Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Balancing Act

“A false balance is an abomination to the Lord, but a just weight is his delight.”

False balances are generally associated with weights and scales. The idea is that there is an established price quoted per pound, ounce or liter, but when it comes time to measure out the product, the merchant has rigged his scales so that the balance shown does not reflect the quantity being measured, and the purchaser ends up paying for something he is not receiving. He is being ripped off.

We may come to view being fleeced as the cost of doing business, but the Lord loathes such practices. He calls them an abomination.

Nudge Nudge Wink Wink

I recently had a plumbing subcontractor try to hit me with an extra $180 fee for performing a service for which the contractor had already received full payment. That’s a “false balance” of another sort: the number on my bill marked “paid in full” fell significantly short of the number the plumber wanted, failing which he threatened to leave without finishing the job. I reported him, and found out this is common practice from the company he works for. They try it on all first-timers. Why not? Your clients have their backs against the wall. They are in a jam, they need running water, and if you can bully them into paying more for your work than market value — nudge nudge wink wink — why not get whatever you can and put the extra in your pocket?

But that “standard practice” is an abomination in the eyes of the Lord.

When false balances are pervasive in one’s culture, it is possible to become so habituated to fraud that you don’t even protest it anymore. In some societies a “false balance” is expected practice. There is a whole ritual surrounding buying and selling that starts with a merchant brazenly lying about the value of his wares. Those who understand the game know to the trick is to haggle their way down to a price that is something approximating reasonable for the product; those who don’t become marks for mercantile predators. The Lord finds that abominable.

False Balances on a Larger Scale

Or take the outcome of the recent American election. In some states, the machines that tabulated the votes were allegedly programmed to report false balances. Did it happen or didn’t it? There are Christians on both sides of the argument, and I won’t get into it here. But one of the worst rationalizations I’ve heard from the Democrats and their Republican enablers is this: that fraud has always been a feature of American elections, and that the 2020 election fraud was “no worse than any other year”. The electorate has accepted false balances before, the logic goes; to be consistent the electorate should simply suck it up and accept them again. That is unconscionable reasoning, and I hope believers are not taken in by such sophistry. False balances are an abomination to the Lord, whether you find them in the market or the voting booth.

So then, the fact that false balances are an abomination to the Lord is something we understand quite readily. It fits well with the picture many religious people have of God: an ominous, looming Divine Presence who responds harshly and emotionally to the smallest of provocations, and uses extreme words like “abomination” to describe human practices that are actually fairly commonplace.

Religious people who are exclusively occupied with this more severe aspect of God’s dealings with mankind find themselves seeking out priests for absolution, performing daily rituals and routines and endlessly struggling to keep their appetites strictly in check lest they incur God’s wrath. Sometimes they become more than a little bit legalistic. After all, who wants to deal with a God who finds your habits and practices abominable?

The Year of the Lord’s Favor

We rightly fret about how God responds to disobedience and rebellion, but may not spend quite so much time considering how God responds to a humble spirit that pays attention to his commands and seeks to diligently carry them out in even the smallest ways. Like measuring with a “just weight” ... simply doing business fairly in a world where fairness is no longer expected.

The “year of the Lord’s favor” described by the prophet Isaiah is characterized by freed captives, open prison doors, the consolation of the inconsolable, and poor people rejoicing. It is characterized by praise, courage, excitement, peace, stability and comfort. It is characterized by new construction rising out of the ruins, by a “double portion” and everlasting joy.

That’s what the Lord’s favor looks like in action. When Jesus announced in Nazareth that this great day had finally arrived, the people were initially mesmerized. They marveled at his gracious words, and they all spoke well of him.

Why not? He was saying absolutely everything they could want to hear. In a fallen world, the Lord’s favor is a thing to be coveted, anticipated and hoped for with every fiber of one’s being.

Delight and Favor

Now, a false balance is an abomination to the Lord, but a just weight is his delight, “delight” here being the opposite of “abomination”. The Hebrew word for delight in Proverbs 11:1 is exactly the same word translated “favor” in Isaiah. As we have seen in that prophetic passage, when God is delighted, it has consequences, whether they appear for us in the short term or long term. With God, delight is not merely a surge of pleasant emotion, as it can often be for human beings, where we feel great without necessarily doing anything about it.

No, God’s delight is not something he keeps to himself. Rather, he pours out his favor on those who obey him and seek his will. I believe this is implicit in what Solomon is telling us in Proverbs: God’s pleasure in what we are doing (or the lack thereof) has practical consequences for us that are worth considering when we head off to work. I will suggest this is true even in the smallest of our daily activities ... or even a single business transaction.

Let that be an encouragement to us to persist in behaving justly in little, unseen ways that the world around us would not bother with. Let us never neglect the weightier matters of the law (which should be obvious to believers in any case). But let us also not neglect to tithe the mint and dill and cumin, if only metaphorically.

Sure, in the wrong spirit, excessive attention to giving others their due can devolve into mere religious scrupulosity.

I prefer to think of it as an easy way to give pleasure to Someone I love.

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