Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Joining the Dots

for decoration only
photo © anna for openphoto.net

For some time I've been meaning to learn Classical Gas. For those of you who don't know, it's a guitar instrumental - you may have heard it but didn't know what it as called. Happily its based on a guitar technique I've been using for years so it's a bit like doing a dot-to dot where you just have to join a few dots and it begins to take shape. It seems like my whole life has been a dot-to-dot. I remember when I started school we were given wooden blocks as an aid to learning arithmetic, their lengths representing numbers. To me they were just nice coloured sticks. It was only many years later that I figured out what they were though I'm still not entirely sure.

I don't think I understood school until I was about 15. Up till then it had been an instrument of humiliation and mental cruelty. I read some of my school reports a while ago and was surprised how negative and critical many of the comments were. Learning is a matter of joining the dots but either no one had explained it to me adequately or I wasn't in the queue when they handed out the pencils. School didn't prepare me for adult life, it dismantled me and threw me out in pieces. Since then I've been putting the pieces back together without a manual. Like the dot-to-dot, life makes most sense when you've nearly finished it and you don't have the luxury of an eraser, you have to live with the mistakes.

I've been reading the book of Joshua and I've got to the part where the Israelites raze Ai to the ground. Moses got God's people to the threshold of the Promised Land but it was up to Joshua to take them in. God kindly stopped the Jordon upstream and allowed the whole nation to cross without as much as getting their feet wet and once they were in their first campaign was to take Jericho. That went well and next on the list was Ai, only this time they got routed. The problem was: they had been told that the plunder from Jericho belonged to God but one guy named Achan decided the goods were too desirable and took some for himself. Achan was found out and punished (to death) and it was time for a second stab at Ai. This time they were successful.

So the lesson is: obey God and you will have success; defy God and you will fail. Oh that it were that simple. Experience alone tells us there must be more to it than that. Lets start joining the dots.

The Law of Moses repeatedly told the Jews that God demanded the first fruits, which is why he demanded the spoils from the first campaign. I imagine Achan justified, in his own mind, why he should be allowed to take some desirables for himself. Why would God need robes, gold, silver and iron? Why be so mean? But God had no wish to impoverish Achan, he only wanted what was rightfully his. Achan had dared to rob God - not a good plan.

Joshua's scouts reckoned on Ai being an easy target so they only sent a few thousand troops. But they were sent packing and a few men were killed. On their second attempt an ambush was laid. The men of Ai assumed that this attack would be like the first so they chased them off again. Only this time more Israeli troops came from the opposite direction and set fire to the city. The men of Ai were now out in the open and between two lots of Israelites in much larger numbers.

Lesson 1: there are good reasons why you shouldn't have what you want. If you have to justify your actions you should probably not be doing what you are doing.

Lesson 2: God can use your mistakes for good even when they are the result of your wrongdoing or disobedience. Israel's first attack on Ai failed because of Achan's sin but if the men of Ai had not seen Israel run for their lives after the first attack they may not have fallen for the ambush on the second attempt. The casualties from the first attack were no less dead but victory was achieved.

Doing the right thing is not simply about following a set of rules or obeying a prescribed code it's about seeing the bigger picture and that sometimes means getting it wrong first time. The more I read the Bible it looks less like a bunch of random dots and more like the outline of a big picture. God doesn't erase my mistakes he uses them as lessons - not like those miserable reports but like hardcore, out of view but forming the foundation of a brighter future.