My dad is not a severe man but growing up in his house, there were severe consequences for not listening to what he told me to do. And listening in our house was clearly defined as doing what Dad (or Mom) told us to do. That story is familiar to most of us – it’s how we grew up and how we run our house now as parents. Chaos is avoided by clear instruction and willing obedience. Life quickly runs amok when parents fail to lay down expectations with laser-like precision and children act like their ears are clogged with silly putty and keep watching the TV when they should be throwing their empty juice box in the trash.
So on one level we understand the story of Achan in Joshua 7. Anyone who has read from Genesis 1 and survived Leviticus is well aware that God has told the nation of Israel (and by proxy the rest of the nations as well) that they need to follow God if they want to live. The demands and expectations that are clearly laid out bring blessing when obeyed – and are met with swift and severe justice when they are ignored.
Achan gets the death penalty for disobeying God. We struggle with the sentence because the punishment doesn’t fit the crime – he took the equivalent of a pair of blue jeans and a few dollars off the dresser. But the crime is not the amount taken or the theft itself – it is Achan’s willing insubordination to a clear command from God that leads to his execution.
I get that – tough to swallow but I understand the need to both set an example and to protect an entire nation from itself. This is apples-spoiling-bunches kind of stuff. Where I really struggle in this story is with the matter-of-fact way in which the narrator of Achan’s story passes along the information that Achan’s family (‘sons and daughters’ – v 24) is executed with him.
Such actions cut against modern sensibilities and in the end expose a latent and unhealthy individualism. While God does not always punish children for the crimes of their parents – or bring hardship on an entire nation for the crimes of their leaders or fellow countrymen – there are times like the events of Joshua 7 when we’re reminded that our choices have consequences.
One example in the life of our church – we have and will have families that become active members of Christ Church only to pull back and effectively become strangers. We don’t see them in gatherings or in a group. They no longer answer the phone and don’t respond to email or text messages. Sometimes they’re disgruntled with the church (it happens) and sometimes life has forced church to become optional.
What makes these situations so devastating is the spiritual death that such a shrinking back often brings to an entire family. It is rare to see adults re-engage spiritually and it almost always leaves children indifferent or bitter towards both God and His church. This is just one implication of Achan’s story in our midst.
Historically – and tragically – the remaining members of the family we call Christ Church have done little more than to wave good-bye and fuss about people behind their backs. For that we need to apologize to each other and repent to God for our foolishness and lack of concern for His glory and the good of those who wander off the reservation.
Instead we need to embrace a life of mutual accountability that includes active persuasion to not ignore the family and wander away from God (facts that seem obvious to everyone but the person or family involved) along with clear implications from the Scriptures that are acted upon by the elders of the church when family is ignored and the kindness of God is trampled upon.
Again, this cuts against the grain of an increasingly libertarian culture and reeks of cultish fanaticism. But isn’t this how your family operates – because of the potentially devastating effects of not listening to God, you discipline those you’re responsible for. And I believe it is how we must begin to live as a church.
We are a family called to follow Jesus. We must learn to love one another through deeply connected lives that celebrate the blessings of grace and act upon the severe mercies of God with broken-hearted persistence.