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6“For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. 7It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, 8but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. – Deuteronomy 7

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I normally like to start these meditations with a narrative to create a picture of what I’m trying to illustrate. However, I feel if I were to do that here I’d be in danger of breaching so many copyright laws. You see, this is a narrative that pervades our culture and I’m going to use a single example to illustrate.

I went to see Thor: Ragnarok two weeks ago. Aside from it being awesome (seriously, best Marvel movie in a while) it was the first time I noticed something. Marvel has been owned by Disney since 2009, and what struck me when I thought about it this week is that the film isn’t far off from a typical Disney movie. (Warning: Spoilers ahead. If you haven’t seen the movie yet you might want to skip the next paragraph.)

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Thor is a cocky, self-assured, unperturbed hero whose world is suddenly thrown into chaos by the death of Odin, the return of his half-sister Hela and the destruction of his hammer, Mjolnir. Weakened, deflated, adrift, he winds up in a backwoods place merely existing until he realises his purpose again and, with the help of some fellow disillusioned-turned-good companions realises that the power was within himself all along, not in the hammer.

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I know, right? This is a plot lifted straight out of classic Disney, and our culture eats it up. The struggles in our lives, the problems that we face, the obstacles we have to overcome can be overcome if we just summon up the power that is within all of us. The magic, the Force, the ability to love again, it all (and more) can be found within ourselves and we love to be told that it is so.

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In Western thought, there have traditionally been two ways of thinking about human nature. One was explored by the philosopher Thomas Hobbes who said that the life of man, in its natural state, is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.” Therefore, according to this philosophy, evil is an internal component of the nature of man. The role of education, law, politics and even religion then is to restrain man’s natural instincts towards savagery.

1200px-jean-jacques_rousseau_28painted_portrait29The other way of considering human nature was explored by Jean-Jacques Rosseau in his treatise “The Social Contract” where he stated that “man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”. He posited that man was born not morally good, but born morally innocent.  It is then the role of education, law, politics, religion, etc., simply to help him towards choosing the good and shunning the evil. In this worldview, evil is a result of misery, of oppression. Some of the great social reformers throughout the last century were students of Rousseau philosophy. If we accept that mankind is by nature innocent, then our task to prevent evil is to encourage happiness and security and comfort for people so that they won’t be swayed into the misery that leads to criminality and evil. People have the good inside them, they just need to work on making themselves happier and more fulfilled in order to bring it out.

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The Bible not only sides with Hobbes, it goes further than Hobbes in some places. When the ruler addresses Jesus in Luke 18 as “good teacher”, Jesus responds with:

[Luk 18:19 ESV] 19 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.

This throws our Rousseauian culture out of sorts. This is one of the main reasons why people hate the gospel and it’s perhaps one of the main reasons why not a lot of people preach it. Our first instinct in any situation is to see ourselves as the injured party. Whenever anything goes wrong we want to shift blame. This was true for Adam in the garden of Eden and it’s true for Harvey Weinstein today. We are shamelessly and easily deceived by our heart’s ability to self-justify, or as God put it through the prophet Jeremiah:

[Jer 17:9 ESV] 9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?

We want to be the hero of the movie. The one who yea, struggles a bit, has some foibles that make him relatable. My crude comments make me a bit of a lad, but that lady I work with’s incessant jibing makes her unbearable! We are all waiting for that spark that is going to set us at the top, and we’re all looking within ourselves to find it like the Disney corporation said we should.

And what do we find instead? A wicked, deceitful cesspool that desires glory for ourselves and has no notion of ever seeking help.

 

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Courtesy of Adam4d.com

 

[Mic 7:2 ESV] 2 The godly has perished from the earth, and there is no one upright among mankind; they all lie in wait for blood, and each hunts the other with a net.

[Rom 3:10-18 ESV] 10 as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; 11 no one understands; no one seeks for God. 12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” 13 “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” 14 “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” 15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16 in their paths are ruin and misery, 17 and the way of peace they have not known.” 18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

This, according to the Bible is our state before God, and for it, we deserve nothing but his wrath.

[Psa 5:5 ESV] 5 The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers.

[Psa 11:5 ESV] 5 The LORD tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence.

[Eze 18:20 ESV] 20 The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.

So bad is the situation that God says that even those of us who do good things, even the most upright of people who are charitable, feeding the hungry, poor, visiting the sick and afflicted shall not earn any reprieve from the just wrath of God for their sin:

[Isa 64:6 ESV] 6 We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.

It’s against this painful backdrop that God has decided to shine his light. The Almighty Judge of Heaven and Earth has stepped down from the bench. He who could burn us up simply by a word of his mouth and be completely justified in doing so has chosen to show mercy. Not just to show mercy to helpless, oppressed victims like we pretend to be – but to show mercy to odious, rebellious, sin-loving creatures like you and me. There is absolutely nothing in us that could attract a holy God to us, yet, in his mercy, he has decided to save us.

[Rom 5:10 ESV] 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.

This is what is blessed about assurance. This is what is amazing about grace. This is our utter helplessness before a holy judge who has chosen to take our penalty and our punishment instead. Right from the Old Testament, in our reading in Deuteronomy 7, God makes it clear to the Israelites that they have been chosen not because they are of any value as a people by number or virtue – in fact, the story of Israel is one of almost constant failure in that department – but because God has loved them. We do not choose to love God, he first loved us. Not many wise, nor many powerful nor many noble are chosen. Just us – poor, blind, wretched sinners whom God in his grace has chosen to love despite our complete undeserving of it.

[Rom 5:6-11 ESV] 6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person–though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die– 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Yours in Christ, Ryan.

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