Random Blog Clay Feet: November 20, 2007
Feel free to leave your own comments or questions. If you would like to be in contact with me without having it published let me know in your comment and leave your email address and I will not publish that comment.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Pride and Prejudice

Root causes produce symptoms which in turn become cause for more symptoms which in turn become cause for...

This is one reason it is often difficult to identify a real root cause in our heart. It is not too hard sometimes to look back a little bit to see that there is something deeper behind our current problems or driving our present emotions, but then we often settle for that first discovery being the original underlying issue instead of continuing to question and allow the Spirit to extend the trail back even further to unmask the real root cause. Maybe that is some of what I am starting to see here in Romans 9.

It seems to me that the end of this chapter is getting down to the deeper roots of the problems of religious addiction and prejudice. We should not think for a moment that this was a problem unique to the Jews of Jesus' day and we don't have much of that problem ourselves. Just because our symptoms are different because of our culture and lifestyle, does not in any way detract from the seriousness of our sickness. Anyone who finds themselves depending on any kind of performance whatsoever to impress or influence God's actions or feelings toward them without a growing abiding trust in His consistent love and passion for them is suffering under the illusions of this addiction. Romans was written to help us see our real problems so that we too can become free and get our priorities corrected, so we can learn to live the real life of joy and peace that we were designed to enjoy in the presence of God.

Here is what I am seeing expressed in the span of this chapter.

First, Paul identifies his kinsmen, the Israelites, whom he has great desire for to see change and let go of their prejudices that are keeping them from experiencing the goodness of God. He reminds them that their religion and people-group was the one that God had selected to be the channel for revealing Himself to humanity and they were gifted with all the “good stuff”.

Next he begins to make the bold assertion that in fact, the only real Israelites are those who are living a life of faith. And faith is believing the real truth about God and responding to His goodness and cooperating with His way of doing things (I'm not talking about religious works). Even though the Jews thought they were doing what God wanted they had failed to allow their hearts to connect with Him but only offered Him their externals. They were trying to make their outside look good while clinging to their independence and selfishness and control on the inside. So Paul claims here that not all Jews are true Israelites and the composition of the real Israel is based on a different criteria than what the Jews were used to using.

It is from this point that Paul launches into the stories that create so much confusion in our minds about how God relates to us and that make Him appear arbitrary. But we must remember the point that Paul is trying to enforce here and not lurch into making opposite assumptions about God due to our own misconceptions and bad previous experiences that we bring to the table. Otherwise we will miss the incredible blessing and insights that lay just beneath the surface waiting to shock us with the truth that God is much better than we ever suspected. I have been unpacking some of these discoveries over the past few days in my digging through this chapter and now I am starting to see this even bigger picture.

It is also helpful to remember the context of Paul's own life and experience in helping us to understand some of the things he mentions here. When Paul talks about vessels in this chapter he remembers God's specific reference to himself as a “chosen vessel” during his own conversion in Damascus. When he talks about Jewish obsessions with keeping the rules to become righteous he is speaking from years of personal experience in doing that very thing himself. When talking about making a gigantic paradigm shift from living an external-oriented religious life to being transformed on the inside into a compulsive love-slave of his Savior, he is a living demonstration of what he is talking about.

Toward the end of chapter 9 he moves even deeper to expose the underlying roots that powered much of the Jewish performance system. He begins to talk about an area of their thinking that was sure to inflame the outrage of most Jews and has similar effects on religious people today if they begin to understand what he is really saying. It is the idea that somehow God favors religious people – our group in particular – and has less love or favor for those who are outside that favored group.

Every time the Jews were confronted about this prejudice by any of God's messengers including the Son of God Himself they reacted with outrage and blindly succumbed to their feelings of resentment. When we find ourselves reacting to something with immediate and intense anger it is very often because we are unwilling to face the fact that our beliefs are not defensible by real truth. So we use anger and rage, force and intimidation to cover up the fact that our prejudices are really just a sham that we are unwilling to face and confess.

Paul puts his finger on this most sensitive issue when he explicitly talks about the various references from the Word of God that show God's real disposition toward humanity and the role of the Jewish people. The prophecies had declared centuries before that God fully intended to embrace all kinds of people Jews and non-Jews alike as His children. The things Paul writes in these last few verses are nothing short of extreme blasphemy in the minds of most Jews but will also have the same effect on us today when it exposes our own religious bigotry. We may have changed the words and labels but we still indulge in the same sorts of bigoted thinking and exclusive behavior in the way we treat people who are not part of our church or our club or our country.

Paul identifies this as a stumbling block for anyone who trips over being religious instead of believing in the real God of compassion, love and truth. All we have to do to apply this to our own situation is to substitute the name of our clique in place of Jews or similar references in this passage, and the name of those outside our clique in place of Gentiles. Then we will begin to feel the squirm inside us as our discomfort begins to reveal our own narrow, selfish beliefs and our notions of the exclusiveness of God. Even his references to the idea of “remnant” in these verses has given us another title to parade as a means of thinking that God favors our group over everyone else.

It is very true that only a remnant will be saved just as God told the Jews of old. But for us to simply assume that we are that remnant and are favored above all others by God is to blindly place ourselves in the very position and attitude that the Jews in Jesus' day held and that Paul is exposing here. Indeed, a remnant will be saved. But we must look carefully to see what the real identifying marks of the remnant are instead of just assuming that our simplistic spin on prophecies give us the inside scoop on the favor of God. We have focused for too long on the external symptoms of the remnant and have largely overlooked the fact that the remnant are a people who are primarily those connected at the heart level to the heart of God and are living a life of faith even when they didn't realize they were doing so – who did not pursue righteousness. (9:30)

(next in series)