For the week of August 20, 2005 / 15 Av 5765
Torah: Devarim / Deuteronomy 3:23 - 7:11
Haftarah: Isaiah 40:1-26
You were shown these things so that you might know that the LORD is God; besides him there is no other. (Devarim / Deuteronomy 4:35)
The Bible includes many examples of God revealing himself to people. Many of these divine encounters are quite dramatic. Often these encounters result in changing the course of people's lives. Abraham leaves family and friends and is sent to an unknown land, Moses returns to the land from which he fled, Saul becomes king of Israel, Jeremiah becomes the solitary beacon of truth in a very dark time.
We might have the impression that it is the encounters themselves that transform people. As a result many yearn for divine encounters. We might think that if only we had such experiences, we would never again struggle with doubts or with finding direction for our lives. We may think that a divine encounter would cause us to overcome bad habits or bad behavior.
But if we look carefully at examples of divine encounters, we find no evidence of their automatically creating positive change in people. Moses' life was redirected by God at the burning bush, but the signs and wonders that God worked through him had little effect on Pharaoh's heart. Saul got off to a good start when he encountered God through the prophet Samuel, but it had no long term effect. His life ended in a state of rebellion against the God he once served. In the New Covenant writings, all sorts of people witnessed the miracles of the Messiah, but they made very little positive difference in the lives of most of them. As a nation, the people of Israel had also witnessed the power of God in many ways. Yet as we know, they struggled, they complained, they lacked faith, and rebelled against God who delivered them.
Divine encounters themselves do not change people. Too many are waiting for God to do in their hearts and lives what he has decided we need to do ourselves. God doesn’t make people trust him. God doesn't force us to live spiritual and moral lives. As we encounter him, we need to respond in faith and with love. We need to come to the place of voluntary submission to his will. While through his Word and his Spirit he does give us the power to follow him, he doesn't do it for us.
When Paul wrote to the believers in Rome, he was writing to people whose lives had already been substantially transformed by God through their faith in the Messiah. But understanding that we still face the challenge of resisting being conformed to the lifestyles of those among whom we live, Paul told them that they were to be transformed by the renewing of their minds (See Romans 12:2). Whatever divine encounter we have had, we need to continue to be in process. As we encounter God, we need to change our way of thinking, bringing our minds into line with God's truth. It is only as we cooperate with God in this process that we will see positive change occur in our lives.
Conversely, failing to cooperate will result in a lack of godly transformation. Immersing ourselves in the Scriptures and all sorts of good spiritual activities will never by themselves effect change in our lives. It is we who need to do it. God will help us, but we are the ones who must do it.
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