I have absolutely no idea how my car works. All I know is that I turn the key and it starts. I shift into first, pull my foot off the clutch, add some gas, and away I go. I don’t need to know what goes on within my engine and transmission when I shift gear, or when I’m driving down the highway. That is, until something stops working. I think that a roadside mechanic team for a church would be a great ministry opportunity, but thats another thought for another day.
What happens when the car won’t start? I have no idea why… my lack of understanding leaves me out of luck.
Now, let’s pause that thought here. Imagine if you didn’t know God. Imagine if you had no understanding of religion and theology. All you knew is how to farm and make a subsistence living for you and your family. That is how farmers in ancient Mesopotamia felt. They constantly lived in fear because they did not understand the weather, religion or right theology. One of my favorite documents from the Ancient Near East is the Pagan Prayer to an Unknown God. Take a moment and read through it:
May the fury of my lord’s heart be quieted toward me.
May the god who is not known be quieted toward me;
May the goddess who is not known be quieted toward me.
May the god whom I know or do not know be quieted toward me;
May the goddess whom I know or do not know be quieted toward me,
May the heart of my god be quieted toward me;
May the heart of my goddess be quieted toward me.
May my god and goddess be quieted toward me.
May the god who has become angry with me be quieted toward me,
May the goddess who has become angry with me be quieted toward me.
in ignorance I have eaten that forbidden by my god;
in ignorance I have set foot on that prohibited by my goddess.
0 Lord, my transgressions are many; great are my sins.
0 my god, (my) transgressions are many; great are (my) sins.
my goddess, (my) transgressions are many; great are (my) sins.
O god whom I know or do not know, (my) transgressions are many;
great are (my) sins,
O goddess whom I know or do not know, (my) transgressions are many;
great are (my) sins;
The transgression which I have committed, indeed I do not know;
The sin which I have done, indeed I do not know.
The forbidden thing which I have eaten, indeed I do not know;
The prohibited (place) on which I have set foot, indeed I do not know;
The lord in the anger of his heart looked at me;
The god in the rage of his heart confronted me;
When the goddess was angry with me, she made me become ill.
The god whom I know or do not know has oppressed me;
The goddess whom I know or do not know has placed suffering upon me.
Although I am constantly looking for help, no one takes me by the
When I weep they do not come to my side.
I utter laments, but no one hears me;
I am troubled; I am overwhelmed, I can not see.
O my god, merciful one, I address to thee the prayer, ‘Ever incline to me’;
I kiss the feet of my goddess, I crawl before thee.
How long, 0 my goddess, whom I know or do not know, eye thy hostile
heart will be quieted?
Man is dumb; he knows nothing;
Mankind, everyone that exists-what does he know?
Whether he is committing sin or doing good, he does not even know.
0 my lord, do not cast thy servant down;
He is plunged into the waters of a swamp, take him by the hand.
The sin which I have done, turn into goodness;
The transgression which I have committed, let the wind carry away;
My many misdeeds strip off like a garment.
0 my god, (my) transgressions are seven times seven; remove my
O my goddess, (my)transgressions are seven times seven; remove my
O god whom I know or do not know, (my) transgressions are seven times seven;
remove my transgressions;
O goddess whom I know or do not know, (my) transgressions are seven times
seven; remove my transgressions.
Remove my transgressions (and) I will sing thy praise.
May thy heart, like the heart of a real mother, be quieted toward me;
Like a real mother (and) a real father may it be quieted toward me.
It is saddening to read this petition and know that this person had no idea who God. This person understood that there was something larger at work in this world, but was never able to identify it.
When the Lord led the Hebrew people out of Egypt, he wanted to ensure that they were a people set apart. It is easy to identify from the pagan prayer that the pagan did not know what the standards of the god that he was praying to were. He did not know what he needed to do to atone for his sins. In fact, he did not even know what he had done to sin against that god.
In Exodus 20:1-17, the Lord gave Moses and the Hebrew people the Decalogue. In doing so, the Lord set His people apart. He gave them standards to uphold, rules to live by, and expectations. The Hebrews knew exactly what they needed to do in order to maintain relationship with God, and how to atone for their sins. That is an amazing picture of grace. The Lord graciously chose to set his people apart by giving them the Law.
Scholars have long debated the balance of Grace and Law in the Old Testament. For the longest time, I thought that upholding the Decalogue would have been burdensome, until I saw it from a different perspective. When someone blatantly tells you what they require of you, it is a relief. You have what you have to do, and you can make sure it gets done.
Please do not think that I am promoting a works-based theology. The sacrifice of Jesus Christ is sufficient for all.
Modern Christians are also called live apart from the world. We have a directive to bear the image of God. This goes against everything that the world stands for. Jesus echoed this by saying that the world will hate Christians for because of His name.
The Lord provided a way for the Hebrews to have relationship with Him in Exodus 20:1-17. He has provided a way, Jesus Christ, for Christians to have relationship with Him today. In both cases, the devil will work to try to remove those blessing from us. If we are not working on our relationship with God and trying to further the Kingdom of Heaven. then we are of no spiritual threat to the Devil. If we are working towards these goals, and we are a treat to the devil. Increased closeness to God could mean an increase in spiritual warfare.
If we are required to live in this world but not be of it, how do we do that? We must be prudent in how we speak to one another, ensuring that no unwholesome talk comes out of our mouths. We must ensure that we are standing up for justice, and speaking out against wickedness and corruption. We must act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.
Who are you seeking to please with your life? Do you try to justify your actions to yourself, others and to God? Many people do not want to give up our fleshly desires in order to live a life that is Holy and pleasing to God.
Who do your actions honor? God or man?