Specific but not exclusive

It's tough to be specific without being exclusive.

"God bless America" (specific) often implies "and no place else" (exclusive)
"God loves us" (specific) often implies "and not you" (exclusive)
"God is blessing my work" (specific) sometimes implies "and not yours" (exclusive)

In the story of Joshua, Joshua learns that God's specific blessing doesn't imply exclusivity.  He's scouting out Jericho, trying to find a weak point, a way to make a successful offense.

Along the way, he encountered a man standing with a drawn sword.  Joshua issued the challenge: are you with us or with our enemies?  The man introduces himself as the Commander of the Army of the Lord and, in answer to Joshua's challenge, said "No."

That's quite a non-sequitor.  Are you with us or with them?  No. 

No isn't an option.  But that's the answer.  God refuses that particular exclusivity.  He isn't for us and no one else.  God is for us because he is for everyone else.  God was for the people of Israel because he was for the world.  He was for Abraham because he was for the nations.

The Christian reaction to postmodern subjectivism often ignores the reality that God gets specific because he's not exclusive.

It's hard for us to imagine "specific but not exclusive."  When Joel (a friend from Small Group in Lex) takes his vows this weekend, he'll be married exclusively to a specific woman (another friend from Small Group - Jenny).  This is a zero-sum game, at least in our culture.  Say "yes" to one in marriage, say "no" to everyone else, at least for a while.

We're used to zero-sum options, my gain is your loss.  But so much of Christian theology vaults over this dilemma.  One God and Three Persons.  Fully God and Fully Human.  Sinner and Saint.  Local and Universal.

This way of thinking - specific but not exclusive - is a big jump.  Let make it (and invite others to make it with us).

2 comments:

  1. This is an important challenge to us, especially in light of the earlier discussion of patriotism and faith. But hard to think about this without dealing with God's desire for an exclusive relationship with us. Though he wants everyone to be saved and come to knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2), he is also a jealous God (Ex. 20) for our benefit (not worshiping something beyond him) who wants us to be for him exclusively (Matt.12, Luke 11). The difference (for me) is obviously a difference between our wanting to be the exclusive focus of God's attention for shallow, selfish reasons while God wants our exclusive attention for our deeper growth. Thanks.

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  2. Of course, there are probably times when the exclusive is appropriate. The problem comes with the misapplication of the exclusive, when we apply exclusive criteria to non-exclusive situations.

    As for our relationship with God, I think you could make a case that a specific relationship with God is also an exclusive relationship with God. If we relate to him as he really is - the only God - we will have necessarily excluded all false gods.

    However, when we drop specific language and start talking about God wanting us to be for him exclusively, all sorts of confusing things start to happen. What do we need community for? the church? family? Specific relationship with God allows us to engage in the other relationships God calls us to.

    Could it be that - in our attempts to call students to God's exclusive worship without telling them who he really is - we have undermined the basis for life-long community? Is our reliance on exclusive thinking about our relationships with God part of the reasons that students who flood out of campus ministries like InterVarsity and Campus Crusade and Young Life struggle to connect with local churches?

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