For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil will not sojourn with you. ...Lead me, O Lord, in your righteousness... make your way straight before me. -- from Psalm 5:4-8
Last week I was struggling with an ethical dilemma. The particulars are not at all important, but lest anyone think my idea was worse (or better) that it was, I will explain: I wanted to make a little extra money so that I would have a little more wiggle room in my budget, for extra things the kids and I would like, or to save for a rainy day. I thought I would try to sell some of my journals at a craft fair, or local bookstore. The dilemma came about because I had so far only been making these journals for members of my church as a fund-raising project for feeding the hungry. Could I, should I, try to sell them other places, as well, and keep the proceeds for myself? Most of my friends at church have said, at one time or another, that I should.
And I was finally in agreement. This fit with my desires. I was ready to proceed. Until I read a passage in my daily readings that spoke so specifically to me that I could not help but believe God was trying to tell me something. I read 1 Samuel 2:27-29. This passage is about a person whom God has blessed in many ways, but who looks greedily at the offerings and sacrifices that God commanded to be made, and who desires them for himself and his sons. (!) How was I any different from Eli? Let me tell you that I took this message very much to heart. And I decided to stick with my original plan, which was to give all proceeds from the sale of the journals to help feed the hungry.
Again, yesterday, I was thinking about this correction I received. What, I wondered, motivates me to listen to that voice? Do I fear punishment if I don't listen? Is there some fear, after all, in my relationship with God? I don't think so. But there is certainly an unwillingness to go against what I believe God wants me to do. God's ways are better than my ways. They are always more just.
What do I think will happen if I don't listen, but go and do my own thing? Well, I think life will get harder for me, for one. Not because I think God is punishing me, but because there are natural negative consequences for making bad choices. God, I think, would rather I avoid these negative consequences. If I don't listen, I know I would feel terrible, guilty, full of regret, sooner or later, at the very least. Besides, how would I be able to maintain an honest, open, relationship with God, if I persisted in deliberately doing what I know to be against his will for me? I would not only be fighting against God (and put an unnecessary distance between us), I would also be fighting against my self. A greater number of problems would result from that than I care to think about.
These thoughts reminded me of the readings from a few weeks ago, which were all about living "The Two Ways": the way of righteousness vs. the way of wickedness. I had some difficulty with those readings because they were so black and white. Either your path was righteous, and you received God's blessings, or your path was wicked, and you received God's curses. To my understanding, these two ways are not so fixed and permanent; nor do I believe that God curses us for our transgressions. Rather, instead of two separate paths, I see one path, one straight path to God, which is difficult for us to stay on. We are often tempted, like John Bunyan's Christian in The Pilgrim's Progress, to veer off the path, to take the way that promises to be easier, a shortcut which will give us our desire. But always, the way off the one true path only makes things harder, scarier, and instead of giving us our desire, we end up trapped and miserable.
As Jesus said in the Gospel reading yesterday, "everyone who commits a sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not have a permanent place in the household, the son has a place there forever... as for you, you should do what you have heard from the Father." (John 8:34-38) Coincidentally, in other readings today, I find Clement of Alexandria writing pretty much the same thing: "There is an inheritance for those who serve the Lord... This is the inheritance with which the eternal covenant of God invests us, conveying the everlasting gift of grace; and thus our loving Father -- the true Father -- ceases not to exhort, admonish, train, love us. ... It is the height of wretchedness to be deprived of the help which comes from God.... Who that may become a son [or daughter] of God, prefers to be in bondage?" (pgs 263-270, "Exhortation to the Heathen," The Early Church Fathers - Ante-Nicene Fathers, Philip Schaff, with my addition).
Do I fear losing God's love if I don't listen to him? No. I know that God will always love me. What I fear are the natural negative consequences from making the wrong choice, consequences that God would have me avoid if I would but listen.
Dear God, thank you for your guidance in my life. I don't know where I would be without your love for me. Love always, Pam