What precedes the text: Solomon
- asks for wisdom above all
- gathers support from others with resources and expertise
- builds the temple
- asks God to hear the prayers of all people
- asks God to forgive and restore when the Israelites sin and are defeated, become captives, or have droughts
- Sacrifices 22k oxen and 120k sheep – hosts a great feast!
The people said: “For he is good. His steadfast love endures forever.” (2 Chron 5:13)
If my people, Called by my name
- Humble themselves
- Seek my face
- Turn from their wicked ways
THEN I will..
- Hear from heaven
- Forgive their sin
- Heal their land
1. God will hear…
The first of these is kind of strange. God promises to hear the prayers of God’s people. Does this suggest that at other times God is unable or chooses not to hear? Would that limit God’s power? Or might we liken it to a parent responding to an insolent child by saying, “I can’t hear you when you speak to me with that tone of voice and posture. I ask you to speak to me respectfully.” Does that literally mean that the parent can’t hear? No. it is rather that the experience of the parent is dominated by the negative energy of the bratty attitude coming from the child. Perhaps this is what the author has in mind in thinking about God hearing or not hearing us.
Or, maybe this kind of hearing is linked with an active response. If I am in genuine need and cry out for help, and you do not respond, then you have not truly heard me, even if you did receive the auditory stimulation of my voice. To hear is to be moved to act, to take in the message and allow it to move one on a deeper level. Perhaps this is what it means when we say God hears our prayers. When we ask selfishly, God does not hear. When we ask a prayer that will bring harm to others, God does not hear. When we ask something that is contrary to God’s will, God does not hear, at least not in this second sense. This seems to be the message of 1 John 5:14-15 And this is the boldness we have in him, that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have obtained the requests made of him.
The phrase “hear from heaven” is used by Solomon 7 times in 2 Chronicles 6 in his prayer to God.
The Psalmist repeats the call for God to hear, answer, be gracious and revive. (Psalms 4, 17, 39, 54, 61, 84, 102, 143) We need to understand that this first promise of God is not a statement that before God was not hearing, but rather that these actions of ours move us toward a humble posture of relationship in which we can experience God hearing us.
Here too, the issue is not that God is otherwise unforgiving, or that our actions result in God deciding to forgive or being made to forgive. It is rather that until we take the necessary steps in our own lives we are not free to experience God’s forgiveness. Recall this affirmation from Exodus 34:
6 The Lord passed before him, and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, yet by no means clearing the guilty, but visiting the iniquity of the parents upon the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” And again, in Numbers 14: 18 “The Lord is slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the parents upon the children to the third and the fourth generation.’ 19 Forgive the iniquity of this people according to the greatness of your steadfast love, just as you have pardoned this people, from Egypt even until now.” 20 Then the Lord said, “I do forgive, just as you have asked; 21 nevertheless—as I live, and as all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord— 22 none of the people who have seen my glory and the signs that I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet have tested me these ten times and have not obeyed my voice, 23 shall see the land that I swore to give to their ancestors; none of those who despised me shall see it.
These texts demonstrate Israel’s faith in a God who desires to forgive. They also make clear that forgiveness does not prevent the natural consequences of sin from unfolding. God forgives, but we (and others) may still receive the harvest of what we (and others) have sown.
3. Heal their land…
Finally, God promises to heal. This third step is about the journey back from the brokenness that comes as a natural result of our sin. We do not know why, but God seems not to prevent injury to the innocent. Sin has consequences, often unintended, and often to innocent bystanders. What God promises in this prayer is to bring healing to the land – the Hebrew word ha erets connotes both the physical geography and its inhabitants. In a time of violence and greed, people and the rest of the natural world are injured. God promises a healing to flow that will bring restoration and renewal.
This is a wonderful vision – God will hear. God will forgive. God will heal. We want and need this, in our personal lives, in our families, in churches, communities, nations, and among nations and peoples in the world. Solomon asked that God would do this, and that the temple might be an earthly focal point for this encounter between God and human kind. There is not mention here that it is the only place, and Solomon clearly affirms the Hebrew understanding that God cannot be limited or contained by any building, place, people, or even by the heavens we see.
The text also makes clear that we have a role to play, not only in the brokenness, but also in the redemption. God says, “If my people will…” This promise is given to the people of God who were a nation. This is not about political boundaries or ideologies. This promise is given to whoever is called by God’s name. Everyone called by God’s Name. 1 Peter explodes this notion by clearly including the Gentile followers of Jesus, establishing a parallel to the story in 2 Chronicles 6-7, now envisioning God building us together as a temple for God’s self – a spiritual, mystical temple not made with hands (cf 2 Cor 5:1?)
If my people will…
- Humble themselves
- Seek my face
- Turn from their wicked ways
Notice that turning from wicked ways (i.e. repentance) is the fourth item in this list. Does that suggest a necessary order in the process? Not necessarily, but perhaps. It is something to consider – i.e. what are the steps toward repentance? Can we just jump right into repentance, or do some other things precede? I suspect that repentance is like forgiveness and love of enemy or love of neighbor as self – it is something toward which we are directly called, but we can’t get there directly. So, what can we see are three steps toward full repentance? Humility, prayer, seeking after God.
1. Humble themselves. This is an active discipline that requires our attention. It is about our thoughts and attitudes toward other people. Our humility is a posture before self, others, the world and God. It is our awareness that:
- We do not know everything
- We are not the center of everything
- We are not in control
- I.E. We are not GOD
2. Pray – Prayer also is an active spiritual discipline – it is attending to the spiritual conversation continually in process between God and the world – its like entering a chat line, picking up a party line, or tuning in to a CB or ham radio channel.
- We have to turn the radio on.
- We have to tune in.
- We have to be quiet and listen.
This posture of prayer follows the openness that grows from our humility. Once we assume this receptivity, then we are able to understand more deeply God’s heart for us and for the world. We see the gap between all God desires and all that is. Our hearts break, not because of all that has been done to us, but because of all that we, individually and collectively, have done.
3. Seek my face. We realize through our humility and openness in prayer that we need God more than anything else. We yearn for God. The Psalmist captures our heart: “As a deer longs for flowing streams, so we long for you O God.” (Psalm 42:1); “Who have I in heaven but you, and having you, I desire nothing else.” (Psalm 73:25) “As a servant looks to the hand of his master, and a maid to the hand of her mistress, so we look to you.” (Psalm 123:2). We seek God’s face – God’s presence, God’s radiance. We seek God looking upon us as a loving parent.
I don’t know really whether these things MUST precede repentance – a turning away from our wicked ways – but they certainly will help in the ongoing process of turning away. Repentance of this sort is not a onetime thing. Our wickedness has a depth and breadth to it. It is not just a series of actions, but a complex of ideas, habits and systems. The turning away is a long, slow, laborious process that will continually require us rehearsing those other three steps in order for us to maintain our sense of who we are in God. Humble ourselves, pray, seek God’s face. Repeat. Continually.
Returning to the text of chapter 6 of 2 Chronicles, we hear a list when it may be time for a turn-around.
- If someone sins against another
- When your people Israel, having sinned against you, are defeated before an enemy
- When heaven is shut up and there is no rain because they have sinned against you
- If there is famine in the land, if there is plague, blight, mildew, locust, or caterpillar;
- If their enemies besiege them in any of the settlements of the lands;
- Whatever suffering, whatever sickness there is
- If your people go out to battle against their enemies
- If they sin against you—for there is no one who does not sin—and you are angry with them and give them to an enemy, so that they are carried away captive to a land far or near;
When we know we have sinned against someone, then it’s time for a turn-around.
When there is suffering or sickness, then it’s time for a turn-around.
When we are overcome by our adversaries, then it’s time for a turn-around.
When the things that sustain life are in short supply, then it’s time for a turn-around.
When we are up against great obstacles, then it’s time for a turn-around.
When we find ourselves in captivity, then it’s time for a turn-around.
And when it’s time for a turn-around, then we know what we need to do:
Humble ourselves. Pray. Seek God’s face. Turn from our wicked ways.