Monday, February 2, 2015
Not hearing? Don’t force the issue!
Saul and the Witch of Endor, Washington Aliston, 1820 (The Five College Museums, Deerfield, Mass, USA)
BEFORE leaving this topic for now, I want to cover a couple of practicalities, one unhelpful and the other very helpful. This is the unhelpful one – an extreme example of a trap we all encounter.
In early life I trained as an engineer. Engineers know how to design things and make things work, and the processes and systems that go with that. We need engineers to make things work in our world! But the flip side is that before God, spiritually, we need to recognise that we don’t know how to make things work – apart from Him we can do nothing. Engineers like me will still want to have a go, and try to come up with a repeatable process or a model to follow that works – in a way, we all like to find ‘the method’. But there isn’t a method. There are principles, but we have to ask the Lord how He would have us apply them on each occasion.
A lot of legalism is where principles have become a recipe for making God do something. Fasting is good and I believe in it but it’s not good if the intention is coerce God. In fact, any spiritual exercise that seeks to manipulate God or others – seeking to change someone or to remove someone or to bring ungodly influence to bear – is basically a form of witchcraft. Because words spoken have power, the wrong words spoken with the wrong intentions do have an effect. Divisions and strife where the cause is unclear often come down to this kind of activity. Don’t go there. Attempting to manipulate God or men is wickedness, period.
This was where Saul, King of Israel, came to his sticky end. Saul had had a number of run-ins with the revered prophet, Samuel (e.g. 1 Samuel 15:19-23). This repeated pattern was because Saul’s temperament was such that he thought he knew best, and so he just went ahead and did his own thing, both spiritually and strategically. Even though it was not his place, he went ahead and made peace offerings and burnt offerings (1 Sam. 13:5-15).
Now Samuel was dead, and Saul was under attack by the Philistines and he needed answers, but “the Lord did not answer him, not by dreams, or by Urim, or by prophets” (1 Sam. 28:6). Saul, under Samuel’s good influence, has banned witches, but he still sought one out, the so-called Witch of Endor, and made her call up the spirit of Samuel to tell him what to do.
Of course that was completely wrong, but don’t miss the point here – what was even more wrong was Saul’s sheer arrogance: as the ghost of Samuel appears, Saul tells him “I am in distress…the Philistines are warring against me, and God has turned away from me and answers me no more… so I have summoned you to tell me what I should do” (1 Sam. 28:15).
This is typical of a common view of God and His guidance – treating Him as a kind of “cosmic butler who is to clear up our mess” to use Dallas Willard’s words.
God may put up with us using Him, for a while, but not for ever. At this point, grace ran out for Saul.
God doesn’t play games, and we should not seek to play games with Him. The way to avoid this is to believe that God really is the person that Jesus revealed Him to be – someone who will show us if there is a problem if we come to Him in a submissive attitude and heart for loving relationship. There’s no catch, no method, no special process to follow and He is not like the human ‘power people’ we have encountered.
Actually, God wants us to have a large part in determining our path; this is a call to choose the way of responsible citizenship in his kingdom rather than trying to manipulate Him and others.