written by Daniel Triestman
Reading: Exodus 40, Hebrews 12
“For throughout all their journeys, the cloud of the Lord was on the tabernacle by day, and there was fire in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel.” -Ex. 40:38
“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,” Heb. 12:1
I read about a study conducted several years ago on the campus of a theological seminary. (This study has been referenced in a number of social science books as it has become especially popular among secular humanists. I will paraphrase the details). The experiment went as follows: A group of aspiring preachers were told that they would need to prepare a lesson on the story of the Good Samaritan. They were instructed to then deliver their message to a group of students waiting in a classroom on the other side of the campus. Waiting along the path from where the preacher prepared the message to where the message was to be delivered was a research assistant disguised in tattered clothes and covered in “blood” and “bruises.” The question the researchers were looking to determine was what effect studying the story of the Good Samaritan would have on influencing a preacher to behave like a “Good Samaritan.” Would the preacher stop and help the supposedly injured man? Or would the preacher pass him by in order to get to class so that he can tell others how to be a Good Samaritan? As you could imagine, the preachers did not fare particularly well. A significant majority of the preachers admitted to seeing the person in distress, yet did not stop to assist. This study was repeated several times, each time teasing the variables to determine what would have the greatest impact on the behavior of the preachers. Would they stop if the person looked like he was dying? Would they stop if they knew that the people they were preaching to were already familiar with the story of the Good Samaritan. What the researchers discovered is that the most significant variable in predicting the behavior of the preacher was the amount of time the preacher had to cross the campus. If the preacher had time to help, he would stop and help. If the preacher was going to be late, he would pass by the injured man.
As with many social experiments exposing the frailty of man, many of us may be inclined to challenge these results. We might believe that we would have responded differently. I know that I would have passed that guy by. I hate to be late. And yet I also know that given the right set of circumstances, nearly all of us would do much more than just “help” out a stranger. We would lay down our life, sacrifice time and resources, experience pain or discomfort just to make things a little better for someone we don't even know.
God dwelt with Israel. Every morning when they awoke they could see the “cloud of the Lord.” The presence of God was “in the sight of all the house of Israel.” God went where they went. There was no escaping the context of an ever-present God. We know that God is in our presence also. However, it is one thing to believe that God can see what you are doing. It is another thing to see God as He sees what you are doing.
One of my favorite jokes: “If you want to watch someone drink all your beer, invite a Baptist to go fishing with you. If you want to keep all your beer . . . invite two Baptists.” As righteous as we hope to be, we are all somewhat influenced by our context. Thank God for the “cloud” that keeps us in line.
Questions: What other ways do we see ourselves influenced by our context? What “cloud” surrounds you?