Occasionally I wonder what I learned in 5 years studying theology. And the most important truth can be summed up in just 6 words. “NOT EITHER OR – BUT BOTH AND”
What I mean is that many important issues of faith and Christian living have two extremes. Should prayer and worship have structure or are they better when they are spontaneous? Which is more important – to love God or to love our neighbour?
Is everything in life predestined or do human beings genuinely have free will? Does Christian authority rest in the Bible as Protestants believe – or in the traditions of the church as Roman Catholics believe? Or more recently people have asked, does ultimate authority lie in the inspired word of God as fundamentalists believe or in the immediate inspiration of the Holy Spirit as some Pentecostals believe?
In these and many other issues Christians have so often become polarised. One group defends one extreme and another the opposite extreme. Congregations split. Denominations split.
I am convinced that, very often, the truth is not a matter of EITHER OR, but of BOTH AND. To be faithful to Scripture we have to learn not to take one extreme or the other in most issues, but rather to look for a middle way which holds both opposing points of view in tension. So in prayer and worship I have learned to value both structure and spontaneity. We must love BOTH God AND our neighbour. The question is not pre-destination OR free will, but how can we keep in tension BOTH divine sovereignty AND human responsibility? We need BOTH church traditions AND sacred scriptures. And it is not a choice between Word and Spirit, we need BOTH Word AND Spirit.
One area where very may Christians are polarised is concerned with the character of God and our attitudes to God. Some Christians emphasise just how holy God is. They realise that such a holy and righteous God demands a response of awe and humility and repentance and commitment. At the opposite extreme are Christians who focus on the love of God. They are overjoyed at God’s mercy and grace. They emphasise intimacy with God.
This single chapter 2 Samuel 6 has things to say to every one of us, whatever aspect of God’s character dominates our thinking about God and our response to God. Whether we naturally respond more strongly to God’s holiness or God’s love, this passage will challenge us to realise that the issue is “not either or but both and.” Our God expects a response, not of holiness OR joy, but of holiness AND joy.
Because in a single chapter we have two very significant events.
GOD STRUCK UZZAH DOWN DEAD!
2 Samuel 6:6 ¶ When they came to the threshing-floor of Nacon, Uzzah reached out and took hold of the ark of God, because the oxen stumbled. 7 The LORD’s anger burned against Uzzah because of his irreverent act; therefore God struck him down and he died there beside the ark of God. 8 Then David was angry because the LORD’s wrath had broken out against Uzzah, and to this day that place is called Perez Uzzah. 9 David was afraid of the LORD that day and said, “How can the ark of the LORD ever come to me?”
Here we have a chilling reminder of the HOLINESS of God!
The ark of God was the covenant box which carried amongst other things the tablets of stone on which God had written the 10 Commandments. All through the wilderness it has represented God’s presence in the middle of his chosen people. It brought peace and prosperity and victory in battle and David was determined to bring it up to Jerusalem. No one was allowed to touch the covenant box. It was to be carried by hand on poles or here on a cart. But never touched by human hands! But for the best of motives Uzzah reached out and touched the ark, and even so God was angry. Very angry. Uzzah was struck dead!
Here is a solemn warning for us. God doesn’t just demand our love. He demands our obedience. Our faithfulness in small things as well as big things. Obedience. No wonder David was humbled and afraid of the Lord!
There are similar warning passages elsewhere in Scripture.
2 Kings 2:23 From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some youths came out of the town and jeered at him. “Go on up, you baldhead!” they said. “Go on up, you baldhead!” 24 He turned round, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the LORD. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled
forty-two of the youths.
Our God is a Holy God. Those who oppose or ridicule His messengers provoke God’s anger!
In the New Testament, Acts 5 tells us of the occasion when Ananias and Sapphira lie to the apostles about the money they are giving to the church.
Peter confronted Ananias, “You have not lied to men but to God.” 5 When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened.
The Peter challenged Saphira. 9 Peter said to her, “How could you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.” 10 At that moment she fell down at his feet and died. Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband. 11 Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.
We may find it difficult to believe in a God who strikes sinners dead in such a dramatic fashion. How true is it that the church today emphasises God’s love and neglects God’s holiness?
Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard! Not surprising! What is surprising is how few Christians feel that kind of fear towards the God who is still as holy now as he was when he struck down Uzzah and Ananaias and Sapphira! Some Christians are so casual in their approach to God. Some show an intimacy which treads a fine line with irreverence.
In particular I am troubled by those Christians who say that God is so loving that he would never punish sinners. God is so loving that there cannot be a hell. God is so loving that everybody will be saved. People can only say that by ignoring the whole of the Old Testament and huge chunks of the New Testament as well. Because the Bible tells us on almost every page that God is a Holy God. As C.S.Lewis puts it in his Narnia books, “Aslan is no tame Lion”. Yes God is a God of love – indeed God IS love. But God is also the holy God of justice righteousness. We should approach God with awe and reverence and indeed fear! If you are one of those people who is so overwhelmed by God’s love for you that you are in danger of forgetting his Holiness, read these passages again tonight.
Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, or our “God is a consuming fire.”
So 2 Samuel 6 warns us of God’s holiness. But in the very same chapter we read something which strikes me as amazing given the context.
DAVID DANCED BEFORE THE LORD
12 .. David went down and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-edom to
the City of David with rejoicing. 13 When those who were carrying the ark of the LORD had taken six steps, he sacrificed a bull and a fattened calf. 14 David, wearing a linen ephod, danced before the LORD with all his might, 15 while he and the entire house of
Israel brought up the ark of the LORD with shouts and the sound of trumpets.
16 As the ark of the LORD was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the LORD, she despised him in her heart.
We might expect Uzzah’s experience to have left the whole nation of Israel terrified for the rest of their lives. Instead only three months later we find David once again bringing the Ark of the Covenant to his capital city, celebrating and full of joy, dancing before the Lord in a way which even his wife Michal found embarrassing David, King of all Israel, leaping and dancing! Scandalous!!
But then perhaps what is more scandalous is how little joy some Christians find in their faith. How few Christians know how to really let their hair down and dance before the Lord!” Now there IS a scandal.
You see even though he was living under the Old Covenant before Jesus Christ came and died and rose again, David could be full of the joy of salvation. So he danced before the Lord! This passage reminds us that it is alright for God’s chosen people to get carried away in worship sometimes. God expects that. God isn’t angry! God is pleased!
Like the scandalous adoration of the woman who wasted a whole jar of precious perfume anointing Jesus, even letting down her hair to dry his feet.
Matt 26:10 Jesus knew what they were saying, so he said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? It is a fine and beautiful thing that she has done for me. Wherever
this gospel is preached all over the world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.”
Like the widow who showed totally irresponsible generosity, yet was praised by Jesus.
Luke 21:1 As he looked up, Jesus saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. 2 He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. 3 “I tell you the truth,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. 4 All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”
David was dancing a sacred dance. He danced before the Lord – and wouldn’t let anybody, even his wife, stop him!!
GNB 21 David answered, “I was dancing to honour the Lord, who chose me instead of your father and his family to make me the leader of his people Israel. And I will go on dancing to honour the Lord!”
Dancing. Joy. Celebration. Here is surely the opposite extreme from the reaction that we would expect David to have after Uzzah is struck dead. But it is a challenge to all of us who find it difficult to express ourselves in worship. It may be embarrassing to some of us to find more than 20 references in the Bible to dancing as a part of God’s people worshipping. But the verses are there – I counted them all!!
Ps 30:11 You have changed my sadness into a joyful dance; you have taken away my sorrow and surrounded me with joy.
Ps 87:7 They dance and sing, “In Zion is the source of all our blessings.”
Ps 149:3 Praise his name with dancing; play drums and harps in praise of him.
Ps 150:4 Praise him with drums and dancing. Praise him with harps and flutes.
You know of course that Elf and Safety would deem it too dangerous for me to dance before the Lord, or indeed anywhere else. We just can’t get the insurance! But still the principle is there. We should all feel free to express our joy in the Lord all the time. To celebrate the incredible amazing love which God has shown to us in Jesus Christ. Just because we recognise and respect and stand in awe of the holiness of God, we should still express the joy of our salvation! Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount that we should rejoice and be glad, even in the midst of persecution. We should indeed “leap for joy.”
John Stott said that “the main mark of justified believers is joy.” Not gloominess!
God struck Uzzah dead. But David still danced before the Lord. Not either – or but both – and. Not holiness or love and joy. But BOTH holiness and love, holiness and joy!