I've temporarily misplaced the free booklet of Christian devotional passages (mini-sermons or whatever), but it occurred to me that such a thing must have an on-line component and, wonder of wonders, here it is. I'll just pick on today's for fun.
The title of today's message is, "Promises You Can Bank On". Here's the text:
After a global financial crisis, the US government enacted stricter laws to protect people from questionable banking practices. Banks had to change some of their policies to comply. To notify me of such changes, my bank sent me a letter. But when I got to the end I had more questions than answers. The use of phrases like “we may” and “at our discretion” certainly didn’t sound like anything I could depend on!
In contrast, the Old Testament quotes God as saying “I will” numerous times. God promises David: “I will set up your seed after you, who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever” (2 Sam. 7:12-13). No uncertainty in those words. Recognizing God’s faithfulness to His promises, King Solomon says in his prayer of dedication for the temple: “You have kept what You promised Your servant David my father; You have both spoken with Your mouth and fulfilled it with Your hand” (2 Chron. 6:15). Centuries later, the apostle Paul said that all of God’s promises are “yes” in Christ (2 Cor. 1:20).
In a world of uncertainty, our trust is in a faithful God who will always keep His promises.
And there follows the traditional doggerel:
Whatever trouble may assail,
Of this we can be sure:
God’s promises can never fail,
They always will endure. —Hess
This doggerel is worse than usual. The last line doesn't even scan. How about: "We know they will endure." While the "always" has two syllables, they don't scan well as distinct. The content leaves something to be desired as well. First, it makes quite a bit of difference what God's promises are. If God promises that I'll be burned to a crisp in eternal hellfire for thinking about maybe having sex with my spouse in an unapproved position, maybe I would look for someone who makes better promises. Second, it doesn't look to me as though God is particularly good at keeping promises.
As an aside: there's a final line on the page that is typically meaningless drivel, "Faith knows that God always performs what He promises." Faith doesn't know anything. That's basically the definition of faith.
The piece starts off well enough with complaints about legalistic language in banking contracts that leave all the power in the hands of the bankers to do what they want and little power with the consumers. You can always count on me to question the government's regulation of big financial institutions and to distrust the institutions themselves.
But the main religious part of the passage leaves me with less confidence in God than I have in credit default swaps, mortgage-backed securities and Standard & Poor's credit rating system.
Our main claim is that God is trustworthy because God says, "I will" more than banks do because they disavow any responsibility to do anything. I have more trust in deeds than words, so I'm not going to take God's promises on faith. But before getting to that question, I want to note a difference between God and the financial institutions.
God spends more time emphasizing our responsibility to him than he does making promises to us. For example, aside from the 10 Commandments that demand that we keep the Sabbath holy (and should be punished with death for working on it), that we make no graven images (which makes life really hard on the magazine industry and photography industries), the Old Testament contains injunctions against: eating pork (Lev. 11: 7-8, Deut. 14:8) or shellfish (Lev. 11: 10-12), planting two different plants in the same field or mixing fabrics in one's clothing (Lev. 19:19), touching a woman who is menstruating (Lev. 15:19-24), getting a tattoo (Lev. 19: 28), or being a drunken disobedient son (Deut. 21: 18-21). Worse, working on the Sabbath (Exodus 35:2) and being a drunken, disobedient are punishable by death (by stoning in the case of disobedience).
If a bank sent me a letter with all these commands, I wouldn't waste much time in finding a new bank, especially since they are onerous and either irrelevant or antithetical to any rational rules of behavior. So far I'm a little happier with my bank's "we may"s and "at our discretion"s than I am with God's "thou shalt"s and "thou shalt not"s.
But what about God's promises? For starters, God promised that if Adam and Eve ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, "for in the day that thou eatest [of the tree] thereof thou shalt surely die." (Gen. 2:17) But Adam does not die, so on day 6 (of after day 7 if the second creation story is separate from the first) God makes a promise that he later breaks. Not a good start. Maybe the promises work out a little better in future. Let's see what the author comes up with.
Basically there are three pieces of evidence for God keeping his promises. The first is:
God promises David: “I will set up your seed after you, who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever” (2 Sam. 7:12-13).
David's kingdom no longer exists, so promise 1 is not kept. (Is David's throne in heaven? I hope not since God is the only king in heaven. [Psalm 103:19])
The second piece of evidence is:
Recognizing God’s faithfulness to His promises, King Solomon says in his prayer of dedication for the temple: “You have kept what You promised Your servant David my father; You have both spoken with Your mouth and fulfilled it with Your hand” (2 Chron. 6:15).
Solomon is in no position to know whether God has fulfilled the promise to maintain David's kingdom forever. We cannot take this testimony as evidence for God's promise being kept.
(Interestingly, the long discussion that precedes this passage is the one in which Solomon has a round cup made that has impossible dimensions. It's 5 cubits in radius and 30 cubits in diameter. That is only possible if pi = 3. I guess Solomon was rounding off. With all the discussions of the huge amounts of gold and valuables Solomon uses to build this temple, I wonder who read this stuff. It must have been in "Lifestyles of the Rich and God.")
The third piece of evidence is:
Centuries later, the apostle Paul said that all of God’s promises are “yes” in Christ (2 Cor. 1:20).
As far as I can tell the author is arguing that God keeps his promises because Paul says God keeps his promises (when they are made by Christ or when we believe in or through Christ or something like that). It's not much evidence to quote someone else who also says God will keep his promises in supporting your claim that God will keep his promises. Example: "Hey, Bob, tell 'im that Joe keeps his promises." It doesn't work unless Bob is an unbiased expert on Joe, and Paul is not exactly an unbiased expert witness on God's promises.
So, without going through an extensive investigation of God's promises in the Bible to see whether they are kept, we can conclude that we've got no good evidence that God keeps his promises. Since I don't want to follow God's crazy restrictions in exchange for these promises, I think I'll stick to my mildly-regulated financial institution, thanks. At least the government has some control over them.