Wednesday, July 06, 2011

When God is Astonished - Austin

I want to begin a series of articles about some of those little words and phrases that stand out, that grip the intellect and the imagination. Some of them are words with great emotional overtones. Some of them are painfully ordinary, but somewhere, someone has used them in a way that has infused them with life and meaning.

How do you fill God with wonder? How do you astonish or amaze him, or cause him to marvel? Those are key words from the King James version. In the NIV (quoted below) "appalled" communicates with painful clarity.

The Lord looked and was displeased that there was no justice. He saw that there was no one. He was appalled that there was no one to intervene; so his own arm worked salvation for him, and his own righteousness sustained him. Isaiah 59:15b-16

It gets more personal and more bitter as almost the same words are used, with God, through the prophet Isaiah, speaking in First Person.

For the day of vengeance was in my heart, and the year of my redemption has come.
I looked, but there was no one to help, I was appalled that no one gave
support; so my own arm worked salvation for me, and my own wrath sustained me. Isaiah 63:4-5

I sometimes struggle with the justice of God as revealed in the Old Testament. But passages like these, where God searches for one person who will stand up for justice, but does not find even one, make me wonder why God continues to love. A very similar passage is found in Ezekiel that builds on the theme of God's search.

I looked for a man among them would would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found none. Ezekiel 22:30

How is it, that in the land of his chosen people, God cannot find a single person who will intercede? He isn't even asking for righteousness, just someone who will stand in the gap, someone who will challenge his judgment. God seems to be asking for people to question his decisions. He seems to be searching for anyone reckless enough to stand up to him and say "NO!" Getting in God's face and arguing with him doesn't sound like a wise thing to me, yet that seems to be the very thing he is asking for here.
My Bible shows God intimately involved, caring with intensity, and trying to shake his people out of their lethargy. Even in the harshness of many Old Testament accounts, God is searching with a strange desperation for people who will stand for what is right. He is prepared to forgive in unbelievable measure if even one person will intercede. But all too often he cannot find even one.

The gospels of Matthew and Luke both record the healing of the Centurion's servant. They use the words, "astonished" and "amazed" in the NIV, and "marveled" in the KJV. For me, those passages are both a delight and a rebuke. Jesus is living and teaching among a very "religious" people, but real faith is so rare that when he finds it, he is astonished. More often we find him rebuking lack of faith, sometimes amazed at the depth of that lack.

In our day, in our culture, what would he find? In my life, how deep does real faith run? Who stands in the gap for Canada? Who stands in the gap for my neighbour?

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