Yeshwanth Bakkavemana

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The Church’s response to Homosexuality

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Introduction:

Hunger, thirst, anger, aggression and procreation are basic instincts of animal world and as well as to humans. It is only the “cognitive reasoning” separates humanity from the rest of the animal world. Theological scholars opine that the “image of God” is nothing but the “cognitive reasoning” faculty in human beings. However, there are some differences of opinions regarding this issue. Nevertheless, “cognitive reasoning” is one of the aspects of the “image of God.”  The other aspect of the “image of God” is consciousness of morality and ethics. After the fall our relationship with God has been distorted. So also our relationship with one another and with the nature leading to the disposition of our morality and ethics. God created us with these basic instincts which would assist us in our day-to-day living. Sex is an act of procreation. God created this for us to have pleasure and to perpetuate our generation. For God it is holy and sacred but we have perverted it and desacrileged it. However, God in his redemptive plan redeemed us from this bondage too. We, who are saved by his grace, share the same responsibility with God. In today’s context, church is the vehicle of missions. Therefore, it is an obligation to address these issues. Homosexuality is one such issue which needs our immediate response and action. As a Church how do we have to respond? What are the things we need to know in order to counsel homosexuals? In order to know what is homosexuality we need to understand “sexuality.”

Sexuality:

Human sexuality is nothing but our own perception of male and female. Many psychoanalytic studies have shown that our perception about our own sexuality depends on our personality development inside the family, society and culture. According to Sigmund Freud, our personality development starts from the early childhood. Therefore, family plays a major role in this development process. Any distortion in this development process may create confusion and later on leads to conflict within the child. Father’s figure and mother’s figure would contribute the necessary traits for the personal development of the child. The Child learns the sense of wrong and right through family institution. So, family plays a vital role in the wholistic development of the Child.

Society:

Society is “sitz-im-leben” of this family institution. It is in the context of society a family functions. The basic norms of the society inform the family institution and condition it as of how to function. If these basic norms itself are jeopardized, then it jeopardizes the functionality of the family. This in turn would affect child’s personality development. This is due to lack of discernment to make out what is wrong and right in the midst of growing unnatural tendencies within the individuals of the society. In India, Sati was once approved by the society and the family. This is one of such events where society and family were jeopardized.

Homosexuality:

Now, Homosexuality is one such tendency that grew over the period of time. The word “homo” is from Greek word which means “same.” Homosexuality means “sexual orientation towards the same sex.” Sexual orientation towards the same sex may be triggered due to distortion in the perception of Child’s sexuality due to family problems. The other reason could be sexual abuse by the family members of the same sex. Some scientists say that the homosexual tendencies are due to genetic disposition and there are other scientists say it is purely psychological disposition. However, we have no evidence regarding both tentative views. We cannot say it is by Choice also as some of the scientists point out.

Often those with homosexual feelings were ostracized, rejected and alienated by the society and religion. These homosexuals become insecure and they try to confine themselves to the people group of same feelings. When these people group forms into a community, eventually they fight for recognition, identity and their freedom of choice. This is where the term “homosexuality” picks up political connotation. We have seen many anit-gay movements and protests against government to legalize “same sex” marriage. Indeed many countries gave in. Recently, Argentina (the first Latin American state) legalized “gay-marriage.” Before this we have Belgium, Canada, Iceland, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, South Africa and Sweden. We have seen surge of such happenings not only in secular world but also in the Churches. Churches started ordaining “gay” bishops. Now being gay is no more a taboo but a privilege.

Homosexuality in India:

In India the topic of ‘sex’ itself is a taboo. We can estimate the gravity of this issue in India. This issue is no more a taboo in India. The constitution of India under IPC section 377 criminalized homosexuality. It says, “whosoever has carnal intercourse voluntary against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or imprisonment for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall be liable to fine.” From this statement and from the Christian point of view, we can say that God has given gift of discernment to all- the ability to discern wrong from right. This leads us to conclude that this code which was framed in 1860 by those men and women who were able to discern wrong from right. But slowly this scenario has changed radically. On June 28th, 2009 this law was amended and decriminalized this 150 year old law. It decriminalized homosexuality. What is the reason for amending this age old law. On July 2nd, 2009, the Delhi High court ruled that the law outlawing homosexual acts was “discriminatory and a violation of fundamental rights.”

Bench of Chief justice Ajit prakash Shah, and justice S Muralidhar said that if this law is not amended, section 377 of IPC would violate article 21 of the Indian constitution. This article states that every citizen has equal opportunity of life and is equal before law. Though the government announced its intention to decide on this issue after consulting Church and other religious representatives gave a sense of victory to some major gay right activists.

Church’s response:

What does Bible say about Homosexuality? The Bible strongly condemns any perversion of sex. It is explicitly condemned in Old and New testaments. For refrences- Lev. 18: 22, Lev, 20: 13, Det. 20: 17, Romans. 1: 26, 27, 1 cor. 6: 9-11. It is considered as abomination. Some Biblical scholars say that it is purely by choice one opts to be a homosexual. We have scientists on the other hand who would contradict this, saying that it is psychological disposition. There are few others who say that it is genetic problem. Still we have quite number of scientists who say that the reason for becoming homosexual is a mystery. Whether it is a choice or psychological disposition, the Bible clearly condemns homosexuality. The root cause of this is because of our “falleness.”

Keeping in mind that all have fallen short of glory, what should be the response of the church as we call it “visible KOG?” The response of the Church according to Garry R. Collin is “understanding rather than condemnation, help instead of rejection, acceptance but not debate…” I add one more to it, i.e., “love.” We need to confront in love.

How do we do this?

1. Awareness in the society:

Rev. Dr. Richard Howell said, “the church must have enough information designed to correct the misunderstandings in the society that same sex attraction is genetically determined and unchangeable.” As a Church we need to have enough resources and as well as understanding on this issue. This responsibility is not confined to pastors and elders but individuals of the congregation should feel responsible. A pastor and his elders should be able to motivate the congregation to confront homosexuality within the church and outside the church.

2. Counseling:

Most of the homosexuals feel that they were rejected, not loved but hated and discriminated. Now, a counselor should be able to convince them that they are accepted and loved. How do we make them to feel accepted and loved? It is by listening to them and responding to them in an amicable way. The other way is to let him/ her to have fellowship within the Church.

Conclusion:

Christ died for heterosexuals, bi-sexuals, homosexuals and transgenders. He boldly proclaimed the truth yet he did this in love. He did not hate the sinner but he hated sin. We need to incorporate this attitude in our approach. According to Eph. 4 : 15 which says, “speaking the truth in love…” we have to speak against homosexuality but we have to do it with love and in love. The Church needs all together a different and new strategy- a “radical approach” to address this issue within the church, society and world at large.

I just want to provoke your thinking by raising some questions. Are we, so called “Christians” thinking about this issue seriously? Is it not our missional obligation? Are we confined only to the academia? What is the point of studying theology if it is not being used? I, myself asked these questions and I felt guilty. Where am I heading to? We can easily be deaf, dumb and blind towards these issues and be confined to these four walls studying God’s word. The harvest is full and reapers are few. The harvest is waiting outside these four walls. The mission field is awaiting us. Let us join our hands to reap this harvest and bring God’s salvation and love by reaching out to these brothers and sisters who are in need of help, who doesn’t even know they need help. Let’s take Christ’s love to them.

Psalm 23: An Exegetical Essay from Leadership Perspective

Psalm 23

An Exegetical Essay From Leadership Perspective

By

YESHWANTH.B. V

 

I. Introduction

Psalm 23 is a very profound and pastoral Psalm that might have assured and comforted us in times of distress. This Psalm basically talks about the care, providence and protection assured by God to the believers and this gives every reason for the believers to rejoice and celebrate in thanksgiving. This is something that has been portrayed through the mixture of metaphorical language merged with the realities of life. To have a deeper and comprehensive understanding of Psalm 23, we will first look into the worked out translation from the Hebrew text and then we will analyse its form, structure and setting. We will also pick up some keywords in the passage and we will analyse them and see that how these keywords enhances the meaning of the passage. We will also propose an exegetical outline which will be later elaborated in the paper. We would also look into the theology of this Psalm and apply this to the contemporary idea of leadership. We would also look at Psalm 23 from a Sensus plenor approach to draw a complete meaning of this Psalm.

II. Translation

Psalm 23

1 A melody of[1] David.

Yahweh is my shepherd, I shall not lack (I shall not be in want).

2 In Pastures of grown grass,

He shall cause me to lie down,

By the water of resting-place,

He shall lead me with care. (He shall lead me to a state of rest)

3 My soul (life) he restores (he shall bring to a state of life),

He shall cause to lead me in the paths of righteousness for the sake of his name.

4 Even though I shall walk in the midst of valley of death shadow,

I shall not fear,

For you are with me,

Your rod and your staff,

They comfort me.

5 You arrange (prepare), indeed before me,

A table (weapon) in front of my adversaries,

You cause yourself to anoint me with the oil,

(And) my cup overflows.

6Surely goodness and loving kindness (your loving kindness) shall follow me,

All (the) days of my life,

And I shall dwell/ returns in the house of Yahweh,

For long days. (Forever).

II. Form

The form of Psalm 23 generally can be classified as Psalm of trust or Psalm of confidence.[2] However, there is no consensus among scholars. Kraus points out to L. kohler who opines that Psalm 23 is a “continuously uniform hymn”[3] with predominant imagery of the Lord as shepherd. Kraus observes a transition of Psalm 23 from being a prayer song to a thanksgiving song of an individual.[4] The reason is because of the confessional tone in vv. 2-3. According to Bruggeman’s classification, this Psalm can be categorized as the Psalms of orientation.

1. classification and explanation of genre

There are many differences among the scholars about the genre of the Psalm 23. Some scholars opine that this Ps. 23 is s Psalm of thanksgiving. Some, they proposed that this Psalm is a Psalm of confidence and trust, a royal Psalmody. However, this Psalm seems to be a Psalm of faith and confession or a confession of Faith by the people of Israel. It resonate Yahweh’s role in the Exodus redemption. We can therefore classify this Psalm as hymn which portrays the trust, confidence and protection in Yahweh’s shepherding care. This Psalm can be classified as a hymn because as we see some allusions of sanctuary of God, and a reference to cultic meal.

III. Structutre

The structure of Psalm can be divided in to two main sections- 1. The Lord as shepherd (Ps. 23: 1-4) and 2. The Lord as host (Ps. 23: 5—6). Ron Tappy considers V. 1 as an introduction of the theme of the passage and v. 6 as the closure of the passage.[5] V. 1, 4, 6 are very strategic and self-contained verses which holds the whole Psalm together in terms of the transition of the image of Yahweh from being a shepherd to being a host and also a “passage”[6] from one situation of an individual life to another situation. Some scholars do disagree with this idea of transition of the imagery as they opine that the imagery of the shepherd is retained in Vv. 5-6.[7] A tripartite structure of the Psalms 23 was proposed as the Lord who was depicted before the Psalmist (Vv.1-3), The Lord with the Psalmist (V. 4), and the Lord following the Psalmist (Vv. 5-6).[8] The structure of the Psalm 23 can be divided as

I. The role of Yahweh as a shepherd (Vv. 1-4)

II. Experience of contentment, trust and confidence in Yahweh through the vicissitudes of life (Vv. 5-6)

Let us closely observe the structure of the psalm. Vv. 1-3- Yahweh as shepherd who is mentioned in third person (a); v. 4 – Yahweh as shepherd who is mentioned in 2nd person (b); v. 5- Yahweh as host who is mentioned in 2nd person (b’); Yahweh as shepherd who is mentioned in third person (a’). We have observed this by looking at how Psalmist referred to Yahweh. The structure of the Psalm then is abb’a’.

If we see from a thematic point of view:

Vv. 1-3- Shepherding care (a)

V. 4. Protection given by the shepherd (b)

Vv. 5a and 6a- protection and hospitality (b’)

Vv. 5b and 6b- protection and hospitality (a’)

The structure is then abb’a’. This is a rhetorical structure in which the role of Yahweh is emphasized.[9]

IV. Setting

It is difficult to place Psalm 23 to one particular setting as it is very ambiguous. However, there are some hypothetical proposals in relation to the setting of this Psalm. These hypothetical explanations can be classified as cultic, non-cultic, pilgrimage, royal interpretation and exilic setting. It can be of a cultic setting as we see in v. 6 a reference to the “house of the Lord” which can also presume a pilgrimage setting.[10] Therefore this Psalm can also be called as “Psalm of Pilgrimage.”[11] The other probable setting of this song is that of an exilic time. This may well be the reason we see a movement towards the temple, most probably for a feast.[12] With the mention of enemies in V. 5, we may assume a setting where the Psalmist was protected from enemies by Yahweh and out of that experience he thanks Yahweh. From Mowinckel’s point of view we can classify this Psalm as a “song of thanksgiving.”[13]

Keeping in view the said arguments regarding the setting of Psalm 23, I would like to classify this Psalm to a setting of an individual’s journey of life in which he/she is confident of Yahweh’s shepherding protection, care and also guidance. This breaks forth into a longing for worship among the people of God in the temple.

V. Analysis of the keywords

A. Lexical data

1. רעה– “to lead; cause to graze, guard.”

The Qal participle form of the above word can be translated as “shepherd.”[14] It is used 168 times in qal form in OT. In a larger context of AWA, this word is used for kings and rulers.[15] This metaphor of “shepherd” has been used as a title for the kings and gods in Mesopotamian, and Egyptian but this word differs in meaning in Greece as we see there are variant words used for this metaphor.[16] The other meaning for this word is “to get involved with” as in Hos. 12: 2; 2 Kgs. 10: 12.[17] We see this word in “shepherd” chapters (Ezk. 34; 23:7” 24; Zech. 11). Depending on the subject and object there are variant translations of this verb in Qal.[18]

a)      Sub: people- “to drive cattle to pasture, let graze, pasture.” (Gen. 29: 7; 30: 31, 36 etc)

b)     Abs- “to be a shepherd, to guard” esp in ptcpl (Gen. 37: 2, 13, 16; 1 Sam. 16: 11 etc).

c)      Fig: “to guard (people), to govern (2 Sam. 7: 7= 1Chron. 17: 6; Jer. 3: 15 etc)

d)     Personified- Sub- “to nourish, refresh” etc (Hosea 9: 2, threshing floor and winepress; Prov. 10: 21).

i. Metaphorical usage

The metaphor of “shepherd” in Psalm 23 can be understood from religious and cultural point of view. In a community where the economy is mainly dominated by farming and rearing cattle, the title “shepherd” is very common title that can easily be attributed to God, King and authorities in general.[19] This usage of the title is very old that goes back to patriarchal religions (Isa. 63: 11; Jer. 13: 17; 23: 1-4; 31: 10; 50: 19, Ezek. 34: 11 ff). However, Wallis opines that the metaphor “shepherd” was used hesitantly to connect with leadership.[20] In other words the word “shepherd” as title was never used for a king in Israel, as there are no such evidences of such usage.[21] However, we do see an explicit expression of Yahweh as a shepherd which presents us a high probability of such usage for the leadership in Israel.

2. נחל– “to lead, guide.”

The Lexical meaning of the above word is “lead, guide to a watering-place or station and cause to rest there; bring to a station or place of rest.”[22]  This particular word is used in Isaiah 40: 11 and Psalm 23: 2 which portrays the helpless state of the sheep which depend on the providence and the care of the Shepherd. Another meaning of this word is “lead to a watering-place, and cause to rest there with subject as Shepherd (Isa. 49: 10, Ps. 23: 2, Isa. 40: 11).[23] In other words this word means to “give rest or bring to rest.”[24]

3. נחה- Lead, guide

This verb in Qal and Hip means “to lead/ guide.” Its Arab equivalent means “to wend one’s way…turns go into the direction.”[25] To talk more precisely as per the Psalm 23: 3, it can mean “Yahweh self initiation to lead his sheep in a right way.” The word, in this particular context highlights the action of the Shepherd to lead his flock in a right way. Therefore the word can be interpreted as to “lead someone in the right way, show someone the right way.”[26] We see a poetic parallelism in the usage of the two different words which sound similar – נהל in Ps. 23: 2 and נחה- in Ps. 23: 3. This word encompasses past, present and future dimensions. This word is used in the wilderness stories where God has led the people of Israel in the wilderness. In Psalm 23: 3, this word connotes a confession of trust which depicts Yahweh as the upholder of those who laments. This also has an anticipatory dimension of Yahweh’s “protective accompaniment.”[27] The context of this verb’s usage is its application of shepherd image to Yahweh.  This verb is used in parallel to רעה (Ps.23: 2); 31: 4 parallel to 77: 21- “like a flock”; 78: 72. Antonym- “to lead astray.”- (Jer. 50: 6).

B. Dictionary data

1. רעה– “to lead; cause to graze, guard.”

The word רֹעִי (participle) occurs 60 times in Old Testament. The primary meaning of this word is “feed.” The later versions translated this verse as “kept” as in Gen. 29: 9 (KJV and RSV), then to “tend” (JPS). However, there is a great degree of confusion among the translators of different versions regarding this word. The actual meaning of this word is “pastured” or “herded.”

In the Ancient Near Eastern culture this word is used to qualify the ability of a king who “pastures” his people. “Shepherd” is an attribute that is ascribed to God which is a mark of OT offices of Prophet, Priest and King. This paradigm of “shepherding” has to be maintained. Any failure to fulfil this role is viewed as a gross transgression (Ezek. 24: 2ff). Isa. 40: 11 portrays God as a caring and loving shepherd. This theological idea of Good shepherd in OT (Jer. 3: 15) becomes prominent in NT (Jh. 10: 11).

2. נחל– “to lead, guide.”

This verb here in piel or Hithpael connotes a meaning of “shepherd’s loving concern” in leading his flock. The basic meaning of this root is “leading by the hand (Isa. 51: 18) – to lead someone who is helpless. The other basic meaning which is parallel to רעה connotes the loving care of the Shepherd who would carry the lambs in his arms (Isa. 40: 11).

3. נחה

The root of this word means “conducting one’s path in a right path.” It occurs 39 times. It also means “to heard” to a predetermined destination. It is used equally with the verb “to lead tenderly (Ps. 31: 3; Job. 31: 18).” This verb points out to the destination also. It means that “God going before and showing the way.” (Ps. 5: 8, Prov. 6: 22; Prov 11: 3; Ps. 67: 4; Ps. 31: 3).

VI. Synthesis of the passage

A. Exegetical outline

1. Psalmist’s contentment in Yahweh’s providential care. V.1

a. Yahweh’s providential care. V.1 a

b. Psalmist’s contentment. V. 1 b

2. Yahweh’s loving care in the vicissitudes of life of the Psalmist. V.2 

a. Yahweh’s loving care. V. 2a

b. Yahweh’s leading through the vicissitudes of life. V. 2b

3. Yahweh’s restoration of psalmist’s life and guidance into the right paths.

a. Psalmist’s life restored by Yahweh. V. 3a

b. Psalmist is guided into right paths by Yahweh. V. 3b

4. Psalmist’s security in Yahweh’s presence V. 4

            a. Fearlessness in death 4a

b. Yahweh’s presence as a reason to be fearless. 4b

5. Psalmist’s security from adversaries in the presence of Yahweh V. 5

            a. Psalmist’s confidence of Yahweh’s protection in the future V. 5b

b. Celebration of Yahweh’s protection. V. 5c

6. Psalmist’s assurance of and gratitude to Yahweh’s providential care.  V. 6

            a. Psalmist’s self-assurance of Yahweh’s protection V. 6a

b. Psalmist anticipation to rejoice in the temple V. 6b

VII. Theological analysis

The OT theology of Shepherding role of Yahweh has completely been fulfilled in Christ. In John 10: 11- 18 Jesus explains more explicitly about the role of a “Good shepherd.” He himself being the gate (Jh. 10: 7), he was able to lead the sheep into his fold and thereby giving them protection, contentment and assurance of hope both individually to the people of Israel and also to those who are not of his fold. Here, NT theology of a good shepherd goes an extra mile than OT theology of a good shepherd. OT theology is of Jewish particularity to universality of all. Therefore the role of Yahweh as a good shepherd is fulfilled in Christ who extended this role to all the peoples of the earth. (Jh. 10: 16).

VIII. Expository explanation

I.  Psalmist’s contentment in Yahweh’s providential care. V.1

            Psalm 23 starts with the Tetragramaton “יְהוָה” and the same word occurs at the end (v. 6) which would form an inclusion.[28] The main theme of this psalm is Yahweh as shepherd to his flock. The metaphor of Shepherd is used to project a relationship and also Yahweh’s providential care to his sheep. The phrase “I shall not lack” points out to Psalmist’s contentment in Yahweh’s providential care. In other words this verse is a faith affirmation of Psalmist who lacks nothing as a consequence of being in the shepherding care of Yahweh.

2. Yahweh’s loving care in the vicissitudes of life of the Psalmist. V.2 

If we observe Hebrew translation and NRSV translation we find significant differences. In NRSV the phrase “he makes me lie down” sounds so superficial because it is not so clear about the state of condition of the Psalmist. But the wooden translation of this phrase throws more light into it. The appropriate translation would be “he shall cause me to lie down.” What does it mean? It points out to the helpless condition of the Psalmist to help himself. It is God who “causes” him to lie down. So, therefore it is not David’s effort to act but it is God’s act of grace and care caused him to lie down in green pastures.  The word “נחל” which means “to lead or to guide.” This is not just leading or guiding. Here, we see a priestly care of looking back and leading by the hand. This verb here in piel or Hithpael connotes a meaning of “shepherd’s loving concern” in leading his flock. The basic meaning of this root is “leading by the hand (Isa. 51: 18) – to lead someone who is helpless. The other basic meaning which is parallel to “רעה” connotes the loving care of the Shepherd who would carry the lambs in his arms. (Isa. 40: 11).

3. Yahweh’s restoration of psalmist’s life and guidance into the right paths. V. 3

NRSV translation misses the “causative” aspect. It simply says “he restores my soul,” and “he leads me in …” It doesn’t present the state of condition. The Hebrew wooden translation gives us a vivid picture. This verse means God brings Psalmist’s life to a state of life and he causes him to walk in the paths of righteous. It is God’s act. Psalmist was is in helpless state of condition but it is God who causes him to come to a state of life and who causes him to walk in the paths of righteous just as God did to the people of Israel in the wilderness. To understand this phenomenon we need to understand the word “נחה.” This word means “conducting one’s path in a right direction, going before to show the right path.” This needs confrontation whenever we go astray. This same word is used as an antonym in Jer. 50: 6- “to lead astray.” So, God acts as a “shepherding- prophet” who by himself confronts us when we go astray and causes us to walk in righteous paths by making a way before us.

4. Psalmist’s security in Yahweh’s presence V. 4

This verse portrays a precariousness of life and also Psalmist’s trust in God’s shepherding protection and care in such times. The expression “death shadow” is a metaphor closely associated with the Shepherd and his flock. This may simply means “total darkness” in the events of life. This expression as a metaphor may also conveys the wilderness experience of the people of Israel.[29] The rod and staff are used to drive away wild animals and also to control the sheep respectively.[30]These two can be understood as the symbols of authority and defensive tool in leading the flock.

5. Psalmist’s security from adversaries in the presence of Yahweh V. 5

This verse serves as a transition of imagery of Yahweh as shepherd to Yahweh as host in the midst of Psalmist’s adversaries. This verse also serves as mixture of metaphorical language in Vv. 1-4 and reality of life in vv. 5-6. It may well be assumed that Psalmist by reminiscing the redemptive acts of Yahweh in the past, he anticipates God’s hospitality as a shepherd and as host in the midst of Psalmist’s adversaries. The phrase “You cause yourself to anoint me with the oil” conveys a meaning of a “traditional anointing ceremony of preparation”[31] or it may also mean host pouring out oil on the guest’s head.[32] Either ways both convey a joyous situation or a celebration of Psalmist as he reminisces and anticipates Yahweh’s unfailing love which he is experiencing at the present which is conveyed in the phrase “(And) my cup overflows.”

6. Psalmist’s assurance of and gratitude to Yahweh’s providential care. V. 6

            The saving presence of Yahweh in the past and the present gave rise to confidence of Yahweh’s unfailing love to the Psalmist. This was well expressed in the covenantal terms like הסד loving kindness. In other words the God who bountifully dealt with the Psalmist in the past and present would continue to do so in the future.[33] This gives every reason for the Psalmist to worship and celebrate in the midst of the people of God in the house of Yahweh.

IX. Application: a perspectival reading of the Psalm 23

Psalm 23 can be read from a leadership perspective as we have observed Yahweh’s shepherding role in protecting, providing, comforting and confronting. Therefore, Psalm 23 presents us “a paradigm of leadership.” We can categorize the role of Yahweh in being a Shepherd played a role of a king who provided and protected his flock, as a priest who led his flock with utmost care, and comfort and as a prophet who guided his flock in righteous path and also as a host who would demonstrate his providential care towards his flock in the midst of adverse times and adversaries.

How do we apply this paradigm for leadership in Psalm 23 to our present day context? We will apply this individually and corporately. Everyone called to be a leader in their own respective areas. Yahweh’s role as a shepherd presents a paradigm for leadership to be imitated. We all have a king, a priest and a prophet in us. I may be good as a king but weak in other two areas. What I need to do is to make space for those two areas to show my weakness with their strengths and strengthen me wherever I am weak. I need to learn and willing to be corrected in order to grow. Grow into what? Into Christ-likeness. Corporately in any institution or in any church in order to deal with the crisis in leadership it has to make space for each of its departments like HR (which is equivalent to priestly office), board advisors (prophetic office) and administration (royal office) in order to grow mutually by strengthening each other growing into the likeness of the Kingdom of God. Besides this, we need to show hospitality towards each other especially in difficult times. This is where a pastoral dimension becomes very much relevant. So, individually and corporately we need to apply this paradigm in Psalm 23 in order for us to grow into Christ-likeness in order to enter into his kingdom. This paradigm has been fulfilled in person of Christ.

X. Conclusion

Psalm 23 is all about God’s providential care and protection through the vicissitudes of life which calls us to rejoice and celebrate in the community of people of God. The role of God as shepherd presents us a paradigm for leadership for us today. Psalm 23 reassures us and invokes confidence in us as it helps us reminisce the saving presence of God in the past, present and the future. Psalm 23 presents is one of those texts which present a rich and higher concept of “leadership” in metaphorical language. The first three verses present a picture of God as a shepherd metaphorically. It is not just a metaphor. It presents Yahweh’s act of grace and providence in the past and his continual providential care at the present and assured security and hope in the future. This is something profound meaning arising out of this metaphor. So, therefore by experiencing God’s providential care, as believers we should acknowledge God’s Shepherding love with thanksgiving. By the Sensus Plenor approach, Psalm 23 can be fully understood through the re-reading of the text from the Gospels point of view. Jesus Christ has personified this metaphor of “shepherd” and gave us the meaning and reason to worship in thanksgiving.

Bibliography

Barth. “נָחָה.” Edited by G. Johannes Botterweck, Helmer Ringgren, and Heinz-Josef Fabry. Translated by David E. Green. Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, UK: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2004.

Brown, F, Driver S. R., and Briggs C. A. A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1907.

Craigie, Peter C. “Psalms 1-50.” Word Biblical Commentary. Vol. 19. Waco, TX: Word Books, 1983.

Goldingay, John. Psalms. Edited by Tremper Longman III. Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006.

Jenni, E. “נחה.” Edited by Ernst Jenni and Claus Westermann. Translated by Mark. E Biddle. Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1997.

Kapelrud. “נָהַל.” Edited by G. Johannes Botterweck, Helmer Ringgren, and Heinz-Josef Fabry. Translated by David E. Green. Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, UK: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2004.

Kraus, Hans-Joachim. Psalms 1-59. Translated by Hilton C. Oswald. A Continental Commentary. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993.

Lundbom, Jack R. “Psalm 23 : song of passage.” Interpretation 40, no. 1 (January 1, 1986): 5-16.

Smith, Mark S. “Setting and rhetoric in Psalm 23.” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, no. 41 (June 1, 1988): 61-66.

Soggin, J. A. Edited by Ernst Jenni and Claus Westermann. Translated by Mark E. Biddle. Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1997.

Tappy, Ron E. “Psalm 23 : Symbolism and Structure.” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 57, no. 2 (April 1, 1995): 255-280.


[1] We also need to point out that this Psalm belongs to individual Psalms and by the superscript we may assume a Davidic authorship to this Psalm. However, we do have some problems in attributing this Psalm to David because of varied meaning to the Hebrew word “לְדָוִד” which can be translated as “for David, or of David.” If we observe from the text we observe first person usage for the Psalmist which leads us to think this Psalm is “of David.”

[2]Gunkel classifies Psalm 23 as Psalm of trust or confidence, Peter C Craigie, “Psalms 1-50,” in Word Biblical Commentary (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1983), in Psalms 1-50, 19:204.

[3] Hans-Joachim Kraus, Psalms 1-59 (trans. Hilton C. Oswald; A Continental Commentary; Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993), 304.

[4] Ibid., 305.

[5] Ron E. Tappy, “Psalm 23 : Symbolism and Structure.,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 57, no. 2 (April 1, 1995): 260.

[6]The author in  this article considers Psalm 23 as a song of passage as it describes God’s providence and care in all the seasons of life in an individual lives, see,  Jack R. Lundbom, “Psalm 23 : song of passage.,” Interpretation 40, no. 1 (January 1, 1986): 7.

[7] Craigie, “Psalms 1-50,” in Psalms 1-50, 19:205.

[8] Mark S. Smith, “Setting and rhetoric in Psalm 23.,” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, no. 41 (June 1, 1988): 62-63.

[9] John Goldingay, Psalms (ed. Tremper Longman III; Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006), 346.

[10] Ibid., 23.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid., 63.

[13] Kraus, Psalms 1-59, 306.

[14] J. A Soggin, “רעה,” ed. Ernst Jenni and Claus Westermann, trans. Mark E. Biddle, Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1997), 3:1246.

[15] Wallis, “רָעָה,” ed. G. Johannes Botterweck, Helmer Ringgren, and Heinz-Josef Fabry, trans. David E. Green, Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, UK: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2004), XIII:544.

[16] Ibid., XIII:547–549.

[17] Soggin, “רעה,” 3:1246.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid., 3:1247.

[20] Wallis, “רָעָה,” XIII:549.

[21] Ibid., XIII:550.

[22] F Brown, Driver S. R., and Briggs C. A., A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1907), 624.

[23] Ibid., 625.

[24] Kapelrud, “נָהַל,” XIII:260.

[25] E Jenni, “נחה,” ed. Ernst Jenni and Claus Westermann, trans. Mark. E Biddle, Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1997), 2:729.

[26] Barth, “נָחָה,” ed. G. Johannes Botterweck, Helmer Ringgren, and Heinz-Josef Fabry, trans. David E. Green, Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, UK: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2004), XIII:312.

[27] Ibid., XIII:318.

[28] Craigie, “Psalms 1-50,” in Psalms 1-50, 19:206.

[29] Ibid., in Psalms 1-50, 19:207.

[30] Ibid.

[31] Ibid., in Psalms 1-50, 19:208.

[32] Goldingay, Psalms, 352.

[33] Craigie, “Psalms 1-50,” in Psalms 1-50, 19:208.

Divine-Joke

Sometimes I feel life is a divine joke. God leads you to the red sea and then makes you to wonder how you would cross it. By the time, we lose hope, He parts the waters so that we can walk of the dry ground. Sometimes, He finds us in fiery furnace. Sometimes, in a lion’s den. What never changes is His presence in the face of calamity. He just wants us to stand in awe of Him and see how he delivers. Right now, I being still and I know He is Lord God in even though waters are not parted.

The Fourth Trumpet: An Exposition on Rev 8: 12-13

“THE FOURTH TRUMPET”

Rev 8:12-13

Introduction:

In this postmodern world where there are no absolutes, man has become relativistic in nature. When there are no absolutes, there is no need to identify sin and acknowledge it. Morals and ethics are no longer absolute in nature but relativistic. By breaking moral and ethical laws, today, we have witnessed a surge of chaotic incidents like people killing each other in the name of religion, abuse of little children, illicit relationships, and large number of abortions. The root cause of all these chaotic happenings is the inability to identify sin in our conscience. When we do not identify sin, there is no chance of feeling guilty, for some, though they feel guilty, they do not confess. Revelation 8:12-13 speaks about God’s judgment on such people. Though the message is ancient old written to that particular context, it still speaks out to us with a tone of warning about the things to come. Keeping in view of this Passage, I would like to entitle my sermon as “The Fourth trumpet.”

The Background: the context and genre

The book of Revelation is normally considered as belonging to a class of literature referred to as apocalyptic. The term “apocalypse” used to denote a literary genre is derived from Rev. 1:1, where it designates supernatural unveiling of that which is about to take place. The context behind this book is persecution. The names of the seven churches in the Roman province of Asia, modern Turkey, specifically locate the recipients of the book which gives us some historical situation. Some of the churches were under persecution under the emperor Domitian. As a part of persecution John was exiled to Isle of Patmos. It is in this context John wrote this apocalypse which he has received from God to exhort and to warn all the believers who were scattered in different churches. He also presents the coming day of the Lord. To have brief understanding I would like to divide both the verses in tow different sections,

V. 12: “The blowing of the fourth trumpet and its effects”

V. 13: “The Eagle’s cry”

The Blowing of the fourth trumpet and its effects:

12  the fourth angel blew his trumpet, and a third of the sun was struck, and a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of the stars, so that a third of their light was darkened; a third of the day was kept from shinning, and likewise the night.

The fourth trumpet can be compared to the ninth Egyptian plague (cf. Exod. 10:22). “…their light was darkened;” can be understood as the darkness that has covered all the celestial bodies and also the earth. Darkness often referred as God’s judgment throughout Old Testament. We can see in Exod. 10:22, because of the ninth plague from God, the thick darkness spreads over the land of Egypt for three days except the land of Goshen. John wanted to symbolize this phenomenon in a metaphorical way to exhort all the believers scattered in different churches about the “coming day of the Lord” and the judgment on the wicked kingdom by whom they were being persecuted. The prophet Amos spoke of the day of the Lord as a day of darkness rather than light (Amos 5:18). For Joel it will be  “a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness” (Joel 2:2). Jesus, quoting Isaiah, says that in the day of the Lord “the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light” (Mark 13:24; cf. Isa. 13:10). Thus, the fourth trumpet is a fulfillment of these prophecies.

Though the message is age old but is still fresh and relevant to today’s context. In the persecution we are living in, the message of revelation gives us hope but it also demands our patience to endure the suffering and pain. It also exhorts us to look for a breakthrough in every breakdown in our lives. So, during the times like this, it is our faithfulness that proves our love for Christ.

The Eagle’s cry:

 13 then I looked, and I heard an eagle crying with a loud voice as it flew in mid-heaven, “woe, woe, woe to the inhabitants of the earth, at the blasts of the other trumpets that the three angels are about to blow!”

The first four trumpets were directed towards the celestial bodies. The Eagle’s cry “woe, woe, woe!” is a metaphorical cry that depicts three more disasters to come. This time it is towards rebellious humanity. We see the effects of the two woes in Ch. 9 and the other in Rev. 11: 15-19. The first woe has a parallel in the Egyptian plague of locusts (Exod. 10:1-20), and the second woe with the killing of the first born of Egypt by the Angel of death, and the third is ultimate judgment of God in nation.

Now, by reflecting on these woes and on the condition of humanity mentioned in the passage, more or less it reflects the condition of the present times. Unfortunately, many of our young brothers were so obsessed with technology in order to make their lives more comfortable, sophisticated and more so they have reached a point where they are preparing their ground to challenge and question the very existence of GOD. Atheism is all about “There is no GOD” or “GOD does not exist” but now in a technical-obsessed generation it has taken a new visage and it has come about like “If GOD exists, we are here to dispose HIM off”. Man has come to this point where he wants to play GOD. When we retrospect in to our history, many have tried to play GOD but always left them a bitter taste at the end. The first pioneer to play GOD is Adam and he brought sin and death together at the same time. People like Voltaire, Adolph Hitler, Mussolini, Napoleon, and Alexander the great, as he was called; they all have had a very bitter taste of their lives at the end. There is other kind of people who doesn’t care whether GOD really exists or not and more so they don’t like that idea. So, in a world view like this kind, man has lost the ability of the self-conscience awareness of sin. It is for this kind of people the Eagle’s cry “woe, woe, woe!” has been echoed and it is still fresh to this very day which gives every reason for each one of us to identify our sin in us and acknowledge it to God for forgiveness.

Conclusion:

To conclude, the message of Revelation may have been written in metaphor to the churches that were being persecuted under Domitian but still its message echoes convicting our hearts and minds. Rev 8:12-13, is all about the fate that is inevitable for the rebellious mankind. Now the message is revealed and unfolded, a hardened heart will see the darkness and hear the woe of the great disaster.

The coming wrath and the judgment give every reason to each one of us to have an obligation of carrying the love Christ to those who are perishing in sin. Keeping in mind the message of Revelation, a Christian should penetrate in to the thickest corrupted society transforming the very nature of the society from inside out. This is the responsibility of every Christian in whom God has placed his burden which becomes the sum and the substance of his very existence.

AMEN.

Discriminative-Christian

The title seems very intriguing and begs a question. This article is the result of some of my own experiences and my own observations in the church. If you ask me what is biggest evil present in the church, I would reply by saying ‘discrimination.’ The church should stand as a ‘alternate society’ in this world which is inflicted by all kinds of discrimination. The predicament of the church today is that she, herself, became discriminative due to its denominationalism, preference to affluent classes in the church, and most importantly Caste system which I call ‘Christian Caste system.’

If you carefully observe the Bible, there is subtle progression from Jewish particularism (Old Testament) to universalism (New Testament). This ‘progression’ was intended, planned and implemented by God. Take for example, God’s preferential attitude towards marginalized in the book of Exodus. People of Israel under Egyptian bondage were nobodies. God descended to their level to deliver them. Ruth is a gentile woman but she secured a place in Christ’s ancestral lineage. If you study carefully the genealogy of Jesus Christ, it projects an ‘eye-opening’ truth i.e., we can see gentiles in the genealogy.

The very fact of ‘incarnation’ is so powerful. God has incarnated. He did not show discriminative nature. Had he had such attitude incarnation would have been impossible. If God doesn’t have such discriminative attitude, how dare we who claim that we know Him, have such attitude. God made everyone equal. We are supposed to realize that our neighbor is also made in the ‘Image of God’.” The sick, poor, Dalit, rich, politician and everyone carries the ‘Image of God.’

It is heart-breaking to see so-called Christians who profess Christianity have such discriminative attitude. The church needs to be an ‘alternate society.’ A society who reflects God nature, love and mission. However, as one man of God said that the greatest obstacle for missions today is not the religion, race, creed but it is the ‘Church.’ It is true. Due to the discrimination within the church internally, mission is being corrupted externally. It is clearly written “there is neither Greek or Jew.” It means equality of all.

Mahatma Gandhi once said that we need to work towards ‘Sarvodaya’ which means ‘well-being of all.’ Christ did not die and resurrected just for Jews, but for the entire universe. As followers of Christ, we need to ask whether or not we are following Christ. The Church and the believer need to introspect and retrospect. Finally, it is only when you truly respond to the work of the Holy Spirit in you, then only is possible to be an ‘alternate-man/woman’ in this society. The church which is made of such ‘alternate-men/women’ can be a great transforming agent in this discriminative world.

Making the Invisible God Visible: An Expository study on 1 Jon 4: 7-12

creationIntroduction

How do you define love? What is love? Sadly, in English love is a common word for everything I like. For example, I can use the same word to say I love Cricket and I love my mom. Greek philosophy presents four different usage-one is Agape which is divine love, second one is Philia- friendly love, Eros-romantic love and Sotge- parental love. The point I want to make is that I can define ‘love’ according to my own desires. Because of this, the world itself is struggling to find the true meaning of ‘love’ because everybody has got their own definition of love. Due to this we see lot of confusion, wrong ideas and teaching which has led our world through a painful history of violence. We as humans still can’t learn from our past mistakes. The underlying and lurking problem is impiety – Godlessness. Godlessness precedes immorality.  Even the church, which claims to be ‘knowing’ God, could not able imitate God’s love in the church. This is the reason the church is imitating world rather than her Master.

1 John. 4:7-12 presents the same situation, where John is confronting the church of its heretical teachings. John emphasizes the need and obligation to love one another as he feels love is the hallmark of Christian community. It is only when God is the subject of love and the realization of it in the person and work of Jesus Christ can we, as Christians, be able to witness Agape love in and outside of the church. Keep this in mind, I would like to entitle this article as “Making the Invisible God Visible.”

Illustration:

Fedrick Neitzche- “God is dead” philosophy influenced Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin. These people in turn became the cause of millions of deaths. There was brutal blood shed the world has ever see. You see, when kill God, we actually dig our own grave. This exactly what happened in our past and it will happen if we eliminate God who is the subject of love.

I. God is love (Vv. 7-12)

V. 7 Beloved, let us love another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.

A. Love is the nature of God and God is the source of love.

Love is not just one of the characteristics of God but it is in the very being of God. It is the nature of God. God is always in loving communion within. There is mutual loving in the Godhead. This is not an abstract concept rather it is the ground reality. Therefore, whatever God does, He does in love.

“Love is from God”

God is the subject of love. In other words God transcends all our ideas of love. The true definition can only be understood only when God is the subject of it. This makes God to be the absolute source of love. The phrase “love is from God” shows that God is indeed the true source of love.

B. Loving one another: Result of New- birth

“Everyone who loves is born of God and knows God”

Those who claim to ‘know’ and born of God should love one another because of the ground reality of God is love and He is the true source of love. This love should be practiced in our Christian community.  This is what it means by the phrase “everyone who love is born of God and knows God.” If we think we are born-again then the immediate result should be our ‘love for our neighbour.’

V. 8 whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love

This phrase points out to those who claim that they know God but does not love their fellow-Christian does not know God. Their lives are in contradiction to the ground reality “God is love.” We cannot claim knowing God without loving our neighbour. This leads into spiritual hypocrisy and immorality.

Let me illustrate you with the concept of ‘Image of God.” Gen. 1:27 says that man was made in the image of God. Image of God has three relational dimensions. One is God-man, man-man and man to natures. Sin has distorted our image and so also our relationship with God was broken and the rest followed. To restore this broken image God sent his only son for us to die on the Cross which is the ultimate expression of love. Our image has been restored. Now the point is restoration in us starts with realization that you and I were made in the image of God. Realization starts with feeling of guilt because of the conviction of the Holy Spirit, then it leads to confession and repentance. It is only at the feet of the Cross, as we realize our nothingness, indeed, we realize that God has created us in His image. When we realize that we were made in the Image of God, we realize our neighbour bears the same image as ours. Therefore, we will be able to love our neighbor. In a nutshell, we will be able to love our neighbour only when we truly love God.

John as he called the Church to love one another because God is the ground reality of love, source and the his nature is love; now he gives two evidences on how God revealed his love in the past and He is made visible in the community.

II. Evidences 1: God’s revealed love (9-10)

v. 9 God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only son into the word so that we might live through him.

A. Cross: the ultimate expression of God’s love v. 9

The revelation of God’s love took place in the fact of the reality of sending his only son. He did not send his son but only son. The phrase “only son” is used in Gen. 22: 2 where God in order to test the love of Abraham towards Himself commands him to sacrifice his only son Issac. As the narration tells us that the moment Abraham raises his blade to slay his only son; God calls out and stops the blade from striking Issac.

Almost 4000 years later, God did not stop the blade from striking His “only son” on the Cross. The Son’s sacrifice is a requirement for the atonement of our sins. God in love gave his only son to us and Son in love, gave his life for us. So that we might live through Him. Therefore Cross stands as the greatest expression of God’s self-sacrificing love for us. This is Agape love.

B. Definition of Love: God’s love precedes our love v. 10

v. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and send his son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.

The definition of love apart from God is only an illusion or a lie. If God is not the subject of our human love, then that loves ceases to be love. Here in the verse John now defines what true love is. The phrase “In this is love” recaps what he said in the previous verse about the fact of God giving up His only son for us as an “atoning sacrifice for our sins.” This is the fundamental reality and truth that it is God who took first initiative to love before we actually had the notions of loving Him.

He loved us first irrespective who we are. He loved both the saint and a sinner alike. This is divine love- Agape. This is the true and ultimate definition of love. As John defined the definition of true love, now he goes on to give second evidence as of how this divine love is manifested in Christian community.

III. Evidence 2: Making Invisible God visible Vv. 11-12

v. 11. Since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.

A. Obligation to love one another v.11

In this verse the preposition “so” recaps what John was discussing so far. He started with explaining God as the subject of love; source and he revealed His love in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Based on this revelation, John is re-emphasizing the church to “love one another.” This is an imperative obligation for those who claim to know God. There are three results associated with this act of “loving one another.”

v. 12. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and His love is perfected in us.

i. Result 1: God is made visible V. 12a-12b

The phrase “No one has ever seen God” is a direct confrontation of those who falsely claim that they have seen God and not loving one another. John takes his argument to a different level. The invisible God made Himself visible in the person and work Jesus Christ and He is made visible in the community by us when we love one another. This is the most profound idea that flows out the greatest truth that ‘God is love.’ In other words, God’s visibility in the community is a direct result of our mutual communication of love in the community.

ii. Result 2: The dwelling of God in the community v. 12c

The second result is “God lives in us.” Not only God is made visible in the community of faith but also He tabernacles ‘in’ us. The preposition ‘in’ emphasizes both individual indwelling and indwelling of God in the community. In other words, as we love one another, Christ’s love is made visible in the community of faith. Hence, God lives in us.

iii. Result 3: The perfection of God’s love in the community v. 12d

The third result is “his love is perfected in us.” By the very act of loving one another, God is made visible in our community, He dwells in our community and finally His love is made perfect in us. We all are not perfect but we are in the ‘becoming.’ As we love one another, God’s love is becoming perfect in and through of our relationships. Sometimes we may fail to love but this verse calls us back to make an extra effort to love our neighbor.

Mother Terresa was invited to speak at the National Prayer Breakfast held on Feb 3rd, 1994 at the White House, United States. All the participants who were assigned to speak were given strict instructions as of not to speak anything controversial. There were many heavy hitters like Algore and his family alongside the President Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary Clinton. However, Mother did not get that notice. Particularly on that day she spoke against ‘abortion’ which strongly sounded controversial. In her speech, there were many issues which are in disagreement with Clinton’s view on abortion. One of the reporters asked him to comment on her and here is what he said, “How can anyone argue on a life so well-lived?”

How can anyone argue on a life well-lived? This is the evidence of God’s love dwelling in her as she practiced God’s love in and through her life. No wonder she is called St. Mother Terresa.

Conclusion

I would like to conclude my sermon with two illustrations. Many a times we don’t even know there is a need to forgive and to be forgiven. We claim that we love God but we can’t love our neighbor.

There is a story about a young Jewish boy during Nazi regime. His father was murdered by a Nazi officer in one of the concentration camps. From then, this young boy wanted to take vengeance. After 15 years of struggle and searching finally he finds that officer in a hotel room. He puts his gun on the officer’s head and asks for his last wish. Officer replies by asking him to forgive him, but that young man says, “I may stop myself killing you, but I can’t forgive you.” And he pulls the trigger.

The point here is the reluctance to forgive. Many a times we find ourselves in more or less same situation. Though the Holy Spirit convicts us, we will not take a step ahead to forgive but rather build grudges and with this attitude we come to worship claiming to know God. We need to ask ourselves – “how can I worship in the presence of God without making peace with my brother or sister?”

God rejects such worship because prerequisite to worship is a right relationship with God and man or else our spirituality has no meaning. It is mere hypocrisy.

God’s love for us is not static but it is contagious. It should flow through us to others, healing others of their brokenness. Lending a shoulder to those who needs a shoulder to lean on. Helping those who are struggling in their academic and spiritual pursuits. Forgiving others – are marks of the one who lives in the presence of God.

It is not so easy. It is struggle. It’s a war against with ourselves. We need to break our pride, ego and hatred to love and forgive.

It is in such relationship, we can witness the presence of God (1 John 3:12). As we depart from this morning, let us once again remind ourselves that God is love and he revealed that love in the person and work of Jesus Christ and it is perfected among us in and through our loving relationships with each other.

As we love one another, we actually make God visible in our community thus witnessing to the world of our Master’s sacrificial love.

God in a humble setting!

It has been 11 months since I have come to Nepal. It was July 9th 2012. Right after my arrival at the airport my friend and my dearest brother Ps. David Rai took me to his place called ‘Sipadol.’ It is 20 Km from Kathmandu. On my way to Sipadol I saw the big and green mountains. After witnessing the scenic and the beautiful landscapes, I felt that God might have spent a bit more time to create this place.
I was high in spirits and ready to take up any challenge. To my surprise, the challenge has come too early the very next day I arrived at Nepal. Ps. David (I call him ‘Chula’) wanted me to acompany him to a engagement ceremony in place called ‘Dading’ (I might have spelled it incorrect). My friend, however, for the reasons unknown to me did not tell the details of the travel. To my shock, I was told that I have to climb two mountains and cross a river to reach the destination. It sounded simple to me! We started to walk and climb. I observed the other friends who came along with us. They were climbing as if it is a plain road while on the other hand I was sweating and getting dehydrated. Added to my suffering, it was raining. My friend Chula told me that usually the native Neplese take 3 hours to climb but I took almost 6 hours.

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With lot of difficulty we finally arrived. I was hungry and I need to attend to my nature’s call. We were serves with nice rotis and some smoked meat. I ate with asking what it is. The taste seemed little bit different. All the while, my friend was watching me. After I finished my food, I asked him what is it, then he said ‘BUFF’ which is buffalo. Here, in Nepal people don’t eat beef and it is also illegal to kill a cow.

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Shock after shock. So tired. waiting for the engagement to start. Finally, the ceremony started. The ceremony is more of praise and worship. I felt so happy at the time. I am amazed how God has been worshiped in a place like this. In the context of mega-city churches, where people of affluence come to church but not true worship in their hearts, I found, that day, a purest form of worship in that small church. This has opened my eyes to a new reality and changed my perspectives about worshiping God. on that I realized that God can also be worshiped and praised in a very humble setting like this one in Dading.

The pain of Guilt and the Joy of Forgiveness

Introduction

I request you to bear with me as I start my article with this hair-raising and brutal incident that has happened in Delhi few weeks ago. An young woman was brutally gang raped. They savaged her so brutally that even if she had lived, she might have had to live like a dead person. She was sent to Singapore for special treatment. She was not able to respond to the treatment as her body was mangled beyond repair. She lost her voice. When asked by one of the nurses there about what she wants, she wrote on a piece of paper- “I want to live.”

What intrigues me in this incident is that one of the members in that gang was a thirteen year old kid. Can you just imagine what might have driven him to do such brutal act? My dear Church, don’t you think there is something very seriously wrong with our society.

The problem with our generation is no more about the problem of pain but the problem of pleasure. The meaninglessness that comes out of pleasure is greater than the meaninglessness that comes out of untamed pleasures. What are meant to be kept sacred is profaned. Drugs, illegitimate sex-because sex itself was made casual, pornography and so on and so forth. These in turn has its own unprecedented and harmful effects on this generation. The underlying and lurking problem is impiety – Godlessness. Godlessness precedes immorality.

Pain is a beautiful gift given by God. For instance, ask a person who is suffering from leprosy; he would say that he is longing for it. It is true, pain is essential to our body. Pain sends impulses to the brain that demands immediate attention in order to get relieved from the pain. Pain is synonymous to guilt in the spiritual realm. Philip Yancey in his book Where is God when it hurts says, “Guilt is a pain message to the conscience, informing something is wrong and should be dealt with. Two steps are necessary. First the person must locate the cause of the guilt just as a person must locate the cause of his or her pain.”  The act of forgiveness starts with identification of the root cause of guilt i.e., sin.  Psalm 32 is all about finding the root cause of guilt and acknowledging the same to God. So, with the failure to confess sin and the realization of the implications of the word of God, the suffering of man’s guilt is removed if the sin is acknowledged to God.  I have entitled this article as “the pain of guilt and the joy of forgiveness”.

 The Background: Genre, context of Ps 32.

Psalm 32 can be understood as a ‘Todah’ a song of thanksgiving of the individual, but it is difficult to classify it according to a particular genre as it has elements of didactic poetry too. This is a second of penitential psalms (Pss.6; 32; 38; 51; 102; 130; 143). This Psalm is a personal testimony of repentance of King David for the sin he had committed against Bethsheba and Uriah (2 Samuel 11, 12).  It speaks about Psalmist’s reflection of a man’s joy because of the forgiveness received by God.

The act of forgiveness starts with the identification of the root cause of guilt that is sin. How do we define sin? Anything that we do or think that distorts our relationship with God and with our fellow being is sin. There is no such thing called small sin or big. A sin is sin.

In summary, to recognize sin is a prerequisite to confession. When the sin is acknowledged to God in confession, there is an act of taking away the guilt and forgiveness by God. Both are promised and declared as an actuality.

 

Vv 3-5: “The Pain of Guilt and the Joy of Forgiveness”

V 3: Failure to confess sin.

The translation in NRSV is somewhat vague in verse 3.

While I kept silence, my body wasted away

 Through my groaning all day long.                          NRSV

The verse speaks of being silent, but it doesn’t tell us from what. So, the appropriate translation could be,

               When I did not confess my sin,

               My bones wasted away,

               Through my groaning all day long.

Reflecting on how God forgets the iniquities of whom he has forgiven, the Psalmist illustrates his condition as he failed to confess his sin.

Verse 3(cf. Ps 38:3; Ps 22:15; Prov. 28:13) speaks of the failure of confessing sin that leads to the guilt in spirit and eventually invites the wrath of God upon oneself who would suffer its effects. This is described beautifully as something that affected the Psalmist physically. The  “groaning” is the consequence of living with guilt and the “wasting away of bones” is weakening of the spiritual life because of storing up one’s evil within the heart and retaining silence rather than asking for forgiveness.

When the sin is not recognized though the signals reach our conscience, it leads to guilt and when guilt is not dealt with, it leads to spiritual decay. Today it has become very hard to identify sin in a context where legitimacy is taken for granted and those which are to be kept sacred are sacriliged. With the failure to confess sin, guilt takes lead and dehydrates the person spiritually.

V 4: “Spiritual ( leprosy) dehydration”

For day and night your hand was heavy upon me,

                       My strength was weakened as the moisture dries up

                       With the fever heat of the summer.

When the guilt is not dealt with repentance and confession, it eventually leads one’s soul to spiritual (leprosy) dehydration. Here in the verse “your hand was heavy up on me” indicates the process of conviction in the conscience. It also indicates the need for repentance, but a stubborn refusal to yield to God. Adding to the silence of the Psalmist “My strength was weakened as the moisture dries up, with the fever heat of the summer” can be compared to the longing for water in the “fever heat of the summer”. In other words the Psalmist was dehydrated, but spiritually.

The stubbornness to yield to God can be related to this our own context where there are no absolutes. When there are no absolutes, there is no need to identify sin and acknowledge it. Morals and ethics are no longer absolute in nature but relativistic. By breaking moral and ethical laws, today, we have witnessed a surge of chaotic incidents like people killing each other in the name of religion, abuse of little children, illicit relationships, and large number of abortions. The root cause of all these chaotic happenings is the inability to identify sin in our conscience. When we do not identify sin, there is no chance of feeling guilty, for some, though they feel guilty, they do not confess. This is where the spiritual dehydration takes place.

A very well-known preacher and evangelist in India whose name I shall leave unnamed. He is very good preacher and teacher. Within very short span of time he became very famous. However, more than half a decade he lived a double life. He was having another affair with another woman. Irony is that he preached great sermons in that period of immorality. The problem with him is he could not feel guilty. He was suffering from spiritual leprosy.

Many a times we also find ourselves more or less in same situation. We may not be doing the same sin just as this preacher did but we may have another self behind closed doors. Who are we behind closed doors? What are we behind closed doors when no one is watching us? That’s exactly where we see our true character.

How many of you enjoyed reading Exod. 36-40? It talks about the construction of tabernacle. Did you observe that God was so meticulous about the curtains, its colours, the minute measurements and so on? What can we understand from this? It is this; God is very meticulous about the place where He is going to dwell. Only after the careful and precise construction of the tabernacle God’s glory filled the tabernacle (Exod. 40:35). However, nothing can contain the fullness of His glory, so finally He came down in the person of Jesus Christ and tabernacled among us. This unimaginable and incomprehensible glory of God, now enfleshed and appeared to us in the person and work of Jesus Christ (John. 1: 14- And the word became flesh and tabernacled among us, and we have seen His glory, the glory as of the father’s only son, full of grace and truth.)

Paul explains this in a different way. In 1 cor. 6:19, he says that our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. Listen to me carefully as I knit all these together. If God is so meticulous about the place where He intends to dwell, then how much careful we are to be with this earthly tabernacle? How much careful we are to be how we build our character? How much careful we are to be when we are behind the closed doors? You see, God commands us to shine forth His glory, in and through our most vulnerable situations. The result is, when we gather together, it’s no more people gathering, but it’s the gathering of sanctuaries that displays our Father’s glory to the world.

V 5: “acknowledgement of sin leads to forgiveness”

Then I acknowledged my sin to you,

     And I did not hide my iniquity,

     I said,” I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,”

    And you forgave the guilt of my sin.

Realizing his failure to confess sin, the Psalmist who is suffering from the spiritual dehydration takes an initiative to repent and to ask forgiveness from God. In Hebrew, the word “iniquity” in this context means “suffering of guilt”. This word has a three-fold function-awareness and confession of sin, request directed to God for forgiveness and change in the way of living.

In OT sin has two-dimensional consequence. One is the act of committing sin and the other is punishment. So the law operates only when the sin is committed in the act. In the New Testament Jesus Christ made more complicated. If you see Matt. 5: 27-28- Jesus says even if you see a woman with a lustful eye, you have already committed adultery in your conscience. Jesus actually internalized the law. Therefore, Law is no more of consequence but of consciousness.

The forgiveness of sin is a most beautiful phenomenon where God transcends a sinner from the cruel clutches of sin and guilt in to the arms of God who is our refuge. The experience of being forgiven is an awesome feeling. It is God who is after the sinner first, even though the sinner tries to run away from Him. But still God runs after him. Let me read a poem written by a person whose name I shall leave unnamed who went through the same experience but finally gave up running from God.

I made a spectator out of you, Oh! Lord

I left God in the dark shadows,

I have shut my eyes to the light,

I ran towards ruthless passions,

But I saw His gentle presence all the time,

I deliberately turned away,

But His love endlessly pursuing me,

I have shut my heart on His face,

I forgot who I was,

I trampled His love,

I traded myself to sin,

But I still see Him- Right there where I fell,

I still hear Him calling me,

What love is this that he has for me?

Though I crucified Him million times by my disobedience,

He never stopped stretching His hands for me,

He never failed to bear the pain for me,

And those scars remind of me of my sin,

Remind me of my guilt,

Remind me of my forgiveness,

Oh! My soul! My sin has coasted my savior’s life,

What love is this, that you have for me?

My Lord! My God!

Can you forgive a wretched like me?

Can you cleanse me?

Can you make me holy?

I don’t know what else to do?

I don’t know where to go?

I don’t know where to run?

I just bow down myself to you,

Rise me up, My Lord!

Rise me up, My God.

I am very much sure; this poem reflects the deepest cry for God in our hearts. Many a times we make God a spectator. He deliberately rejects Him. But He endlessly runs after us. My dear Church, one day He stops running and the doors of grace will be shut. Let us not take His grace for granted. Let us not resist Him.

 

Conclusion:  

Man can not earn his own forgiveness. It is only through God’s grace that we are forgiven. The message of Ps. 32 can be related with the sacrifice that God has provided through his son Jesus Christ.

It is in His sacrifice; the sin has been identified, acknowledged to God by his suffering and provided forgiveness by his death for all who put their faith in Him. It is in Christ’s death, Sin was put to death, guilt was taken away and freedom was gifted.  So, it is not by our works or by our efforts we have been saved or credited righteous but by our faith in Christ (cf. Rom. 4:2-6).

Malcom Muggaridge, a famous and brilliant English writer who lived in India many years reflects his experience of his guilt that he deliberately tried to suppress. One day as he was enjoying the sunset on the banks of river Ganges. From far he saw a woman taking bath. For a moment he felt the surge of passion raging in his mind. He swam towards her to persuade her. As he approached he saw a disfigured face of a leprous woman. In that moment he realized that he was the one who is spiritually leper. He surprised his conscious and suppressed his guilt. Finally he found himself to be a leper, but spiritually.

Now, I would like you to join with me to retrospect into our lives. Are there any instances where we have failed to identify sin? Are there any instances, though feeling guilty, did not confess our sins? Has our spiritual life being dried up? Can we forgive those who hurt us intentionally? I leave these questions with you to apply in our day-to-day walk with God. God will be faithful and just if we confess our sin in response to the pain of guilt in our conscience (cf.1John 1: 9). This gives us every reason to rejoice and to be glad in the Lord (cf. Ps. 32:11)

When God Doesn’t Make Sense: A Brief Study on the Book of Habakkuk

I. Introduction

            Let me start with a rather depressive incident that took place on May 29th at Biratnagar. An 11 year old girl has been raped by her neighbour for about 7 months. She gave birth to 28 week baby boy who died on 30th May. Women and child activists were wrestling with the thought whether the offender should get life imprisonment or not. Just imagine the agony of the girl. Before the sun has set on the same day, 15 people killed and 31 injured in a bus accident in Sindhupalchowk. Elsewhere on the same day, dalits were attacked for entering temple and it was believed that the police, who are guardians of the law, sided with upper caste people. If you see into our own history, under Maoist regime, more than 20,000 people were killed. King was assassinated in his very own palace. There is a political crisis. Internal corruption- outside and inside the church.

            On the other hand, the frustration that arises out of the silence of God. Unanswered prayers- sometimes you may have to hear a big slam of the door for your prayers. Wicked are prospering in front of our very eyes. Sickness and death engulfs our lives-even the righteous were not exempted. Can you stop yourself from protesting against God by asking where is He, when innocent were being butchered? Why He is not responding to our prayers? Is there a hope for the righteous? How should a believer conduct his/her faith in the face of such calamities? Our churches are very dexterous in guarding God against such protests. But scripture tells us that God invites such protests too. Keeping this in mind, I would like to entitle this article as “When God doesn’t make sense.”

            This is going to be a brief study into the book of Habakkuk who struggled with the same questions and issues that we, as believers are facing today. I would invite you to join me in this journey how God led Habakkuk from “Protest to Praise.”        

           

II. Context: When God didn’t make sense

            Externally, Israel, the sister of Judah was completely wiped out by Assyria in 724 BC. Habakkuk lived at the time of “rising up of the Babylonians.” They destroyed Assyria and Nineveh and heading towards Judah. The suitable time was the time of the reign of Jehoiakim. Habakkuk was a contemporary to Nahum, Zephaniah and Jeremiah.

            Internally, the situation was even worse. Judah witnessed the downfall and exile of her northern sister Israel slightly more than a century ago. Still Judah hasn’t learned anything. There was repeated violation of covenant of God. They are inflicting violence on each other. Law itself was disabled as the institutions which are to guard it, got corrupted.

            It is in such a context we hear voice. Unlike other prophets, Habakkuk vents out his frustration on God rather than on king and people for allowing such things. Very little is known about the prophet. The Hebrew meaning of his name is “embrace.” Some say that his name is Akkadian name which means “garden plant.” Some say he is a cultic prophet. I feel he is just a voice who appears suddenly and challenges God for what He is doing only to be led by God from “Protest-Praise.”

III. Protest in faith: Habakkuk. 1

A. Protest of the prophet- Hab. 1: 1-5

            The book starts as “the oracle that the prophet Habakkuk saw.” The Hebrew word that is used here indicates other meaning for “oracle.” It is “burden.” The message is a “burden” that was laid on his heart. Habakkuk did not hesitate to go to God and lay his burden. Other word that needs our attention is “saw.” The Hebrew meaning of this word is “to see, perceive with understanding, seeing and hearing.” This world has revelatory character. In simple words, Habakkuk has burden and he laid it down in front of God and God revealed him, His divine plan. It was the faith in God that drove Habakkuk to lay his burden in front of God.

            Now, let’s see in detail the protest that he is making against God. If we observe the questions that he is raising “how long” and “why” we understand that he has already been praying for an answer and there was utter silence from God. This has frustrated him. He was frustrated over God’s silence that was silent when the law was made numb (v. 4), violence was on rampage, wicked outnumbered the righteous, justice was perverted and righteous suffer.

B. God’s response- Hab. 1: 6-11

            God responds to Habakkuk. His response doesn’t make sense to Habakkuk. One should notice that God addresses not just to Habakkuk but to the people. In the Hebrew text it is very much evident. Habakkuk raised issue as an individaul but God answered to the people among whom Habakkuk is one. In other words, Habakkuk is a voice who represents the righteous suffering.

            God agrees to whatever Habakkuk protested as we see the absence of rebuke from God. That shows God’s sympathy over the suffering of the righteous. What God is doing here is that He is preparing Habakkuk to “witness the awesomeness of His grand plan in (V. 5).” In v. 6, God identifies specifically the instruments of His judgment on Judah. In Vv. 6b-11, God describes them with as many as twenty details. They are Babylonians on the march. Babylonians are oppressive in their nature. One man of God said, “Their oppressive ways shall be fitting judgment for oppressive.”

C. Remonstration of the prophet- Hab. 1: 12-17

            This was not Habakkuk was expecting from God. He was perplexed and frightened even more at the prospect of another invasion. He has already witnessed what has happened to Israel. He remonstrates with God. He argues with God.  How can God do this? Habakkuk asked God “How long?” God said, “Very soon.” Habakkuk asked “where is justice?” God said, “I am establishing justice by rising up Babylonians against my own beloved people.”

            For the second time, Habakkuk argues but very carefully. First, he expresses his confidence in God in V. 12 and then he questions God’s plan of judgment Vv. 13-17. Habakkuk found a glaring contradiction between his own experience of God’s goodness and this latest revelation of God’s intention. This is not an indication of weak faith or bitter cynicism. A bitter cynicism doesn’t believe and protests but do not wait for the answer. Habakkuk’s remonstration then “believing confrontation” which refuse to deny and protests but doesn’t move until the answer is given.

            In a nutshell, Habakkuk was puzzled. He is one who protested against God for the violence in his land. He was surprised by the way God has planned to establish justice through dreadful and most dangerous Babylonians.

D. Spiritual application

            Many a times the praise and worship in our churches are very pretentious. Sometime we were asked to put all our worries and suffering outside the church and just imagine God in our hearts. Whom are we fooling- God or ourselves?  How can I be happy when I lose someone whom I dearly love? Habakkuk 1 reveals that God invites our frustrations and burdens to be laid on the altar. So, let’s not pretend that we are happy in the presence of God when we are not but let’s bring all our burdens to the altar of praise. That’s what I call “Praise with tears.”

I don’t know how many of you know the story behind this hymn “It is well with my soul.” This hymn has been a blessing to so many in their trails and temptations. It was penned down by Horatio Spafford who is into ministry. He is close friend of D. L. Moody. Spafford was a wealthy lawyer in Chicago. He has big estate, beautiful wife Anna, four daughters and a son. At the height of his professional success they lost their son. Very shortly after that his estate was burned in a fire accident. Still he wanted to involve in ministry with Moody and other in Chicago but decided to send his wife and daughters to Europe to recover from the loss. He sends his wife and four daughters in a ship only to know after few days that the ship met with an accident and only his wife survived. With a heavy heart Spafford boarded a boat to meet his grieving wife who is in Europe. It was at that time He wrote this song-

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.
Refrain:
It is well (it is well),
with my soul (with my soul),
It is well, it is well with my soul.
Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.
Refrain
My sin, oh the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to His cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
Refrain
For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:
If Jordan above me shall roll,
No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life
Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.
Refrain
And Lord haste the day, when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.

This is praise with tears. Praise with burden. Praise with sorrow. Only God knows how deep the wound has inflicted our hearts.

IV. Persevere in Faith—Hab. 2

A. Bracing oneself for God’s response V. 1

            Habakkuk said what he wanted but he said it only after recognizing God’s sovereignty. He protested in faith. He thought God would rebuke him. Habakkuk braces himself. He takes his stand as if he is going to face the storm. He is watching and waiting for God’s response.

B. Living by Faith Vv. 2-5

To his and our surprise, God answers him very gently. God gives him vision. It is a vision of hope. Habakkuk was asked to write the vision on tablets. It shows that the vision has not only immediate significance but also it is significant for the future generation. So also it is to our generation.

            God said, “For there is still a vision for the appointed time, it speaks of the end, and does not lie.” God assures Habakkuk by saying that the vision ‘speaks’ of the end, and doesn’t lie. The original Hebrew meaning for the ‘speak’ is to “utter, breath or pant.” In other words, “vision is panting/running for its fulfilment.” It shows God’s commitment to bring it to pass.

            The word ‘end’ has double meaning. One is immediate end of Babylonia and other is God’s final intervention in history. But before this immediate end, troubles will increase; have to face invasion, devastation, deportation and slavery.  In other words, the end of Babylonians and the return of God’s people are penultimate. Ultimate end is the coming of Jesus the Messiah in all his glory. In a sense Habakkuk’s vision is still panting.

            Let’s continue our study. Now coming to the phrase “it seems to tarry,” from human vantage, it may seem a long wait but in God’s eyes it is not. It is written “a thousand year in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as watch in the night.” (Ps. 90: 4 cf. 2 Pet. 3:10) God is beyond time, space and matter but sensitive to human perception of time.

            Watching and waiting are fundamental ingredients of faith. Now, we are going to touch the watchword of Christian Gospel- “the righteous live by their faith” in v. 4. I was very much surprised by the way this verse suddenly emerges out from nowhere. The preceding verse talks about the proud and the following, about violence by the wicked.

            What do we understand by this? Habakkuk, a voice representing righteous in midst of the proud and violence, protests in faith to God and stands firm to have an answer from Him. That’s where this particular verse come-sandwiched between proud, violence and evil world. It is a kind of “pure light in the darkness.”

            In the midst of corruption, violence, a world where wickedness is considered virtuous, we may ask why I should follow God. In the midst of unanswered prayers, death in the family, sickness and other problems, we may ask- what is the point of worshipping God, when He doesn’t make sense!

            Let us probe into this tricky and very difficult issue. Firstly, if you observe in V. 4, the first part talks about self-esteemed and proud people which can be identified as Babylonians. They are their own gods. They have no accountability. They are cruel and dreadful. In Hab. 1:13, Habakkuk protested saying, “Why do you look on when the wicked swallow the righteous?” To that God answers, “No! the righteous shall live by faith.”

            We need to ask, then, who are righteous? How can I be deemed as righteous? Can I become righteous by my own effort? What is living by faith? What is faith? Let me unwrap these questions with suitable answers. Firstly, we need to understand the fundamental truth that the source of righteousness always remains outside the person. Only when one believes in God and accepts Him, he/she is justified.  Therefore, faith, in that sense is “origin of righteousness in justification.” Secondly, the life that continues after justification is “living by faith.” Therefore, Faith, in that sense is continuation of righteousness in sanctification.

            In simple words, I am not righteous because of my goodness. I am righteous because God’s gracious act of salvation that saved me. It is from and through such faith, I live. Therefore, it is by the faithfulness of God, I am righteous and by the same I live. Pride leads to death. Proud, wicked and violent people journey towards death, but the righteous shall live by faith. The righteous also die, suffer in this wicked world. Habakkuk died and so also we do. But there is life beyond the grave those who trust in God. That is the power of Christ’s resurrection. It is a great reversal from death to life. Therefore, the just shall live by faith.

            In a nutshell, let me summarize, how this is related to the hopeless situation that Habakkuk is going to face. Habakkuk faced the prospect of devastation. Revelation of God revealed that they shall live. Who shall live? Those who were justified by faith shall live. In other words, God is calling Habakkuk and the righteous, to “hold on to our faith when He doesn’t make sense.” For that we need to watch and wait.

C. Spiritual application

            We are called to persevere in faith. Waiting and watching for God needs perseverance. Things may go from bad to worse. Our former Principal in UBS, Dr. Samson Parekh, lost his eldest son when he was 8 year old. After many years they were blessed with another baby boy. When he was working in UBS, his second son was 19. His name is Norman. After him, they had two more boys. Suddenly, one day a tractor crushed his head and he died instantly. Whole campus was depressed looking at their loss. After one month we conducted memorial service, in that service, both Dr. Parekh and his wife, said, “God has given and He has taken. Even if he takes the other two, we still follow Him.” I reflected my own faith then. I felt my faith was so weak. That is what I call living by faith but they were made righteous before. This is “Faith in trembling.”

V. Praise in fath—Hab.3

A. A Psalm of submission Vv. 1-16

            This prayer indicates that the prophet has now no further case to make. He has pleaded his cause. He has concluded his dialogue with the Almighty. Now, he leads people to an acceptance of the just and merciful orderings which the Lord has revealed. Habakkuk’s protest was responded. He is awe of God’s response. God didn’t make sense but He did when He revealed His plan. However, to receive such revelation, one should wait and watch in spite of hardships.

B. “Though-Yet” praise Vv. 17-19

            Now, his protest was transformed into praise. This praise is not out of the abundance of blessings but in the lack of it. If you see verse 17, Habakkuk, recognized and accepted the coming loss and yet he chose to praise God with joy. It is because God is His salvation and strength. He is the source of life. The righteous shall live by God’s faithfulness. Habakkuk learned to rejoice, not in particular quantity or quality of blessings, but in God Himself. Habakkuk learned that in spite of loss of material blessing, yet he can still rejoice. He can also have confidence in the person of God who is the source of every being. He calls God as “my salvation and my strength.” By this Habakkuk is expressing his confidence in the Lord who ultimately will accomplish eschatological deliverance. The journey from protest to praise is because of God’s sovereign grace. Nothing can explain a person to be joyful in the face of calamity. Only God is big enough to provide the grace of life to people of this generation and the generations to come by the faith that justifies.

C. Spiritual application

            In our Christian spiritual journey, many a times we love and praise God through our expectations on Him. But Habakkuk was led from Protest to “though-yet” worship. Though there are no showers of blessing, yet I will praise God. Do you think Habakkuk praised God with a big smile on his face? No! Not yet all. With all his burden and tears in his eyes, he praised God. That’s what we need today- “Faith with trembling and praise with tears.” If you are going through hopeless situation, or lost someone that you dearly loved, illness and financial crisis, bring your burden to Him and praise Him with tears with a trembling faith.

 

 

VI. Conclusion

            We started our journey by asking “when God doesn’t make sense” how should we respond? Evil prospers and righteous perish- where is God, when it hurts. These questions plague our minds. A brief study of the book Habakkuk led us from protest in faith, to perseverance in faith and finally to praise in faith. To reach to that final stage is not easy. It is possible only by the grace of God and our faith and trust in God.

            In Habakkuk 1, the prophet asked- “How long and why.” In the 2nd chapter, God said, “trust me and have faith.” In the 3rd chapter, you see a changed Habakkuk- “he learned to wait in faith.” Finally as I close, I would like to share a true story about a little boy who was suffering from lung cancer. He must 8 or 9 year old. He was admitted into hospital for treatment and a nurse was provided. Lung cancer was very terrifying. It causes breathlessness due to inflow of fluid into the lungs. The little boy had a Christian mother who loved him so dearly and stayed with him all through his suffering. She used to cradle her son and talk softly about the love of God. She is actually preparing him for the final hours. One day when the nurse entered his room as death approached, she heard this boy talking about hearing bells ring. Again he was talking about the bells ringing, the next time the nurse entered the room.

            Then the nurse told his mother that he is hallucinating. His mother pulled her son to her chest, smiled and said, “No, nurse. He is not hallucinating. I told him when he was frightened-when he couldn’t breathe- if he would listen carefully, he could hear the bells of heaven ringing for him, That’s what he is talking about all the day long. That precious child died on his mother’s lap later that evening and he was talking about the bells of heaven when the angels came to take him. That’s exactly what I call “faith with trembling and praise with tears.

            It is my prayer that we will be free to bring our burdens to God’s throne with a trembling faith and with confidence and trust in God; only to praise Him in tears as HE is only one who is big enough to wipe our