Wednesday, March 16, 2011

God's Hospitality

I found this interesting quote when I was preparing for last week's sermon.

"God's provision for Israel in the OT takes on some of the qualities of human hospitality. God hosted the people of Israel in the wilderness, providing water, food and protection (Ex 15:24-25,27; 17:1-7; 23:20-23). He screened them prior to their entry into Canaan (Num 14:21-24; Deut 1:34-35; Heb 3:18-19; 4:6). He invited them into a Promised Land prepared for them--a place full of food, a place which God says, "The land is mine; with me you are but aliens and tenants" (Lev. 25:23; see also Deut 26:9). The application is even broader in Psalm 104, where the psalmist sees the cosmos as God's garden in which all living creatures receive provision. God's hospitality is actually festive, as he makes available "wine to gladden the human heart, oil to make the face shine, and bread to strengthen the human heart" (Ps 104:15 NRSV). In a similar vein, in Proverbs 9 Wisdom, a personified attribute of God, builds a house and extends an invitation to the good life, pictured as a lavish banquet (Prov 9:1-6). In contrast, Folly, an unworthy and wily hostess, can only offer stolen water and "food eaten in secret" (Prov 9:14-18)." Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, "Hospitality" p.404.

A couple of thoughts:

1. I would say that God's hospitality and compassion and care becomes the paradigm for human hospitality. God offers the archtype in his redemption and care for his people. We, as Christians, should practice the ectype. This is why Israel was to care for the sojourner in the land.

2. God's hospitality as it extends to all creatures and especially all human beings is a function of what theologians call "common grace." That God is given all people things they do not deserve because he has a general care and love for them as his creation. God gives good gifts to the non-elect and the reprobate.

3. Somehow, God's hospitality should been subsumed under his Lordship and establishment of man as viceregents in his image. Just a a vassal king serving as viceregent was ultimately dependent upon the suzerain to exercise his function, so also human beings are dependent upon God to establish them as vice regents. "In him we live and move and have our being." So God in his hospitality places Israel in the promised land, but he also establishes them as dignified viceregents who will exercise his kingship. While Israel and God's people are always dependent upon God's grace, God's grace does restore the image of God (ultimately in 'new creation') but it also raises the person up to a position of viceregency. Certainly they do not deserve it, but God's pattern is to raise up the humble and lowly. This hospitality instills dignity in the person although the person is always under God.

4. Christian hospitality, lowly man to lowly man, is not then mere a handout where the person becomes a dependent and a 'ward of the state' rather Christian hospitality should affirm the dignity of the individual. It's goal should be to display the dignity of the person and even restore some of that dignity to them. We should be cautious and wary about means of "aid" that meet physical needs but in a manner that places the person below human dignity and essential enslaves them to their benefactor in a long term dependent relationship. This is not to say we should not give long term help to needy people; we should always lavish mercy until it is not longer merciful to help (Tim Keller's book Ministries of Mercy discusses this). This is to say that aid should be life affirming and raise a person in dignity whereas too often long term aid crushes the human spirit convincing them they have no value or ability other than being utterly dependent upon their benefactor like a junkie is dependent upon his dealer. We should give aid but we should not allow it to produce in us a 'savior complex' where we strive to keep the person below our level of dignity.

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