Monday, August 10, 2009

Understanding God, in His own words

Zacharia 8:14-17

Thus says the Lord of hosts: As I determined to harm you when your fathers provoked me to wrath, says the Lord of hosts, and I did not relent, so again in these days I have determined to favor Jerusalem and the house of Juda; do not fear!

These are the things you should do: Speak the truth to one another; let there be honesty and peace in the judgments at your gates, and let none of you plot evil against another in his heart, nor love a false oath. For all these things I hate, says the Lord.


First, especially for you young people (greetings again), let me explain to you that we know exactly the year when God spoke these words to the prophet Zacharia. This happened in 518 BC. We know this because Zacharia documented during what year of the reign of an actual king that we all know about through archaeology that he received this part of a particular group of messages directly from God. So you can think about how 2527 years ago God spoke these (and other) actual words to Zacharia!

I continue to point these facts out wherever I can so that you can continue to tell the difference between cultural myths and sets of beliefs that do not have cross reference to actual geology and history that we can verify, compared to the Bible and the Qur'an where actual words and deeds are spoken and conducted and written down by real people who really lived and who were witness to actual secular historical events in real places, in addition to being witnesses to the faith history (relationship with God). So Zacharia would have heard these words directly from God just over five hundred years before the birth of Jesus Christ and, as we see from the arithmetic, 2527 years ago from today in this year of 2009 AD.

I selected this passage to make commentary regarding because I happened to open up to it as I was waiting for Sunday School to begin at the non-Catholic church I attend (in order to be cross pollinating between my Catholic faith and other faiths). Even if I am the only person to do so (and I hope that I am not the only one), I am determined to at least set the example of demonstrating that one can (and should) hold one's own faith, but respect and even delight in other denominations as they worship the same God. So I'm the resident guest Catholic LOL.

I thought this would be a helpful passage to look at for several reasons. It provides, using His own words, insight into God's will and his "viewpoint," for lack of a better word. People always say they want to better understand God. Do they? If so, they need only read (flinching where necessary) what God actually says. Here's some commentary and help in understanding God in this particular passage. The context is that God is dictating to Zacharia what he should tell the Israelites, the Jewish people, during their time of trouble. (They got in trouble with God quite a bit, being like all humans, easily tempted astray, and then reaping the consequences of their bad decisions and loss of faith in God).

1. First, God confirms and reminds his people that, yes, historically their fathers (ancestors) had provoked God, and as a consequence he was wrathful with them.

Now, is wrath the same as anger? Not really, though the words are used interchangeably in some places. However, God helps the reader to recall the definition of wrath when he reminds them that he is much provoked before becoming wrathful. Wrath is justifiable anger. Human anger may be justifiable, or it may be for no good reason at all. We all know people who are appropriately anger (what is traditionally called "righteous anger") and others who are filled with anger at themselves, at others, and the world, for no good reason. God is never angry without a perfect reason. Not just a "good reason," but a perfect reason. That's why it is often called wrath, because people bring the angry consequences of their actions down upon themselves from God.

Now, why do I say that God always has not only "good reason" but "perfect reason" to be wrathful? You need two pieces of knowledge to understand why. The first is that you must know, as we've discussed before, that God is all knowing. He knows not only all that was, all that is going on "now," and also all that will be in the future, but he also knows all the, to use the fantasy term, "alternate futures" that would happen if things go "differently." So God knows what people will do if he is wrathful on a particular occasion compared to what will happen in the future if he is not wrathful. So the second piece of knowledge you need is to have faith and trust God. God never decides to do something that makes the future worse. This is a very hard thing for short-lived human beings to understand. God knows that, which is why he is never mysterious about why he is wrathful on any given occasion. He doesn't want people to wonder why God's mad at them. God wants them to know why and better yet, he wants them to stop doing what is making him so mad. That is because God knows that a worse outcome, a far worse series of consequences, will result from human beings' bad behavior and sinfulness. You must have understanding and faith that when God is wrathful, he is nipping in the bud something far worse that will happen if humans continue unchecked in that course of action.

2. So here you can see God explain that in the past he has been wrathful when provoked, but on this occasion he "has determined to favor" (not be wrathful), despite the provocations! Now, when God "decides" or "determines" something, it's not like he had to sit around and think about it. He's just putting it in human terms so that you all can understand him better. He is letting you know that he had two options (to take wrathful action or not) and which he will be doing. As I've explained, God knows all, absolutely everything that ever was, and he knows in advance all that will be and all that could have been. God knows all of the future, including, of course, what he will do in response to human actions. He basically just "waits" for humans who, through their free will and their existence in the universe where there is sequential real time that ticks away, to reach a point where God is predetermined to take action, or not. God lives beyond time but interfaces with humans in a time based context. Thus God is explaining that even though the bad behavior of his faithful people merits wrathful response, he is not going to respond on this occasion with wrath!

3. Now, having said that, God immediately lets the people, through Zacharia, know that it does not mean that what people are doing is "OK" or is "forgiven." God decides not to be wrathful, but that does not mean that God is giving permission for the behavior to continue; far from it! He then lists the things that are really making him wrathful.

4. God says to "Speak the truth to one another." That means the people, his faithful and supposedly believing pious people, are NOT speaking the truth to one another. In other words, the people are filled with day to day lies and, at the very least, omission of truth.

5. God says to "Let there be honesty and peace in the judgments at your gates." What does God mean? First, understand that the word "judgment" in Biblical times does not mean courtroom type of legal judging, but it is a word that means any sort of action or decision making. So the fact that God says that there must now be honesty and peace in the judgments means that there is now a lack of honesty and a lack of peace in the actions and decision makings by the people. That is quite a mess. Why does God say "at your gates?" He means these are civil and commercial and personal failings, since gates represent the day to day secular coming and going of people and their matters. God is making clear that the lying and the lack of honesty and peace is not taking place in the temple or the synagogues, but in the public and private squares, among and between people in their day to day activities. (I'm not saying bad things were not happening there too, but I'm just explaining the four problems that God is listing here that of themselves would merit his wrath had he determined to do so).

6. God says "And let none of you plot evil against another in his heart." Notice that God is condemning only fulfilled evil actions; he is condemning the very seeds of thinking of evil actions and mean spirited thoughts and emotional impulses! God sees into all human beings continually, and he is stating that there are many who have evil notions, ideas, emotions and thoughts directed at fellow human beings. I have continually highlighted to you in previous blog postings that scripture teaches that thoughts and wishes that are evil and unjust are individual sins, whether one then follows up on the thought or wish with a deed against another person or not!

7. God says "Nor love a false oath." What does that mean? God is saying that apparently people are not just making false oaths (which means either telling lies or making promises based on false pretenses), but worse, people are admiring those who are making false oaths! So you have people who are making false oaths surrounded by even more people who admire them for doing so. This is why God is saying not to "love a false oath," since he means, to put it in modern terminology, that people are admiring and emulating the ones who are actually committing those sins.

8. God says, "For all these things I hate." The scripture repeatedly, and Jesus demonstrated in the flesh, that God hates sin. God does not say he hates those people; he hates "all these things," which are the sins. The problem is that when certain people (and sadly there are many like that in each generation) become covered with sin and invest their lives in it, the hatred of sin that God has will inevitably fall with wrath upon the person, who had had ample chance to repent and convert their life but has not. God is stating here that these are things that he hates. It is stark warning that he hates things that too many people, then and now, think are "white lies" or "small sins" or "the cost of doing business." They think God hates just the "big sins" of murder, idolatry and so forth. This is a stark reminder, as God makes here an "intervention," that he hates what too many people take for granted then and today.

I hope that this has been enlightening and helping you to understand that God does wish to be understood, to tell humans what they must do for their own well being (as God sees the future and knows the consequences of bad behavior that humans will pull down upon their own heads as the results of their own free choice of actions), and that God gives very fair and clear warning when wrath and smiting by God is likely to occur, and that it is only his mercy, not merit, that spares people to give them another chance at repentance and correction.