Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Mediation of the Saints (2): God Works through Us

Note: You can see part 1 here (Mediation of the Saints Part 1)
Part 3 posted now as well!  (Part 3: Walking Together)

This was actually twice as long and I split this up into two parts. The good news is that the next part is done. The bad news is that this may be disjointed. I'm going to come back to this tomorrow and see if I need to edit anything (such as make additions).

Please leave your comments and questions below. It's not finished, so I realize that some of you may not want to render judgment just yet, but a heads-up to potential problems makes for a better process. Thanks again!

II. God Works through His People

Last time we said that the saints, in accord with the letter of James, were exemplary “doers of the word” (James 1:22). They not only stand before us as a model but a living voice in every age calling each of us to conversion. In the previous section we saw that the Apostles, filled with the Spirit, attracted a great number to them. Some take delight in having others flock to them and hang on their every word. A saint, however, does as John the Baptist did: he pointed to Christ.

A saint, in his perfect humility, does all his work for the sake of Jesus Christ and His mission which is the salvation of the whole world. I also claimed last time that seeking their intercession was not an act of disobedience to Christ but an act of personal humility for Christ. We, weak as we often are, ask for the prayers of men and women who know how to ask more perfectly. Indeed, James tells us that “you ask but do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions” (James 4:3).

Below we shall examine this truth: God uses us and the whole world in order to call us to Himself.
Some have argued that asking for the aid of the saints is to put a sort of “middle man” in between God and the person. This argument, which takes many forms, seems to me to be ignorant of Scripture as well as the process of salvation.

God employs harvesters and fishers of men to do his work. He gives those who are faithful in small matters even greater responsibility (cf. Mt 25:14-30).

But God's will and action are not limited to his own word or his hands. It pleased God to use intermediaries to effect his designs such as the prophets, the Apostles, the angels, and his saints. God also used the wicked and the deformed to effect his will. He did not use them as a puppeteer but rather allowed their wickedness to bring about an inevitable good. God used the Assyrians and Babylonians to convert Israel back to Him:

Who was it that gave Jacob to be plundered, Israel to the despoilers [the Assyrians]? Was it not the Lord, against whom we have sinned? In his ways they refused to walk, his law they disobeyed. So he poured out wrath upon them, his anger, and the fury of battle; It blazed round about them, yet they did not realize, it burned them, but they took it not to heart. (Is 42:24-25, italics added for emphasis).
Their houses will fall to strangers [the Babylonians], their fields and their wives as well; For I will stretch forth my hand against those who dwell in this land, says the Lord” (Jer 6:12) (cf., Jer 27:2-6).
The prophet Jeremiah. Hated among his peers and countrymen. Laughed at, scorned, and threatened his whole life he proclaimed God's word. Other prophets and believers tried to silence him and offer a different message. He is a reminder to us that those whom we dislike, hate, or consider as 'less faithful' (or whatever suits us) may in fact be a clearer display of God's message than we care to say. The man who speaks out against evil despite the consequences is a man of God. Jeremiah was a true man of God, despite his pitiable appearance and difficult life.

We see that God uses and allows our desires to aid us or harm us. The prophet Hosea proclaims that God “will hedge in her way with thorns and erect a wall against her, so that she cannot find her paths. If she runs after her lovers, she shall not overtake them; if she looks for them she shall not find them. Then she shall say, "I will go back to my first husband, for it was better with me then than now." So I will allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak to her heart” (Hos 2:8-9, 16).

Look closely at this passage and reflect deeply on these words. The thorns He erects are for paths that lead to false gods and immorality. These paths are none other than our malformed choices and desires. The destination we all seek, however, is happiness. She runs “after her lovers” which is happiness gained through immorality and false worship. She “searches but shall not find” means that those who look for happiness outside of God (i.e., in these errant ways) will not find it. This is not to say that we do not have things that make us happy. But we invariably fool ourselves when we think finite and temporary things will give us lasting pleasure. Pleasure gives way to pain. Moreover attachment to anything, good or bad, will be counted as a loss to us. It will return to dust regardless of our actions. True happiness is found in the true God. The path that leads to Him will have what we need to get to Him—it does not exclude loved ones, pleasure, or happiness but it is ordered to God and God alone. When God leads her “into the desert” this means that our hearts, when they recognize that nothing else will last except God we will realize He is the sum of all our desires and we will seek Him in all we do and do His will. So many want to have “God and...” and end up with nothing. Wisdom dictates that when we have “God alone...” we gain everything, even what we thought was lost. When we believe we are building paths to God through our desires we are often constructing cages and walls that keep us from Him. The prophets are all of one voice saying “What must we lose to gain?”
The prophet Hosea was told to take a wife for himself. She was a known prostitute who committed many infidelities. God told Hosea that this was how Israel had treated Him. All the same, God commanded that he love her and take her back because the love of God and deeper and more powerful than any infidelity. God could not show us this striking image, however, unless Hosea loved and trusted God enough to do as he was asked.

This passage from Hosea is only one example that explains how God works with us and through us whether we are conscious of it or not. Some, however, believe that this interaction of God in our lives (i.e., “grace”) is irresistible and unavoidable. The believe that God will use anyone and we just happen to be lucky if we're on the right side of the battle. I propose to show how that isn't true.

Next time we will look at how God interacted with the prophets and how the prophets worked with God. We shall see how the prophets were men of all walks of life who were given a special mission and a unique grace to feel what God feels and speak with Him openly.