One of my good friends is an entrepreneurial, go-getter kind of marketer guy. I love the man dearly but there are a few areas where our ideologies are very different. He’s a dynamic, risk-taking kinda guy, I like to play it safe; he likes organising, I like following, etc.
So once when he explained the importance of knowing the right people, of connections, you can guess what I thought. It was something along the lines of “Pah! A man shouldn’t have to rely on connections, he should work for things!”
Stubborn as I am and raised on a diet of Ancient History, I remain a firm believer in earning and deserving whatever we get. After all, did not Alexander the Great claim Asia with his spear, by hurling it onto its shore when he landed there – thereby claiming it as a spear-won prize from the gods (Diodorus, 17.17.2) – and later on when he warred his way through the Persian Empire? And does not Darius the Great haughtily ask passers-by at Naqsh-i Rustam (DNa) “How many are the countries which Kind Darius holds? Look at the sculptures of those who bear the throne, and know that the spear of the Persian man has gone forth far. Then you will know!” These are the kind of sentiments (albeit exaggerated) that I hold. (For those of you who know how lazy I actually am, I’ve somehow found a way for my laziness and this belief to coexist, not quite sure how though…)
But you know what, in terms of theology I’d say connections are closer to the Gospel than earning what you get. With the Gospel message itself it is pretty clear: “it is by grace you have been saved, through faith… not by works so that no one can boast” (Eph 2:8-9). Knowing Jesus (in terms of intimacy, saving trust and also in terms of ‘connections’) will save us, not earning our way to heaven by being good enough.
But it does not stop there. Let’s look at two very good examples from Genesis for illustrating the importance of connections.
Lot, near the end of the Bible, is counted as a righteous man (2 Pet 2:7). But why? When given a choice the man decided not to follow his uncle Abraham to Canaan, instead departing from God’s promise and settling for the well-watered Jordan plain (Gen 13:10). Fast forward to the destruction of Sodom, when Lot takes in the two angels and the men of the city demand he hand them over to be gang-raped, in a gobsmacking display of child neglect he offered instead his two young girls for gang rape (19:4-8). When Lot and his family finally get out of the city he hesitates and asks to flee to Zoar instead of the mountains, where the angels had ordered him to in the first place. And finally having left Zoar and fled to the mountains, he got himself so drunk that he unknowingly slept not once, but twice, with his two young daughters. Their descendants later became some of Israel’s bitterest enemies.
How on earth is this man counted righteous at the end of the Bible?
What was the reason for his getting involved with the God who destroyed Sodom in the first place? His uncle Abraham. It was through Abraham that he came to know God. And it was Abraham who pleaded for Lot when God told him that he was about to destroy Sodom. Abraham pleaded and pleaded and pleaded until God agreed to spare Sodom. And though in the end Sodom was destroyed, for the sake of Abraham God spared Lot and his family. The author of Genesis is very clear on this last point: “when God destroyed the cities of the plain, he remembered Abraham, and he brought Lot out of the catastrophe” (19:29). Lot did absolutely nothing to earn his rescue from judgement, and arguably he did nothing to deserve it afterward either, and yet at the end of the Bible he is counted as righteous. And it was because someone very close to God pleaded his case for him.
Joseph’s brothers are another good example from Genesis. There are 11 of them, all of them smarting from the fact that their father Israel obviously loves him much more than he does the rest. He gets the best clothes, and it seems that when his brothers went to watch the herd he was allowed to stay home. Plus there was that whole business with him telling his brothers that he might just rule over them someday. All the resentment boiled over soon after, and in a less than prudent moment Joseph’s brothers decided to grab him and sell him to some slavers, then tell their father he was dead (37:27-36).
How might you expect things to go down for Joseph’s treacherous brothers?
Fast forward a good many years, not only did the brothers not die horribly, but they were living as honoured guests of the Pharaoh, living off the fat of the land (45:18). You see, though Joseph’s brothers had betrayed him and left him for dead, God had not forgotten his original promise to Abraham, which was to take care of descendants. Though Joseph was betrayed by his own brothers God stayed with him, giving him success upon success so that he could prepare a home for Abraham’s descendants. And in the end it was only because they were related to Joseph – now the prime minister of Egypt – that these brothers could survive the famine that overtook Canaan, they and their children. Were it not for Joseph’s decision to show mercy, they might have starved in Canaan, and who could have blamed Joseph for doing so?
You and I are Lot. You are I Joseph’s brothers. Yes, we do not earn our salvation. But our undeserving-ness goes beyond not being good enough. We are rotten to the core. We might not have offered our children to be raped, nor sold our siblings to slavers, but we all have trampled God underfoot in order to get the things we want, we all have tried again and again to run away from God and turn to things that seem nicer or more satisfying. We have all been selfish, or hurtful, or stupid. Who among us can say we have no regrets?
But we all have an Abraham, we all have a Joseph. This figure is not just an idea, but a person. His name is Jesus. When we should have marched to Golgotha, Jesus pleaded for us, and marched and died in our place. And yet he is alive, and every single day he pleads for us like Abraham did for Lot, he shows us mercy like Joseph did for his brothers and gave them the King’s riches. We earn not a single ounce of these pleadings and riches. Our righteous acts, the best we can do, are not only not good enough, they are disgusting (Isaiah 64:6) – we are so rotten to the core that even the best we do is tinged with selfish desires.
So there is much to grieve for now, and most probably in the future too. But whatever happens be confident and be glad in the fact that there is a man, very close to God, who pleads our case every day. And God hears him, every day. Because of that man God says we are righteous. This is a man we once betrayed, but he is alive again and he makes God’s riches (though not always materially) come to us. We have confidence that we can see God and live with him in the next life, only because that man pleads for us. That man is Jesus.
Thank God for our connections with Jesus! Thank God we don’t have to earn our way to be with God!