[Apr 06]--When God was “Kidnapped”

1 Samuel 4:1-11

The book of 1 Samuel starts out with a beautiful story about Hannah and how the Lord gave Samuel, the last Judge, to Israel for the first three chapters, but the writer makes it clear that the spiritual condition described in the book of Judges was still going downhill. They needed a leader to unite all of Israel, as the last verse of the book made clear, and the Lord heard the cries of godly people all over the nation and sent someone to do so ("Samuel" means “heard of God”). Chapters 4-5 echo Judges 18 in being comical and tragic at the same time, and for the same reasons.

The people had not been faithful to the Lord, and unfortunately the priesthood, instead of standing against the decline, participated and added to the problem. But when they faced the Philistines in battle, they wanted God “on their side” so they would have a chance at victory. Sadly they had a “magical” view of the Lord. What do I mean by this? Well, what is magic? It's an attempt to harness supernatural forces for your own ends by manipulating it to do what you desire. I use the term “forces” with a point in mind: In magic you're trying to tap into an inanimate force, almost like electricity. Think of a wizard: He uses potions, chanting of the right words, the right gestures, etc., to get what he wants; if he performs the right formula, he’ll succeed. I can't emphasize enough how different this is from the God of the Bible. He is not a force to be manipulated, he is a Person to whom we relate. We talk to him, and he talks to us. He has emotions, a will, memory, and desires. We do NOT attempt to manipulate him like a magician—we ask him for what we want, with the understanding that he might not grant our request in the way we expect.

Do you see how the Israelites were displaying a magical viewpoint? Is there any sign that they asked God about his plans? Did they ask him about whether they were being obedient to his word in their lifestyles (the answer would have been no)? No, they figured that as long as they had the Ark of the Covenant with them, God’s presence would be there and would give them victory. Of course, this didn’t work out well, BECAUSE MAGIC DOESN’T WORK! For all the good it did them, they might as well have brought a rabbit's foot and a 4-leaf clover out to the battlefield.

You know why I love the Raiders of the Lost Ark movie? Well, there are tons of reasons, but one of them is because it actually gets some of its theology right. The U. S. government agents and Indiana Jones at the beginning of the story are terribly worried that the Ark will fall to the Nazis, and unimaginable power will be placed in Hitler’s hands. The Nazis want to find and possess the Ark because they start from the same theological premises as the protagonists: The Ark is like a magical charm that will give supernatural power. Whoever (God?) is behind the power of the Ark can be manipulated and even forced into serving whoever possesses the Ark. This is a perfect example of the magical worldview we're describing. But what happens at the end of the film? The Nazis have captured our hero, and they're preparing to open the Ark using some Jewish-looking rituals. Dr. Jones, at the last minute, realizes that the God of Israel isn't a force like electricity and can't be manipulated into serving sinful people, and the Nazis--like the Israelites in today's reading--pay (in a pretty gruesome fashion) for their poor theology.

This is something that the typical modern American Christian seems to miss: Bad theology has really bad consequences. It really does matter what you believe. Ignorance might start out as bliss, but it doesn't end blissful.

How about you and me? Do you try to manipulate God into doing what you want? Do you think that he cares more about the exact wording of your prayer more than he cares about your obedience? Do you think your Bible is a “lucky charm”? Or do you actually connect to God as your Father, someone you can have a personal relationship with but who also knows SO much better than you do?

Father, you are so patient with me. Please change me, mold me into the likeness of your Son.

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