Today’s Scriptures: From the Book of Common Prayer
Psalm 118, 145
Numbers 21:4-9, 21-35
How do we respond when we face opposition to our belief?
No matter how absolutely perfect is an idea I have at work, I can count on a certain handful of people to be in opposition to it. We come from vastly different philosophical and experiential perspectives, so our natural inclination leads us to respond to ideas from the other as questionable, different, or simply not what we would do. Even good ideas that undoubtedly move us in a way we need to go face that skepticism. I want to declare, “resistance is futile!” As much as this happens in the professional realm, acting on faith compounds the resistance one finds when confronted with those whose faith is different.
Today’s passages in the Psalms celebrate a God who supports, chastises, and redeems his people. No matter the circumstance, we have a God who supports us as long as we do that which he asks of us. Psalm 118:6 places that support of God over any opposition of mortal man by asking the question (paraphrased) “When God is with me who cares what others do?” The passages also recognize that from time-to-time we fall short of what God wants, but he does not totally reject us when we fail – and despite the ways others view that shortcoming, God redeems and brings us fully back into his good graces – even as leaders as 118:22 promises. The redemptive power of God overwhelms all shortcomings and provides comfort in all doubt.
One more time in Numbers we see the Israelites in a state of discontent. As they wander in the wilderness, they reach a level of frustration to the point that they speak out directly against God and Moses. The attack on God and Moses lead to an infestation of venomous snakes that killed many people. One more time, the Israelites come in repentance and God offers a means of salvation for his people. The means of rescue later became an idol for many and was likely the serpent idol destroyed later in the history of the Israelites. Despite the discontent of the people, God continued to stand with them in conflicts as they encountered established peoples in the lands where they were wandering. When a king stood against them or blocked their way, God delivered a resounding victory to the Israelites and as one passage demonstrated today complete annihilation of one king and all his people. Even though the Israelites became frustrated with the circumstances in which they found themselves, they held on to their faith and remained with God.
When Paul faced dangerous threats from Jews in one region, he traveled to a new area and continued his ministry there. One such event took him to Athens, a center of scholarship and religion. In his teachings there, he encountered people from all spectrums of the society. The encounter brought him notice and he was called to speak at the center of debate in the city. Paul, through his conversations and study, came in well prepared to connect the beliefs of the people there to the good news of Jesus. He took the cold hard statues of the many gods of the Greeks and presented instead a living God in answer to the question the scholars had about the unknown god. Unlike the other gods, Paul’s God personally connected with everyone and was the ancestor of every man. Opposition questioned him. Some rejected it outright. Others sought more information. Some accepted his teaching. The ideas were far from the historical faith of the Athenians. Paul, though, continued to teach and share the Gospel.
Yet again a confrontation between Jesus and the religious leaders forms the center of another lesson about working in God’s will. When Jesus heals a woman long afflicted by an ailment, the leader challenges him for breaking the Sabbath. Jesus turns the confrontation around and basically asks what has more value a woman afflicted by Satan or one’s pack animals, for even the law allows for care of animals on the Sabbath.
God’s love demands that we continue doing his will no matter the circumstance or resistance we find. The military attacks faced by the Israelites, the political challenges confronted by Paul, and the religious intolerance Jesus faced give us a variety of the resistance we find even in the world today. Search the headlines and all forms can be found much more commonly than we might expect, especially for military attacks. In the last few months the every Sunday attacks on Christian churches in Africa have become standard fare. Both pro and anti-church political activities flourish across the world. Perhaps most difficult to address are the dogma-on-dogma battles that happen within the Church. When every side claims the will of God as motivation, common ground can be hard to find. Sometimes finding good will presents the hardest challenge we face. Nevertheless, God demands we persist. When we open our eyes beyond the basic dogma that guides our own actions and connect to the wholeness of God’s word and will, the limits we face fade away into minor glitches.
After seeing the outcome of the different situations presented in the passages today, I can hear God whispering, “resistance is futile,” as I move forward and do what he commands.
Let us seek to genuinely seek to know God’s will and persist through the challenges we face, knowing that God will provide all that we need to do his will.