Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise: Living Ethically in the Light of the Bible
Matthew 15:21-31; Acts 23:1-11; Psalm 41; Exodus 34
The psalmist has been confined to bed, weak from illness. His enemies hoped this was his deathbed. Yet he had confidence as he approached God for help. He asked to be restored to health, and protected from his enemies. This confidence was not in himself or his good deeds, as he confessed that he has sinned against God (v. 4). His confidence was in God, knowing that he cares for the weak, the ill, the downtrodden.
Such confidence is based on knowing God and what he is like. Exodus 34 contains one of the most concise biblical summaries of God’s nature. Moses had just asked God to meet him face-to-face, but God warned that no human could tolerate this. Instead, he allows Moses to see his goodness – to see what it is about God that makes him someone we can trust. Examining the meaning of each of these words can help us develop the sort of confidence the psalmist had as we approach God in our illnesses, weaknesses and difficulties.
The Lord is compassionate, which refers to an unfathomable bond that motivates him to love humans deeply. This word is used of the love a mother has for her nursing baby or that people have for others simply because they are humans in need. Such a bond is unconditional and undeserving, arising from the choice of the compassionate one. The word gracious is often used alongside compassionate and depicts a heartfelt response to someone with no legitimate claim to what they are given. In most instances, the gracious giver is God, though the word can describe people as they show kindness to the poor and needy.
God is slow to anger, or longsuffering. The implication is that he has legitimate reasons to be angry, but holds back. We will return to this, but first God says he abounds in love and faithfulness. Love captures the idea of goodness and kindness in relationships. It can also have an aspect of loyalty to covenant obligations. Faithfulness is also the word for truth, and has the sense of dependability and certainty. God’s attributes do not waver and fluctuate, but can be relied upon.
Human sinfulness gives God reason to be angry, but he is slow to get angry because it is in his nature to forgive. The Hebrew word for forgiving literally means to lift or take up. God bears the burden of our sinfulness himself, as seen most dramatically in the cross of Jesus Christ. Yet at the same time, the guilty will not go unpunished. God cannot simply ignore our wickedness, rebellion and sin. His longsuffering provides ample opportunity for people to come to their senses and ask for forgiveness, but sin has consequences. In spite of God’s compassion and forgiveness, he will not put up with those who persist in wrong-doing. The Exodus narrative provides many examples of God being patient but also punishing people for their sin. He is not like a dysfunctional parent who allows his children to keep doing wrong without stepping in and addressing the problem. The final statement about punishing children for the sin of the parents is difficult to accept, and challenging to interpret. We will examine it in detail in the March 11 entry where it comes up again.
Overall, God describes himself as someone who deeply cares about people, especially those in need or downtrodden. This care and compassion is heartfelt, arising out of his very nature. We can be confident that when we are ill, dejected or rejected, God is there for us. He is the parent who will not give up on us, even if we have done wrong. But at the same time, he will not brush our wrongdoing under the carpet. When we repent, he forgives. But he will not take away all the consequences of our sin. We can be sure that whether granting our requests, or disciplining us, he is seeking our good. And being God, he knows best what our good is.