Saturday, February 7, 2015

II Chronicles 19

In II Chronicles 19:2, we read: “And Jehu the son of Hanani the seer went out to meet him, and said to king Jehoshaphat, Shouldest thou help the ungodly, and love them that hate the LORD? therefore is wrath upon thee from before the LORD” (KJV).

King Jehoshaphat of Judah entered into an alliance with the wicked King Ahab of Northern Israel.  Jehu the son of Hanani is criticizing Jehoshaphat for that.  Jehu asks if Jehoshaphat should help the ungodly and love those who hate the LORD.  Jehu’s implied answer to this rhetorical question is “no.”

But doesn’t God want us to love everybody?  Didn’t Jesus tell us to love our enemies, to do good to those who hate us, and to pray for those who mistreat and persecute us?  Did not Jesus say that God himself makes the sun to shine on the good and the bad, and the rain to fall on the righteous and the wicked (Matthew 5:44-45)?  Does not Proverbs 25:21 tell us to feed our enemy if he is hungry, and to give him a drink of water if he is thirsty (Proverbs 25:21)?  Are we not supposed to love and to help those who hate the LORD?

“Sure, you can do that, but you’re not supposed to be in an intimate relationship with those people,” some conservative Christians might answer.  They would point to II Corinthians 6:14, where Paul tells Christians not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers.  The way this is often explained is that unbelievers are going one way, and believers are going another way, and an intimate relationship between the believer and the non-believer would be difficult.  Not only are the two going in different directions, but the believer may also be pressured to compromise his or her Christian life in order to maintain the relationship.  But was not Jesus criticized for eating with tax collectors and sinners (Matthew 9:10-11)?  Did not Jesus do so because the sick were the ones who needed a physician?  Was not Jesus trying to enter into a relationship with them to encourage them to seek and to find a better way?

Another relevant passage is I Corinthians 5:9-13: “(9)I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators: (10) Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world.  (11) But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat.  (12) For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them that are within? (13) But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person” (KJV).

Paul is saying there that Christians can be around immoral unbelievers.  I don’t think that Paul means that Christians should enter into intimate relationships with them, however, for Paul’s point seems to be that Christians would have to take themselves out of the world altogether were they to follow a blanket prohibition on keeping company with immoral non-believers, and that is not feasible.  Paul appears to be saying that Christians can keep company with immoral non-believers, if they have to do so.  But when it comes to immoral believers, Christians should not eat with such a person, and should put that person out from their midst.

How that plays out on the ground can be tricky.  I have heard some conservative Christians use this passage to justify not eating with homosexual Christians, and some conservative Christian parents appeal to it to justify kicking their gay kids out of the home.  Yet, there are conservative Christians who believe in cultivating friendships with homosexuals to encourage them to come to Christ.  Pastor John MacArthur here gives advice to Christian parents on how to relate to a child who comes out to them, and his advice is essentially this: if the child professes Christ, confront him, and separate yourself from him (i.e., don’t eat a meal with him) if he refuses to repent (after the Matthew 18 process of confrontation); if he is a non-believer, however, confront him with the Gospel.  The thing is, in addition to being horrible, such a rule is not particularly helpful, for the dividing line between Christians and non-Christians is not always clear in this society.  Many of the gay people I was encouraged to “reach out to” as an evangelical Christian probably professed to be Christians
themselves, for Christianity is a significant part of our culture; plus, Christianity is pretty diverse.

Was Jehoshaphat wrong to help a man, King Ahab, who hated the LORD?  Well, one could say that Jehoshaphat could expose Ahab to righteousness by doing so.  The problem was, however, that the alliance may have led Jehoshaphat to compromise his convictions: in II Chronicles 18, Jehoshaphat asks Ahab to consult a prophet of the LORD who is not a yes-man, then Jehoshaphat proceeds to disregard the true prophet’s message.  Plus, would entering an alliance with Ahab be a tacit approval of Ahab’s anti-God policies?

I listened to J. Vernon McGee’s commentary on II Chronicles 19, and it was interesting.  McGee was using II Chronicles 19:2 to criticize U.S. aid to Russia, and he also said that some of the people who professed to love him turned out to be trying to undermine him.  He said that all this rhetoric of loving everybody, when actually there are few people we truly do love, is hypocrisy.  McGee still was walking a fine line, though: he said that Christians should still love non-believers, but their hope should be that the non-believers embrace the Gospel.  I did not entirely like what McGee had to say, but I did like the part about hypocrisy.  It was honest: can any one of us—-even those Christians who like to toot their own horn and lecture others and bloviate about how they love everybody—-truthfully say that we love everybody?  I can’t.  Still, I believe in respecting people’s dignity, and I hope for a society in which people help each other out and do not fall through the cracks.

I just poured a bunch of paint onto the wall, paint with different colors.  Where do I land?  Well, I can see a certain logic in the different guidelines: we have to respect our own walk of a righteous path and remember how relationships can impact that; we should love others, even if they don’t believe as we do; a community should stand for something.  I don’t care for what John MacArthur says in that video, even if he can back it up with proof-texts, for it does not come across to me as particularly loving.  “But it is loving, since it encourages the gay son to repent,” one might say.  Not really.  For one, the gay son may feel that he should not have to repent about who he is.  Second, the result of the sort of policy that MacArthur recommends is often a permanent alienation between the parents and the child.  On a related note, see this post by Rachel Held Evans.

Anyway, those are some ramblings.

1 comment:

  1. One is supposed to stay away from wicked people. How to judge who is wicked can be tricky and this rule is abused and made to apply to anyone someone else does not like. In any case the rule does stand. John and Paul were not telling people to stay away from the wicked but to stay away from people that were not a part of the group they were trying to form. [I have not looked at this recently but I think it is the third letter of John that makes this point. ]

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