Friday, November 23, 2018

More chewing

I'm continuing to chew on the story in 1 Kings 13 and its context. I think what engages me more than anything in this story -- aside from the fact that it's fascinating, and it's almost never talked about -- is that it highlights a very real question for those of us who are serious about following Jesus in a biblical way:

How do you discern God's direction?

The prophet from Judah hears a word from God. Okay. But as noted in the last post, he doesn't have a black-and-white Bible to go to in order to test it, and God seems okay with that. In fact, God seems okay with that lack throughout the Bible. Apparently God thinks his Spirit is capable of communicating and directing.

The prophet from Bethel lies outright. What motivates him? It doesn't really matter. Maybe it's civic pride. Maybe it's an effort to protect his king. Maybe he's trying to test the authenticity of the Judean prophet's word, which is what the text seems to do with the whole story when all is said and done. Maybe he's just a mean old man.

How would the story look different if the Judean prophet had "done it right"? What seems to be expected of him in the story? It seems like -- and this is not necessarily clear, but it seems to be the case -- he is expected to obey the clear word of God he's received to go to Bethel, pronounce his message of destruction, not eat or drink, and return by a different route. If he had done just that, the story at least implies things would have gone well for him.

So think about this for a minute: He is supposed to be obedient to the word he's heard from God and disregard 1) the witness of another prophet; 2) a revelation (false, but he doesn't know that) given by an angel; 3) the conventions of hospitality that were absolute in his culture.

Has God ever called you to take a stand? Can you sympathize with the Judean prophet who finds himself completely isolated in this regard?

Martin Luther said late in his life that during the height of the Reformation, the greatest temptation to abandon biblical truth for him consisted in this question: Is it possible, Martin, that you alone are right and all of Christendom is wrong? He nearly abandoned all his convictions because he found himself required to take a stand alone.

I believe God wants us to know his character and his voice so well that we trust him, even when other voices contradict. I'm not advocating that we all should simply listen to the voices in our heads to the exclusion of all else. But over and over in the Bible, being able to hear and discern the voice of the Spirit is critically important. Jesus said his sheep know his voice (John 10). Paul wrote about the Spirit in our hearts bearing witness (Romans 8 among others). This idea permeates the New Testament. But as Lily Tomlin said, it's fine for you to talk to God; but if God talks to you, we say you're crazy.

I worry that we have perhaps settled for a corporate, policy-laden, rule-bound version of Christianity rather than the Spirit-driven journey of listening for Jesus' voice and following his leading.

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