“Ripped” entries are pages take verbatim (almost) from my spiritual journal. This year I’m working through The One Year Bible Compact Edition NIV
I can’t read the story of Nadab and Abihu without thinking of “strange fire.” This little story tucked away in Leviticus 10, tells the story of the two brothers – sons of Aaron – who screwed up a worship service. God had just spent a lot of energy explaining to Moses exactly how the sacrificial system should work. The explanation is long, boring, and exact.
What do Nadab and Abihu do? Jack it up!
For their lackadaisical and casual approach to worship, God smote them (I really like the word smote). Anyway, growing up in Churches of Christ, this story was used as proof-texted about “Authorized Worship.” In short, we were supposed to use a particular level of exactitude when it comes to worship. Moreover, it meant that our particulars when it came to worship should be upheld and defended.
I have a theory when it comes to Biblical interpretation: If you, or your denomination, sees something that no one else sees, it’s probably wrong. Either that, or you have some super-special, magical insight that has escaped centuries of faithful, thoughtful, devoted Christian people. That being the case, I’m pretty sure Nadab and Abihu weren’t smote so that God could teach us not to use instruments in worship (which was the argument in my tribe.)
If that were the case, someone needs to explain how Leviticus 10 ends. Why? Because Aaron’s other, newly promoted sons, Eleazer and Ithamar, screw up a worship service themselves. They didn’t eat the offering as Moses instructed.
But they go…unsmoten!!
That’s the real heart of this story. The brothers don’t follow the rules, just like Nadab and Abihu. When they break form, the boys incur Moses’ wrath, “Why did you not eat the sin offering in the sacred area?…”
As the boys receive their dressing down, their dad, Aaron steps in to take the blow saying, “See today they offered their sin offering and their burnt offering before the Lord; and yet such things as these have befallen me! If I had eaten the sin offering today, would it have been agreeable to the Lord?”
In other words, “Step off, Moses! I’ve had two sons die today. We don’t feel like eating.”
What does the scripture say happened next? “And when Moses heard that, he agreed.”
No more smiting!
I don’t care to imagine the pain of losing one of my children. Aaron lost two. And I suppose, it is completely in God’s province to wipe out Eleazar and Ithamar. They, like their brothers, failed to correctly perform the sacrifice. But God doesn’t smite them?
Don’t you wonder why?
I have to believe that God – both in God’s sovereignty and grace leaves room for grief.
Have you ever been around someone who is gripped by grief? If you have, you know they say all kinds of things…and so do the people around them. Much of what is said in the grip of grief is theologically unhelpful, stupid, and sometimes, bordering on sacrilegious. “Curse God and die.”
Often, when such words are uttered, the theology police jump in and say, “You can’t say that. You shouldn’t feel that way. Don’t be mad at God.” All the correction is well-meaning, but in choosing to guide raw emotions back to the safety of well-worn orthodoxy, our friends do to us what even God would not.
God just let it go. He allowed it.
God allowed Aaron, Eleazar, and Ithmar to have their grief. Neither God nor Moses tried to fix anything. Neither tried to pacify Aaron with tales of pearly gates and streets of gold. God and Moses allow grief to be grief; to allow pain to be pain and live with the angst it creates.
I think Christians need to do that more. We so terribly dread the idea of raw emotions and honest feeling. I think it’s because many of us care so little for emotion, but that’s our problem.
The Lord is not afraid of our grief. And in the words of Aaron, if we behaved as if our grief wasn’t real, “would that be agreeable to the Lord?”
The answer from Leviticus 10 is no!