LIVE NOT BY LIES: 7 Questions for Lovers of the Truth

Live Not By Lies, Rod Dreher Book, Truth

We have to be push-backers, Abigail. Truth demands it. That from a recent email from a friend-who-shall-go-unnamed. This post is that: a little pushback. It is not a call to civil disobedience, to wear a mask or to take it off, or even to vote.

It is a call to not live by lies—a call to be courageous and walk in the truth in love and in truth. Both. John Stott wrote, Our love grows soft if it is not strengthened by truth, and our truth grows hard if it is not softened by love; John the Beloved, Let us not love in word or talk but in action and in truth. They belong together. Believers love truth (2 Thessalonians 2:10).

Truth is so obscure in these times, and falsehood so established, that, unless we love the truth, we cannot know it.

Blaise Pascal

So when the world calls evil good, bitter sweet, and darkness light (Isaiah 5:20), those of the truth refuse. They refuse to drift along or succumb to self-righteous masquerade. Rather, because they love the truth, they push back against pretense.

They live not by lies.

1. Are You A Push-Backer?

Do you ever push back for truth? Or only ever go along?

I’m not (naturally) a push-backer and I don’t (generally) like to rock the boat. But sometimes a shift is too important to ignore. When it comes at you on multiple sides you can’t let it slide out of mind. You’d be a fool not to take note. I don’t want to be a fool.

So I took notes and now I share them. Because my friend is right. We must be push-backers. Truth demands it. Since Jesus is the truth (John 14:6), as his follower I must walk in truth. The Father commanded (2 John 4) and the Spirit guides this walk (John 14:16-17).

In fact, did you know truth is the reason Christ came into the world? For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice (John 18:37). And, at some point, everyone who is of the truth will push back for truth.

But for a some time people pleaser like me, pushing back can be hard.

2. Do You Trust God’s Truth And Doubt Your Deceitful Heart?

Culture makes it hard. For one thing, our culture cherishes moral ambiguity as an end in itself, as an intrinsically good thing; theologian D.A. Carson notes. Humble Christians trust God to be true (Isaiah 66:2) and doubt their deceitful hearts (Jeremiah 17:9).

But the world does the reverse. Be true to your heart, it shouts. How can you be so sure, it taunts. If you trust God—if you “stand alone on the Word of God, the B-I-B-L-E” and believe the sum of his word is truth (Psalm 119:160)— now that, it sneers, is most virulent form of pride.

This reversal is nothing new. G.K. Chesterton described it a century ago, when he wrote,

[W]hat we suffer from today is humility in the wrong place. Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction; where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed. Nowadays the part of a man that a man does assert is exactly the part he ought not to assert – himself. The part he doubts is exactly the part he ought not to doubt – the Divine Reason.

Do you see? We should doubt ourselves—our feelings, desires, and ‘needs’— not God’s truth.

But believing a truth and speaking it are two different things. Gabi taught me that.

3. Do You Speak Up For Truth?

It was a Friday night in July. Maybe it was pushback to even be where we were. I’m not sure. But the after-dinner mood was light and Gabi was right across the table from me. We’d only met the hour before, but I sensed my new friend from the Czech Republic wouldn’t mind if I asked.

Truth not lies, Forward Statue in Madison, WI Capitol painted red,2020

So what was it like to live under communism?

Gabi was in middle school in 1989, when the Wall fell. Almost overnight, she replied.

That’s how fast her teachers went from denouncing democracy to decrying communism. Her school dumped the pro-communism for pro-republic curricula—taught by the very same teachers who’d spouted the party line mere months before.

How could they do that? I asked, incredulous. What do you think they really believed?

I think there was relief when communism fell and they could teach the truth. They taught what they were told to keep their jobs.

Since statue toppling and painting was big in the news, I pressed on.

So what about all these statues toppled and defaced?

Without blinking, Oh, yes. That happened in Czechoslovakia shortly before Soviet rule.

My stomach churned with the same tension I’d felt a lot in 2020 when I felt torn to like a friend’s post or affirm her position—even if it didn’t sit right. Gabi was insightful and wise, and still across the table from me. So I asked the burning question.

When do I just go along when and when do I speak up for truth?

I think—here Gabi paused and took a deep breath—you must be true to your conscience. If your conscience says it’s wrong, do not go along.

4. Do You Lower Your Voice And Close The Door?

Rod Dreher said the same thing Gabi did in Live Not By Lies: A Manual For Christian Dissidents. The title comes from an essay by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, dated February 12, 1974 —the same day Russian secret police broke into his apartment and arrested him. He was exiled to West Germany the next day. Live Not By Lies, the essay and the book, are clarion calls to courage for those who are of the truth.

But courage to push back against lies doesn’t mean we refuse all compromise. Daily life requires assessing which fights are worth having. Choose your battles. Though one must guard against rationalization, prudence is not the same thing as cowardice. (p. 105)

Sometimes silence is an act of resistance. My refusal to like a popular post or parrot a trendy mantra is choosing to live not by lies. Judit Pastor, whose father was arrested for vocally opposing Ceausescu in 1968 was arrested and his life destroyed in a Romanian prison. She says, Keeping silent when you aren’t expected to be silent is also pushing back.

A year ago, I wouldn’t have believed the restrictions, “soft” restrictions, I now feel on freedom of speech. I am loath to admit that I close more doors and look over my shoulder far more often when I speak in public places. I wonder, “Can I trust her with this? Should I say that in front of him?”

This is new. It’s a shift. I never used to wonder like this.

We have not…to march into the squares and shout the truth out loud…But let us refuse to say that which we do not think.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, “Live Not By Lies,” 2/12/1974

A Primer On “Soft” Totalitarianism

I don’t fear arrest by government police. That happened in Soviet era where compliance to the Party’s demands were enforced by the state. That’s not what we’ve got. The totalitarianism we face is “softer.” It demands allegiance to a set of progressive beliefs… It masquerades as kindness, demonizing dissenters and disfavored demographic groups to protect the feelings or “victims.” I’m not worried about arrest as much as Facebook nixing my post, or a “fact-checker” blocking a link. I have, by the way, experienced both.

Compliance within soft totalitarianism, Dreher explains, is forced less by the state than by elites who form public opinion, and by private corporations, that thanks to technology, control our lives far more than we would like to admit. (p. 8-9) Anyone else second guessing your open invitation to Echo and Alexa?

But no, this is not a copy of life in the Soviet Bloc nations, with their secret police, gulags, and strict censorship. Which is precisely the problem, according to the many émigrés Dreher interviewed who had experienced “hard” totalitarianism. One Czech émigré, a professor in the Midwest, told Dreher about the shift he feels: friends would lower their voices and look over their shoulders when expressing conservative views. I grew up like this, he said, but it was not supposed to happen here. (p. xiii)

I agree with Dreher: it’s hard for us who’ve never lived through such “idealogical fog” to recognize what’s happening.

But don’t forget the frog in the pot.

Silence Doesn’t Save Us, It Corrodes Us

Part of the reason it all feels so foggy is that language is changing. Newspeak, here Dreher borrows from Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, is the Party’s word for the jargon it imposes on society—it controls the categories in which people think. “Freedom” is slavery, “truth” is falsehood, and so forth. Doublethink—”holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them”—is how people learn to submit their minds to the Party’s ideology. If the Party says 2+2=5, then 2+2=5. (p. 14)

We might see through the lies, but will we speak up? But if we never do, our silence will not save us but corrode us. So says Czeslaw Milosz. He would know. Milosz was exiled from his native Poland as an anti-communist dissident in 1951.

To dissent costs more these days. To even post this blog gives me pause. But walking in truth constrains me to write and encourage you to live not by lies. Because when you see someone acting courageously, you will act courageously as well. (p. 170)

5. Do You Prefer the ‘Peace’ of Conformity to the Tension of Liberty?

Dreher interviewed Vladimir Grygorenko, an immigrant from the Ukraine. He expressed concern over polls showing waning support for the First Amendment. Grygorenko sees this as a sign of a society that prefers the false peace of conformity to the tensions of liberty. He added, To grow indifferent, even hostile, to free speech is suicidal for free people. (p. 104)

I walked and talked and ached with a friend over our difference this morning. I bear witness: tension, discomfort, and hurt feelings are the price our free expression. But wouldn’t your rather bear the tension of our differences, as our Founding Fathers did, than enjoy a false peace of conformity? Wouldn’t you?

What I did with my friend—imperfectly as I apologized twice in 20 minutes for raising my voice—we must all do. We must speak up. We must be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger (James 1:19), but we must “truth it in love” and grow up (Ephesians 4:15).

You have to live in a world of lies, Dreher concludes, but it’s our choice as to whether that world of lies lives in you. (p. 105)

The Greengrocer Breaks The Rules

One of the most gripping sections in the book was the Greengrocer story.

The grocer posts a sign in his shop bearing the well-known slogan from the Communist Manifesto, “Workers of the world, unite!” But the grocer doesn’t believe in it. He hangs it in the store to signal conformity. He just wants to be left alone.

But his action is not meaningless. As Dreher explains, the grocer’s act, “not only confirms that this is what is expected of one in a communist society but also perpetuates the belief that this is what it means to be a good citizen.” Then he quotes Vaclav Havel, one time Czech political prisoner who became the Czech Republic’s first President.

Let us now imagine that one day something in our greengrocer snaps and he stops putting up the slogans merely to ingratiate himself. He stops voting in elections he knows are a farce. He begins to say what he really things at political meetings. And he even finds the strength to express solidarity with those whom his conscience commands him to support. In this revolt the greengrocer steps out of living within the lie. He rejects the ritual and breaks the rules of the game…His revolt is an attempt to live within the truth. (p. 98)

And Shatters the World of Appearances

But this act is costly. He loses his shop, his salary is cut, and he can’t travel abroad. Maybe his children can’t get into college. People mock him. If not because they disagree with him, then to keep the authorities off their back. By refusing to mouth a lie, the man suffers.

But there is a deeper meaning to his gesture,

By breaking the rules of the game, he has disrupted the game as such. He has exposed it as a mere game. He has shattered the world of appearances, the fundamental pillar of the system. The grocer has…demonstrated that living a lie is living a lie…He has said that the emperor is naked…He has shown everyone that it is possible to live within the truth. (p. 99)

Maybe you’re shaking your head, saying, Get off it, Abigail. Lighten up.

Last year I would have agreed. But now I say, The kind of Christians we will be in the time of testing depends on the kind of Christians we are today. (p. 204)

What are you willing to risk—to sacrifice—for the sake of truth?

6. Will You Choose Comfort Over Your Soul’s Health?

Because if you live by lies and never push back for truth, your spiritual health will suffer. A person who lives only for his own comfort, said Havel, who is willing to live within a lie to protect that is a demoralized person. (p. 99)

Havel’s words remind me of something J.I. Packer wrote. Packer sets up the analogy by describing first how our bodies are like machines, that need the right routine of food, rest, and exercise to run efficiently. Conversely, if they’re filled up with “the wrong fuel—alcohol, drugs, poison—they lose physical health and ultimately ‘seize up’ in death.”

Then, to our point,

What we are, perhaps, slower to grasp is that God wishes us to thing of our souls in a similar way. As rational persons, we were made to bear God’s moral image—that is, our souls were made to ‘run’ on the practice of worship, law-keeping, truthfulness, honesty, discipline, self-control, and service to God and our fellows. If we abandon these practices, not only do we incur guilt before God; we also progressively destroy our souls. Conscience atrophies, the sense of shame dries up, one’s capacity for truthfulness, loyalty, and honesty is eaten away, one’s character disintegrates. One not only becomes desperately miserable; one is steadily being de-humanised.

J.I., Packer, KNOWING GOD, 102-103

Simply put, believing one thing and doing another will ruin your spiritual health. Living by lies will enslave your soul. It might seem like a liar is strong, and his lie is a victory over his victim. But in reality, a lie is an enslaving act.

Because, as Ayn Rand wrote, one surrenders one’s reality to the person to whom one lies, making that person one’s master, condemning oneself from then on to faking the sort of reality that person’s view requires to be faked.

Maria Wittner said, We live in a world of lies, whether we want it or not. But you shouldn’t accommodate to it. She would know. Her refusal to go along with the Party lies landed in a Hungarian prison. It’s an individual decision if you want to live in the freedom of the soul. If your soul is free, then your thoughts are free, and then your words are going to be free.

Refusing to live by lies isn’t always comfortable, but comfort is overrated. The idol of comfort will disappoint. C.S. Lewis observed, If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth—only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.

If you refuse to live by the lie, whatever it costs you, you will gain a spiritual victory. And this is the victory that overcomes the world—our faith. (1 John 5:4) But God doesn’t mean for us to conquer alone.

7. Are You Walking Together And Alert?

Blogger Trevin Wax thinks LNBL is too pessimistic. Maybe so. In an interview with Eric Metaxas, Dreher himself said his book is not optimistic, but it is hopeful.

I read it and I agree. It’s hopeful because it says we are not without options and because it is a call to be alert.

That call to be alert and watchful so we’re ready for the Bridegroom is not new. Jesus urged us, Peter urged us, Paul urged us: be alert, stay awake, be watchful (Matt. 24:42, 1 Pet. 1:13, Eph.6:18).

Christian community helps us does that. That came through loud and clear in all of Dreher’s interviews with Christians who kept the faith under communism. To stay alert and remind ourselves of truth, Dreher prescribes the Christian dissident form small cells with fellow believers with whom she can pray, sing, study Scripture… (p. 18)

Rod Dreher wasn’t the first to note the connection between living in loving relationships with other believers and being alert. John praises his readers for “walking in the truth” (2 John 4), then reminded them “to love one another” (v. 5), expressed by “walking according to his commandments” (v. 6). Those words probably don’t surprise us: truth, obedience, love.

But it’s the connection in verse 7 that grabbed me, the reason we must not let our love grow cold (Mtt. 24:12). Love one another, John writes, For many deceivers have gone out into the world. Walking with others in love is a protection against deception.

When we walk side by side we gain strength to live not by lies.

The Final Word: Touchstone For Truth

None of this is easy. Lies aren’t always obvious. The conscience is pricked at different points. But the Christian, as J.I Packer described, is the one, who acknowledges and lives under the word of God. She says with the Psalmist, The sum of your word is truth.

He submits without reserve to the word of God written in ‘the Scripture of truth’ (Dan. 10:21)…since the Scriptures tell him that all things work together for his good, the thought of God ordering his circumstances brings him only joy. He is an independent fellow, for he uses the word of God as a touchstone by which to test the various views that are put to him, and he will not touch anything which he is not sure that Scripture sanctions.

J.I., Packer, KNOWING GOD, p. 104-105

But we need to the Spirit to illumine and help us apply the word. I feel my need acutely. My sin is ever before me.

Solzhenitsyn, for all his calls to resist totalitarian rule, knew well his own sinful heart: “the greatest totalitarian ruler of all—myself.” We are not gods. We never will be gods. But we can know the true God.

I know him. I don’t know him as well as I want to know him, but I know He is the Truth. By grace, I will press on to know him, whose truth is a fount of perfect wisdom, my highest good and my unending need. His name is Jesus Christ and you can know him too.

For only when we know him can the truth set us free— free from slavery to deadly self-rule and free to live not by lies.

And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.

1 John 5:20

AFTERWARD: If You’re Still Wondering What It Means to Live Not By Lies

Even if, Solzhenitsyn wrote, we do not march into the squares and shout the truth out loud… let us refuse to say what we do not think…let us each make a choice: whether to remain consciously a servant of falsehood…or to shrug off the lies and become an honest man worthy of respect from one’s children and contemporaries.

Such a person, Solzhenitsyn wrote, will not:

  • sign, write or print in any way a single phrase which in his opinion distorts the truth;
  • utter such a phrase neither in private conversation nor in public, neither on his own behalf nor at the prompting of someone else, neither in the role of agitator, teacher, educator, nor as an actor;
  • depict, foster or broadcast a single idea in which he can see a distortion of the truth, whether it be in painting, sculpture, photography, technical science or music;
  • cite out of context, either orally or in writing, a single quotation to please someone, to feather his own nest, to achieve success in his work, if he does not completely share the idea which is quoted, or if it does not accurately reflect the matter at issue;
  • allow himself to be compelled to attend demonstrations and meetings if they are contrary to his desire;
  • remain in a meeting, session, lecture, performance or film if he hears a speaker tell lies, or purvey ideological nonsense or shameless propaganda;
  • subscribe to or buy a newspaper or magazine in which information is distorted and primary facts are concealed.

While these are not “all possible and necessary ways of avoiding lies,” wrote Solzhenitsyn, “whoever begins to cleanse himself will easily apply the cleansing pattern to other cases.” Learn more in John Stonestreet’s probing 4-minute Breakpoint podcast.

How will you resolve to live not by lies? I’d love to read your comment.

No Evil Shall Befall You: What Real Rescue Means

Woman with COVID-19 Mask

For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
    and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his pinions,
    and under his wings you will find refuge;
    his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
You will not fear the terror of the night,
    nor the arrow that flies by day,
or the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
    nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.

Because you have made the Lord your dwelling place—
    the Most High, who is my refuge-
no evil shall be allowed to befall you,
    no plague come near your tent.

Psalm 91:3-6, 9-10

President recommends Americans wear masks in public. That’s the headline of the day.

Fear is at fever pitch. There were more Google searches for prayer in March than in the last 5 years that comparison data has been available. People are afraid.

Then this.

No Evil Shall Befall You

He will deliver you from the deadly pestilence. Those words from Psalm 91 sound like a perfect fit for these COVID-19 days, don’t they?

People recite it when they wash their hands or as they go to the grocery store. Many are clinging to these verses for health- and for life. The words, for some, are like a Christian incantation, a hex on the deadly coronavirus.

And that makes me very uneasy.

But the Psalm does say, No evil shall befall you, no plague will come near your tent.

So what does that mean? Does it mean that if I have faith, or better yet, if I have faith and wear a mask and wash my hands and self-quarantine I- and those in my tent- won’t get COVID-19?

Is that what Psalm 91 really means?

Real Fear

Faith, by cheering the heart, keeps it free from the fear which, in times of pestilence, kills more than the plague itself…

Charles H. Spurgeon, Commentary on Psalm 91:3

Abby, I’m really scared. My caregiver does not wear a mask. That’s how my friend Jean started our call. Jean is physically fragile and homebound. She paused, then added, I feel guilty for being scared because I believe in God.

Jean, about the guilt: You can’t stop a bird from flying over your head, but you can keep it from building a nest in your hair. You can’t stop the fear that tenses your gut. But you can keep fear from nesting in your head. She liked that. I went on.

May I share two things I try to do when I’m really scared? She agreed.

Here’s what I told Jean.

Reality Therapy for Real Fear

What is the worst thing that could possibly happen if my worst fear comes true? I try to ask myself that the moment fear springs up. Whether I hear a bump in the night or I feel a lump in my chest- I ask, what it the absolute worst thing that could happen? Then I sit with that answer a while. And usually, Jean, if I’m honest, my worst fear is death.

But the second thing more important. As I sit with the worst case in my mind, I try shine God’s truth on it. It might be lyrics that buck me up, like I fear no foe with you at hand to bless Or, Teach me to live that I may dread the grave as little as my bed. (I didn’t tell Jean, but I’ll tell you, if you’re so frozen in fear you can’t find this light, please won’t you ask a friend to help you?)

Or it might be a truth like all things work for good and nothing can separate us from his love

Like, no evil shall befall you.

How can you be so sure, Miss Abigail? That’s what you’re thinking, right? Because faithful Christians will die of COVID-19. Pestilence and plague will befall us. Death will come near our tents.

They may have done everything right and may have even prayed Psalm 91 each night.

What Does Psalm 91 Mean?

Not to burst your bubble, but unless Jesus returns first, you and will die. We’re mortal. We must.

So what does, No evil will befall you mean? We’ve got to understand rescue the right way or we’ll be greatly shaken when good folks get sick or when we have to look death in the eye.

Charles Spurgeon ministered through a deadly cholera epidemic in London. He explained “no evil” like this:

It is impossible that any ill should happen to the man who is beloved of the Lord; the most crushing calamities can only shorten his journey and hasten him to his reward…Losses enrich him, sickness is his medicine, reproach is his honour, death is his gain. No evil in the strict sense of the word can happen to him, for everything is overruled for good.

Let that thought nest. Actually, go you rest under his wings.

Because one way or another, God will deliver all his children. He will rescue us from the fangs of COVID-19 and bring us safely into his kingdom.

One way or another, in life or in death, he will.

Real Rescue

God does not say no afflictions shall befall us, but no evil.-Thomas Watson.

The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. These are some of the very last words Paul spoke. They’re at the end of the last chapter of the last book he penned in prison shortly before he died, probably by beheading at the hands of evil Nero.

He had just mentioned Alexander the coppersmith who did him much evil and he knew his days were short. What most of us would call evil was “befalling” Paul. Then in 2 Timothy 4:18, he writes,

The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed, and will bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom.

We must understand this to understand what Psalm 91 really means. Real evil was is that Paul’s faith would wither. Real rescue was being brought safely home to Jesus.

That is it! If we make the Lord our refuge, then fear won’t cripple us- because we know that the worst- even disease and dying- brings the best.

Because real rescue means God bringing us safely into his kingdom.

When Death Sounds the Retreat

Faith is endangered by security, but secure in the midst of danger, someone said. If there’s an upside to COVID-19, this is it.

I know the Puritans paint a rosier picture of death than we’re used to. But tell me this isn’t true:

Friend, if you were prepared, death would be to you a change from a prison to a place, from sorrows to solace, from pain to pleasure, from heaviness to happiness. All your sins and sorrows would be buried in your grave and the ship of your soul…and you would arrive at a blessed and everlasting harbor. Death would sound the retreat, and call you out of the battlefield- where the bullets fly thick in your combat with the flesh, world and wicked one- to receive your crown of life.

George Swinnock, The Fading of the Flesh and Flourishing of Faith, 1662

We are under his wings. Evil cannot touch us there!

And, if it seems to, as John Piper wrote, there must be a glorious deliverance we can’t see. What else can we conclude when we put these two Psalms together:

Psalm 44:22 – “For thy sake we are slain all day long.”
Psalm 34:19 – “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.”

Remember how Jesus talked to his disciples this way?

Luke 21:16 – “…some of you they will put to death.”
Luke 21:18 – “But not a hair of your head will perish.”

Jesus doesn’t tell lies and he doesn’t speak out of both sides of his mouth. He speaks truth. He is the truth.

So Jean, this all means that you might- I might- get infected with COVID-19 and Psalm 91 is still true.

No evil will befall us.

What is our hope in life and death?
Christ alone, Christ alone
What is our only confidence?
That our souls to him belong
Who holds our days within his hand?
What comes, apart from his command?
And what will keep us to the end?
The love of Christ, in which we stand

Christ Our Hope in Life and Death

Words and Music by Keith Getty, Matt Boswell, Jordan Kauflin, Matt Merker, Matt Papa

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:38-39

Go Bold

And I pleaded with the LORD at that time, saying
“O LORD GOD, you have only begun to show your servant your greatness and your mighty hand. For what god is there in heaven or on earth who can do such works and mighty acts as yours?    Please let me go over and see the good land beyond the Jordan, that good hill country and Lebanon.” 

But the LORD was angry with me and would not listen to me.  
And the LORD said to me, “Enough from you; do not speak to me of this matter again. Go up to the top of Pisgah and…look at it with your eyes, for you shall not go over this Jordan.” 
Deuteronomy 3:23-27

How do you handle NO? Does self-protection keep you from asking? Do you resist requesting to avoid the dreaded monosyllable? 

Stop, Mom, please!  Can we stop and talk to Emma and Isaac?  Please, mom?

That request interrupted our drive home a few nights ago. The boys had spotted their friends’ whole family out in the yard. I wasn’t in a particularly friendly mood. Besides, it was dinnertime.

But Christ’s love compels, and I turned around. Maybe they’d like to come to Vacation Bible School with us, I said off-handedly as we pulled up the driveway.

After reintroducing myself, I got the scuttlebutt on the boys’ school. We discussed 20-inch bike tires needed by our lengthening sons. After a few more minutes we said good-bye. Then, as we reached the van, Gabe blurted (at about 75dB),

Mom, aren’t you gonna ask them to come to VBS?   

I hadn’t sensed an openness during our visit, and honestly, I didn’t want to risk the NO. But.

Ohhh…yes, okay.  (Followed by an awkward about face toward the house.)  

Hi again. Gabe reminded me that I wanted to ask if Isaac and Emma could come to Vacation Bible School with us next week. I mumbled times and places; they smiled and nodded. Would you be interested?  

Then: No thank you.

My friend Lisa is insightful. She intuits the counter-intuitive.

So being meek and making such bold requests can go together? Moses was the meekest man on earth. Yet he dared to ask God to change his mind. 

Prima facie, making bold requests is not meek. The Bible study group had been discussing the meek acts of Moses. Among them were some mighty big favors. Like asking his brother-in-law to stay and play wilderness scout for 40 years. Asking God to relent of the punishments he’d decreed for Miriam and the Israelites is very bold.  His requests were fearless and daring, pushing brash.

Atop the gutsy list was Moses’ plea to God to reconsider his own punishment. He had struck the Rock, profaning the LORD before the congregation (Numbers 20:10-11). God’s just decree was heart-wrenching: despite 40 years guiding this beloved, provoking people, Moses would not lead them into the Promised Land. Joshua would.

Canaan was so close Moses could-probably had-tasted it; it’s gargantuan grapes, pomegranates and figs. Then with arms outstretched, he’d seen the Amalakites fall. The kingdoms of Sihon and Og had already been conquered. Just across the Jordan.

The Child’s Story Bible is succinct:

This was a bitter disappointment to Moses.  He begged God to let him cross the river so that he, too, could see the longed-for promised land.  God did not give Moses what he asked for.  

“Be satisfied with what I have decided,” God said to him. “Do not speak about this any more.  Climb this mountain, and I will show you the land. Then you are to die here on this mountain. For you are not to cross the river.” 

What a blow! If meekness is strength under control, this must be its pinnacle. In the face of bitter disappointment, the meek man of God managed his emotions. Moses didn’t stomp off in self-pity. He went bold to God, trusting the Judge of the earth to do right. Then, he took NO.

About his rejection, Matthew Henry comments,

It bore hard upon Moses himself, when he had gone through all the fatigues of the wilderness, to be prevented from enjoying the pleasures of Canaan; when he had borne the burden and heat of the day, to resign the honor of finishing the work to another. We may suppose that this was not pleasant to flesh and blood, But the man MOSES was very meek; God will have it so, and he cheerfully submits

But why was he denied? What about Matthew 7?  You know: Ask and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. Why didn’t Moses win his appeal?  An “unanswered prayer,” post is forthcoming.  For now, let John Piper’s answer suffice:

I think the context here is sufficient to answer this question. No, we do not get everything we ask for and we should not and we would not want to. The reason I say we should not is because we would in effect become God if God did everything we asked him to do. We should not be God. God should be God. And the reason I say that we would not want to get everything we asked is because we would then have to bear the burden of infinite wisdom which we do not have. We simply don’t know enough to infallibly decide how every decision will turn out and what the next events in our lives, let alone in history, should be.

Back to Lisa’s question. Do meekness and bold requests go together? Were Moses’ appeals anomalies; deviations from his meek nature? Or were they part and parcel of it? 

I land on the latter. Here’s why:

The very act of submitting a request, knowing it may be denied is meek. Moses submitted requests. He accepted NO for an answer. This makes him submissive. Therefore, submitting requests, appealing, asking must be integral to meekness.

If I submit an article for publication, odds are it will be rejected. If I request a personal day, it could very well be denied. Big, bold requests get rejected, too: pregnancy, adoption, restored relationships. When they are, sometimes I’m weak without control. Pity parties and ice cream a aplenty. And sometimes, strength under control: spirit gifted power, love and self-control. 

Is it more meek to fear the no so much you don’t go? Or to go bold, willing to take NO? Which is more hopeful and faithful? Which exalts the goodness of God? Scripture is clear: Submit your requests to God. The righteous are as bold as a lion. Come boldly to the throne of grace. The righteous shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back my soul has no pleasure in him. Therefore since we have such a hope, we are very bold. 

Go bold.  In hope. Take NO if you must. You’ll be in good company. Moses, Hannah, and Daniel. Hezekiah plead for his life, and God gave him 15 more years. David appealed for his son’s life, and on the seventh day the child died. David took NO. God will have it so, was good enough for him

It is hard to hope against hope. The urge to protect self looms large. In Allure Of Hope, Jan Myers describes the yearning that wells up. We are just afraid, that’s all. We intrinsically know that hope is a painful process. Yet we want to have the courage to respond in hope anyway. (p. 24) 

Hope in God’s mercy gave Moses courage to appeal his case. But it also empowered him to take NO. And hope in God’s future grace allowed him to transcend his disappointment and stay faithful in all God’s house. 

His exact response to the divine NO is not explicit. But read to the end of Deuteronomy, and you’ll find it. Moses finished strong. He encouraged, warned, blessed the 12 tribes without a hint of rancor.

Hear his love for the Lord who denied, for the people who provoked, in his last words:

“The LORD came from Sinai…he came from the ten thousands of holy ones, with flaming fire at his right hand. Yes, he loved his people, all his holy ones were in his hand; so they followed in your steps receiving direction from you, when Moses commanded us a law…Happy are you, O Israel! Who is like you, a people saved by the LORD, the shield of your help, and the sword of your triumph!” (Deuteronomy 33:2-3, 29)

Then, the very day he delivered that stirring speech,

Moses went up from the plains of Moab…and the LORD showed him all the land. And the LORD said to him, “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob…I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not go over there.” So Moses the servant of the LORD died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the Lord. (Deuteronomy 34:1, 4-5)

Say, do you know who buried Moses?

  He [God] buried him in the valley in the land of Moab… 
Deuteronomy 34:9

Addendum: Not so fast, you say. Not all asking is meek and submissive. I agree.  I can think of at least two types of requests that are not inspired by faith, not full of hope, and certainly not meek.

1. Foolish people make bold requests. Like, when, on a whim, Son A asks,

Mom, could I just have $150 for a Millennium Falcon Lego set?  I really like it.

 Or off-handedly, Son B, asks,

Could I pleeeease have another [third] bowl of Caramel Sea Salt Truffle ice cream for dessert dessert dessert?

Silly, not meek. And not of faith. Sons A and B didn’t honestly think Mom would deliver. Or foolish because they don’t really know what they’re asking.  Like when James and John’s mom asked if her boys could sit beside Jesus in his kingdom.
2. Presumptuous people also ask favors. They assume. Their requests are demands, and may be disguised by tag questions.

You don’t mind watching the kids, do you?  or

You wouldn’t mind if we borrowed your tent [canoe, camper], would you? or

You can read this book before book club, can’t you? (Guilty as charged.)

And so submissive requests morph into brash entitlement. Like Rachel envying Leah’s fertility. Give me children or I’ll die, she told JacobNot so meek.