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Sunday, April 26, 2015

Sins and Dominos

The consequences of sinful acts are rarely limited to the life of the sinner. A series of sinful acts can issue in ongoing repercussions. Like dominos.

Many of the circumstances we face in our lives are the product of choices made by our ancestors, by government, neighbours and even our fellow Christians. Much less obviously, in a democracy they are increasingly the result of decisions made by unelected administrative functionaries, more or less by fiat. To dominos it is not apparent what starts the chain reaction that causes their fall.

Thus the children of alcoholics exhibit compulsive behavior. Young men in a dominant Muslim culture grow up assuming the right to dominate their households. The current generation in western countries takes for granted the right of the State to dictate the terms under which their parents will be permitted to continue raising them.

By one man sin came into the world. Sin taints everything. As Jeremiah put it, “The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge”. Dominos.

Servants Who Participate

As long as they are close enough to one another, when you tip the first domino in a series they all go down together. Have you noticed that the Lord’s servants almost invariably suffer with the people to whom they bring his message? It’s an obvious function of proximity. It seems necessary in the purposes of God for those who represent him to empathize with, and to be identified with, the people to whom they are sent. To be one of the cascading dominos rather than standing apart from the crowd. To take the same hits everyone else takes in this life, and maybe a few more.

So Jeremiah grieved his way through forty-plus years of national degradation. Ezekiel lay on one side for 390 days and on the other for 40 days as a symbol, all the while eating bread cooked over burning cow dung. Hosea was commanded to marry a prostitute to symbolize the whoredom of the land of his birth. They participated in the misery of their nation; in some cases even exemplified it.

None of these folks were bad guys. To the contrary, they were among the most consistently faithful servants of Jehovah in their respective days. But they took the hit with their fellow Jews.

Never was this necessity for the identification of God’s servant with the suffering of his people more evident than in the life of the Lord Jesus. He was as perfectly identified with the condition of his nation as it was possible to be, and yet without sin. If there is any doubt about this, the book of Lamentations should lay it permanently to rest.

Judah, Lamentations and Christ

Lamentations is a record of horrors of the Chaldean assault on Judea, of the distress of Jeremiah for his afflicted country and the grief of God himself over the nation he was compelled to punish for its sins. And yet it is impossible for any follower of Christ who has read the gospels or the epistles to scan its five chapters without thinking repeatedly of the Lord Jesus in his suffering for the sins of the world.

His suffering is comprehensively and eloquently anticipated over and over again in the words of Jeremiah. From chapter 1:
“Look, O Lord, and see, for I am despised.

Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by? Look and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow, which was brought upon me, which the Lord inflicted on the day of his fierce anger.”
From chapter 2:
“All who pass along the way clap their hands at you; they hiss and wag their heads … All your enemies rail against you; they hiss, they gnash their teeth.”
From chapter 3, where the intensity of the sufferer’s agony makes it impossible to see him as merely a proxy for Jeremiah:
“I am the man who has seen affliction under the rod of his wrath … He has made my flesh and my skin waste away; he has broken my bones; he has besieged and enveloped me with bitterness and tribulation; he has made me dwell in darkness like the dead of long ago.”

“Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall!”

“But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him.’ ”
From chapter 4:
“The Lord gave full vent to his wrath; he poured out his hot anger.”
From chapter 5, where Jeremiah anticipates that the Servant would be forsaken:
“Why do you forget us forever, why do you forsake us for so many days?”
Wounded for our transgressions. Bruised for our iniquities. Made like his brothers in every respect. We can’t help but see Christ here, though it was written about Judah hundreds of years before Jesus was crucified there.

With Whom Do We Identify?

It’s an ugly, messy world. If the Perfect Servant, the Son of God himself, was so utterly identified with his people in their misery and degradation, it is hard to imagine why you and I should get a pass on suffering in these days of spiritual decline.

The world outside our borders is unpredictable and increasingly nightmarish. Elsewhere in the globe people are having their heads hacked off almost daily for identifying with Christ, while in North America we get caught up in debating whether the Coptic belief system that claims them is sufficiently orthodox to be called Christian. How easily we forget that the substance and Object of faith is very much an individual thing, often only distantly related to the system into which we were born or in which we have been raised.

Perhaps in the grace of God we have been particularly blessed in North America in the last several generations in being able not only to escape the fate of our fellow servants of Christ down through the ages, but to become so blissfully detached from history and from the reality across the ocean that we are inclined to imagine our experience as believers is normative rather than the aberration it is. Perhaps we are specially favored.

That, or we opt out of the conflict and its frequently painful consequences because we can. Maybe some of us who have been called to be servants are content with being dilettantes instead of dominos.

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