Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Chapter 4 Pt 2A: Cows and Arithmetic

Christmas is passed, and what a blur! I pray you and yours were able to get some good relaxation in, as well as benefit from the preached Word about our Lord's incarnation for the sake of our salvation. Behind the scenes, I have been tremendously busy, especially in the work I am doing with PLM on launching the "Mainline Church Project", which I will discuss a bit more below. Part of this means that I am having to make tough decisions about how I use my time to serve you. As I wrote two weeks ago, one of the decisions I've made is to cut back on how much writing I am doing for the eNews. This doesn't mean I'm stopping. It just means the chunks are going to be a little smaller. Two weeks ago published nearly half a chapter, but even that proved to be quite a bite. This week I'm pairing it down to the next "section," or thematic unit. While on the one hand this means that the overall idea of a chaper may get spread out over a month or more, it will allow you to take the time to look at the many good Scripture passages included in the footnotes. I also plan to include "sectional" summaries for review, as well as a brief look ahead.

So far, in "Chapter 4: Goodness" We have explored the idea that the value of a human is not first and foremost in what he does, but in who he is. Learning from Jesus that God alone is good, we began to reassess what we mean by the word "goodness" in order to learn that there are two kinds of "goodness." What we do it one kind, and, while good, it cannot conquer death. We need the kind of goodness only God does. In the section "Of Earth and Heaven" we further explored the differences between these kinds of goodness, especially seeing how it is by pursuing our own "doing" goodness in place of God's "given" goodness that Adam and Eve first fell in the first place. We also saw how perfect our own "doing" goodness ought to be and faced the sad fact that our attempts at it are not "good" enough. On top of that, the goodness we need most, outside of Jesus, is terribly missing. Today, in "Cows and Arithmetic," we explore the purpose of the Ten Commandments as a blueprint for "doing goodness," and tackle the tough reality that what the commands demand they do not help us achieve. We also learn that humans respond two different ways to this realization about our limitations. One is to repent. The other is to reject even "doing" goodness altogether. The answers to these problems, I pray you know, are in Jesus. As the book progresses this will be come clearer and clearer, spelled out in no uncertain terms. For this week, we continue to explore the depths of our malady, trusting that the more we know about our sin, the better we will appreciate our Savior.

When Christians teach the Ten Commandments as revealed by God to Moses on Mount Sinai, they do so because these commandments are the perfect demonstration of what human goodness should be.1 They are a blueprint for how creation is supposed to operate. They are an outline of love and peace.2 By defining what is good for others and what is evil to do to others, the commandments are a divine tool for fostering harmony in relationships with your neighbors and co-workers. They curb our intentions away from the evil we might otherwise end up achieving.

But at the same time, this Law is never quite able to bring about the goodness they prescribe.3 When it comes to living up to the perfect commandments about goodness, inscribed on stone tablets by the almighty finger of God, our own attempts at genuinely authentic goodness, more often than not, come up quite short.4 I may not kill, but I do hurt and I rarely help.5 I may not steal, but I do waste and I hardly protect the things that belong to others.6 I may not lie every time I speak, but I most definitely paint myself in the best light and hardly ever give others such leniency.7 Let's please not even contemplate the place of coveting!8

When this Law of God's comes upon us as an external Word, there are two ways that a person can respond. Sometimes we are honestly revealed to ourselves and we admit that, by God's standard, we aren't all that good after all.9 But far more easily than finding fault with ourselves is finding fault with the standard of the Law.10 When starting with the man in the mirror and asking him to change his ways doesn't actually change the face you see, replacing the mirror with a pretty picture makes a lot of sense.

So, while God has given us the perfect blueprint for harmony with the world and our neighbors, all of us are more naturally inclined to spend the vast portion of our lives searching for a more flexible standard.11 When pure goodness revealed by the holy God in fire and smoke and billowing glory turns out to be a little distasteful, we don't hesitate, nor spare any expense, in setting up something, anything, that is more in keeping with our self-esteem, (even if it means that we find ourselves dancing around a golden statue of a cow.)12

Our own spirituality and vision, in looking for the good works we'd rather do, tends to choose a host of works that have no real value at all.13 Classically called “mysticism,” such definitions of “good” vary as far and as wide as the individuals who pursue them: meditation, social action, introspection, extroversion, fasting, feasting, ritualism, anti-ritualism – once we start down the path of choosing our standards for goodness, the possibilities are not only endless, they are contradictory, fluid and (often) expensive.14 This is all to say nothing of the fact that, so far as the actual God is concerned, such ceremonies and anti-ceremonies can actually do nothing to make you a better person in terms of the kind of goodness that you hope to find.15

If the perfect Law of God cannot actually make us good, but instead only shows us how far short we fall, how much less will our own made up ideas bring us any lasting value? It is like a school that finds out its students are doing poorly at math and then decides that it will fix the problem by ceasing to give math tests. To be sure, there will be no more failed math tests. But when the children are grown there will also be no more math.


1. Exodus 20:1-17 “And God spoke all these words, saying...”
2. Romans 13:9 “For the commandments, 'You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,' and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' ”
3. Romans 7:10 “The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me.”
4. Romans 3:19 “Whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.”
5. Matthew 5:21-22 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”
6. Matthew 5:40, 42 “And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. ...Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you”.
7. Matthew 7:3 “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” Confer with Matthew 18:23-34
8. Romans 7:7-8 “If it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, 'You shall not covet.' But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness.”
9. Romans 7:22-24 “I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am!”
10. 2 Corinthians 3:14 “Their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away.” Confer with Exodus 7:13-14:8.
11. John 18:37-38 “Jesus answered, '...I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth....' Pilate said to him, 'What is truth?' ”
12. Exodus 32:1 “The people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, 'Up, make us gods who shall go before us.' ” Confer with Exodus 32:1-25
13. Colossians 2:12-23 “'Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch' (referring to things that all perish as they are used) —according to human precepts and teachings...These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.”
14. Timothy 4:3-4 “The time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”
15. Matthew 15:11 “It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.”

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