If I had about 40 extra hours in my day with childcare provided, I would not be short on ways to spend my time. My mental list includes a bit more sewing, reading and – to be honest – Bible study. Not in the Kay Arther kind of way, though I’m sure that’s fine. But I just have a lot of questions that I’d love to spend time looking at. Such as, you say?
One of them is how geography works within the greater Story. Any good literature teacher will tell you that “setting” is a key component to story (and as I write that, I’m prone to wonder what Don Miller would chime in as well). It’s an element often not discussed when we dig out a passage, but one I think that if pondered, would give the Bible a bit more colour (see the Brittish spelling? That’s in honour of Adele. I dreamt in her accent after watching the pre-Grammy special on her).
For example, Egypt and Assyria. They take on almost human properties – both ladies, I believe – who appear in Israel’s growth process. Egypt is the land of escape and bondage. There seems to be a tendency that when life is difficult in Israel – like, say, a famine – Egypt always has what’s needed to survive. There’s a real shine to what she has going on. Like baby weight is never an issue and she wears hoop earrings to the grocery store. “Come on over,” she prrrrs, “I’ll show you how it’s done.”
But Israel always looses herself there. The shine and sparkle lead to entrapment. She becomes a slave to it all and looses her freedom to decide. Israel eventually ends up on Dr. Phil, where God confronts her and says, “You have the power to decide on your next tomorrow.” And with the boost, she finally escapes to freedom again, after a makover in the Red Sea.
Then there’s Assyria. She shows up a bit more in the Prophets, which would be my first land of more study if the extra hours really did show up. But when Assyria makes her presence known, it’s typically because Israel got all huffy about God and decided to do things on her own. Like a teenager who keeps coming home after curfew, despite numerous warnings from parents that a) you should obey and b) it’s not a wise idea because nothing good happens after 11, she suddenly finds herself in jail after a night of joyriding. And Assyria is the one who puts her under lock-and-key. Assyria also takes on that arch nemesis feel, boasting about how now that Israel is doing time, Assyria will go and steal her boyfriend. (Yes, this analogy is veering dangerously close to The Young and the Restless). Finally, after enough tears and letters, God arrives, pays the bail, and Israel gets to go home, but her head hangs a little low, her swagger a little muted.
These characters of Egypt and Assyria simply play the role that God put them in. No more that we can blame Edward Norton for taking on creepy-guy roles like in Fear, can we blame these characters for guiding the story of Israel. But in general, the attitude toward these folks is one of disgust. Because they’ve not really been alleys in the past, they don’t make the Israel’s friend list. So it goes for those who build in our sanctification rather than our confidence boosting.
But hidden away in the prophet Isaiah (20:24-45), we read: On that Day, Israel will take its place alongside Egypt and Assyria, sharing the blessing from the center. God-of-the-Angel-Armies, who blessed Israel, will generously bless them all: “Blessed be Egypt, my people! … Blessed by Assyria, work of my hands! … Blessed be Israel, my heritage!”
In the day we seem to be leaning toward, God’s going to share with the characters who haven’t always rubbed us the right way. When we arrive, we won’t be alone on the podium. Those competitors who were racing alongside, perhaps even taunting us or trash talking along the way, will get to share in our glory.
Jesus spoke so much about “love your enemy” and it’s one of those tough mandates that we enjoy more in theory than in practice. I think the tendency is to leave it other-worldly. Like when someone cuts you off in traffic and, from the safety of your own car, you just “let” them go first. But the tough stuff of loving people who rub you the wrong way, or simply don’t help you when you find yourself in a jam, those are the enemies that often don’t get love. We might be able to rustle up some apathy, but love?
But if we can’t love them now, what makes us think we’ll do any better when we share space with them in heaven? God doesn’t just rid of us challenges in the celestial world. Heaven is seeming more to me as the place where we’ve finally “arrived.” Today is another day that we’re journeying toward What Is To Come. And Jesus made it clear that today is another day that we can live in the ways he’s shown us. It’s time to let go of the fact that “that guy” or “She” has done something less than edifying to you and realize that they will share the kingdom as well. How will you love them for it?