The book is a combination of stories and the examination of Scriptures -- primarily from the Old Testament. Having lived and pastored in Jerusalem, Cantelon is obviously quite at home in the OT and very familiar with Jewish teachings and customs. As a result he provides a significant amount of insight into OT texts relating to the character of God and His desire for His people to reflect His character.
I struggled with a couple of chapters in the book -- primarily the one on suffering (which I felt was very weak), and the chapter on the wrath of God.
However, overall, the book was excellent, and I would recommend that you read it -- IF you are ready to respond to the message of the book.
What is the message?
Cantelon begins the book by stating the following (pages 21 and 22)
The core concerns of most prophetic messages, generally refer to one of four "sins": idolatry (a low view of God), adultery (a low view of neighbor), neglect of the poor (again, a low view of neighbor), and the shedding of innocent blood (once more, a low view of neighbor).
The call of Scripture is that Israel (or the people of God) return to a high view of God (righteousness) and a high view of neighbor (justice). The focus of righteousness is love for God. The focus of justice is love for neighbor. . . . in Old Testament times, if someone was to ask the question, 'Who is my neighbor?', the answer would be, "start with the alien, the orphan and the widow".
As I read through this, my thoughts immediately went to those of us in North America who call ourselves Christians.
- Are we idolatrous? Do we worship fame, church attendance, offerings and buildings, materialism, religious experience, celebrity, etc. more than God?
- How are we on the adultery scale, when the divorce rate of evangelicals in the USA is as high or higher than that of the general population?
- Are we neglecting the poor? What about immigrants -- even undocumented aliens? What is the Biblical response to this issue? Should we be standing up for the rights of aliens, or should we build a wall to keep all the aliens out? What about single mothers and fatherless children in North America?
- The shedding of innocent blood -- most often used by evangelicals to talk about abortion -- one of our favorite subjects. I believe abortion is the shedding of innocent blood. But what about the evangelical support for a war, most likely built on false pretenses (at least the justification for the invasion of Iraq has changed numerous times) that has resulted in the death of hundreds of thousands of innocent people in the last 3 years in Iraq?
Jeremiah has a word of the Lord in Chapter 22:3
Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of his oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the alien, the fatherless or the widow, and do not she innocent blood in this place.
From Jeremiah, Cantelon moves on to Isaiah. The famous passage on fasting and prayer in Isaiah 58 becomes the focus. Through the prophet Isaiah God speaks to the His people and tells us that when we loose the chains of injustice, set the oppressed free, share our food with the hungry, provide the poor wanderer with shelter and clothe the naked, then the glory of the Lord will be our rear guard, our righteousness will go before us, and the Lord will answer our prayers.
In case Israel (and those of us living in 2007) didn't get it, a few verses later this is repeated. If you spend yourselves on behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, THEN your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.
My question is -- are we listening? God is telling us that when we take care of widows, orphans, the fatherless, the poor and the hungry -- and we rise with Him against individual and structural injustice -- when we are concerned about ALL the shedding of innocent blood -- THEN, He will hear our prayer, and we as His people will bring glory to His name -- and His name will be honored among all the peoples. As long as we fail to reflect righteousness (His character) and justice (especially for widows, orphans, the fatherless, aliens and the innocent) in how we live, God's name will not be glorified.
How does this relate to the AIDS pandemic?
- 15 million AIDS orphans in Africa. That number is growing by more than 2,000 a day.
- 25 million AIDS orphans around the world.
- Billions of people around the world live on less than $1 a day. Think about it -- a special coffee at Starbucks is 5 days of salary for more than a billion people.
- Millions of women in Africa and around the world becoming widows due to AIDS.
- Millions of women and girls being raped, sexually abused and thrown on the rubbish heap (more often than not -- literally) because they have contracted AIDS due to what was done to them by men -- or because of poverty or war, or a number of other reasons.
- 1 million HIV+ people in North America. While this is a very small percentage of the population, what has the church done to minister to those with AIDS right on our doorstep?
Will we stand with God?
Will I stand with God?