Shemini and Parah
For the week of April 2, 2005 / 22 Adar II 5765
Torah: Vayikra / Leviticus 9:1 - 11:47 and
Bemidbar / Numbers 19:1-22
Haftarah: Ezekiel 36:16-38

Why Does God Love Us?

"I want you to know that I am not doing this for your sake," declares the Sovereign LORD. (Ezekiel 36:32)

This week's Haftarah (reading from the Prophets) includes some wonderful promises regarding the physical and spiritual restoration of the people of Israel. Even though Israel, God's people, misrepresented God and as a result experienced his harsh discipline, he determined to bring them back to their land and affect significant moral and spiritual changes in their lives as a nation.

It was important for Israel to realize that God was doing this for his own sake, not theirs:

It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone. (36:22)

Passages like this one have given some people the impression that God only really cares about himself. What he does for us is only the byproduct of his self-seeking motives. I don't know if you will hear anyone say it just like that, but this is essentially what is often implied.

Many people who claim to accept the Bible have a very low view of us humans. They like to quote passages that seem to refer to people as worms, dirt, or puffs of smoke. While those passages do exist, there are also those that refer to our being created in the image of God, our being God's children, and our having great value. There are also many passages that speak of God's great love for Israel as well as for the rest of the world.

One way to reconcile these concepts is to say that God is rather fond of worms and dirt. Not only that - he doesn't really care about us - the dirty worms that we are he only really cares about himself and his desires. We are simply pawns that he manipulates in order to accomplish his master plan. That we get any benefit out of this should make us grateful, seeing that we deserve nothing but eternal suffering anyway.

You may have guessed that I don't think that this is how we are to understand Ezekiel's words. This way of speaking is necessary when people begin to take God's love for granted. Because of the people's pride, it was necessary for God to adjust their perceptive.

When we lose sight of our God-given place in the universe, thinking that we are what life is all about, forgetting that we were created to serve our Master and King as stewards over his creation, we set ourselves up for the kind of confrontation received by Israel in Ezekiel's day. At other times when Israel was destitute and broken, God came with tender words of love and care.

It is so important to read the Scriptures in context. It is true that we are but dust without God. He is our creator, sustainer, provider and savior. Yet separated from him we are completely lost dead in fact. To abuse the precious gift of life he gives us is to become less then animals. Our self sufficiency and ingratitude draw out God's wrath.

But as we walk with God in the way his children should, humbly relying on him in and for everything, we discover who we were intended to be: royal members of the divine family, objects worthy of his infinite love.

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