Friday, February 17, 2006

Of name Changes + Retribution Theology

Abram was 99 years old when God changed his name to Abraham. Jacob was wrestling with his fear of meeting Esau but met God instead. At Peniel, he wrestled with God and was given the name Israel. Saul was approaching Damascus, armed with plans to persecute the Christians but was blinded by God, being questioned on why he wanted to persecute not the Christians but God himself? He was given the name Paul.

Name changes often come about that marked a significant turn in the lives of people in the Old Testament. It is indeed a big thing, a humbling experience indeed to surrender the name that one has always been called. That is, if there is no significant changes to one's own life, changing the name will be most difficult. That is certainly not true of Abram, Jacob or Saul. Their willingness to accept their names represented a significant openness of heart and desire to obey God. Abram was given a larger promise, from being a father of a great nation to a father of multitudes of nations. Jacob was given a name change after the most incredible wrestling match with God. Saul was struck completely blind until his faith in Christ opens up his eyes, and more importantly his heart to God's purposes.

However, their faith is far from perfect. Abram/Abraham repeatedly doubted God, despite being credited for righteousness the faith he had. Jacob/Israel is a shrewd trickster, trying to scheme his way to achieve his ends. Saul/Paul is a modern persecutor of the faith, but still possess weaknesses in his 'thorn in the flesh'.

Reading the passages in Genesis and Acts, there seemed to be no significant progress in their pre and post-naming accomplishments for God, in the eyes of the people at that time. However, one point is evident. The act is not of themselves. The naming process is from God. It is God who initiated and empowered them to be who they really are. Another significant point was, they did not live long enough to see all the results of their labour and efforts. God is seen as one who is more than willing to bless them, despite their weaknesses. That is GRACE.

In stark contrast, today I read the news that a Pakistani cleric has issued US$1 million bounty to kill the cartoonist of the cartoon caricatures published. Where is grace in that action? Where is peace in that? Does that hurt to their 'feelings' justify them in their continued violence and hurting others in return? Is Islam a religion that is 'tit-for-tat'? Are their actions due to a theological interpretation of Islam? Is grace a part of the Islamic vocabulary? Will there ever be forgiveness? Perhaps their actions ought to be corrected by Muslims in the moderate camp. Otherwise, these people will only serve to tarnish their religion even more.

Another report today indicated that the large violent demonstrations are symptoms of a deeper problem: Poverty and social discontent. For people who have little to lose, any reason is good reason to retaliate against the rich and the establishment. If Christians are under grace, we ought to show grace. Jesus has taught us to put aside 'an eye for an eye' or a 'tooth for a tooth' behaviour. Instead, we should offer the needy any extras we have. Like if we have two coats, keep one and give one away. Christians should begin to act positively in the light of negative situations. That is what being a salt and light is all about. We should be angry at the rising poverty level and the lack of willingness of the rich to help the poor. However, we do not show our anger by breaking windows and throwing stones. We demonstrate our anger by breaking our self-centeredness and throwing messages continually to wake up the conscience of the rich and powerful.

Theology is critical. In Christ, we are under grace of God, not retribution. Because of Christ, we live under grace. 'Vengeance is mine' says the LORD. We should not think it is our right to play God. Take heart brothers and sisters. The Lord our God understands our weaknesses.


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