The opinions expressed on this blog are the personal views of Andreas Kjernald and do not reflect the positions of either the UMC congregations in Skien or Hvittingfoss or the UMC Norway.

fredag 21 mars 2014

The favor of God - what is it and can it be lost? (sorry, på engelska igen)

I heard the phrase a couple of weeks ago. My wife read it from a book. 

The Favor of God.

It sounds nice. 
I like how it reminds me of the word "flavor", which is a word I like. I have never heard of anyone asking for less flavor. But I digress, the Favor of God is obviously something more than that, even if the comparison sort of works (although plenty of people have asked for less of God). However, it is said that God makes everything better. He is all good and all wise and Holy love. How bad can that be? What could be bad about having the favor or an all-good God? 

But let's focus on the concept itself. The Favor of God. What is it?

I think it has something to do with the ancient blessing usually called the "Aaronitic blessing". In that blessing we have the phrase "May His [God's] face shine upon you". I don't know if we need to decode that as much as we need to picture it. When my wife's face shines it is a good thing. When my wife's face doesn't shine...well, that is a bad thing. I know it ever if I can't explain exactly how I know it and I bet you can, too. There is something about happiness and something about being pleased. It involves two parties where one is expressing goodness towards the other party, usually for some reason. Fortune favors the bold, perhaps, the but God favors everyone and there is a connecting to be made between his favor and our fortune.

Simply put, the Bible says that God's favor rests on those who please him. Isaiah the prophet writes that God is displeased when people offer him lipservice and empty rituals and pleased when they release the bond of the oppressed, for instance. It is almost as simple as it sounds. Live according to him and his favor rests on you...his face smiles upon you. Live according to what he doesn't want and his favor doesn't rest upon you. This is a theme of the Old Testament where following the law of God meant the favor of God. We see it in the invasion of Canaan and we see it in the life of the nation Israel. The Exile to Babylon was due to idol-worship, neglecting and oppressing the poor and other sins. It was cut and dried.

In the New Testament it seems as if the picture gets murkier. Seems. Less "cause and effect" and less Law. The current and common understanding would argue that now is the time of Grace. Our actions are less connected with God's pleasure and favor because Jesus came to soften the hard and impossible Law. Taken to its conclusion most people's understanding of the NT would conclude that God finally realized that the Law was a bad idea and threw in Jesus to see if that solution would "stick". 
Now God's favor is available to all and more or less disconnected from our (ever failing) actions. Now he loved (and loves) us for who we are and since we are all born this way, according to our modern prophet Lady Ga-Ga, it is all good. God can finally show us all his favor and we can finally enjoy both the good life and his favor. It's a win-win.

I am painting a picture of how I think things are, or have become, but I don't agree with it. See, I believe that it is still possible to lose the favor of God...and I can hardly think of a greater loss than that. I mean, how would one get it back? What can we offer God in return? A promise of "doing better next time? Ha!

Take for instance the much-hyped demise of the Swedish free-church movement. This includes the Equmenia church, the Alliance church, the Evangelical Freechurch, the Pentecostal church, the Faith movement church, the Salvation Army, the Swedish church and some others. They are all losing members and fast and have been losing members for a long time. Statistics show that most of them will be gone within a few decades if nothing changes. 
The most troubling fact is that is has been a steady decline for decades and no one knows why. The church I am familiar with the most, the former Methodist church, can't be blamed for not trying. I think that it tried a lot of stuff to turn the trend, but in the end nothing helped. In the end it had become a shell of a church, a paper tiger, and was rescued from ending up as a dead church in the history books by joining the Mission church and the Baptist church...but that was just statistical cosmetics. 

We can, all of us, experience a similar condition as a denomination can. We can experience a decline in the matters of religion and faith for a long time. We can leave God out...just look at the masses of people in churches on the first of advent and the empty pews in January or July or October. For goodness sake, the weather is the still the determining factor for many people in whether or not they should go to church.

Some would argue that the Church is the problem, and perhaps that is true in some cases, but there is simply no way that there is not a single church in your town that doesn't at least read the Bible, prays, sing songs about Jesus and preaches about God and life...every Sunday.

But can a church's decline or a person's decline be traced to losing the favor of God?

Not once have I heard that suggested. Not once have I even heard that option considered.
Instead, all is good. God is with us. We are following Jesus. God loves us. Everything is alright.

But what if it isn't? What if the very simple explanation for extensive spiritual decline is simply that we have lost the favor of God? (It has happened before)

How do we know? Is it true?
What do we do? Can we get it back?

I am starting to entertain the possibility that this is actually the and there. 
It is a terrifying thought but it does offer hope because if we know the disease we can find the cure. 

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