Jehoshaphat's Prayer

We studied Jehoshaphat's prayer and God's deliverance of Judah yesterday in Sunday School. The story is in 2 Chronicles 20. A large army comes to invade Judah. Jehoshaphat prays, reminding himself and God of God's promises. And God provides a miraculous deliverance.

This story matches the "faith and circumstances" theme of my blog. Jehoshaphat had the faith to believe in God's promises even in difficult circumstances. When my faith has been weak, I would have reacted to Jehoshaphat's circumstances by saying "Now I know God's promises can't be true, or this army would never have come to invade us." But Jehoshaphat still believed God, and called on Him to uphold His promises.

Let us remember to do likewise in our trying circumstances.

Efficiency in God's plan

God's plan from the Scriptures: preparing a people, becoming incarnate among them, empowering them to tell others so that the message permeates around the world. More than once I've wondered why this seems so inefficient. Why do missionaries have to struggle with learning languages, applying for visas and finding money for airfares?

What do we see in Acts? Among other things, we see the Spirit gifting people with instant ability in a foreign language (Pentecost), and we see the Spirit transporting Philip instantly across a distance of several miles. (Acts 8:39-40). If these two miracles were more common, the two biggest hassles of missionary existence would be solved. Why does God not choose to work that way? Surely every people group could have been reached by the Gospel within two or three centuries after Pentecost. Perhaps even sooner?

I've thought of an even more rapid plan than that. Suppose God the Son had chosen to become incarnate as Abel? Abel could have formed one or two disciples, told them he was not just a son of Adam, but the Son of God, performed miracles, told them he would lay down his life for their sins, and then be murdered by Cain. Abel comes back to life, tells his disciples to tell everyone what he had done, and ascends into heaven. How many people exist to be preached to? Maybe less than ten, maybe forty maybe perhaps even a hundred. This depends on your view of how many children Adam and Eve had that weren't mentioned, plus how many children they had. Potentially the Gospel of salvation could have been preached to every human on earth at one family reunion. Or maybe it would have taken longer (Cain perhaps was anti-social for a while there). But this whole messy period of the Kingdom of God coming into human history but not fully present yet could have only lasted a year, or a few years.

So why didn't God choose to work this way? Obviously I don't have the full answer. But one thing does come to mind as I write this down. In either of my efficient scenarios, I wouldn't be here. Since in heaven we are like the angels, not marrying, I assume that means we don't have children either. So if Christ returned centuries ago and brought in the fullness of the Kingdom, I would never have been born. So I guess that's at least one argument for the "inefficient" mode.

The last verse of Hebrews 11 says that God had planned something better for "us" (the original readers of Hebrews) so that only together with "us" would the heroes of the Old Testament be made perfect. I'm guessing the same logic applies. In God's plan, only together with us twenty-first century folks, will the Apostles and Augustine and Wesley and Townsend be made perfect.

Faith and Circumstances

Some people believe God's promises can't possibly be true, or they wouldn't be in the circumstances they are in. I've been guilty of that in the past (even though I've hardly suffered any great tragedy in my life).

Other people believe God's promises will come true some day. For now, we just repeat them to ourselves, soothing ourselves with the familiar words but not expecting them to impact life today.

But I'm coming to think the real life of faith scrutinizes the details of God's promises, and also scrutinizes the details of our present circumstances, and lays the discrepancy between the two before Him in prayer. The promises will not be totally fulfilled in this life, but they can be fulfilled to a greater degree than we might imagine.

Completing the parable of the talents?

For years now, I’ve wondered if parable of the talents (Matt 25:13-30; Luke 19:11-27) was incomplete. A familiar story, a master goes away entrusting three servants with different sums of money. (Luke uses a different term for the money, and different amounts). The first two servants invest the master’s money and are praised when the master returns. The last servant buried his master’s money in the ground because he was afraid to lose the money (also he was afraid of his master, calling him a hard man).

What I want to know, what would the master have done if the servant’s investments hadn’t succeeded? I'd add another servant, between number two and number three. Like number two, he was given two talents. When the master comes back, he comes forward reluctantly. “Master, you entrusted me with two talents. One talent I used to buy goods for a caravan, but the caravan was taken by robbers and your money was lost. With the second talent I bought goods to trade by ship. This began well, your one talent of goods bought two talents worth of gold and spices. But when the ship was returning, a great storm came up, and the sailors had to throw out the gold or the ship would have sunk. Your spices survived and sold for one talent, so here is what is left of your money.”
What would the master say to this servant? Would he have been angry about the lost money? Or would the master have appreciated that the servant made an effort?

I’m coming more and more to the opinion that the master in Jesus’ parable would have honored the servants intention and not punished him for failure. The master might have asked a few more questions about why the servant had chosen those two investment options, but if the servant had good reasons for believing in them, I think the master would have approved. Surely it is not just in our time that investing is risky.

The Biblical passage that I think speaks most clearly to this is in Hebrews 11. The writer gives a list of the great heroes of the faith. Abel, Enoch, Abraham, Moses, Joshua, and several other heroes of the Old Testament are named and their faithfulness praised. But the chapter ends with heroes who aren’t even named. “Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated-- the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.” Their faithfulness in adversity is challenging for us to remember, but what was the great victory they gained? They courageously faced suffering and death for their faith, but to what good? Aren’t they like the servant I added to the parable, who tried to be faithful but didn’t succeed?
But the writer of Hebrews makes it clear. “These were all commended for their faith,” the ones whose faith didn’t succeed just like the ones whose faith did succeed. He goes on “none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.” Even Moses and David, who won perhaps the greatest outward victories in the pages of the Old Testament, didn’t receive all they trusted God to do. Even their greatest victories were imperfect and incomplete. But all faith is seen and rewarded by God, if there is visible success or not.