Hear. Follow. Understand.

“Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” (Psalm 95:8)

“We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away . . . how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?” (Hebrews 2:1,3)

I have recently written several posts on COVID-19 and captivity, meaning a condition such as imposed on Judah by the Babylonian captivity beginning in the 6th century BCE. Compared to many other posts on Christian blogs on the pandemic you’ve read, I am guessing mine have been, uh, different.

And that euphemism is probably not concealing a compliment. (Do they ever?) What in heaven’s name is this guy on about?

You’re not going to understand that until we revisit a central issue in the present circumstances. Not personal hygiene, not public health, not even, as frequently discussed among Christians, our relationship to governing authorities.

These are worthy subjects, and I am not anti-science (read the thumbnail at the bottom of the page), anti-government or anti- standing up to governing authorities when it is warranted.

The real issue is seeking and receiving guidance from God. And I can already hear you pumping the brakes before hitting the Back arrow. You mean what I learned about 5-10-20-40 years ago in New Believer’s class? Thanks all the same, but I’ll stick to ‘solid food’ if you don’t mind.

But before you go, consider this. The Pharisees, the Sadducees and the Sanhedrin all had the law and the prophets. They studied it, it was their stock-in-trade and they ruled the people through this monopoly on scriptural knowledge. The prophets they had read and studied, for example, spoke of the Servant of the Lord in terms that an unjaundiced eye should have seen fulfilled in Jesus’ ministry.

And yet John records, “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him” (Jn 1:11). And they saw him in the flesh, saw evidence of his miracles and were outwitted by him in religious debate. (A carpenter! From Nazareth no less.) And they crucified him. Paul was a well-trained (under Gamaliel) Pharisee and until he met Jesus was a scourge to the young church.

Regardless of your affiliation, I’m also guessing that you rely on something like a “three-legged stool” of guidance: (1) the explicit, written commands of Scripture; (2) measuring your particular circumstances by this standard (like a yardstick); and (3) the Spirit of God bearing witness with peace and confirmation (a second or even third application of (1) that reinforces that peace).

I’m not advocating that we jettison tried-and-true tools like this. Just that we re-examine some of the dynamics of knowing God’s will.

It’s a principle of secular education and education campaigns (e.g., the COVID-19 PSAs to wash your hands, use a mask and social distance) that if we provide accurate information people will naturally apply it to themselves because it’s simply enlightened (by the information) self-interest.

And that’s partly true. When I was diagnosed as diabetic at age 59, I quickly learned that about half of my assumptions about adult diabetes were inaccurate or just plain wrong. Some of them had implications for my health. (I wish I had learned as quickly that the middle-aged male personal health credo of “no pain, no problem” was pretty shortsighted and just as inaccurate.)

But knowing the will of God is not simply a process, like canning homemade spaghetti sauce, changing the oil on your car or pouring and finishing concrete. God is not a bottle of 5W30. You’re in a relationship with the living God.

That introduces other dynamics. Consider Cain for example. One of the uses of Scripture, according to Paul in 2 Timothy 3:16, is correcting. Cain is a prototypical example of this, Genesis being the book of beginnings. (The story is in Genesis 4:1-16, and you probably pulled it up faster on your laptop than it took to write this sentence. So thanks for waiting. I’m 63. People do it for me all the time.)

Abel’s offering was accepted; Cain’s wasn’t and that upset him. So God declared Cain Ichabod (“glory had departed”), a rent-a-crowd company was called in to tear down his statue and Joy Reid of MSNBC blamed President Trump for the whole nasty business. (Now trending on Twitter . . . )

No, God offered correction: “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?” (4:6)

But how would he know “what is right”? There were no Bibles or even books. He’d know by looking around him.

His parents sinned and then required a covering to hide their shame. They took fig leaves and made their own; God replaced those with garments of skin.

So, in other words, the offer of correction was not new (it had happened to his parents) nor was the sign of what was acceptable to God (something that required the shedding of blood). Added to that was the present (to Cain) circumstances: God looked with favor on Abel’s offering, fat portions from the firstborn of the flock (obtained by slaughtering them, obviously).

The later, codified standard was, “Every matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses” (2 Cor 13:1, quoted from Dt 19:15). I think Cain had three, and then the implicit fourth in the phrase if you do what is right (i.e., like Abel, whose offering was accepted), which he received directly from God.

So what was happening? The favor of God seemed to matter to Cain; he didn’t say pffft! and walk away. But it must not have mattered that much, because he was careless about the testimony of available evidence for the will of God, and the gracious offer of correction was rejected, even when a warning of sinister consequences was appended to the offer.

By now you’re realizing that we’re into matters of the will territory, not just the possession of knowledge. Cain had to take up the offer from God; he didn’t. He had to “master” the sin “crouching at your door”; he didn’t bother.

Bottom line: Cain had a problem with God, not Abel or his parents. He didn’t have a problem knowing the will of God; he had a problem doing the will of God.

When he was driven away, he settled in Nod, which means wandering. Correction means returning to the right way, like a ship’s captain makes a course correction. Correction is something you do (or need to do) when you’re wandering or drifting away, assuming, of course, that going in the right direction matters to you.

Cain wandered from the will of God by indifference or carelessness, wandered from correction (which was also protection from sin for both him and his brother), committed a heinous crime and then kept wandering. He may have “lived” (i.e., settled down) in Nod, but spiritually he never stopped drifting from what was right–but not for lack of light.

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