Sin Don’t Make No Sense (Jeremiah 8:4–17)

“You shall say to them, Thus says the LORD:
When men fall, do they not rise again?
If one turns away, does he not return?
Why then has this people turned away
in perpetual backsliding?
They hold fast to deceit;
they refuse to return.
I have paid attention and listened,
but they have not spoken rightly;
no man relents of his evil,
saying, ‘What have I done?’
Everyone turns to his own course,
like a horse plunging headlong into battle.
Even the stork in the heavens
knows her times,
and the turtledove, swallow, and crane
keep the time of their coming,
but my people know not
the rules of the LORD.” (Jeremiah 8:4–7)

wedgie-1355140-1280x960.jpgJudah’s behavior is “unnatural.” When a man falls, he gets up. When he has gone the wrong way, he retraces his steps. Judah however, has intentionally chosen the forbidden path leading to death and insists on continuing down it despite incessant warnings. Earlier God called for them to “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for [their] souls.” Their reply was, “We will not walk in it” (6:16).

Judah has fallen and it is not that she can not get up; she will not get up. Prideful idolatry has let to her fall, and now her pride refuses to rise. She is like the child who has ignored repeated warnings, and because they’ve done so, she now lies flat on her back. When you encourage the child to get up, her rebellious pride now refuses to stand. The problem isn’t that the mind is slow, but that the heart is hard.

The birds know their times and seasons for turning and returning. They are not made in the image of God and follow a less glorious rule. Whereas God’s people, not mankind generally, but specifically God’s people, those He has redeemed in covenant love, do not know His rules. Derek Kidner, ever the master of succinct commentary, summarizes the gist of the passage well, “In matters spiritual and moral we act with a perversity which is quite unlike our common sense at other levels, let alone the impressive wisdom of our fellow creatures (even the bird-brained, 7a!).” Isaiah observes the same “unnatural” behavior. “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth; for the LORD has spoken: “Children have I reared and brought up, but they have rebelled against me. The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master’s crib, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand” (Isaiah 1:2–3).

In one sense, sin is now natural. Sin is our default condition in Adam. This is why Scripture speaks of the “natural man” as it does. “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14). Wisdom is folly to us, and folly is wisdom.

Even so, what is now natural to us is unnatural, it is contrary to creation. When we sin we are going against the grain of creation. Sinful man is like a fish trying to live on dry ground. This is seen in the penalty Paul unfolds for man’s denial and suppression of the truth in worshipping the creation rather than the creator. “For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error” (Romans 1:26–27).

Sin is a kind of insanity unto greater insanity. Sin is a plunge down the rabbit hole. Sin is senseless. Sin is nonsensical. Sin is our nature, and yet, sin is unnatural. It doesn’t compute. All of God’s creation and revelation testify against it. Sin sticks out like a sore thumb, and yet, we call it a healthy finger.

Sin is drinking poison knowingly and intentionally and expecting health. Sin is losing your way on purpose and continuing when you know the path leads to destruction, and yet expecting to find happiness thereon. Sin is the rebellion of a finite creature against an omnipotent God and hoping for victory. Sin is falling down and refusing to get up but expecting to be exalted. Sin is as obviously foolish as adding one plus one over and over again and expecting anything other than two. Sin is eating the same forbidden fruit again and again and expecting something other than death and the curse.

What hope can there be when fallen man’s nature is so “unnatural,” so nonsensical? Only the supernatural grace of God. It is not something natural, not something from within, not something below; but something supernatural, something without, something above. When fools turn wise, all glory is God’s. No sinners are self-educated unto sainthood. When sinful fools graduate unto saintly wisdom, summa laud, highest praise is ascribed to God, not man.

“God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord’ ” (1 Corinthians 2:14, emphasis mine).

The Folly of Becoming a Court Jester (Jeremiah 5:20–31)

“Declare this in the house of Jacob;
proclaim it in Judah:

‘Hear this, O foolish and senseless people,
who have eyes, but see not,
who have ears, but hear not.
Do you not fear me? declares the LORD.
Do you not tremble before me?’ ” (Jeremiah 5:20–22a)

Psalm 111:10 tells us “the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.” If the fear of Yahweh is the starting line, I’m afraid the evangelical church has a handicap that is as deep as the race is long. Her handicap goes further back from the starting line than the race goes forward. She’s deeper in the pit of folly than the mountain of wisdom is tall which she pretends to climb.

jester-hat-1412910.jpg

We laugh at the ridiculous studies funded by government elites and mock the idiotic courses often offered at institutions of higher learning, but this is like the court jester laughing at the street clown. Proximity to the truth is no guarantee of intelligence. Having a Bible in hand is not the same as having it in your head and heart.

Once ministers of the gospel were regarded to be among the most learned of society. Though now we are often laughed at, and should expect nothing less from the world, have we ever considered that we too are a joke? Folly abounds both inside and outside the church, unfortunately, we only want to hear the joke about the other guy’s stupidity. Here, God exposes the folly of His people, Judah, but He isn’t laughing, for their folly is no laughing matter. 

It is striking how wise folly can look. One thing the evangelical church has grown “wise” in is in making stupid look smart and making senselessness look like success. She is attracting unbelievers unaware of how unattractive she is becoming to her Husband. She is fat and slick, but there is a famine of the Word. Her vast numbers often testify not for her, but against her. The preachers speak falsely, the pastors rule at their own direction, and the people love to have it so (v. 31). We hide the vacuum of fear with an air of celebration. David Wells soberingly captured the temperature of the American church.

“The fundamental problem in the evangelical world today is not inadequate technique, insufficient organization, or antiquated music and those who want to squander the church’s resources bandaging these scratches will do nothing to staunch the flow of blood that is spilling from its wounds. The fundamental problem in the evangelical world today is that God rests too inconsequentially upon the church. His truth is too distant, his grace too ordinary, his judgment too benign, his gospel too easy, and his Christ is too common.”

Saints, do not be desensitized by such senselessness. Do not be fooled by such folly. Fear Yahweh and tremble before Him.

A Drink from the Brooks: Ask for Directions

Well! young men, remember this: he that will not at the first-hand buy good counsel cheap, shall at the second-hand buy repentance over dear. —Thomas Brooks, Apples of Gold

Reading the Characters in God Story (Psalm 15)

“ …in whose eyes a vile person is despised, but who honors those who fear the Lord…” —Psalm 15:4 (ESV)

Nowadays there is fresh emphasis on Jesus as a friend of sinners. This is a welcome reprieve from the kind of legalism and fundamentalism that withdrew into a “holy huddle” refusing even a brother who enjoyed a beer in moderation. But just as fundamentalism could go to one extreme, there are many sinner-friendly folk veering off the other shoulder.

There is a problem if your theology is reactionary. We shouldn’t determine truth by seeing the consequences of folly on the other side. Republicans who set their policies based upon Democrat stupidities are only prepping to be a different kind of ninny head. Trying to stay far away from the extreme left means veering towards the alt-right. We should not react, but be principled people who act upon the truth of God. If we’re only reacting, someone else is determining the agenda; we’re not driving, we’re being driven.

I’m afraid that when many say “Jesus was a friend of sinners,” they’re looking for a Biblical text to support their reaction, rather than having digested Biblical truth and then acting upon it. The evidence in support of this is that often only one thing is being said.

Our relationships to people should reflect God’s relationships people. God both hates sinners and graciously determines to save sinners. God’s wrath abides on man and yet he is long suffering and benevolent to humanity. You should both love your neighbor as yourself and despise the vile person. This isn’t easy. The Spirit must give wisdom based on Biblical principles.

If we start with how to relate to some extremes I think it’ll help make sense of the middle. We honor the apostle Paul, missionary Adoniram Judson, and orphanage founder George Muller. We despise Nero, Hitler, and Kim Jong-un. We do this knowing that Paul was once detestable and hoping that all whom we despise might be so transformed. In Genesis 14 Abraham receives a blessing from Melchizedek but refuses rights to the spoils from the King of Sodom. This is the kind of discretion that is called for in this world. In-between is where most people are and in-between is how we need to relate to most people.

Now, back to a general dichotomy. Douglas Wilson offers a helpful paradigm. We must learn to distinguish apostles of the world and refugees of the world. The Israelite spies treat Rahab differently than Phinehas deals with the Midianite woman. Elisha speaks to Naaman one way; Moses speaks to Pharaoh another. While Paul was preaching the gospel to Sergius Paulus he turned to Elymas the magician and called him a son of the devil, an enemy of all righteousness, and full of deceit and villainy. Likewise, we should speak one way to the woman broken after an abortion and another concerning Cecil Richards and Kermit Gosnell. When the forbidden woman of Proverbs tries to entice us, we flee, and when the prostitute wishes to fall prostrate at Jesus’ feet washing them with her tears, we welcome her.

This kind of wisdom comes from the Word. Marinate in Proverbs for some time and you’ll find yourself honoring the wise, faithful, diligent, righteous and just while despising the fool, liar, slothful, wicked, and evil. You will value an excellent wife over an alluring adulteress. Spurgeon said Bunyan’s blood was bibline. Prick him and he’d bleed Bible. This is why Bunyan could write honorable characters like Hopeful, Faithful, and Old Honest and despicable ones like Hypocrisy, Talkative, and Formalist.

If we soak in the Psalms, we’ll not only think and talk this way, we will sing this way. If you are fearful this will curb a gracious spirit, can you think of many figures more merciful and magnanimous than David? David forgave as big as he fought and fought as big as he forgave. Ingest the Bible and you’ll learn to read the characters of this world and you’ll read them hoping that God will rewrite them just as He has you.

Who’s the Fool? (Psalm 14)

“The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is none who does good.” —Psalm 14:1 (ESV)

A renown Cambridge mathematician is placed beside a Cajun swamp boat operator; which is wiser? A smart answer would be to ask “Where are they?” What is the setting? What is the test? If it is an academic setting, I’d wager the Cambridge professor; if the bayou, the Cajun. If it is the supermarket, we don’t have enough information.

What the fool fails to take into consideration is his setting. The fool fails to recognize ultimate reality. Where are we? In God’s creation. The fool says there is no God. The fool goes wrong at the foundational level.

“Fool” then is not so much an intellectual category as a moral one. It doesn’t take in less than the mind, but more. The fool says this in his heart. The heart here embraces more than the emotions. Biblically the heart is the core of man involving his intellect, emotions, and volition. This means that to determine if someone is a fool, you cannot just ask if they believe in God. You must analyze their life. What a person really says with their heart will be betrayed by their hands.

Professing atheists may be rare, but practical atheist are not an endangered species. It matters not if one says there is a god. If a person knows his addiction is unhealthy but persists in it he is foolish. Those who profess a god but live as though he were not are more foolish than those who try to delude themselves that God is not.

Some may consistently live as though a god were, but not the God. False religion, however sincere, is folly. Fools will find themselves to have been studying for the wrong test under the wrong instructor. They have wasted time studying Klingon for a Latin exam. They study Buddah, but Jesus is the answer. Folly is living in reference to an imaginary god. Wisdom is living unto the true God.

Perhaps it might be the Cajun who is the wise man and the professor who is the fool. Such are often the ways of God (1 Corinthians 1:26–31). This is true even when it comes to math. The simpleton who uses basic addition and subtraction to steward his money well for the kingdom of God is better with numbers than the professor who uses differential calculus for his own glory.