college travels

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Finding Help In Unlikely Places

I’ve been thinking about Balaam for some time now. He is a character who appears in the Old Testament, in the book of Numbers. He claims to see clearly and to have heard the word of God. The trouble is that he is a diviner, practising divination, the ‘art’ (if that’s not too generous) of telling the future through looking at the stars, or sheep entrails or the flight pattern of birds and other such methods. What is more he comes from a place that we associate with ‘pagans’. It makes me uncomfortable. How can a person like this, with credentials like that, who comes from there have anything good to say?

If ever I watch Survivor I can’t help but be reminded how tribal we are. Put seven or eight strangers together, give them the same coloured bandana to wear, pit them against another group of strangers wearing a different coloured bandana and almost immediately they are plotting and scheming how to look after ‘us’ and to make sure that ‘they’ don’t make it.

I wonder if my reluctance to value Balaam is reflected in a reluctance to value others who are more ‘them’ than ‘us’. They did not train in the right place, they belong to the wrong diocese or the wrong denomination. They are the wrong age, or the wrong sex or dress in the wrong way and listen to the wrong music. If I think about it too long I’ll have to admit that it is.

But if I won’t listen to Balaam how will I be encouraged by his words? How will I be reminded that God is not a man that he should lie, when I am plagued by doubts about his promises? How can I be encouraged and motivated by the promise that a star will come out of Jacob; a sceptre rise out of Israel … a ruler will come out of Jacob, when I’m confused and troubled by the thought that ‘your will’ will never be done?

I’m reminded too that Jesus faced rejection because he came from the wrong town, his father particpated in the wrong trade and because of that he was given the wrong start in life. But they were wrong. And yet they must have felt so right: from Nazareth? A carpenter? They weren’t even married!

One of the lessons from Balaam that I need constantly to remind myself of is that help and encouragement can sometimes come from the most unlikely sources – if you don’t cut yourself off from it.

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