Then Job answered the LORD and said: 4. "Behold, I am vile; What shall I answer You? I lay my hand over my mouth. 5. Once I have spoken, but I will not answer; Yes, twice, but I will proceed no further." NKJV
He could see the point of God, and against such a power, couldn't make a response. In terms of our relationship with God, we, as humans, are in exactly the same position. We have whole empires here on earth which exude a feeling of strength and power. But by the words in this chapter, these powers are nothing in comparison to God.
In our democratic system, we can feel the power and strength of an army, but we can still believe that they do the wrong thing from time to time, or even all of the time. The difference with God is that in our position we can't say He's wrong.
After Job's short reply in Chapter 40, God continues his explanation:
Job 40:6.: Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said: 7. "Now prepare yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer Me: 8. "Would you indeed annul My judgment? Would you condemn Me that you may be justified? NKJV
Now this is an interesting question, because it can apply to us as well, “Would you indeed annul My judgment? Would you condemn Me that you may be justified?” It had been a temptation for Job to do this. During the conversations with the three friends, he was asserting that his misery had not been because of his unrighteousness.
In Chapter 32, he goes through a list of areas where he felt he was righteous:
Job 31: 16.: "If I have kept the poor from their desire, Or caused the eyes of the widow to fail, 17. Or eaten my morsel by myself, So that the fatherless could not eat of it ... 19. If I have seen anyone perish for lack of clothing, Or any poor man without covering; ... 21. If I have raised my hand against the fatherless, When I saw I had help in the gate; 22. Then let my arm fall from my shoulder, Let my arm be torn from the socket. 23. For destruction from God is a terror to me, And because of His magnificence I cannot endure. NKJV
In asserting his own righteousness, he could then go the step further to say that God was wrong in allowing the persecution to occur to the righteous person that he thought he was.
This is one feature that appears in interpersonal relationships. People like to feel that they are better than others in some way. One way of doing this is to find fault in the other party - either in words or thoughts. We can do this with God too, perhaps not to make us feel superior, but at least to feel justified.
To give a human example, a person might drive at a speed above the speed limit. It might just be a little bit over. Now why does the driver go at that speed and ignore the law? Many times it involves the idea that that speed is safe, and that the law is overly conservative. This is a case of condemning the law, in order to justify self.
That's only an example, and doesn't necessarily show that speeding is necessarily a bad thing to do. However, this was what God was questioning Job about with respect to God's laws and actions.
Justified through God
There are other examples in the Bible, where justification occurs in a different way. Isaiah 45 contains similar theme to the late sections in Job. Here God shows his might to King Cyrus.
Isaiah 45:8.: " Rain down, you heavens, from above, And let the skies pour down righteousness; Let the earth open, let them bring forth salvation, And let righteousness spring up together. I, the LORD, have created it. NKJV
There is again the emphasis of being the creator. This is borne out even more in the following verse.
Isaiah 45:9.: " Woe to him who strives with his Maker! Let the potsherd strive with the potsherds of the earth! Shall the clay say to him who forms it, 'What are you making?' Or shall your handiwork say, 'He has no hands'? NKJV
This uses an analogy to form a basis for the reason why God should have preeminence over the human population. It says that as the creature we can't justifiably criticise the creator. As the chapter continues, He further asserts his position as unique.
Isaiah 45:21.: Tell and bring forth your case; Yes, let them take counsel together. Who has declared this from ancient time? Who has told it from that time? Have not I, the LORD? And there is no other God besides Me, A just God and a Savior; There is none besides Me. 22. "Look to Me, and be saved, All you ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other. 23. I have sworn by Myself; The word has gone out of My mouth in righteousness, And shall not return, That to Me every knee shall bow, Every tongue shall take an oath. 24. He shall say, 'Surely in the LORD I have righteousness and strength. To Him men shall come, And all shall be ashamed Who are incensed against Him. 25. In the LORD all the descendants of Israel Shall be justified, and shall glory.' " NKJV
Here we again see that people are justified. Earlier, in Job, we saw how people could attempt to justify themselves by condemning God. On the contrary, here the descendants of Israel are justified through God. This shows a world where people are genuinely submissive to God's laws, and so His followers are justified.
The book of Malachi, at the end of the Old Testament, touches on these issues of justification. It is the question of setting standards that are not equivalent to God's. In treating things that are evil by God's as being a good thing, or even just acceptable, one is condemning God in order to justify the evil. This is what was happening in the time of Malachi,
Malachi 2:17.: You have wearied the LORD with your words; Yet you say, "In what way have we wearied Him?" In that you say, "Everyone who does evil Is good in the sight of the LORD, And He delights in them," Or, "Where is the God of justice?" NKJV
It seems that they felt that they were being righteous in the eyes of God. They thought that they were doing the right thing - or at least close to the right thing. The fact that they misunderstood didn't cover for their incorrect actions.
The early section of Malachi concentrates on the failure of the Priests of Israel. They had a responsibility in leading the people, and were not doing their job correctly.
Mal 1:6.: " A son honors his father, And a servant his master. If then I am the Father, Where is My honor? And if I am a Master, Where is My reverence? Says the LORD of hosts To you priests who despise My name. Yet you say, 'In what way have we despised Your name?' 7. "You offer defiled food on My altar. But say, 'In what way have we defiled You?' By saying, 'The table of the LORD is contemptible.' 8. And when you offer the blind as a sacrifice, Is it not evil? And when you offer the lame and sick, Is it not evil? Offer it then to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you favorably?" Says the LORD of hosts. NKJV
Again, in this passage there is the excuse of ignorance being offered. They were condemning God, by thinking that their interpretation of His laws were better than the laws themselves. This is the basis of the argument in verse 6. It came down to a question of honour, and they valued their own reason above the commandments. In their analysis they couldn't see anything wrong with using the lame and sick animals for the sacrifices.
The Wise World
Our society prides itself in its analytical reasoning. It is building a whole moral code and defining the acceptable way of life. Generally this seems to be more influenced by television producers than the standards of the Bible.
The book of Romans gives some insight into God's view of behavioural morals:
Rom 1:18.: For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19. because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. ... 21. because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. NKJV
This could quite aptly describe the situation in parts of the world in recent history. Nominally Christian behaviour had a strong influence in the western world in the mid 20th century. The chapter then goes on to describe a self-professed wisdom.
Rom 1:22.: Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23. and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man -- and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. ... 25. who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. NKJV
It seems a natural thing for people to try to serve the creature more than the creator. The serving of self is one of the things that drives the Western consumer society. Consumerism is so ingrained into our society that the economies of the world depend on it. The claim of being wise led a long way, but the passage continues.
Rom 1:26.: For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. 27. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due. NKJV
This passage is rather telling, because it shows how much the standards of God are at variance with the current community moral values. In ther current society, the “wise” will say that there is nothing wrong with people doing this, because that is what they are.
It means that there is moral system that is built up from observation. If there are enough people doing something, then it is considered correct to do it. In this case, God is condemned in order to justify the behaviour of the society. The remainder of the chapter shows the result of this:
Rom 1:28.: And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; 29. being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; ... 32. who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them. NKJV
Not all of these things are condoned by the present society, but they are sufficient to show that human society does not feel obliged to observe the ways of God, as revealed in the Bible. This is so true that to state it is almost laughable.
This nature of the society must have an impact on the believer of God. Continual exposure to a logic and way of thought is bound to have an effect on a person. It is not so much the end beliefs that influenced, but the way of thought. We can start to use the humanist approach to govern our thinking. By changing our ways to conform to current wisdom we could be condemning God in order to justify our society. It is natural to try to do this, because we would rather feel that we are living in a good society.
As the gap between God, as revealed in the Bible, and the society grows, there will be an increasing pressure to show God as being immoral. When you take a close look at many parts of the scriptures, you can see that by human justice God would be considered a sinner. This fact is used by people to sat that the God of the Bible does things that aren't nice, and so he can't be true.
The “Immorality” of God
Based on popular modern standards, there is a long list of things that God has done wrong. He has:
- Condoned and regulated slavery
Lev 25:44.: 'And as for your male and female slaves whom you may have -- from the nations that are around you, from them you may buy male and female slaves. 45. 'Moreover you may buy the children of the strangers who dwell among you, and their families who are with you, which they beget in your land; and they shall become your property. NKJV
- Advocated discrimination against women
- Promoted roligious hatred and intolerance
- Enforced genocide
Comparisons can be made here with the actions of the Nazis in WW2.
Deut 7:1.: "When the LORD your God brings you into the land which you go to possess, and has cast out many nations before you, the Hittites and the Girgashites and the Amorites and the Canaanites and the Perizzites and the Hivites and the Jebusites, seven nations greater and mightier than you, 2. "and when the LORD your God delivers them over to you, you shall conquer them and utterly destroy them. You shall make no covenant with them nor show mercy to them. NKJV
- Killed people for fighting for democracy
These men could be considered fighters for democracy under the current code of standards from Hollywood. There then followed the confrontation, and God acted against them:
Numbers 16:1.: Now Korah the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, with Dathan and Abiram the sons of Eliab, and On the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took men; 2. and they rose up before Moses with some of the children of Israel, two hundred and fifty leaders of the congregation, representatives of the congregation, men of renown. 3. They gathered together against Moses and Aaron, and said to them, "You take too much upon yourselves, for all the congregation is holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the LORD?" NKJV
Fighting for freedom and democracy is greatly espoused by sections of western society today, including the film and television industry. Under these conditions, this passage paints God as a bad leader.
Numbers 16:31.: Now it came to pass, as he finished speaking all these words, that the ground split apart under them, 32. and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households and all the men with Korah, with all their goods. NKJV
Many people from the Christian churches today think of these as “hard passages”. We can try to push these issues under the carpet and ignore them, but that can only be hiding from the truth. Instead of fearing that God is a bad person, we can examine the source of this incompatibility in moral standards.
Source of Human Morals
Firstly, one might ask “why is it bad to kill someone?”. In the Bible, people murdering others is generally prohibited. But in the absence of a God, there really isn't anything to say that murder is a bad thing at all. The current actions and ideas of our society aren't inherently good, just the product of standards from other societies coupled with some reasoning.
The big discrepancy comes in the fight for democracy and freedom. American pop morals claim that this is the ultimate thing to fight for. They can feel justified in attacking other countries based on the idea that they are bringing or maintaining freedom. It is true that a lack of freedom in the past has brought actions that would be reprehensible to the God of the Bible, but that doesn't condone “freedom” as the all-encompassing source of good.
The wisdom of this era has people seeing God in a similar light to human rulers. As such, the actions mentioned earlier are going to be considered morally bad. This is where the dialogue in the Biblical book of Job is relevant. One can try to condemn God, and justify the society, but in the analogy of Isaiah 45 this is like a clay pot usurping authority over it's manufacturer.
This world has a humanist moral code, and it can be easy to forget that this code doesn't have a fundamental basis. As it is just a collection of codes from past societies tied together with the duct tape of human reason, we need to be careful not reverence it too highly and so make it the fundamental by which we evaluate God.
Embrace and Extend Our society has taken the values from the Bible and other societies, and extended them. This is a process which has been known as “embrace and extend”. This process involves taking the respectability of the standard, and then changing it in such a way that it is no longer the same thing.
This has happened with the festival of Christmas. The very “Christ” in the name is part of the embracing of Christianity. From this it gains respectability. It also has the nominal connection with a celebration of the birth of Jesus. But from then it has been extended. There's a bit of sun-worship, a bit of tree-worship, some Santa-worship, and a big dose of consumerism to keep it going.
Just as some society morals contradict the Biblical viewpoint, so aspects of Christmas contradict it's supposed heritage. In Christmas, people scatter their ways in many different directions in celebration. Jeremiah spoke of this type of thing to the Jew prior to the captivity.
Jeremiah 3 13.: 13. "Only acknowledge your iniquity, That you have transgressed against the LORD your God And have scattered your favors to the strangers under every green tree, And you have not obeyed My voice,' declares the LORD. NASB
So by way of analogy, we can't trust the values of this world to be the values of God, any more than we can see Christmas as truly still marking the birth of Jesus. This is even though they have all the respectability that comes from their heritage.
4. The Messenger
At the time of Malachi, the priests were living under a moral code that didn't centre on God. This led to them determining what was right based on different values. They justified the values, and the values in term justified them. However, in doing this, their justification of self was condemning God.
Malachi 2:8.: But you have departed from the way; You have caused many to stumble at the law. You have corrupted the covenant of Levi," Says the LORD of hosts. NKJV
However, the following chapter in Malachi, we see a change,
Malachi 3:1.: "Behold, I send My messenger, And he will prepare the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, Will suddenly come to His temple, Even the Messenger of the covenant, In whom you delight. Behold, He is coming," Says the LORD of hosts. 2. "But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner's fire And like launderer's soap. 3. He will sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver; He will purify the sons of Levi, And purge them as gold and silver, That they may offer to the LORD An offering in righteousness. NKJV
From the Gospels, the messenger can be identified with John the Baptist:
Matt 11:7.: As they departed, Jesus began to say to the multitudes concerning John: 10. "For this is he of whom it is written: 'Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, Who will prepare Your way before You.' NKJV
After the messenger, the Lord who the people sought appeared, the messenger of the covenant. From the New Testament, this quite obviously refers to Jesus.
In Verse 2, we see the question, “But who can endure the day of His coming?” Although he was the messiah that the Jews were looking for, it was questionable whether the people could endure his coming. Certainly, in his first appearance on earth, he was generally rejected by the Jewish people.
The question of endurance is based on him being like a refiner's fire, or a launderer's soap. The people were to be purified, but this process of purification was to be a difficult one for the person being purified. This process of purification is an ongoing one. It started with the first advent of Jesus, but isn't concluded until after the second advent.
Although there is the promise of a purification of the world at the second coming of Jesus, with the establishment of the kingdom, the believer is still subject to the purification process in this life. It's not that we will necessarily feel more pure, but more that we will feel the heat of the refiner's fire, and the strength of the launderer's soap as we are shaped to God's ways.
The refining process requires a separation, a separation of God's ways from the ways of sin. It becomes a bifurcation process, eventually forcing people one way or the other. There is the parable of the sheep and the goats, showing that eventually people will be cast one way or the other. In 1 Corinthians, we see how the crucifixion of Jesus causes a separation:
1 Cor 1: 22.: For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; 23. but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, 24. but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. NKJV
Our society is in the position of the Greeks in this passage. The sacrifice of Jesus, and indeed the whole worship of God, is becoming foolish to it.
Because of the pervasive nature of the society, we will naturally fall into that society, unless we make a specific to guide our passage. We have the choice of whether we accept Jesus and all that he stands for, as Son of God, or to let the current wisdom of society guide us.
We need to remember though, that by nature we follow what the Bible calls the “flesh”, and it takes a conscious effort to follow after the spirit of God,
Gal 6:7.: Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. 8. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. NKJV
So it is a question of what we really give authority to. Whether to justify ourselves that God be condemned, or justify God, that me might be justified with him.