Are We Ever Satisfied?
As I approached, the smoky haze from the Altar, hung suspended in the air between the Cloud of God and the people below. It provided a thick, grey canopy for a half-hearted penitent to hide under and avoid the gaze of God. The rope in my hand went taunt and knocked me off my hurried stride. The lamb I was bringing had found a patch of grass and decided to stop and nibble. “Come along” I said, jerking the leash, forcing the poor, unsuspecting animal closer to its date with death.
Finally I reached the center of the camp where the Tabernacle and the Altar were erected. The place was packed, no surprise there. People and animals were everywhere jostling for position. The air had a sickly smell of burning wood, roasting flesh and grain, blood, body odor and fresh animal droppings (never a nice “surprise” to step into). It was noisy. Animals bellowed, people talked and even argued about their place in line and the long wait. And every so often, the bone chilling wails of a terrified lamb and a heartbroken child being separated rang out, making my stomach turn and my temper flare. Why would God require an offering that grieved an innocent child just to make up for the mistake of its parents? On more than one occasion I chose my child over God. I don’t know if it was my own guilt or if the priest somehow knew. His look told me that he was not fooled and neither was God.
Even with the Cloud of God above, there was no escaping the heat generated by so many people and animals in the contained space. Between the smells, the hot, humid air and the long wait, I felt nauseous. The very first time I had to slay the lamb I almost fainted. I kill livestock for food all the time, but this was different. Not any more. I go and do what needs to be done, messy, inconvenient and expensive as it is, and get it over with….til the next time. The number of people needing to make sacrifices never seems to get any smaller. If all the laws and regulations are supposed to make us a holy people, something is not working. Surely there has to be something better than this.
Fast-forward a few thousand years.
As soon as I heard her voice, I cringed. The promise of a quiet Saturday morning spent washing and waxing my car dissolved at the sound of my neighbor, Mrs.
MacPherson’s voice. Elle, as she liked to be called, was a fixture in the neighborhood having lived here longer than most of the residents. Don’t misunderstand me, Elle is a great lady. An avid gardener, many yards on our block, including mine, have been the beneficiary of her generous contributions of plants and much needed advice. If you are sick, you can expect to receive a pot of delicious chicken soup along with a batch of fresh baked chocolate chip cookies. If there is an upside to being ill, this is it. Elle is always up on current events and is able to carry on an intelligent conversation, not a one-way diatribe, on almost any subject. We’ve spent many hours talking over the side yard fence, sipping ice tea (another of her specialties) and solving the world’s problems from hunger, peace and where will Peyton Manning play football next year (she likes Tim Tebow). Here in lies the rub; as much as I enjoy our chats she ALWAYS finds a way to bring up one subject that gets on my nerves, religion. She is the only person I know who can weave Jesus and God seamlessly into a discussion about plants or anything else for that matter.
Elle calls herself a Christian. I think she is a fanatic. She is more concerned about where I am going when I die than I am; not that I like to give the subject that much thought. She never fails to invite me to church or to bible study and I always decline graciously, of course. I’ve told her repeated I am not into church. I do believe in the
“Man Upstairs”, at least I hope He exists. I’m just not as good a person as Elle and I know it. Now I’m no closet axe murderer or some sort of pervert. I am definitely not one of those Wall Street types who con people out of their hard earned money to finance their high living. I admit I am no angel. I have fudged figures on my taxes when I thought I could get away with it. I have used my company's equipment to run off the softball league schedules instead of going to the local copy center. On occasion I drink toooo much. I do lose my temper with my wife and kids every now and then. What do you expect, I am only human. I am hoping that when I die, God will find that I have done a least a little more good than bad, tipping the scales in my favor so I am not “weighed in the balance and found wanting”. Before I do “come to Jesus” I will get my act together and clean up my life. “God help me get through another round with Elle!” I whispered under my breath. Wait a minute, did I just ask God to help me avoid a conversation that will ultimately be about Him? What kind of hypocrite am I?
This post is not so much about looking at a portion of the bible or a principle of God as it is reflecting on the nature of people. What a bunch of weirdoes we are. No matter what God does or says, we are not satisfied. We are always trying to do things our way, hoping to get God to come around to our way of thinking.
Under the Law of the Old Testament, sacrifices were mandatory. One of these was the “Sin Offering”. Each sacrifice had specific guidelines to be followed and met in order to be acceptable. In the case of the Sin Offering, a certain type of animal had to be slain and then offered on the Altar. This did not absolve the person’s sin, it was a way of “fessing up” and publicly acknowledging what you had done. It was only on the Day of Atonement that any sins were covered when the High Priest sprinkled blood on the Mercy Seat.
The whole purpose of the laws and regulations were to show people that no one based on their behavior met God’s standard for righteousness and holiness. The sacrifices were what we call “types and shadows”, sneak peeks so to speak, of what was necessary in order to get into God’s good graces. Going back to the first fictional character, he could have had the same dynamic relationship with God that Moses and Joshua experienced. David is a great example of this. David knew God so well that he had Divine insight into the meaning of the laws and sacrifices. He even took the bread from the Altar in the Tabernacle that was only for the priests and gave it to his men to eat without any fear of reprisals from God. He saw into the future to the crucifixion. Making sacrifices was not a burden or imposition for him. He gave lavishly, including a large portion of his personal fortune to build the temple under Solomon, his son. Because they either did not know or chose to ignore that they could know God like this too, people found ways to circumvent the system (as if God was clueless to their actions). Malachi 1:7-8 tells us that God knew all along that what was being offered was not always up to par, but was “blind, crippled and diseased.”
God, however, had a plan that would do away with the need for all this. He had His own perfect lamb that would die and its death would be all that would ever be needed to resolve the sin issue for once and for all. This was accomplished by Jesus’ death on the cross. All His anger and wrath was poured out on Jesus Who bore it for all of us. As far as God is concerned, the matter of sin is settled forever.
Under the New Testament, God through Jesus opened the door and invited us to “come as we are, warts and all.” You would think there would be a stampede of people rushing to take God up on this offer. The “not good enoughs” finally qualify. What is the typical response? “I’m not good enough!” The Saturday morning car washer does not realize that it is not about religion or going to church. There is no need for him to clean up his act before he “comes to Jesus”. God wants him right now in whatever condition he is in.
So here is the conundrum (that’s a nice five dollar word that means puzzle). When God required a sacrifice that had to be perfect, man responded with something substandard and defective. So, God solved that problem by giving His own Son as the ultimate perfect, once and for all offering, which opened the door for all of us to come in no matter what our lives were like (which are never going to be perfect). God is happy to receive us with all our shortcoming and deficiencies and how do we respond. Just like the car washer, “I’m not good enough!”
It seems that no matter what God does we have a way of complicating things and making a very simple matter complex. God took down the barriers and we built them right back up again. Why? I suspect we think we know what our lives will be like if we give it to Him…boring, no fun, drudgery. Who would want a life like that? We are so wrong. Jesus said that He came so we can have an “abundant life”. He also said, “EVERYTHING (emphasis mine) is possible to him who believes.” Does that sound dull and uninteresting? Not to me.
Instead of trying to reinvent the wheel, why don’t we just do things God’s way? He is not looking to create a bunch of mindless zombies who parrot a consistent line and act like robots. He is offering an opportunity to live a life without limitations, if we only believe. Why not take Him up on that offer.