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Kicking Cactus

by Tim O'Hearn

What kind of fool goes around kicking cactus while wearing canvas shoes? Might that not be the same as the pitcher who got mad and slammed his fist (of his pitching hand) into a brick wall? Is there any greater picture of frustration? Yet in the Bible we read of one who was out kicking cactus. Well, sort of.

When the Lord confronts Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus he says, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.” (Acts 26: 14) While the word “pricks” can mean insect stings or, in this case, a metal cattle prod, here in the American Southwest it conjures up the picture of someone kicking the cactus. An exercise in frustration.

The picture Jesus actually presents is just as frustrating, and also just as Southwest. Cattle are notoriously stubborn. They go where they want, when they want. When I was growing up we were familiar with electric prods to get them to move where we wanted them to go. In previous years people used sharpened metal prods. Whether using electric or metal, rule one is that you don’t stand behind the cow to prod it. If you do, plan on a long hospital stay because the cow’s first reaction is to kick—backwards. He is kicking “against” or in reaction to the prick. After the goad is applied a few times and kicking doesn’t do any good, she finally decides to move away from the prick. Then you have her going where you want her to go.

Jesus essentially called Saul a stubborn cow. Saul was a prominent rabbi, trained in the scriptures by one of the three greatest rabbis of his generation, and perhaps of all time. He should have been able to recognize Messiah when he came on the scene. Instead he “kicked up his heels” by persecuting the followers of Messiah. Jesus told him this was worthless effort. He knew where to go, but refused. Instead the goad was trying to move him

to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee; Delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee, To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me. (Acts 26:16-18)

But Paul may not be the only stubborn cow Jesus ever met. Perhaps we meet different breeds of such cattle every day. Maybe we meet them because we are them.

There are many ways people kick the cactus. I would like to look at just a few.

Denying God’s Existence

This certainly wasn’t Saul/Paul’s problem, but there are many who get pricked by God’s goad daily and still kick up against His existence. If “the fool has said in his heart ‘there is no God’” (Ps 14:1; 53:1), then there appear to be a lot of fools around.

God has not hidden himself. He is not hiding in heaven and keeping away from his creation. Paul told the Athenians, “he is not very far from every one of us.” The same man pointed out to the Roman brethren (Romans 1:20-21):

For the invisible things of him, even his eternal power and Godhead, from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made; so that they are without excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.

The pricks are all around us. The psalmist of Psalm 139:14 knew this. All he had to do was to look in a mirror to say “I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works.” I don’t think I need to detail the argument for God’s existence based on the idea that such wonderful design demands a designer.

Science is limited in that it can not explain the first cause. That is, if we evolved from a primordial ooze, where did the ooze come from? If the ooze came from a subatomic soup, where did the soup come from? Ultimately science must end and faith take over.

God tells us, “Here I am. Stop kicking against the pricks. Believe in me.”

Denying God’s Word

It’s an old and time-honored practice; if you don’t like the message, shoot the messenger. In this case, if you don’t want to obey God’s word, try to prove that it isn’t from God. That seems to be the practice of scholars and common men for at least the past two centuries.

Did you know that the book of Deuteronomy doesn’t date back to the entry into Canaan after the Exodus? At least according to some scholars (in what is called the “Documentary Hypothesis”) the book that was “found” by the priests during the reign of Josiah (2 Kings 22), which is commonly held to have been the book of Deuteronomy, was actually written at that time by the priests. They objected to the people going away from them to other gods, and taking their offerings with them; they had to present a book of the Law that supposedly went back to the beginning of the nation. So they wrote what they wanted the people to believe and said it was a lost book of Moses.

Did you know that the prophecies of Jeremiah and Ezekiel were actually written after the Babylonian Captivity, because they prophesy very specifically when that captivity would end? After all, nobody could have known that the captivity would last specifically seventy years, so that must have been written after the fact. And Daniel must have actually been written three hundred years after it claims, because it tells of Alexander the Great and his four generals. Nobody could have known about that as early as 500 BC.

The latest fad appears to be that Paul perverted what Jesus intended for the church to be, so reject the writings of Paul and go back to the gospels only. The argument, as I understand it, is that Jesus primarily taught love, and therefore would not reject anyone. Paul taught that only Christians would be saved, and is therefore excluding some of those Jesus would accept. This, of course, ignores that it was Jesus who said, “No man comes to the Father but by me.” (Jn 14:6) It ignores that Peter said (Acts 4:12), “neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” It ignores Paul’s preaching that anyone could come to Christ, Jew or Greek, salve or free, male or female.

Every time anyone preaches the gospel, it is a goad to those who refuse to believe. As Paul said,

But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” (1 Cor 1L 23-25)

Instead they choose to kick at the pricks. They attempt to deny the message rather than obey it.

Denying God’s Justice

Those who reject Paul’s writings as stated above also kick against the prick of God’s justice. They aren’t the only ones. Many the people who use the phrase, “If your God is a God of love … .” They usually end it with something like “How could he condemn so many people to Hell?” If God is love, the theory goes, he would accept everyone regardless of how they tried to get to him. If they approached him in the form of Allah of the Muslims or as the Buddha, how could he reject them? Of course the logical extension, usually not expressed, is that the worshippers in the temples of Corinth who consorted with the temple prostitutes were only trying in their way to reach God, so adultery is not always a sin. In fact, a loving God would not reckon anything a sin.

This is not love. Love says that people must learn right from wrong, love from selfishness. To fail to punish sin shows a lack of love, rather than universal love.

Even more, justice is a component of love. If God tells me that something is a sin and that I must not do it or be punished, can he overlook that in someone else and be showing me love? If adultery is a sin for Christians, Jews, and Muslims but not for the Romans, God is showing partiality, not love.

If I live the way God prescribes then I expect to be rewarded as God promised. If He told me that sin receives punishment, and another commits sin, justice demands that person receive punishment. But love also demands it. How could God say he loves me if he fails to follow through on his promises to me? Love “rejoices not in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth.” (1 Cor 13:6)

God has given us law. We see it in practice every day. We count on it. Yet when it comes to God’s law, we expect Him to ignore his own nature. That is kicking against the pricks.

God wants us to follow him. God begs us to follow him. He puts the choice to us daily. If anyone chooses to continue to fight God, I know some places near Carlsbad, New Mexico, where I can find some good prickly pear, ocotillo, and barrel cactus. I’ll show you where and take your shoes. Then you can kick the cactus to your hearts content. It can’t hurt any worse than rejecting God.