Ananias and Sapphira

by Andrew Forrest

Two people (a husband and a wife) lie in church–about how much money they are putting in the offering plate(!)–and the Holy Spirit strikes them dead?!  Pretty much.  That’s the story of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5.

If you are a normal person this story strikes you as (a) really strange and hard to believe and (b) extremely troubling.  Is the Lord really this capricious?

Some quick thoughts:

  • I think The Bible Project video does a good job of connecting the Ananias and Sapphira episode with the story of the stricken priests in Leviticus.

  • The presence of the Lord is not something to dishonor or mock: God’s Spirit is a Holy Spirit, and he doesn’t work for us.  He is, to paraphrase Lewis, “not a tame God.”
  • It is dangerous, the Bible tells us, to think that God can be manipulated for our own purposes.
  • I think Luke also wants us to understand that the one thing that will kill the church is the pretense that we are better than we are.  Note that Peter makes it clear that the capital sin of Ananias and Sapphira was not withholding back part of the proceeds of the real estate sale–it was theirs to do with as they pleased–but that they lied and pretended that they were giving all of their profit.
  • It’s okay that the Bible stories trouble us.  If the Bible were merely a human document, then we might expect to immediately understand and agree with all of it.  Because, however, the Bible comes from God, we should expect it to confront, convict, and trouble us.  It’s at the places where we are most troubled that we should pay the most attention.
  • The Lord is gracious, but grace is not cheap and grace is not guaranteed.  To presume that we can do whatever we want and not face consequences is to not understand grace.

So, some questions for reflection:

  • What is it that most troubles about this story?  Why?
  • Are there places in your life in which you are trying to manipulate God?
  • Where are you putting up a false front?  Where in your life are you trying to pretend to be better than you are?  (One thinks of social media….)

 

 

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4 comments

LoisJean Kinney October 8, 2018 - 11:12 am

Thank you for this. I appreciate the way you explain things and can hardly wait until January when we will be coming to our son’s in Dallas for a couple of months and we can again attend Munger Place. May the Lord continue to bless you as you minister in His precious name.
LoisJean Kinney

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Methodist Friend October 8, 2018 - 11:35 am

It’s one thing to be confronted or challenged by Scripture; it’s another thing altogether to be absolutely horrified by the image of a capricious deity. And that’s what we have in this story. There is no explaining away the fact that, according to Luke (the supposed author of Acts), two folks pay with their lives for a falsehood they told. Yes, there may be a reference to a Levitical story, but is that supposed to make it alright? Is that the way God really is? Is that the God you believe in — a God who strikes down two people to make a point, while ignoring all the other potential victims standing around?

Why not simply admit that this is a terrible story, and that you don’t believe it to be literally true? Why not recognize that Luke crafted his story in a particular way, and to make a point about honesty in community? If it is true, then … why doesn’t God do this more often? But you know God isn’t like this. This isn’t how God acts. God loves all of us with infinite perfection, and exactly as we are.

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Jarrod Neal October 10, 2018 - 12:01 pm

From a perspective that sees beyond the narrow span of years which constitutes our time on earth, which our political theory has trained us to regard as our inalienable “right”, the “punishment” of these two people may amount to little more than God saying to them, “I’m pulling you off the field. Time to come home.” This story disturbs us because it reminds us that God has a right to be God and we don’t, that God is not subject to our standards regarding what constitutes serious moral violations, that we should not continue to sin in order that grace may abound. God does love us exactly as we are, but God’s love won’t leave us that way. When I go to a hospital, I want to be received as I am, but I don’t want to be “accepted” that way—I want the doctors & nurses to help me get better. To assume my moral standards are sufficiently perfect to define what God can and cannot do, and which parts of the Bible I should accept or reject, makes revelation irrelevant, denies any serious distorting effects of sin, undermines the premise that Christ came to save us from our sins, renders the cross incomprehensible, replaces repentance with self-adulation, and makes the Creator subject to the creature’s judgment. Indeed, Jesus took that position freely, and his own people who claimed to honor and love God killed him, because he did not match their notion of who the Messiah should be or how God would act in the world.

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Chad B October 8, 2018 - 11:54 am

I hope to keep the gap between online Chad and offline Chad closer than the snakes that were in Sunday’s service….;)

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