worthy opponent

Driving between church and church, yesterday, ashes at my side, I heard these encouraging words during choral evensong:

Hear the word of the LORD, you rulers of Sodom! Listen to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah! What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the LORD; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. When you come to appear before me, who asked this from your hand? Trample my courts no more; bringing offerings is futile; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and sabbath and calling of convocation– I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity. Your new moons and your appointed festivals my soul hates; they have become a burden to me, I am weary of bearing them.

When you stretch out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.

not feeling encouraged yet? Wait — we’re nearly there.

Come now, let us argue it out, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.

It takes my breath away every time: ‘Come now, let us argue it out.’

The God we meet in the Old Testament gets a lot of bad press. Angry… vengeful… jealous… far too ‘human’ in all the wrong ways. And if we take passages in isolation, the reputation seems well deserved. But the bigger story is different: a God who loves us fiercely, who can’t bear it when we walk away and who does all that is needed to get us back.

‘Come now, let us argue it out.’

This is a God who takes us seriously. Even when we are walking away from him, God will stop and listen to what we have to say. This is a God who has been known to change his mind (just ask Abraham, or the clever woman from Syro-Phoenicia). And through our wanderings, God remains loyal to us, undaunted by our questions and our doubts.

We have forty days, now, to tend to our faith. Forty days to wrangle it out, and do battle with God if we need to. Forty days to hope and pray that God will win us over.

‘Come now, let us argue it out.’

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