Austere Faith

Today I read in Deuteronomy 21 the following passage:

If any man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey his father or his mother, and when they chastise him, he will not even listen to them, 19 then his father and mother shall seize him, and bring him out to the elders of his city at the gateway of his hometown. 20 They shall say to the elders of his city, ‘This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey us, he is a glutton and a drunkard.’ 21 Then all the men of his city shall stone him to death; so you shall remove the evil from your midst, and all Israel will hear of it and fear.

Israel is filled with stones.

Israel is filled with stones.

As a parent I thought to myself, “What parent would ever fulfill this command? What parent would reach the place of such hatred and loathing of his or her child that willingly he or she would drag the boy to the city gates, charge him with the crime, and then stand to the side while he is stoned to death?” I understand the command; I struggle to conceive of parents willing to enact it.

But as I thought, I was reminded of another passage. This one in Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 5:

27 You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’; 28 but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for youto lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell.

Instead of sacrificing others, we are called to turn the knife on ourselves.

Instead of sacrificing others, we are called to turn the knife on ourselves.

Isn’t this precisely the same austerity, but personal, rather than external? There is extreme violence advocated in both passages. Moses asks us to kill for the sake of God’s holiness; Jesus commands us to violently restrain ourselves for the same reason. Both teachings are grounded in God’s holiness and how we as a people reflect the God of the universe. But how do we fulfill these commands?

Perhaps parents provide us with a solution. Because what loving parent wouldn’t rather cut off his own hand rather than see his son or daughter harmed? What loving Father didn’t willingly see His own Son crucified rather than lose His children? Jesus says that we fulfill the law, and exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees, by fulfilling it personally–by taking with deadly seriousness the austerity of the law and the mandate of God’s holiness. At the same time, Jesus extends his own, perfect fulfillment of the law, and his own, vicarious adoption of our punishment, as a double grace to us. We are called to sacrifice everything; God has already sacrificed everything on our behalf.

So, how do I wrap this up nicely? Like this: God has called us to an austere faith; God has equipped us in Christ with everything we need to please Him. So clutch, with tenacity, to both.

One thought on “Austere Faith

  1. Interesting thought. I would take in a rather different direction, and wonder what you think. The more I read the OT, the more I think that God is showing Israel the futility of ‘going it ourselves’. It’s like he’s saying, “If you want to be holy ENOUGH on your own, here’s what that looks like. You root out evil in your midst like a wasting disease. You slaughter the pagans who occupy the land I’m giving you because they will (and did) corrupt you if you don’t. You sacrifice even for the sins of ignorance, because they matter too.”
    I doubt many, if any parents caused their children to be stoned under the old covenant. But I also have little doubt that Israel’s continual backsliding owed no small part to the allowances made for sin because, “we all do it”. How many Christian parents today compromise their faith because they can’t possibly condemn the sin of their children? My heart goes out to some who I know are strongly tempted in that direction, and I pray that in end the word of God to them will not be that of God to Eli.

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