by Paul Earhart
In his little book, Jesus Rediscovered, Malcolm Muggeridge has confided that his earliest memory was of walking down the road in someone else’s hat and wondering who he was. In a real sense the whole of humanity is walking down that same road, tormented by the same question. The question is built-in. The answer is not. In order to be whole we need to know who we are and what is expected of us, but only God knows that. Men, being creatures, cannot answer such questions. American poet Theodore Roethke expresses in haunting words this profound human yearning:
“I close my eyes to see,
I bleed my bones, their marrow to bestow
Upon that God who knows what I would know.”
Denying the existence of God not only solves nothing but reduces man to utter meaninglessness. Accepting by faith that God exists and wants men to seek Him (Hebrews 11:6), and that God has spoken to us in His Son (Hebrews 1:1-2) opens up all kinds of blessed possibilities. It is wisdom to listen reverently and learn our duty well.
“What does God expect from us?” It was evident from the very beginning that man, made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27), was expected to honor his Creator with due reverence. God expected worship, but worship of a particular kind. Cain could tell you about that (Genesis 4:3-5). Not everything went. The foundation for worship had to be faith and the proper expression of faith was obedience (Hebrews 11:4). Saul, Israel’s first king, learned an important lesson about worship (1 Samuel 15). He was told to utterly destroy the flocks and herds of the Amalekites but convinced himself that to spare some of the animals for sacrifice to God would somehow counter-vail his act of disobedience. He learned otherwise. As Samuel said to a chastened Saul, “Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice” (1 Samuel 15:22). The God who made us does want worship (a needed lesson for the prayerless moralist), but He wants more. He wants a spirit of faith and absolute trust. We need to be very sure that what we offer to God in worship is not in itself an act of rebellion.
What does God want from me?” The Old Testament prophets also speak to that question. When Israel complains of the impossibility of pleasing God however the many sacrifices offered, Micah responds that God’s expectations are clear and attainable but they constitute far more than burnt-offerings (“do justly . . . love mercy. . . walk humbly with thy God.” 6:6-8). Even more pointed is the announcement by Isaiah and Amos of Jehovah’s deep revulsion at the hypocritical shallowness of His people’s worship (Isaiah 1:11-15; Amos 5:21-23), and the call for repentance from day-to—day ungodliness (Isaiah 1:16-17). “Let justice roll down as waters,” urged Amos, “and righteousness as a mighty stream” (5:24).
Jeremiah’s powerful sermon delivered at the temple gate makes clear that God had not delivered Israel from Egypt just to multiply sacrifices but to produce a people wholly obedient to His will (7:21-23). Hosea had earlier made the same point in words which Jesus was later to quote—”l desire goodness and not sacrifice and the knowledge of God more than burnt-offerings” (6:6; Matthew 9:13).
The message of the prophets is specially epitomized in Jesus’ conversation with a scribe who inquired of Him which commandment was “the first of all” and was told the greatest command was “thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart.” When the scribe commended the answer by saying that loving God with all one’s heart was surely “much more than all whole burnt·offerings and sacrifices” Jesus observed that he was “not far from the kingdom of God (Mark 12:28-34).
It is very important to note that in the foregoing passages it is not being said that sacrificial offerings were unnecessary under the law, or that the law with its animal sacrifices were being done away. What both Jesus and the prophets were saying is that acts of worship, even those commanded by God, are not the point of it all. God did not deliver Israel so that they could offer sacrifices and Jesus did not die so Christians could sing psalms and eat the Lord’s Supper. We must not make the means the end. God wants worship, and He wants it according to His will, but He wants more. He wants our lives, our very selves.
What is the lesson here? Do not try to turn God away from getting what He wants by offering a part for the whole—frequent church-going, money, or even zealous evangelism. The heart is hiding in whatever thing or attitude or practice we refuse to yield to Him. God does not always enter by the doors we open because what He is seeking is not behind them. The thing He wants from us is the one thing He has no power to take—our hearts —but He has moved in great wisdom to draw us to Him willingly. He has loved us beyond all measure in Christ and ”we love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).
CHRISTIANITY MAGAZINE MARCH, 1984