Individual Responsibility and National Guilt - As Seen On Sunday
In America, we have a theology of individual faith. It’s “my faith journey.” Often times we do not allow each other to hold us accountable because we make those private things between us and God (and we are ignoring God). This certainly stems from the culture in the country. Unlike other cultures that have a big emphasis (not without its faults) on family, the emphasis had been on what I can do for myself to get a leg up. I know this is a generalization and America truly has many subcultures, but classically the American dream has been very self-centred and individualistic.
In fact, it is mainly with groups that we target to hate that we finally see this idea of a group being culpable: White privilege / white guilt, terrorists and racists all give others this idea that one group is responsible. It seems earlier to pawn off blame to an abstract group than specific people, and yet for positive things we like to take individual credit.
This is somewhat funny since churches all the time talk about “doing life together” and “we are better together” but when it comes down to the most intimate parts of faith, we are still individualists since we do not want to make negative things real about individuals.
I believe that in the Bible we are shown examples of both; people are responsible for their actions as well as the group being complicit in heart.
Today we are talking about failure and disobedience. We are talking about doing the wrong thing as individuals and as a group.
I want to start with the second first. The nation of Israel constantly was punished as a group.
I wanted to find like all the times buttttt I thought that might be a bit much. So that brings us to Numbers 13-14. In these chapters, we read a well-known story about the 12 spies that went into Canaan where they cut grapes that they carried on a pole between them and so we have funny depictions of huge grapes but there are very strong people there. So 10 of the 12 say they cannot go in but Caleb says they can do it.
And yet again the Israelites grumble and complain because of the difficulty of the task. They actually decide to just kill Moses and Aaron and go back to Egypt but God saves them, says that he’ll get rid of them and will replace them with a better group.
11 And the Lord said to Moses, “How long will this people despise me? And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them? 12 I will strike them with the pestilence and disinherit them, and I will make of you a nation greater and mightier than they.”
But Moses pleads with God and God says that he will make them wander around until everyone is dead. I don’t know God’s timeframe on giving Moses a nation greater and mightier, but it sounds like nothing really has changed except when these people will die.
Since the heart of the group was that God could not do this thing, their punishment was a group was to never get to the promised land. It was Caleb and Joshua who believed that were the only ones out of the group to not die before entering.
I offer you Moses. In Chapter 20 there is another well-known story. It is where everyone is thirsty: grumbling and complaining as always. God tells Moses to gather the assembly and speak to this rock but he strikes the rock like he did the first time in Exodus 17 rather than following God’s instructions this time. Although God caused the rock to produce water for His people even when His instructions were not followed, the price for disobedience was high.
12 But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honour me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.”
Okay, okay, so technically Moses AND Aaron get in trouble for this one and that is technically a group but they both had a part to play. Moses did the action and Aaron was the priest in charge of all the “interacting with God ritual stuff,” neither of them got this right.
The point is in both cases people whether individually or corporately were held responsible for the contents of their hearts. That's what it comes down to - what is in our heart.
This is a scary message for myself because what things are my heart aligned within this culture that make me complicit? What has God told me to do that I disobeyed?
When I first set out writing this I was only thinking in the negative, having done wrong and being punished for it, but our first text today reveals both being obedient and being disobedient. There is a whole generation that will not see the promised land and yet there are two who had faith in God who were not overlooked.
All this made me realize that I don’t want a faith that simply says that all the bad stuff I did doesn’t have to be punished here on earth. I don’t want a faith that simply says that I don’t have to be punished for things in the afterlife if I just believe but have no heart change.
I NEED a faith that says I get to know my creator. I NEED a faith that says I am forgiven so that Christ may put His righteousness on me. That faith that tells me that I am Loved by the one who sticks closer than a brother. Who loves me when I cannot tell anyone whats in here because of fear. I need that God of grace that puts me back together and back in the right direction time and time again all so that I might know Hime.
And He’s doing this with everything in hopes that we might be unified in heart with Him.
Question From Josh:
How does this apply to the methodology of the church? Could churches still be using the method that God called someone to use (hitting the rock) while still getting results but have not obeyed God by using the different method that He commanded (speaking to the rock)?