Wednesday, November 22, 2017

How to Keep the Gods Happy

If you lived in the Middle East five thousand years ago, you would notice there were a few things everyone seemed to know. In those days, everyone knew there were lots of gods who existed outside of human control. These gods were responsible for all the things we couldn't do on our own: for the rain, for the sun, for the crops, for the hunt, for the fermentation of beer, and for fertility. We couldn't control the gods, but we needed them to like us. The only way we knew to keep the gods on our side is to give them something we liked. Need the gods to like you a lot? Give them something you like a lot. Did you make the gods really mad somehow? Give them something you like the most. The system of sacrifice pre-dates the Bible, it is older than the book of Leviticus, and it is as old as human consciousness.

We know we don't control everything, and we need to keep those who do on our side. 

A few years ago I was in Jordan with some of my students. We were walking down a very old-but-modern street in Amman. Next to the shisha bars and kebab restaurants there was a very new looking burger restaurant. We were all in a group across the street from it, walking calmly down the road that evening when a pickup truck screeched to a halt in front of the burger joint. Two men jumped out of the cab of the truck and pulled a very uncomfortable and loud sheep from the back. We froze. The men drug the sheep bleating to the curb and a third man came running from inside the restaurant with a large knife. This man slit the throat of the squealing sheep and let its blood fill the street. My group of American students were horrified. Some began crying, a few gagged. The sheep breathed its last breath as deep red blood squirted from its neck.

What? 

Why did that sheep get killed right in front of me on a normal night in 2014?

I looked at the lady who was taking us to dinner. She could see the questions I had before I could get them out.
"He must have made an oath to God," she said. "That is probably his restaurant and he made a promise to kill a lamb if it was allowed to open. Don't worry, the meat will be given to the poor."

"What century is this," I thought. "How barbaic, how archaic, how backwards."

We modern people would never do something so silly. We would never worry about making God angry with us. We would never sacrifice something in order to keep beings we can't control to like us. We would never change how we act in order to be accepted by outside forces. We would never spend more money to be accepted. We would never try to keep up with our neighbors just to impress them. We would never think if we just did this, had that, dated her, looked like him, or bought those then the people from whom we crave acceptance would really like us.

"Everybody worships."  David Foster Wallace was right. We can't help it. We are limited creatures who are all painfully aware of our limitations and that we need outside help to be happy and alive. We have to keep the gods happy. We have always known that and we have organized systematic mechanisms in order to assure us the gods are happy with us. 

Here's the amazing thing about Jesus. God is exactly like Jesus, and God can't change so God has always been exactly like Jesus. God is exactly like Jesus and God has always been exactly like Jesus. Make sure you understand what that means. For centuries and centuries humans tried to figure out where we stood with the gods. The Israelites developed an intricate system of sacrifice to make sure they stayed on God's good side. To them, God needed the sacrifice of bulls and goats in order to even be in their presence. In order to even be able to talk to God, something else needed to die. Except over and over and over we see glimpses in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) that God didn't want those sacrifices in the first place. In Psalm 51:16-17 King David understands that God isn't pleased with burnt offerings and sacrifice. In 1 Samuel, in Hosea, in Jeremiah, in Isaiah,  and most persuasively in Amos we see God speaking through prophets--the men who were supposed to know most what God wanted and what He was like. In every case, we see them telling the people that God doesn't want these sacrifices. The sacrifices aren't keeping them in good standing with God because God never wanted them in the first place. The sacrifices were something they were already doing because that's what they assumed the gods wanted, and God allowed this to be part of the system through which they came to worship Him. The sacrifices were for our hearts, for our own peace of mind.

In Jesus, we see God fully revealing Himself to us. He shows us exactly what He has been like all along.  God doesn't need the blood of bulls and goats. God wants our hearts to be pure and our actions to be good. We don't have to worry about making Him mad. We don't have to work and work in order to please Him. We don't have to compete with our neighbor in order to be the best. We don't have to compete for blessings from a capricious father who gives good to some and garbage to others. God loves us and gives us only good and perfect gifts.

The cross is the sacrifice to end all sacrifice. NOT BECAUSE GOD NEEDED IT, BUT BECAUSE WE NEEDED IT. Notice that was in italics, underlined, all caps, and bold. We needed the sign of who God is, what God looks like, and what God is willing to do while forgiving our sin. We needed it to have our heads cleared from the lies of the devil and our own insecurities. The Cross is the sign stamped on our hearts that we are good with God. He doesn't need a single thing from us. He doesn't need us to try harder, buy more, dress trendier, or look better. He is happy with us. We don't keep Him happy, because God doesn't change.

How jealous are we of other people who we think are getting blessed when we aren't? Why doesn't God like us as much as He likes them? Judgement, division, jealousy are all based in the same insecurity. When we are secure in how much we are loved, there will be no jealousy, no competition, and no judgement. You are blessed. That's a description of your identity, not your current situation.

May He continue to illuminate the cross in our hearts, and may we be reminded of how right we are with God. May we kill our idols. May Jesus' sacrificial love keep us from sacrificing anything to anyone else. 

About Drew

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A follower of Jesus, trying to build myself and others up from the inside out.