Monday, December 31, 2012

Numbers 2: Focus, Unity, and Authority

In Numbers 2, the tribes of Israel surround and face the Tent of Meeting, which is God's Tabernacle, protected by the Levites.  Each tribe has a leader.

I thought about how much better I'd feel if I focused on God rather than my resentments, my problems, etc.  Moreover, perhaps I'd be united with other Christians more if my focus was on God.  Then, my hurt feelings and jealousies would not get in the way as much.

But are things that simple?  I think that there's a degree of truth to what I just said.  At the same time, I recall some of my problems with evangelicalism: feeling as if I'm not adequate for certain tasks (i.e., witnessing, fellowship), evangelical jerks who put me down for not believing or acting a certain way (or simply because they're jerks), the suppression of individuality for group-think, how people with "authority" abuse their power, etc.  I can't sweep that stuff under the rug like it doesn't exist.

If we're to be united, shouldn't we define what our goals are?  In the case of Numbers 2, the Israelites were encamping for battle against the Canaanites and any other enemies they'd meet along the way.  The Israelites had a clear goal.  In my case, I have to ask myself to what extent my goals overlap with those of evangelicalism, or Christianity in general.  Am I interested in witnessing, which is based on the assumption that people would find inner peace were they to accept Jesus Christ (a notion that I don't think is fool-proof)?  Am I interested in spiritual growth?  Am I interested in serving the poor? 

Perhaps it depends on how you define those things.  On witnessing, yes, I'd like for the church to proclaim that God is a God of love.  No, I don't feel compelled to try to compel everyone I meet to become a Christian, for people are on different pages spiritually and religiously.  On spiritual growth, yes, I'd like to hear constructive ways that I can be at peace with myself and others, have more patience, and show others love.  No, I don't want to be beaten up for not being extroverted enough.  On helping the poor, yes, I should probably help the poor more than I do.  Thankfully, my church makes that possible by sponsoring a charity each month.  But maybe I'm not on the same page as every other Christian on this, for there are Christians who think I should go without Internet and use that money to help the poor, or that I should move to the inner-city, or that giving money to charity is not good enough but I should enter into deep relationships with the poor. 

Maybe I can find common ground with evangelicals, or Christians of whatever stripe.  But I may have to focus on the positive rather than the negative, or make clear what I will stand for and what I won't----which means, not that I'll tell others what they can or cannot do (as if I can), but that I won't allow others to bully me.  Perhaps the weakness of my approach----or, rather, where my approach differs from what is in Numbers 2----is that I don't defer to authority, for I make my own choices about what works for me.  But is there a way to respect people as individuals with the right to make their own choices, and to respect authority?  Authority may not mean obeying someone no matter what, but rather such things as respecting the order of an institution and the importance of order in making things flow, not being a troublemaker (unless there is a clear need to speak out), etc.

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