God is Impeccable
Tragedy again. This time the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas was the target of a mad man. A small town church, just like the one I served as a young pastor, became a war zone. I cry again. I do not know how to wrap my mind around such hatred that prompts one human being to use an assault rifle to kill and wound Sunday morning worshipers. My sabbatical gives me the space to ponder the deranged slaughter, to plead with God to bring a triumph out of this tragedy, to pronounce peace on earth when we so desperately need our Prince of Peace. I refuse to speak the name of the assailant. I pray for his family. I intercede for all those families and friends whose lives will forever be marked by the insanity of Sunday, November 5, 2017. I ask for mercy for that small Texas community.
This is my third week of sabbatical rest and reflection. It feels deeply disrupted and disjointed today. What I am about to suggest may sound like I am in shock and babbling in an unknown language. The focusing text of Scripture is Exodus 20:7. “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.” The verse literally reads this way, “You shall not raise up Yahweh’s name to no good…” I am, in other words, not to treat God’s name as valueless, empty, or unworthy. I am to use the name of God with reverence, honor, and esteem, according to this third commandment. I know, and so do you, this passage is typically leveraged to denounce cursing, especially to condemn using God’s name as a punch line of anger. This Bible passage, however, is much grander than that. Behind this seemingly pedestrian command is God’s impeccable nature. Jesus’ dismissal of oaths, as strangely as it sounds, directly relates to this commandment. Stay with me. Jesus said, “Do not take an oath at all…Let what you say be simply ‘yes’ or ‘no;’ anything more than this comes from evil” (Matthew 5:33 & 35). Jesus was and is saying that I am never to leverage God’s name in a mundane fashion. This command summons me to honor God’s holy name, his impeccable nature, by allowing my word to be my bond. The core of this third attribute is a reminder to elevate God, to not make a dishonest oath or invoke God’s name in an irreverent promise. God is impeccable. Because of who God is, I am not to draw upon His name in a frivolous way. Because of God’s impeccable character, my character is to be of such quality that my words are believable without promises and oaths.
I am recalling today a professor of mine, Dr. Ronald E. Heine. He has taught for well over fifty years here in the United States and abroad. Ron earned his PhD from the University of Illinois in classical philology, with an emphasis on the literature of the Greek and Latin Fathers. That, my friends, is very heady stuff. My teacher, though, became my friend. I was one of Ron’s teaching assistants in my seminary days when he needed help with a very large undergraduate course he was teaching entitled Introduction to the Bible. It was a massive eight-hour course, four hours per semester, Old Testament covered in the fall and New Testament covered in the spring. Ron was and is a first rate scholar. He has written extensively about the early church fathers and theologians, specifically Gregory of Nyssa and Origen of Alexandria and Caesarea. I say all of that as a backdrop to Ron’s impeccable nature. His scholarly mind first drew me in, but as I came to know him, it was his life that most attracted me. I am particularly recalling the seamlessness between my old teacher’s life, words, and appearance. God blessed me by reuniting me with this man of influence, probably a decade ago, while we were both teaching through TCM’s seminary, near Vienna, Austria. We sat outside of the main building one evening and simply talked about the divergent paths our lives had taken. I marveled at Ron’s youthful mind, his honest assessment of his life, and the faithful stewardship of his body. He was all “spit and polish.” I chuckle today, even at this very moment, by the perfect creases on his pants, shirt, and sports jacket, the exceptional way in which he fashioned his tie, the shine on his shoes, the dapper trim of his grey beard, and the sparkle in his aging eyes. Ron’s life has been clearly marked with the impeccable character of God. I thanked him for his enormous influence on me. He received my accolades with humility. Here is my point. I would never speak of Dr. Heine in a frivolous or disrespectful manner. I have far too much respect for him. Never in a billion years would I say anything about my superbly gifted Bible teacher that did not elevate his remarkable life. If all of that holds true of Ron Heine, how much more would it be true of my Creator and Redeemer? How much more would I honor and elevate the God of the universe, who saved me, loves me, and is forming me to look more and more like Jesus? How could I possibly treat His name in a flippant manner?
I hope I am wrong, but I doubt whether I am. Somewhere in the next few weeks, as more and more is known about the heartache of Sutherland Springs, Texas, someone will say something glib or demeaning about God. Someone will call into question God’s nature. God, in turn, will go on restoring and reclaiming the mess we have made of His world and He will be one day closer to His ultimate and final coming. His name is never empty. His plan is never frivolous. His presence is never void. I worship and witness to an impeccable God. Amen.