Since my comments to some of the questions and thoughts raised by the last post are too long to put in the form of a comment, here’s what I’m thinking, even though a lot of this has already come out in the discussion.
Much of what the God of the Bible tells people to do is not what turns out to be most important for those people (and us).
As the greatest of all dramas plays out, what the story tells us about the love and goodness of God comes to us with enormous moral and spiritual authority (and transforming power) in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. By the time the story reaches its climax we discover that there is a connection between moments as different as Jesus’ conversation with the wealthy young Jewish man and the parable he told about the unforgiving servant. In both situations, Jesus is doing more than describing what it means to share his heart. He is also showing how lost we all of us would be without the sacrifice that was to follow.
When Jesus asked the question, “Why do you call me good?” he was indirectly pressing the issue of who he really was (God mysteriously emptied of his eternal glory and wrapped in human flesh to come to our rescue).
By the time we learn why Jesus allowed himself to be crucified, we also learn why he may have talked to the rich man about selling all and giving it to the poor, and then to come and follow him. Whatever else was involved, at the very minimum, the rich man (like the rest of us) needed to discover what was wrong with his own heart, and that he wasn’t in step with the law of God’s love as much as he thought he was.
Good questions came out in your comments. Here’s some quick, though incomplete thoughts:
a. As for the “fires of accountability”, seems to me that they begin to touch us in this life, while reaching fullness in the judgment of the life to come.
b. On the matter of the destruction of the Canaanites, and the immediate judgment of people like Achan (Joshua 7), in many ways, people like Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5), Achan, the Canaanites, and the generation that died in the flood may have been far more like us than we want to think. On the surface, it appears that they were judged selectively and openly as God’s way of serving notice to all about the mortal dangers of trying to live apart from the one true God.
But on further reflection these events are also supporting elements of the story of the God who died in our place. So I’m convinced that the answers to our most difficult questions will be answered ultimately only in the day of judgment. Only when God reveals the extent of his holy goodness and love will we see how he uses the sacrifice of his Son to satisfy the demands of his justice, and the desires of his love for every Achan, Canaanite, or Sapphira who ever lived.
As God has given us the story by which to reflect on every detail of the stories of our own lives, so he has given us a crucifixion climax to that story by which to reflect on every inspired, supporting detail.
PS Take another look at Balaam’s donkey (Numbers 22:21-31). Balaam despised and hit him without realizing what the donkey was seeing of the angel of the Lord and for telling him the truth.
Without suggesting allegory or the dangerous kind of spiritualizing that can turn a text into something it was not intended to be, think about how even the despising of the donkey who was bearing Balaam’s burden and acting in his behalf ends up being fulfilled ultimately in the One who was despised for serving us, bearing our weight, and telling us the truth.
Again, I’m not talking about seeing a hidden story.
I’m saying that, in addition to and beyond the important historical narrative that enables the Balaam chapter to be part of the supporting Israel-story-backdrop of the cross, every hint of goodness, truth, beauty, love, honor, or service that we find in the inspired Bible– or in all creation and history– is fulfilled ultimately in Christ, just as every hint of twistedness, wrongness, self-obsession, or malice that we see in the inspired Bible–or in all creation and history– points to the sacrifice of the Lamb of God.
In other words, the inspired details of the story are not disconnected. The dots connect. In so many ways everything points to the One who lives and died– to reflect God’s goodness… in response to our need.