Mercy


So Joshua took the whole land, according to all that the LORD had spoken to Moses. And Joshua gave it for an inheritance to Israel according to their tribal allotments. And the land had rest from war.

Joshua 11: 23

 

This is a bloody and gruesome chapter in the recitation of a series of similar events during the conquest of Canaan by the Israelites under Joshua’s leadership. There is simply no escaping the brutal nature of these events except perhaps by considering all of this as some form of allegory, but I believe that this is a rendering of historical events. This is what actually happened. It is only from that perspective that I hold that there is also an allegorical application to it all. These were battles that God sent His people out to fight against others who were extremely hardened in their attitudes toward God. They were going to resist the Lord with all of their beings and for as long as time would run. These events occurred in a specific time and place, and they are not at all indicative of how God works in our world today.

 

The Lord has not ordered anyone or any group of people to go forth and wage war against others. The wars that we fight, whether we can justify them or not, are the result of the sort of sinfulness in our world that the Lord was directing the Israelites to eradicate from their land in the time of Moses and Joshua. All violence in our world has its source in the evil that has attempted to overcome God’s perfect plan of creation. Depending upon how an individual views things in this regard, there may be times when a violent response to an aggressive act or the intent to commit one is justified and is even Godly. I am not entering into a discussion of these ideas; however, I am saying that in God’s original creation plan and in His restored one at the end of time there is no violence, no war.

 

So, it seems to me that discussing briefly how this passage is allegorical might be worth taking on. There is a harsh reality to our world today that is very similar to the one that the Israelites faced, for God is opposed by people, both individually and in organized groups, throughout the world. There is almost nowhere that we can go where this is not true. As followers of Christ we are, like Joshua, called upon and tasked by Christ to go forth and to wage a fearless campaign for the reclamation of the world around us. We do not fight with swords but rather with love, grace, mercy, and truth. Christ doesn’t direct us to drive people out and to eradicate the record of their existence; rather, He sends us out to befriend people whose beliefs are different from ours, to share life and the truth of the Gospel of Christ with them, and to seek peaceful means of resolving our disputes and conflicts. In Christ we have God’s complete and total plan for the restoration to salvation of our world. This is the battle that our Lord is calling upon us to fight every day of our lives.

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Blessed are they who observe justice,

who do righteousness at all times.

Psalm 106: 3

 

What is justice? It might be the thing that all of the law-breakers in our world deserve, and that is absolutely true, for granting punishment and reward based upon a person’s actions is a part of the definition of the term. It is a system whereby our society is compelled into conformity with a set of rules that we call law so that reasonable order has a better chance of prevailing over our natural bent toward chaos and self-serving actions. Yet, as lofty and valuable as these concepts of justice might be, it is elevated to a higher plane when it is combined with righteousness as its outward or active expression.

 

It seems to me that God’s form of what constitutes justice is actually grounded at a very basic and fundamental level. It involves the care and the nurture of those who are defenseless or without real resources and power. It sets aside personal gain or benefit and even sacrifices these aspects of life in order to value all people and the entirety of creation as what they are, which is God’s carefully crafted handiwork. Justice surrenders excess and even gives well beyond the point of comfort in order to elevate the lives of all people, and it does these things with a special emphasis on those who are foreign or different from us. This thing called justice flows out of the heart of God, and it is fully formed upon Christ’s cross of sacrifice; thus, it is truly expressed when we enter into the freedom that only comes as grace and mercy overtake our lives so that we start feeling, thinking, and acting as Christ in all aspects of life.

 

This is the point where righteousness takes over the concept and the ideal that is justice and turns it into the approach that we take to actually express Christ in and to our world through the actions of our days. This takes place as we surrender to Christ our fears, concerns, self-centered desires, and other aspects of being the old person that we were before Christ so that we can allow the Spirit to work within us in ways that effect real and even miraculous transformation upon our hearts and minds. It is righteousness that puts an arm around the impoverished traveler and offers up a warm place of shelter and a place to eat at one’s own table. It is Christ who takes us away from the comfort and the safety of our normal path and offers up a listening ear, an understanding spirit, and the possibility of redemption to the outcast soul. So, as we respond to our world’s needs and its needy people with love, care, mercy, love, and grace we are entering into the Lord’s blessing upon our lives and covering the places that we touch with His righteous justice.

No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.

John 15: 15

 

Let me simply state where I am going in this. The life that I am called to live in following Christ is not one of compulsion; rather, it is a journey of faith in which God takes me into His presence and provides a form of counsel and guidance that I willingly surrender myself to follow. Now, in truth, the level, degree, and consistency of that following are highly variable. None of that inconsistency has anything to do with God’s involvement in my life or with His remaining true to His desire to see me be a willing follower. It is also not so much a result of some form of rebellion on my part as it is caused by my stubborn refusal to give up aspects of my life that are contrary to God’s righteousness and loving truth. Even when I am off course, the Lord tends to bring me back into my redeemed reality by way of gentle yet direct reminders and prompting.

 

It is through the presence of Christ in my life, the Spirit within me, that I gain deep and thorough knowledge of the nature and character of God and that I come to understand the underlying reason and rationale for how the Lord thinks and what He feels. This is a significant part of what distinguishes followers of Christ from the rest of the people in our world. We possess this knowledge and comprehension of God that allows us to apply His foundational truth to making all of the choices and decisions that we need to make throughout the day. Unlike most people in positions of authority, God takes us into His reason and reveals His heart to us. He has given His Word to us, and the Spirit brings that word to life and provides us with an unending narrative regarding intent, interpretation, and application.

 

So, Christ treats me and every other person who follows Him as true and enduring friends. He reveals His pain and His joy, and He entrusts us with doing the redemptive work in this world that is the Father’s greatest calling for Him and for us. In fact, we are taken out of a form of bondage that sin and the powers of evil in our world have surrounded and captivated us with from birth, and He brings us out of its darkness into the full-sun brightness of God’s love, grace, and renewal. Christ releases us from a form of slavery that leads to death, and He sets us free to live life in the fullest expression of the way that God designed and created us to live. In Christ there is joy to be known that has nothing to do with circumstances, and there is peace to be experienced that comes from the security and the certainty of the Father’s unceasing love for us. Jesus truly holds each of us who know Him as deep and intimate friends, and He desires to be able to call everyone friend as well.

The Lord sustains him on his sick bed; in his illness you restore him to full health.

Psalm 41: 3

 

David had been ill. He was weak and his spirit was getting down, for he just didn’t have the energy or the desire to go about the business of life. Additionally, he was facing the usual array of challenges and threats that seemed to plague his life and that seem to haunt most of our days, as well. Enemies, opponents, and even people that he thought he could trust were obviously wishing him ill. This is a hard time and place to be in, and it is the sort of place where life takes everyone.

 

Sometimes the sickness is of the short term physical kind, at other times it has a long duration, and some illness is of the heart and of the soul. Whatever form it takes, it all can take us to a place where we just can’t keep going on our own. Maybe that is the point that God wants to get across to us. There simply are issues in life and times of coping with them that require something more powerful than what is contained in the boxes, bottles, and blister packs of magical medicines at the drug store. These are the times when we need to start our healing process from the spirit and let God’s healing Spirit bring us the strength to deal with the current situation.

 

Whether it is a cold or the coldness of loss, regret, and fear that are grasping your heart and wrapping your mind in its grip of confusion and uncertainty, the Lord promises a cure. When we start looking closely at who God is and at how He works in our lives, He brings clarity to the mind and strength to the heart. God’s Word brings His promises. His Spirit brings hope and understanding, and His loving grace provides healing for all that is causing distress. God calls to us, and He asks us to turn to Him in prayer and in contemplation. God seeks us out wherever we have gone. His voice of truth brings restoration to our broken bodies and spirits. The Lord is merciful as He brings us His peace.

 

What is man, that he should be pure, or he who is born of a woman, that he should be righteous?

Job 15: 14

 

The answer to this ancient question is that we humans are neither pure nor righteous. These are not the characteristics and the qualities of the creature that we are. This state of affairs is not the product of upbringing and it is not the result of the conditions that we live in. It is who we are, and we are defined by a very stridently self-absorbed and God denying existence. The human animal made a determination to leave the orderly place that God had designed for our safety, nurture, and pleasure; then, we stepped defiantly out into that broken land of our own choosing where danger, starvation, and pain are the community’s welcoming greeting.

 

Despite our efforts to distance ourselves from the righteous rule of God, we just can’t seem to shake His presence. When all appeared to be desperately lost; when humanity had reached the point of collapsing under the weight of its own depravity, God sent Himself into this world. He came not as an avenger of His rule of law, but rather, He came as the lamb of love that brings life to all. Christ the perfect and the pure came to live as a member of this human race, and we will never be the same. People can now relate directly to God, our Creator and Lord. We can now live in the possibility of pure love and grace.

 

In our old humanity, Job’s question has nothing except negative answers. In the state of our births, we can never be pure and righteous; so, we can never draw near to the glory of the all-righteous and holy God. However, through Christ and in His grace, we are brought out of the old and transformed into a new form of humanity. This is one that enters into the possibility of who and what we are and that recognizes that God crafts it in His perfect image. Purity and righteousness can now be our normal state. Selfless love and fearless grace can be the characteristics that mark and measure our days. In Christ, the answers to those questions shout out, “Yes, I am pure, for my Savior has made me righteous!”

For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will.

John 5: 21

 

God is the creator of all. There is noting that exists in the universe that comes from outside of His touch. Now there are certainly aspects and elements of the world around us that have gone radically off track from the Creator’s design and intent, but the initial work and crafting were engaged in and completed by God. As He is both the force and the intent behind all that is in our visible world and in the unseen realm of the spiritual, all that was set into existence by God’s hands was good and perfect in its inherent state of being. When things have gone astray, it is because of the brokenness that our sinful departure from God’s will, law, and rule over our lives has caused. Our ancestors listened to the seductive voice of evil, it spoken by a created being that chose to depart from God’s way for one that seemed to offer personal glory. Then they likewise determined that their true fulfillment was to be found in a self-determined path.

 

As we know from the narrative of all that followed, this was a disastrous decision. A life that was lived out in the ongoing presence of God and that was situated in the perfection of a lovingly crafted world had been granted to them, but then, after their rebellion against the one who loved them perfectly, they were forced into a separation that placed distance between people and our God and that brought about death where life had ruled. We are all born into this new reality where life is tenuous and too short and wherein our years a filled with the hard labor that existence demands. There is no other option that we are given except to endure it all and to live out our days in the isolation from our Creator that this beginning of time decision demanded. Yet, God did not desire for it to remain so. Even from those first moments when humanity was estranged from Him and from His holy presence, the Father set out His plan for redemption.

 

First of all, God did reengage with His children. He sought us out and He determined to continue to do this for the rest of time. The Father is a loving pursuer of our souls, and He is relentless in doing this. He also sent His Son, Jesus, into our world to dwell with us and to provide a complete and a perfect answer to the separation that sin had formed in our relationships with God. As the Father is the creator of life and holds it as His unique and total possession, so He has also granted this authority and power to the Son. Thus Jesus, by virtue of His sacrifice on the cross and His overcoming of death in the resurrection, has become the way and the means for all people to know life again. As we come in faith to Christ, we are redeemed from the death that grips our souls and that leads to an unending separation from our Creator. Christ utilizes the authority over life that the Father granted to Him to impart a form of life that transcends the duration of our earthly bodies. He grants to us the touch of eternity in this life, and in Christ we are also given the gift of life that continues beyond our days here into an unending future that is enjoyed in the presence of the love and the glory of the Lord.

Blessed be … the God of all comfort who comforts us in all our affliction so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

2 Corinthians 1: 3, 4

 

Discomfort is a term that people in the medical field often use to describe sensations that can range from the mildly annoying all the way to knock you to your knees disabling pain, and this same concept seems to apply to the things that produce what we call discomfort in the rest of life, too. The things that cause us to become uncomfortable can be as minor as a paper cut or a serious as a terminal illness, and they will be simple to fix like a lost button, and totally challenging like a lost relationship. In any and in all of these situations there is only one place to turn in order to gain real perspective and to gain the sort of healing calm that comes from a heart that is at peace and has confidence regardless of what is happening. This is when we need to look to the source of all comfort, God.

 

The Lord wants to place His loving hands on our shoulders and help us gain the sort of perspective that comes from the truth of His Word and through the interaction of His Spirit. Additionally, He wants to engage with us in all of the situations in our lives where we find ourselves stressed out, frazzled, fearful, angry, or dealing with any of the other emotional states that tend to get us off track and make us less functional as people whose primary calling in this world is to bring glory to God. Since most people don’t like to admit that we don’t have a satisfactory plan for handling all that comes our way and that we don’t possess the resources that we need in ourselves, it requires real strength and courage to take all of our concerns and challenges and turn them over to Christ; yet, He does have and will provide everything that we do need.

 

Like the rest of God’s relationship with us, He wants to give comfort to us. However, it doesn’t stop there; for, the Lord wants us to get our feet under us and to understand and trust Him so that we can, in turn, become people who help others understand where and how to find this same sort of life-changing perspective and the deep peace that comes out of it. We need to allow God to open our minds and our hearts to the pain and to the hurting people around us; for, when we comfort others, we bring God’s presence into their lives, and we express our blessing to the Lord.

 

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