When God Severs Us
Shaquille O’Neal’s Achille’s heel? Free throws.
The 4 time NBA champion and Hall-of-Famer was a force underneath the hoop, but he was a liability 15 feet away from it.
He was so bad at free throws that teams began to employ the “Hack-a-Shaq” method at the end of games. They would send guys in just to foul Shaq, figuring that he would miss his shots and they would get the ball back with time to score. It worked too.
But there was a strategy Shaq never employed that could have dramatically improved his percentages. It was the “granny shot”- an underhand throw with a high success rate. It lands softer on the hoop than an overhand shot. It rolls forward when it hits the rim rather than away from it. And it is guaranteed to make you look like a geek.
Other NBA players had used the granny shot, most famously Rick Barry. He is the 4th best free throw shooter in NBA history, and had a 90% success rate. Shaq’s was 53%. He once talked with Shaq about changing his shot. Shaq’s response?
“I told Rick Barry, ‘I’d rather shoot 0% than shoot underhand. I’m too cool for that.’”
Wanting to be like everyone else is a powerful force.
By Exodus 8:22 God has already begun the plagues on Egypt- blood, frogs, and gnats. But before God unleashed the plague of flies He said,
“And I will sever in that day the land of Goshen, in which my people dwell, that no swarms of flies shall be there; to the end thou mayest know that I am the Lord in the midst of the earth.” Exodus 8:22 (KJV)
That word “sever” is interesting. In Hebrew it is palah which means “to distinguish, put a difference, separate”. When we talk about being “set apart” it is the word palah.
For the rest of the plagues, even darkness, God set apart Goshen. Imagine being an Egyptian with darkness all around you, and seeing Goshen in daylight. Israel was clearly set apart.
God chose Israel to be special. And yet with all the blessings God gave them, He knew they wouldn’t appreciate it or live up to the covenant. In Deuteronomy 28 Moses spends most of the chapter telling Israel the diseases God would bring if they disobeyed, and then throws this in:
“He will bring upon you all the diseases of Egypt that you dreaded, and they will cling to you. The Lord will also bring on you every kind of sickness and disaster not recorded in this Book of the Law until you are destroyed.” Exodus 28: 60,61
I would call that conclusive. But just a few generations later:
“’No!’” They said. ‘We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations…’” 1Samuel 8:19
Israel was willing to give up all the blessings God promised to emulate the tribes around them.
Wanting to be like everyone else is a powerful force.
Before it is rational or logical the human brain is social. When a thought enters your brain, it begins at the base of the right hemisphere, moves up to the front, crosses over to the left side, and down to the left base. The right side of your brain (broadly) deals with identity: “Who am I? Who is my tribe?” The left side (broadly) deals with reasoning: “What do these words mean? What is 5x4?”
The right brain refreshes at 6 cycles a second, while the left side moves at 5 cycles per second. That means that before your left brain knows you are thinking, your right brain has already made some conclusions. For example, while in conversation your left brain will focus on what is being said, but your right brain has already processed voice tone, body language, facial recognition, etc.
Any parent who has appealed to logic to keep their teenager from adopting their friends’ bad habits understands- wanting to be like everyone else is a powerful force.
God knows our desire for relationship. He put it there. So when God calls us to be set apart, He doesn’t appeal to our reason. He appeals to love. His love is what teaches us to be different, because belonging thinks faster than reason.
Because He knows our love is imperfect, He gives us His stronger love. He invites us out of an old family into a new one. Still, as we see with Israel and Egypt, the process involves pain.
Detachment hurts, even when it’s for a good cause. Imagine your whole body is full of sockets. God wants to attach to us, but in order to do so He asks us to “unplug”. That leaves us raw and exposed. We may know intellectually that God’s choice is better, but we still have to rip out a previous attachment, which hurts our relational mind. It is even more painful when people find our detachments strange.
How many Christians who subscribe to Netflix were shocked by their plans to release the “Cuties” television show? How many of us have found out that Hollywood stars weren’t the people we thought they were? Add to that list politicians, universities, institutions, athletes, and corporations. There is a sadness when you hear people you admire trash your beliefs. It shows that you cared what they thought. You and I were attached.
That leaves us with a choice. We either stay attached to toxic people and systems, or we detach and make room to be set apart.
Jesus said, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters-yes, even their own life- such a person cannot be my disciple.” Luke 14:26,27
And yet… And yet the promises of God for those who are willing to detach are extraordinary:
“Therefore come out from them and be separate says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you. I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.” 2 Corinthians 6:17,18
“God sets the lonely in families…” Psalm 68:6
God is making a new family. It is full of love and attachment and joy. Joy is what builds healthy culture and allows for character development. We will talk more about joy in future posts, but in order to attach to God and His family we have to unplug. We have to let God make us peculiar.
“What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things...” Philippians 3:8
Gimme that granny shot.