On Freedom, Fairness, and Faithfulness

Aug 26, 2015   //   by James Johnson   //   Blog  //  No Comments

I love freedom. I love being able to worship as my conscience leads. I love the freedom to pursue the kind of life I feel God calling me to. I love the freedom to be able to express myself the way I desire.

I also recognize that freedom to do such things may come with consequences. They are not all bad. I can be part of a faith community that reflects my personal values and beliefs. I can make a decent living and provide for my family. I can write and think. But sometimes when I do things like these, there are sacrifices. My belief about Sabbath, for instance, creates some constraints about what I will and will not do on that day. Now, I don’t mind that… these beliefs in themselves provide a freedom from another kind of tyranny. I am bound by conscience to pursue things that honor God on that day and reflect upon Him in a way I don’t do on other days, as the working week makes this an unlikely thing. I am also bound to sacrifice some things that prevent me from doing this. Freedom is great.

I also recognize that pursuing something in life prevents me from pursuing other things, especially when the values of that other thing clash with the values of what I am pursuing. I recognize that I cannot just write or say what I want without risking disagreement or even a lost friendship.

Reading Numbers 5 today, I observe several things.

  1. Anyone with infectious diseases were banned from the camp. The camp of God’s people were not to be defiled by sin or its results. That is tough for us to understand today. It seems unfair. It seems to lack compassion. But for their freedom to live in community and to worship God as the center of their existence to exist, I can see why this was necessary. If diseases infected the entire camp (skin or otherwise), and everyone started dying off or was miserable, community freedom would be drastically impacted. They could not deal with these things like we can today with modern medicine. If God just wiped out disease, it would be easy for people to forget a very important thing: this is what sin has done to people! Freedom existed. But freedom needed some boundaries.
  2. Anyone who wronged another person in the camp had to make compensation for it. They had to pay for the wrong, plus 15%. They had to make the appropriate sacrifices. If there wasn’t a relative to receive the compensation, they paid the priest. Freedom needed boundaries. An assault on freedom to live in community and worship had to be dealt with fairly.
  3. If a man suspected his wife was having an affair, they both had to appear in God’s presence, with the priest. The husband had to present a grain offering for his jealousy. The wife had to uncover her head. The priest tok water, added dust from the floor of The Dwelling (Sanctuary), and washed off the ink of the curse into the water. She would drink this water. If she was guilty, she experienced great pain, her womb shriveled up, and her belly swelled. She would be unable to bear children. If she was innocent, she was fine and could go on with her life. A bit more on how I feel about this one to come… but for now, suffice it to say that such things had to be dealt with. If affairs went on, as they must have in many other surrounding cultures with impunity, and if jealousy became a reigning emotion in the camp… freedom destroyed. Freedom needs boundaries, even consequences for assaulting freedom.
Now, I think we have freedom to question. If God cannot take my questions about His Word or actions, I don’t know who can. I also feel that anyone who claims to have never questioned or doubted have either abdicated the right to use their brains, or are lying. Sorry if that offends, but that’s how I feel. And, parenthetically, something about this text bothers me. I realize that theirs was a very patriarchal society. But for the life of me, I have a hard time seeing it fair to have a couple go into the sanctuary, and the man makes a sacrifice for jealousy that carries no apparent risk, while the woman is risking a lot. Even as I read, it wasn’t very clear to me. It’s possible she drank first, felt accute pain, then the man sacrificed his grain (that’s it?), and his jealosy (founded or otherwise) was atoned for… and then the woman drank again(!) and would feel the pain again if she was guilty (and have her child-creating parts immediately rendered useless), but would not if she was innocent. Or, she only had to drink the one time. Not clear on this… but it seems like the man gets off pretty easy if his accusation was unfounded. I am just not seeing how that’s entirely fair! I am glad I have freedom to feel this way! Not sure what the consequences are on this, but there you have it!
I do have some takeaways from this, however.
  1. In my life, my home, my community of faith… if it dishonors or tears down God’s reputation, it needs to be guarded against and gotten rid of. Now, does this mean a person is “banned from the camp” the same way they were in the wilderness? I don’t think so. Our situation is vastly different today. There are ways of dealing with these things that are much more compassionate and healing. I think it’s wise to keep contagious things away from the innocent. But there are those who think we need to keep out the unclean. I think it is too easily forgotten that we have a high priest who helps us deal with sin. If we refuse to deal with it and openly bring things “into the camp,” that’s one thing. But may we never ban the sick and unclean from associating with us who would bring all of this before our merciful Father, in Christ, for forgiveness and cleansing.
  2. Be fair. If I wrong someone, make it right. Go above and beyond in making things right with people. Our homes and our faith communities are built up through reconciliation with each other.
  3. Be faithful. Fidelity with your spouse is a must. Don’t even give your spouse a reason to think you are being unfaithful. Don’t give him or her a reason to be jealous. If unwarranted jealousy exists, deal with it together. We have a high priest in heaven now–Jesus Christ, according to Hebrews. Take it to Him together and work through it. Seek counseling–don’t let such things destroy your freedom to love in your relationship.
  4. If you are unfaithful… please stop. End it now. It may not “shrivel up your womb” (or have an equivalent result in men). But it will shrivel up who you are and cause you, your spouse, and even the one you commit adultery with (and his or her family) a lot of needless pain. The thrill is fleeting and not worth destroying who you are over. Just ask Josh Duggar right now. Ask his wife. Ask scores of people who have experienced the pain of such a thing. I could go deeper on this issue, but won’t for the sake of length and time.
God invites us to experience freedom: to worship, to live in community. Freedom needs boundaries. It needs us to be fair and faithful, to each other and to God.

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