I have grown up mostly in the 80s and 90s, and during those time periods, there has been a shift in the way examination and beliefs have processed. In the baby boomer generation, the question was “what should we do”? In my generation, Gen X and Gen Y, the question is not so much of how, but why? Why do we do things, what is the purpose and what is the point? Are we doing something that is worth while, is this worth our time and effort? This is a departure from the philosophy of our baby boomer parents, who told us what to do, but the question of why was usually answered with “because I said so”. This wasn’t enough for us then, and it’s certainly not enough for us today. In the realm of theology and the exploration of God’s word, the question is not so much of “what” but of “why”? God is moving, calling us to follow and there are things we should do and should not do, but why?
There are many things about God’s rules and laws that we take for granted, like the Ten Commandments or the Beatitudes that tell us how we should behave. These are clear commandments, and like the Great Commission, we need to follow them, but have we ever stopped to ask why? Have we stopped to ask why God gives us things to do and things not to do? I believe that God encourages us and pushes us to ask the question why. The reason I believe is simple, God calls us to obedience to have a deeper, more intimate and fulfilling relationship with Him. This is the purpose of the commandments, for the Great Commission, for the wisdom of Paul and Peter, James and John, the writings of the Old and New Testament all exist for this one principle, that we can know and love God more and have a deeper relationship with Him.
The purpose of any theological system should not be to understand what God does, but who God is and why God is doing what He is doing. We should not approach God as a distant school master, who exists to keep us in line. Instead, we should approach God as loving father, who desires a deeper relationship with us. His desire is that we would live a fulfilling life, filled with love and joy and peace. We can find these things in our Heavenly Father, regardless of the turmoil of life, the difficult situations and the trials and temptations. The why to our what is this, that we would find all that we need in our Father.
This should change the way we approach God, the Bible and the rules and commands He gave us. They are not rules to keep us from life, but guidelines to make sure we have a full and substantial life. These truths that God gives us will free us from the bonds of sin, from the chains of error and the shackles that so often come with all disobedience. God will set us free if we will be open to be set free. God will give us life if we are just willing to live it. God wants to have a deeper relationship with us, and He longs to reveal more and more of His nature and character. In this, or any theological exercise, our goal should be to know God, love Him more and share what we have found with others. My prayer in this is that we will discover the depths of truth in His love and the freedom of His grace, as well as His commands.
Much of the on going debate in Theological systems comes from the question of “what is the process, what should we do”? We have been so focused on trying to understand the process that we have almost neglected the purpose of the very thing we are seeking to study and understand, that is the work of Christ in the power of His salvation to bring people to reconciliation with God.
What we have done is looked at two paths that both lead to the same place, to the power of God in salvation. One road is that of human choice, seeking God and crying out to Him. The other road is that of God extending grace to sinners and calling those He has chosen and predestined. Both paths go the same direction and both lead to the same destination. From an eternal view, the paths are one in the same. From a Theological view, the paths are different, but the destination is the same.
The purpose of the journey, however, is what I want to focus on and to look at the journey, we have to overlap the paths. Which ever path you choose to walk down, the purpose God has is this: for you to grow in relationship to the Father, to fall in love with Christ, to be filled with the Spirit and build a strong and healthy community with other believers. The works, prepared for us, have this as a result. We are involved with God to do each of these things.
We know God is at work in our world, that He never sleeps and He is always vigilant. We also know that God is working in His people and through His people. God left His people, the church, on earth to do the works prepared for them. In working with God, we see the power of God and we learn and grow to understand His character. As we reach out to the lost, to the dying world we are able to radiate the love of God. By being these conduits and vessels of God, we learn more and more about the nature of the Father. The more we know God, the more we will grow in love of God. Our relationship will continue to deepen and grow. He invites us to join Him where He is working, we learned this from Henry Blackaby and his Experiencing God material. God wants us to join Him so we can grow into relationship with Him, and it makes sense. I have learned a great deal about the people I work with by working with them. I can see their strengths and weaknesses, their ups and downs. Working side by side with someone reveals a great deal about their character. God wants us to know His character, so He works with us, in us and through us.
God works with us and tells us to work with each other. The church should be a mobilized work force, doing God’s work. When we join God at work together, we build a strong community, and that community in turn creates a healthy place for people to connect. New believers join and begin to work with us, learning about us, learning about God. Every educator knows that experience is the best teacher, that everyone learns best by doing, and hands on is the best classroom. You want people to be discipled, work with them.
Many of our theological questions are answered through working with God. Do you want to know how Salvation works, how it happens? Stop arguing over the theological systems and remember your salvation experience. Share with others and see how they experience God. What happens? How is God at work, and how are the people responding, acting and behaving? What does a genuine salvation experience look like when all the pieces are in place? What does it look like when a spirit filled believer shares Christ with the fertile soil and produces a harvest? That is what theology needs to be, field research. We can argue back and forth about how God does things in the classrooms and board rooms, but in the mission field, God will simply show us. The word comes alive, we hide it in our hearts and then we open up our hearts.
Stop asking the simple questions, stop looking for the simple “what do we do” and start asking “why does this matter” because when we look at how it matters, it changes everything. When we look at how the Theology of Salvation works in the lives of your neighbor, your friend, your coworker, it matters. When it becomes more than just a sighed confession or document or creed and becomes a way of life. That is what Wovenism is about, how do I, a simple man become a conduit of the Immortal, All Powerful, All Knowing God of the Universe who holds all of creation in His hand? I say yes to the invitation, I step out and faith and I do the work that was prepared for me from a time before time and I go. I ask myself “why does it matter” and I look the person in the eyes and I say, “you, you are why it matters”.
I’ve long been intrigued by the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart. Truth be told I’ve been a bit emotionally bothered by the story. I’ve often read it as if Pharaoh would have repented and turned out to be a good dude around plague #4 but because the Lord hardened his heart he remained a stubborn jerk.
I read it differently now.
The Purpose of Exodus
When I read the Exodus account what I see is a God that is flexing His muscle. He is doing it so that the whole world, and especially the Hebrews, might know who he is. You see this in Exodus 5:2 when Pharaoh says, “Who is the Lord…I do not know the LORD”. It’s not by accident that the Lord continuously says things like, “the Egyptians shall know” and “then you will know that I am the LORD”.
In the Exodus story it is as if God is challenging the mighty Egyptians to a weight lifting contest. And it becomes painfully obvious by plague 3 that “this is the finger of God” and the Egyptians don’t stand a chance. And so after plague 4 the mighty Pharaoh admits defeat…sort of. He’ll let them go but he is still under the delusion that he is control.
To use our weight-lifting analogy it is as if Pharaoh is hardening his heart and resolving to beat this God in the next match. “Okay, I’ll give you this one, but I’m going to train and then I’m going to kick your tail next time. Our magicians will figure out how to do the same thing that you did”.
I don’t believe that we should make too much out of the fact that there are verses were Pharaoh hardened his own heart. That is certainly happening. But I believe on top of that we need to hear what the Lord says at the beginning in Exodus 7:3. Here he says, “But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart”. Ultimately what is happening is that God has raised up Pharaoh for the purpose of showing His power.
So why does He need to harden Pharaoh’s heart?
Let us return to our weight lifting analogy. What happens if Pharaoh calls uncle around plague 4? It’ll be a great show of power, people will know that the LORD (at least in this instance) has gotten the best of Pharaoh.
But do you think the worship of Exodus 15 will be as deep and far reaching? Would they say, “your right hand, O LORD, shatters the enemy”. Could they say shatters? Or would they just say, “bruises”.
For the sake of Israel, for the sake of Egypt, and for our sake, God cannot just beat Pharaoh by a nose. He has to utterly embarrass and decimate him. And so he doesn’t let Pharaoh throw in the towel at plague 4. If he does there will rise up another power that is stronger than Pharaoh, and the Israelites will be wondering if maybe God will lose this time.
And so God hardens Pharaoh’s heart. He doesn’t let him cry uncle. He causes Pharaoh to keep going like a stubborn mule even though he is being whipped the whole way.
And let’s not think that if Pharaoh calls uncle around plague 4 that he’ll stop and turn into a good guy and start worshipping the Lord. I believe this is why the Bible also says that Pharaoh hardened his heart. He’s still a wicked dude. It’s just that God isn’t going to allow him to be a pansy and call for a truce, and then go train with the intention of besting God later.
God in his glory and grace will shatter the mighty Pharaoh so that He can display His greatness. And this is to our greatest good. Pharaoh isn’t worthy of worship (or any of the other false god’s that will follow in his stead). And so God will crush these idols so that our heart’s will find satisfaction in the only place where true satisfaction can be found.