Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Liar, liar, light my own pants on fire...

"Be careful what you wish for" is a truism that I have heard since I was a little kid, and there is wisdom behind its simple message: pursuing a goal simply because I desire it badly doesn't mean it will give the result I desire. It could, in fact deliver disaster. Knowing this, of course, hasn't stopped me from wishing anyway for things that would make my life simple, hassle free, and uncomplicated. And sometimes I have gotten what I wished for, and then wished I hadn't. Sometimes I even realize, looking back, that there were warnings about those possible consequences, but I was too fixated on what I wanted in the moment to listen to wise counsel. Worse, there have been times that I even went after the opposite, just to get my wish.

I think of that as I read 1 Kings 22 in the Old Testament, the story of how one of Gods greatest disappointments as a king, Ahab, finally met his end. Here it is in a nutshell: Ahab, king over Israels 10 northern tribes, wants to take a city back from an enemy. His "cousin", the king of Judah & Benjamin (the 2 southern Israelite tribes), says they should ask God if they should attack (through one of the faithful prophets) after 400 corrupt, compromised Baal prophets tell them to go for it. Ahab hates the one prophet who is not a yes man, but sends for him anyway. The prophet tells the 2 kings, at first, the same line - go for it, be victorious, yada-yada-ya. But after being pressed to tell the real word of God on the subject, he tells the king the other 400 prophets have been manipulated by a "lying spirit" in the mouths of the prophets (1 Kings 22: 19-23). Ahab goes anyway, is wounded in battle, and dies. Graphically, as his chariot is being washed out, wild dogs (not remotely the kind of ones we would keep as pets today) come and lick up his blood, fulfilling the words of Elijah the prophet concerning Ahabs death and its circumstances.

Some have had a real problem with this story; if God is good and righteous, how can He send a lying spirit to deceive the king? Honestly, though I can understand being troubled by that, it's rather simple to understand. Ahab was set on getting his "wish" - a city named Ramoth Gilead. It should be his, and the fact it wasn't galled him, nagged at him, pestered him.  His 400 yes men prophets were there simply to confirm what he already had determined to do; if by some twist, all 400 had suddenly said no, he would've found some other reason to get what he wanted - official, God sanctioned permission to go to war. God allowing an evil spirit to do what it was going to do anyway (in this case, lie to the king through disobedient prophets) is not, in the end, much different from reaching out and hardening Pharaohs' heart. He knew Pharaoh would choose to be hard, and so God gave him the wish of his heart - a heart that was hard.

And that brings me to why this story troubles me: I suspect down in my heart, left to my own devices and wandering away from grace, I'm not much different from Ahab. If my heart is set on making myself look good, if I'm just as determined to increase my kingdom at Gods expense (if I can), just as stubborn to get my way, just as willing to listen to the 400 echoing my own voice and ignore the one still, small voice whispering warning, then in the end, left to my own wisdom and righteousness, I become the "liar, liar" who sets his own pants on fire. "What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God-through Christ Jesus our Lord!" (Romans 7: 24-25)

The only way out, too late for Ahab (but maybe not for you & me) is to humble ourselves before God, and ask for grace to be delivered from the tyranny of our own wishes, focused on ourselves. Wishes focused on God's glory receive the power of the Spirit of God to accomplish His will. Wishes simply about our own comfort He will oppose.

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