Devotion - April 29

[Today's readings: Psalms 141-145, Proverbs 29, Romans 3:22-24]

Do not bring your servant into judgment,
for no one living is righteous before you.

Psalm 143:2

Whoever remains stiff-necked after many rebukes
will suddenly be destroyed—without remedy.

Proverbs 29:1

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
and all are justified freely by his grace
through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

Romans 3:22-24

A friend I had from Northern Ireland would refer to himself as “thran” – a term for stubborn or obstinate. It may be a good translation choice, alongside stiff necked or self-reliant, for the Biblical descriptions of basic human nature. We are thran.

And we are, unfortunately, far less obstinate about doing the good, the right, or the beautiful than we are about insisting on our own way – no matter how bad, or wrong or ugly that way is. In the story the Bible tells, humanity seems equal parts in need of rescue and equal parts stubbornly placing ourselves in peril. This is the hard truth in the Salvation story – we are in need of rescue both because we are too weak for the current, and because we swim out over our heads: “No one living is righteous before you” the psalmist writes.

The worst case, of course, is the stubborn refusal to submit to God and God’s ways. Being thran is not a sin in itself. When someone stubbornly refuses to abandon faith, we call it hope. When they are obstinate to remain loyal to another no matter what we call it love. So when does this excellent capacity for perseverance become ugly – obstinate – stiff-necked?

“After many rebukes”, or as another prophet puts it, “you would not listen…” Humanity needs rescue because we stubbornly refuse to listen. Listening to God, in the Bible, is inseparable from doing. And maybe this is where the stiff neck comes into play. The words go in our ears but do not travel past the neck into our hearts, hand, feet – our actions. "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God ..."

We need a fair amount of stubborn to emerge whole from a pandemic. We should be thran about hope and love and faith. We will naturally, however, direct our stubbornness to the wrong end. Tell me you have not encountered this ugly stubbornness in yourself during this shut down. I’m sure you can tell me all the ways you see and experience the stubbornness of others. We need someone to save us from our own stubbornly sinful ways – to restore our God given capacity for perseverance to its intended end: the stubborn love of God and obstinate obedience to his ways.

Let’s be thran today. Let’s stubbornly turn to God, in Jesus, to listen and fix our reliance on him. Which will mean turning our stiff neck away from our own ways, in humility, and admission that we are easily selfish or self-deceived. Let’s stubbornly insist on forgiving one another in Jesus’ name. Let’s be obstinate about serving and loving and seeking forgiveness. And especially, let’s refuse to turn our necks and look away either from our own capacity to destroy, or from God’s even greater capacity to save. And oh do we serve a God who is thran about loving us to salvation.
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