“…. the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple….” -Mal. 3.1a
A friend and teacher of mine once gave a remarkable definition of man-made traditions with regard to spirituality:
Religion is man’s attempt at making God something he can manage.
This has long been the egotistical disposition of mankind: seeking to create God in an image we prefer, rather than receiving and loving Him as He is.
The prophets of Israel were commissioned by the Lord to shake His complacent and sleepy-hearted people away from their preconceived notions and traditions, and to usher them into a revelation of God’s true nature and purpose.
The false prophets of Judah in Jeremiah’s day, for instance, leaned hard on age-old traditions, and used them as a blanket of false security. They claimed that judgement could not befall Jerusalem, for the tradition declares that God Himself is in the land and that it is therefore protected and covered. The moral conduct of the priests and prophets, the lifestyles of the people in the land, and the nature of Judah’s political activities were not to be discussed. Israel was protected because of Abraham’s faithfulness, and no trouble could overtake them. Or so they assumed.
Tradition says that Yahweh lives in the midst of the people. This is interpreted as Israel’s great security against all danger. In contrast to this, the prophet discerns the freedom of Yahweh in His coming. Yahweh cannot be domesticated by knowledge oriented toward the past, nor can He be attached, like some predictable element, to a pious view of existence. Rather, He shatters the fixed conception that Israel developed in her tradition, and in this, His new and terrifying coming, He proves Himself to be Yahweh….
…. the name of Yahweh cannot in its true content be considered neutrally as tradition. It is the suggestive appellation of the One who, for all that is said about Him, remains a personal subject and decides Himself, in His freedom, what He will do when He comes. And as certainly as He once came to Israel, as tradition tells of Him in Israel’s worship and apart from this, He is never at the disposal of humans like earthly property.
(The Fiery Throne: The Prophets and OT Theology, Walther Zimmerli; Fortress Press, 2003; p. 4)
He never contradicts His own character, but He does obliterate our definitions and categories, especially when we are seeking to utilize Him for our own purposes. “He is never at the disposal of humans like earthly property.”
His radical mercy will shatter our self-righteous assumptions and ideas. His fierce wrath will burn up our moral lightness and our loose views toward sin. He cannot be confined to our tidy theological definitions and traditions. The prophets remind us that we cannot fit the Lord into our schedules, plans, and dreams. If we would have anything to do with Him, we’ve got to cast our lives- lock, stock and barrel- into His Kingdom. After all, by nature, only God Himself is free.
We experience the glorious freedom of love, righteousness, peace, and truth only as we sink our souls into Him.
Bryan Purtle is the founder of the Antioch Prayer Society in Kansas City, MO.
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