Thursday, November 03, 2011

God Ain't Too Proud to Beg

I know you wanna leave me,
But I refuse to let you go
If I have to beg and plead for your sympathy,
I don't mind coz' you mean that much to me

Ain't too proud to beg, sweet darlin
Please don't leave me girl, don't you go
Ain't to proud to plead, baby, baby
Please don't leave me, girl, don't you go

Those words from the Temptations song, Ain't Too Proud to Beg, crossed my mind while reading Jeremiah 44:4, this past week.

Jeremiah was an Old Testament prophet who lived in the early seventh- and late-sixth centuries BC. God gave him a series of prophetic messages not only to God's people in Judah (the southern portion of what had once been a larger Israel) and to neighboring nations. Through Jeremiah, God called all to repent. But nobody listened.

In Jeremiah 44, God uses Jeremiah to recount His people's sorry history of trying to find life in dead things like false deities, foreign alliances, economic power, injustice toward foreigners and the powerless, and child sacrifice. God says, "...I persistently sent to you all my servants the prophets, saying, 'I beg you not to do this abominable thing that I hate!'"

God begged!

Is that unseemly behavior for the God of the universe?

To beg people to whom He had given everything--life, blessings, a land--as free gifts to beg the people to trust in Him alone, not for His ego, but for their good to turn from their persistent sin and to know life, whole and pure, again?

Eventually, of course, time ran out on Judah, and God let the Babylonians overtake the promised land, turning God's people into refugees or slaves. (But even after that, He promised restoration to all who will turn from sin and believe in Him.)

But God, it would seem, still does this begging thing. In Luke 15, in the New Testament, God in the flesh, Jesus, tells the story of the prodigal son. Throughout the whole story, the father, Jesus' parabolic representation of God the Father, does all sorts of unseemly (some would say unmanly, unfatherly) things.

First, the father violates cultural norms by giving inheritances to both his oldest and his youngest sons. Neither boy earns their estates, mind you, but in those days, a younger son could have expected nothing. The old man is a softie though and, on demand, gives the young boy his inheritance.

Second, after the younger son wastes every gift he's given and fallen into poverty and dishonor (feeding pigs and envying their menu), he heads back home to ask his dad for a job alongside the servants. Instead, showing what would have been seen as unseemly compassion, the father runs to the boy when he sees him approaching the estate, and wraps his arms around him in forgiveness and acceptance before the boy can utter a word of repentance.

With the younger son returned, the father throws a party, Jesus' parabolic representation of the kingdom of God to which all people are invited through Him. The older boy, offended by the charity and forgiveness that the father was showing the younger son, refuses to join the party. (He apparently was too good for the kingdom of God.) Jesus says the father came out of the house to plead with the older son to come and join the party.

Sin, which is separation from God, can take many forms.

It can be seen in the kind of idolatry and injustice exhibited by God's people in Jeremiah's time.

It can look like the hedonism seen in the younger son of Jesus' parable.

It can look like the stuck-up, holier-than-thou priggishness of the older son.

But whatever the form of our sin, God ain't too proud to beg us to return to Him.

There will come times--in this world, maybe, and in the age to come, for certain--when God will allow those who refuse His begging love and forgiveness, to live with the consequences of their decisions to go it alone without God.

Like a jilted lover, God told the people of Israel through Jeremiah that they had broken the covenant He had with them, "though I was their husband" (Jeremiah 31:32). But He spent years begging His people to return and remains faithful to them and to the whole human race to this day.

God is begging us now to return to Him. Through Jesus Christ, God has made Himself known to us all and wants us to be part of His eternal party.

He's begging because, paraphrasing the message of the Bible in the words the Temptations could have sung, "you mean that much to Him."

[The prophet Jeremiah by Marc Chagall. Click to enlarge.]

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