"These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me." Matthew 15:8
I recently watched the 2014 theatrical release of "Noah", the story of the Biblical character and his family being saved from the Great Flood as told in the Book of Genesis. I'd heard a lot of criticism about this particular portrayal of the story from those who felt the writers strayed too far from the scriptural text, but God led me to see it anyway. Personally I thought it was brilliant storytelling, I didn't think it was so far-fetched, and I really liked it. I appreciated the way Noah is portrayed, as a "righteous" man as the Bible says, and yet he was also far from perfect. Human with normal human emotions of doubt, fear, and uncertainty. God spoke to him about what to do, gave him visions and dreams, and provided what was needed to carry out the task, but it was far from easy for him to listen, understand, and always believe in what he was doing and if it was right.
I can relate to that, how about you?
If you are a Bible-believing person, you have probably been taught to honor God, and that was Noah's mindset for much of the movie. He was focused on how God was leading him and carrying out the task he believed God had given him, but along the way his heart came into play, and he was faced with the dilemma of choosing between justice and mercy, and the question: Is God just, or is He merciful?
When it comes to honoring God, I think we lean toward the side of God being just. He is worthy of honor because He is holy and perfect. We honor God by doing what He says--by living obediently. We worship Him because He commands us to do so. We do the right thing because it's right. We live uprightly because we claim to follow Him. We repent of sin because we know it's wrong. And we look down on those who aren't as "righteous" as we are.
Jesus had strong words for people who lived that way. And He quoted His Father who spoke the same words to Isaiah the prophet many years earlier. "These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me." They were acting "justly", the way they thought God wanted, but they were mistaken. God's heart is not about what is just, it's about His mercy.
Should we live "rightly"? Absolutely. Do we have the capacity to live righteously on our own? Absolutely not. Do we honor God when we live rightly? Sometimes--God is also interested in our motive and whether or not we are relying on Him to live appropriately. (Prov. 2:6-7; 21:2) Is there more to following God than living rightly and honoring him? Absolutely. This is the crossroad Noah came to in the movie, and I think he had to at some point in real-life also. Why? Because anyone who follows God for any length of time will come to this crossroad.
If you are honoring God simply for the sake of honoring Him or to be known as someone who honors Him, God wants to take you to a deeper place of knowing Him for all that He is. Beyond obedience to seeing yourself as the object of His affection. Did He choose Noah because He knew Noah would be obedient, because he was a "righteous" man? Yes. Did He choose Noah because He wanted to show Noah how much he was loved? Even more so. If He knew Noah would be obedient but would come away from the experience only seeing God as just and himself as righteous, He would have chosen someone else.
The people God chose to rescue needed to escape with a different story to tell. Not that God is just: anyone could come to that conclusion who saw the entire "unrighteous" human race annihilated. God needed a different kind of witness to share His heart behind the destruction. He needed someone, several someones, who would see that in the end, mercy always wins over justice. Did all humans, including Noah and his family deserve death? Was that the curse sin had brought? Yes. Is that how the story ends? No.
How did it end? With a promise. With a blessing. With a command to keep the human race going. "Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth." (Gen.9:1) Why? Because this time everyone would be obedient and honor Him? Not hardly! Then why? Because God's wrath doesn't satisfy Him. It's pointless. It's not what He wants to be known for. Does He have the right to act justly? Absolutely. Is justice the last word? Absolutely not.
What does satisfy God's heart? What is His final word? What does He want to be famous for? His love. Love that is merciful. Love that forgives. Love that healed a broken, wayward, hardened earth; And love that heals the broken, wayward, hardened hearts of mankind. Love that teaches us what is right so we can avoid mistakes and the pitfalls of sin. Love that doesn't leave us on our own to make the right choices but empowers us to live obediently. (Eph. 1:19-20) Love that we receive and believe in so completely, we become messengers and vessels of that love to those around us.
Noah may have been seeking to honor God with his obedience. You may be seeking to honor God in the ways you worship, serve, and obey Him. But God is seeking something else. As Jesus told the Samaritan Woman at the Well (a woman many would have seen as needing to radically change her ways to honor God), "If you only knew the gift God has for you and who you are speaking to, you would ask me and I would give you living water." (John 4:10)
He didn't say:
'If you bow down and worship me.'
'If you do what I command.'
'If you live an honorable life.'
'If you live to honor me.'
He said: "Ask me, and I will give."
When the woman brings up the subject of worshiping God in the proper way and place, He says, "Believe me, dear woman, the time is coming when it will no longer matter [where you worship or your heritage]...true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth." (4:21-23) An open, honest heart--that's all God requires to honor Him: to admit my need and ask for His presence and love, His goodness and righteousness, the things that will satisfy my soul; Not to try and satisfy Him, but to let Him satisfy me. To change me from the inside-out: beyond forgiveness to renewal and transformation. Beyond honoring Him to becoming all I am meant to be. That's true worship. Not living to please Him, but to be satisfied in Him. To rest in His love. To receive His mercy. To be a daughter of Grace.
This is something we talk about, but it's often only on our lips. We need to let the truth of God's mercy penetrate our souls to the point where we feel no shame, no need to earn God's favor, no need to compare ourselves to everyone else; where honoring God isn't about what we do, but what we receive--what He gives to us, what we truly believe He can do for us, the love He shares without limit or condition.
I used to think it was only about doing what is right, but it's about the blessings God has for me. It's about knowing Him for who He truly is, and knowing how loved I am. It's about believing I'm never on my own and never any less than how valuable He says, and showed, that I am.
God showed how much he loved us by sending His one and only Son...This is real love--not that we loved God, but that he loved us.
1 John 4:9-10
Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
Blue Wildflower photo by Cindy Rae Riggs © 2014. Used by permission.
Blue Wildflower photo by Cindy Rae Riggs © 2014. Used by permission.
"Noah" poster artwork used as Fair Use.
"Woman at the Well" by Carl Heinrich Bloch Public Domain