Sunday, July 31, 2016

The Gospel According to Leviticus

This may appear a bit non-sequitur for some who read what I write, but I'm leading the evening Bible study at our church for the next two or three weeks while my pastor is away on vacation and study leave. Tonight we're reading Leviticus 5:1-13 together and I wrote the following reflection on it for the study. I figured I'd share it here since I'm not likely to be writing anything else today.


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When we read the Bible, we can be struck by two equally wrong ideas about God. The first idea is that God does not care how we live because he knows we cannot live how he desires. This idea leads us to cling to Jesus as a “feel good” saviour, the parent who picks us up from jail without trying to help us change. The second idea is that God tells us how to live without considering how we will do it, and so it’s up to us to just figure it out on our own so we may please him. In this situation Jesus is a distant and uncaring saviour who we call from prison only to hear “figure it out yourself. You’re an adult”. Neither one of these pictures is good news.

            When we read Leviticus, it may be tempting to read the rituals surrounding the mechanics of sacrifice or what animals are supposed to be offered for which kinds of sins, and dismiss it as background to which Christians are supposed to be glad they don’t have to deal with.
But God’s instructions for how his people and his Priests in Israel should worship give us more than that. One thing they give us is glimpses into how God is showing his goodness even as he gives the Levitical laws, and how we see this goodness continue through Jesus.

            I find the Gospel in this passage in the words “If he cannot afford as much as a sheep(7)” and “If he cannot afford two doves or two pigeons(11)”. To me these words are good news because they show me that God cares how I live. They are also good news because they show me that God wants me to be able to live the way he asks. In ancient times where you ate what you grew with your flocks and your fields, asking the people to sacrifice animals for their sins was an incredible test of faith. In his commentary, Gordon Wenham says “In the overfed West we can easily fail to realize what was involved in offering an unblemished animal in sacrifice. Meat was a rare luxury in OT times for all but the very rich (cf. Nathan’s parable [about the sheep told to David after he slept with Bathsheeba and killed Uriah] 2 Samuel 12:1-6).[1]” If it was a luxury for the rich and the common people, it would have been a hardship for the poor to try and raise or afford an animal to sacrifice for their sins.

            And so there is this consideration within the text. God desires faith in sacrifice from his people, but he does want to starve them or impoverish them. He has allowances for those who cannot offer the sheep to offer birds, or if they could not afford that then a few pounds of flour (a tenth of an Ephah would be about seven pounds). If we think back to the two false pictures of Jesus I mentioned at the beginning, neither one would need these exceptions. If God didn’t care if we lived how he wanted because of Jesus saving work, then he needn’t have bothered to make it possible for the poor to sacrifice for their sins. If God made his pronouncements with the expectations that we would figure it out, then he wouldn’t have been so compassionate in considering how his people would make a living.

            So from Leviticus 5:1-13 I learn this. God cares deeply about how we live. Deeply enough that he sent his Son to teach us how we should live and share with us what the kingdom of God is like. God also wants to make a way for us to live the kingdom out now. That is why he sends his Spirit to us to live in us and enable us to walk more and more in his ways each step of every day.



[1] Gordon Wenham, The Book of Leviticus (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979), 51.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Incentives

I am fascinated by incentives. The carrots that people dangle in front of each other to get them to do things they might not otherwise do. The book "Freakonomics" is sort of obsessed with this idea that if we provide the right incentive, we can get people to do just about anything. I'm not sure I follow their logic as closely as it seems to reek of enlightenment thinking that suggests man is just a machine that follows social laws and can be understood, but I do agree that incentives are a powerful tool for understanding why we do the things that we do.

Like for example I don't read books unless it is for school (generally speaking of course. There are exceptions to this because I don't believe people respond only to incentives remember), but when it's for school I will push myself to read just about anything even if I find it either boring or terribly written or I find the ideas within to be ridiculous. There's an incentive (usually a grade for a course that I had to pay real money for) that gets me to do something.

While incentives are interesting and fascinating to find and understand, they do take some of the mystery out of life once you find them. Like imagine introducing your hobbies because of incentives.

"Hi, I'm Ben and I like to garden because the incentives it provides are appealing to me."