Monday, July 22, 2013

Deodorant, Incense, and the Will of God

I'm not from around here.  When I'm in America, it's my ignorance that makes it plain. Music, movies, TV shows, and all things slang elicit a baffled smile.  When I'm here in Asia, it's my hair.  I'm not too tall, too big, or too oddly dressed but that headful of disheveled brown hair marks me as clearly as a neon sign, "Not from around here!"

I'm cool with it.  

I have the joy of a peculiar perspective.  I look in from the outside.  I'm no longer an "insider" in either culture, and thus what is invisible to others is plain to me.  For instance, did you know that Americans smell like deodorant?  After months away from perfume, deodorant, and cologne, my nose can sniff out an American 10 minutes after their passing (no exaggeration!).  

There are other plain things.  For instance, I can see the plain longing to know the will of God written large in both cultures.  Here I see incense inserted into the sand of an altar, the smell wafting up to the nose of a silent god.  Here I see charms wrapped round the necks and wrists of small children in the hopes that somehow the physical symbol will bring safety and health to the vulnerable.  Here I see the futile, desperate and superstitious attempts to placate the dangerous deities all around.  Informed by tradition but admittedly ignorant, everyone just wants the gods to hear and obey.

But not in America right?  Things are different at home, right?  Maybe not.  When I'm home I not only see people participating in strangely similar behaviors (consulting horoscopes, lighting candles, burning incense, wearing medals etc), but I also see them reaching in every direction for ways to make their world better.  People invest in medicine and doctors and participate blindly in each new fad to protect their health.  People go to therapists, read self-help books, and complain about low self-esteem. They pour their lives into marriages, families and relationships. They go to classes to learn to be rich, optimistic, out-going and successful.  And who can blame them?  People just want things to go their way.

And when things go wrong?  Culture aside, when things go wrong, people stare up at the unblinking sky and curse.  They demand that someone explain why they are being punished.  They wonder what they did wrong or what they didn't do right.  Why doesn't someone just explain it all huh?

Moses asked it first and Micah echoed, "What does the Lord require of you?" (Deuteronomy 10:12, Micah 6:8).  What on earth does God want anyway?

Here's the good news.  He told us.  Moses and Micah said that God wanted our humility, our mercy and kindness poured out on our neighbors, and our genuine love. The fact that he told us, that the Lord of the universe was pleased to let us in on what it takes to make him happy is nothing but grace. 

In fact, Paul says so directly. "In all wisdom and insight He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth" (Ephesians 1:8-10).

Did he leave us all in our ignorance, casting around for how to live the good life, how to feel about ourselves, or how to be truly successful? Did he leave us desperately searching for safety in sacrifice, incense, beads of prayer? No! He freely, generously, graciously told us what to do.

The revelation of God wasn't a singular event.  He walked with Adam and Enoch; He spoke to Abraham and Jacob; He gave Moses his name, his law, and the right to argue him into changing his mind.  When the law failed to change the hearts of the people, he sent judges, priests, prophets and kings.  He didn't just let us in on what he wanted, he shouted it from the rooftops.

He still wasn't done.  God's grace seems to be depthless.  Finally, to get our attention he didn't speak through a representative.  Breaking the intimacy of an eternity, he sent his own son for full disclosure.  What could be more revealing than the nearly naked King hanging on a cross begging his Father to forgive the people who were killing him?  And the message?  Same as it's always been.  Be as humble, as full of love, as devoted as the one dying here.

Peter names God's grace "manifold"; aspect upon aspect of it reveal themselves to our wondering eye.  Surely this is a much neglected one.  God's grace is that he revealed his mysterious will - in the law, in incarnation, and in his word.  In this grace is given all we need to please the Lord, to pray effectively to the one who can help us, to find our purpose, our fulfillment, and true and abundant life.  In grace all is revealed. 

Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE(R), Copyright(c) 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

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