Don’t Touch!

This is going to blow my cover, but I love to watch TV shows about criminal investigators and forensics. Sometimes things don’t go well when the detectives show up at a crime scene after the area has been roped off, and evidence is being dusted for fingerprints. In order to add a little spice to the drama, some well-meaning rookie comes along to help, and instinctively picks up something they absolutely weren’t supposed to touch, which of course, immediately taints the crime scene. I start to feel sorry for the new detective’s error in judgment, and even though the rookie didn’t adhere to the rules, my emotions begin to take over, and I start rooting for the bosses to go easy on the newbie. The penalty for that simple, well- intentioned touch may well end up costing that rookie their rank, or their job, or a dock in pay. After all, the rookie didn’t set out to do anything wrong; they were just trying to help. This is when I start to have an internal dialogue that argues, “Come on…. it was an honest mistake. I don’t think it’s fair that they should pay such a harsh price for their error. So, I cry, mean bosses!! Unfair!!” And thus, ensues my negative bias against the authorities. Who wants to work for someone like that??!!

I’ve described this crime scene to you because, sadly, I had this same biased opinion of God (my authority in the heavens), as an unfair, mean ‘boss’ for many years. My misguided perception of God happened as a result of my 17 year old brother dying suddenly, and watching my parents suffer through enormous pain for years, not to mention my own grief. How could the benevolent God of Sunday School be the same God who seemed, at times, to be harsh in His punishment of people? My confusion about God formed the basis of my opinion of Him for years. Consequently, based upon the perception I had of Him, I had no desire to know Him. So, I ran in the other direction until I was 32 years old, and I ran hard and fast. The amazing story of how I came back to Him, I’ll save for another blog post. Suffice it to say, it was radical and totally unexpected.

You may wonder why I’m telling you this. What could it possibly have to do with counseling issues?Because I believe your view of God shapes your architectural infrastructure as to how you see life, and subsequently, how you see yourself, and your problems. Our souls scream, “If God can’t be trusted, who can I trust? Will I have to rely on me?” (Adam and Eve had the same question, so this isn’t new. It’s a question we all ask at some point.) So, to see God more clearly for who He is, becomes vital in order to grow in our trust, walk in faith, and hope for change outside of our broken selves.

There was an event in the Old Testament (2 Samuel 6:1-8), where someone’s well-intentioned touch was penalized by God. My instinctive, human reaction to that story was that the instant penalty of death by God wasn’t fair, in fact, it seemed downright mean, just like what He had done to my family through the death of my brother. So, consequently, this biblical account confused me even more because it seemed thoroughly inconsistent with what I had been taught as a young child in Vacation Bible School about God’s kindness. As a result, all this confusion caused me to question God, and I spiraled into a dark, downward abyss for years.

In the aforementioned Bible passage, the Israelites were transporting the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem, a city they had recently captured. The ark symbolized the holy presence of God. The Israelites had been given explicit instructions by God when the ark of the covenant was built, as to how it was to travel. It was only to be carried on the shoulders of the Levites, using poles slipped through rings that had been molded into the sides of the ark. Absolutely no human touch, all of which has been contaminated by the evil of sin, could come in contact with the ark because it was holy. However, David and his men proceeded to place the ark on a new cart instead of following the proper instructions, and then have oxen pull it. During transport, the oxen stumbled, and a man named Uzzah instinctively reached out to steady the ark in place so it wouldn’t fall off. The Lord immediately struck him dead. Ouch. (Even David was, at first, angry about this because he didn’t understand, and felt it unfair.) I immediately thought, “Wasn’t God unfair? Wasn’t the punishment of death a little radical? After all, Uzzah was trying to do a good thing. He may have been ignorant of the rules (or blatantly disobedient), but he was at least sincere about trying to save the ark from getting dirty.” This was my internal dialogue regarding God’s punishment here…. until I considered more closely why God had to end Uzzah’s life.

Think about it. First of all, the Israelites had disobeyed God by putting the ark on a cart. But there was something else going on, too, besides their disobedience. Something I didn’t consider or understand at first. If Uzzah had let the ark fall to the ground, would the ark really have been worse off? It would have gotten dirty, for sure, but contact with the ground wouldn’t have defiled holiness, because dirt isn’t sinful or disobedient. In fact, the dirt was just laying there; it was doing exactly what God had created it to do… to cover the earth. However, because Uzzah was a human (who was sinful), his very touch would defile what was holy, so God had to zap him. Why? Why not just a slap on the wrist? Because sin defiles holiness; one molecule of a sinful touch would have profaned God’s holiness, and therefore, His very essence. Anything less, wouldn’t have been instructive to the Israelites, and more importantly, God’s holiness would have been sullied. Holiness doesn’t just mean ‘pure’ (which is normally how we think of the word). It primarily means ‘separate’. It’s a positional word. It states the order of our world’s relationship to God. He is our God and authority; the world has no power over Him. All things are under His authority, so God had to zap Uzzah in order to be true to Himself. It’s as if He was saying to the Israelites, “Remember that I am holy. Remember my relational position to you. I am your God, full of grace, but who is far above and beyond you and your understanding. Don’t presume upon me by thinking your touch or disobedience can be tolerated. ”

To make a weak comparison, the rookie’s authorities in the crime scene analogy needed to reinforce their position in the relationship by radically reminding the rookie (and the rest of the people involved) as to the proper protocol of doing a good investigation; very much like a parent needs to do with their children. Similarly, God needed to demonstrate His divine justice in Uzzah’s case as a reminder to everyone involved of His position as their holy Creator who is utterly incapable of being unholy. Now, I know the analogy breaks down at some point because criminal evidence isn’t holy, and bosses aren’t God, but, I hope you get the picture. We really have nothing humanly to compare it to that would even be close. However, this we do know, if God ever allowed anything to defile his holiness, His very character would be assassinated. He has to be committed to His position (set apart) because that’s one attribute which defines who He is. He wants us to revere and respect Him for that, even out of our limited human understanding of holiness. Reverant respect. That’s what a healthy fear of God means. He never intended for us to be afraid of Him, as though He’s some kind of cosmic sheriff with a six-shooter ready to mow us down. However, when He says, ‘I am holy’, He does mean what He says, and says what He means, and we’re to have a healthy respect for that. Again, we as humans, have no place to put that in our brains, but it doesn’t change what is true. I don’t pretend at all to be a biblical scholar, but this explanation is how I was able to start moving off of my stoic opinion that God isn’t good, rather He has to be true to Himself.

Is God egocentric? Not at all. Have you ever created something for which you were well pleased, and you desired that others would see it as a reflection of your heart? God has created this world and everything in it as a reflection of His heart because He has a heart for us, but, it belongs to Him. He didn’t create this world out of clay, or puzzle pieces, or a stack of LEGOS. David Copperfield didn’t assist Him. He created it out of nothing. Creation wasn’t an illusion of something that a good magician did. It was by the hand of a loving, powerful Creator who desired relationship with His precious creation, and we didn’t trust Him to care for us. Instead, we cared for ourselves.

So, this brings me back to my point. God isn’t mean or unfair. In fact, if He was fair, we’d be paying an eternal deathly price for our rebellion. But, instead, because He created us, and sincerely wants us to be in fellowship with Him, He has given us mercy and grace through the cross of Christ. This was the way He could still be true to His holiness, not be defiled by our sinfulness, and still be able to have deep, personal relationship with us. He poured all His wrath upon Jesus who paid our price, so that when God looks at us now, He sees the righteousness of Christ, and not our filthy rags. Yes, God is a God of divine justice, that’s a necessary concept to grasp as best we can, in order to gain some understanding of His divine mercy to us through the grace of the cross.

I realize this subject is heavy, and it can get me into deep weeds because it’s so far over my head. I’ve stumbled through this, and I’m still learning. But, from my experience as a biblical counselor, I know that our view of who God is can be the most fundamental building block, or the most difficult obstacle to our growing faith, and hope for change in our struggles. For now, remember, our God is always good. We are the rookies in the crime scene, the penalty for tainting God’s holiness and disregarding His position should have been instant death for us, but (unlike the detective and Uzzah) we aren’t the ones suffering the consequences. God has shown us great mercy and grace via the forgiveness of the cross through the perfect sacrifice of Christ. Revere God and His position, and remember…Turn Around and always give thanks to Him for His work in your heart through the sweet touch and guidance of the Holy Spirit. God loves you.

8 thoughts on “Don’t Touch!

  1. Thanks, Janice! It’s funny how sometimes I use myself as the standard for good behavior or “holiness,” and that stance gets me in trouble every time. Thanks for reminding us that only God Himself is holy! We can trust Him to always be true to Himself, no matter how it looks to us on this side of Eternity!

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  2. Janice,
    So enjoying these posts. Earl read one of them and said he’d like to receive them…earltaylor741@gmail.com
    Love, Martha

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  3. Amen Janice! I so appreciate your understanding & sharing of this difficult passage. In my life & in my pastoral counseling practice, I have found that once I understand who God really is, as best as I can with my finite mind, I am better able to understand & accept my identity in Christ & in relation to this world & my purpose. Apart from connecting God with my identity, my identity is not whole. Grateful that God is God even when I do not completely understand Him.

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