Ambiguity, Thy Real Name Is Doubt


solid_rock_1751729Clearly I should have written this post before yesterday’s “Ambiguity, Thy Cousin Is Relativism” article, but when I started, I hadn’t realized what all I wanted to say about the topic. The more I think about it, the bigger the subject gets.

Here’s the bottom line: Satan wants to call into question what God has said. He wants us uncertain.

God, on the other hand, wants us to trust what He says. He wants us confident.

That’s why God’s word is compared in Scripture to a rock, why over and over passages in both Old and New Testament say God’s word is sure, tried, and everlasting.

Why, then, do Christians buy into “ambiguity”? Why opt for the sinking sand when a sure foundation is there for the taking?

Here are my best guesses.

* Today’s Christians, though we have access to excellent Bible translations in our own language, are ignorant of much of Scripture. We’ve fallen into the trap of letting the “professionals” do our Bible study for us. So we listen in church and maybe even read a devotion online, but we aren’t digging into Scripture for ourselves.

* We start with false presuppositions. One such idea is that God’s inspiration of Scripture didn’t mean the Bible is actually His Word. Rather, humans wrote it and copied it and interpreted it, so undoubtedly it’s changed over time and isn’t really an accurate reflection today of God’s heart (it has nasty things in it such as God’s wrath and judgment). Of course, that view completely hangs on the idea that God didn’t miraculously transmit His word to us. It requires a small view of God.

A careful study of Scripture uncovers the position which the Church has held down through the centuries—God spoke through His prophets and those to whom He gave His word in the first century, He has preserved and protected it, and His Holy Spirit continues to guide us into all truth. In short, the Bible is a miracle. This view requires an expansive view of God.

God wants us to know Him and chose, therefore, to reveal Himself to us. Otherwise, we could know about Him through what He has made, but we wouldn’t know Him since the finite cannot reach the infinite. Therefore to know God requires His initiative, His miraculous intervention.

* A third possibility is that we’ve heard people yank a verse of Scripture out of context and parade it before the world as “a sure thing,” only to end up disappointed. This kind of treatment of Scripture has happened for centuries, so it’s not new, but perhaps because of our technology, the claims of these charlatan’s or misguided teachers have reached a wider audience. The kinds of promises range from a date set for Christ’s return to miraculous healing to untold wealth to sinless perfection.

When someone believes they’re going to get a new car, like the evangelist tells them, and they trust with all their heart, but no new car comes their way, what do they do with those dashed expectations?

Even promises of a happy life if you remain sexually pure, marry, submit to your husband, might be dashed by a drunk driver plowing into your van on the way to the church retreat. Where’s the happy life now?

The problem isn’t God or His Word; it’s the false expectations created by someone reading a passage of Scripture and not plugging it in with the entire message of the Bible.

Those who have suffered know God is true though all men be liars. That’s right—those who have suffered. Suffering is often the dividing line. Some suffer, then curse God and die, as Job’s wife urged him to do. Others turn their eyes to heaven and ask God to forgive those tormenting them as Stephen did when he was stoned to death.

What’s the difference? Those who suffer and turn to God understand they don’t have to know why and their rescue doesn’t have to be now. They embrace the One who embraces them and allow Him to carry them through the valley of the shadow of death.

Those who shake their fists at God and turn from Him in anger want to rest in their happiness or their stuff or their healthy bodies, not in the arms of Him Who rescues from the dominion of darkness.

They want to walk on water, not because they want to come to Jesus, but because they want those in the boat to admire them for their ability to do what’s remarkable. Relationship? How cliche, they say. God isn’t knowable like that. He’s to be found by looking within and experiencing Him through the mystical meditation of contemplation.

Which is another way of saying, I don’t believe God is actually a person—he’s too other, too out there.

Well, yes, and no. God is Other, but because He is so much more than what we can imagine, He is also simultaneously Imminent. He is out there, but He is also near, even in our hearts. Which does not mean He is some kind of impersonal panentheistic deity.

Rather, He is very personal which we know because He came into the world as a person—a baby who grew to manhood, lived, loved, cried, died. And even in His resurrected body, He demonstrated His personhood—the marks in His body from His suffering, His repeat miracle of multiplying fish for Peter and his crew, the meals He shared, the bread He blessed.

So here’s the fact: if God sent Jesus, and if Jesus rose from the dead, then God is powerful enough to do anything and good enough to trust. Where’s the ambiguity in that? If I need to see the why or understand the wherefore, then God will show that to me. But if not, I still can trust.

And yes, trust can be scary at first. I think it gets easier the longer you go, snugged to the chest of the Good Shepherd who is gathering His sheep.

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Photograph by Rudi Winter via Wikimedia

Ambiguity, Thy Cousin Is Relativism


A_starry_sky_above_Death_Valley

I haven’t heard a lot about the emerging church lately. According to one source the eulogy has been given and only one hold-out pastor remains. I suspect the disaffected who identified with the emerging church have been swallowed up by Progressive Christians.

Nevertheless, the emerging church movement had an impact on traditional churches. The tell of their influence is in the buzz words that crop up in radio programs, print articles, Internet sites, and sermons—words such as truth claims, missio or missional, conversations, contextualize, and mystery. There’s a concept, also, which I’ve heard, though not necessarily stated so bluntly—ambiguity.

The thinking is, God is a mystery, life is a mystery, and there really aren’t any definitive answers.

I admit—I get a little cranky when I hear people espousing these views.

First, God is NOT a mystery. He is transcendent. The two are quite different, a topic I explored in the post “Transcendence vs. Mystery.” That God is not a mystery becomes clear when we read passages in Scripture such as Jeremiah 9:24:

“But let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the LORD. (emphasis, here and throughout this post, is added)

The New Testament also affirms God’s “knowability.” For example, Paul says in Colossians 2:2b-3

attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

Yes, the mystery has been revealed. Paul stated this clearly in the first chapter of the same book:

that is, the mystery which had been hidden from past ages and generations, but has now been revealed to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

On the other hand, that God is transcendent is also clear. Isaiah 40:12-14 sets the stage for a beautiful declaration of God’s transcendence by asking a series of questions:

Who has measured the waters in the hollow of His hand,
And marked off the heavens by the span,
And calculated the dust of the earth by the measure,
And weighed the mountains in a balance
And the hills in a pair of scales?
Who has directed the Spirit of the LORD,
Or as His counselor has informed Him?
With whom did He consult and who gave Him understanding?
And who taught Him in the path of justice and taught Him knowledge
And informed Him of the way of understanding?

The conclusion is powerful. In part it reads

Do you not know? Have you not heard?
Has it not been declared to you from the beginning?
Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
It is He who sits above the circle of the earth,
And its inhabitants are like grasshoppers,
Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain
And spreads them out like a tent to dwell in.
He it is who reduces rulers to nothing,
Who makes the judges of the earth meaningless.
Scarcely have they been planted,
Scarcely have they been sown,
Scarcely has their stock taken root in the earth,
But He merely blows on them, and they wither,
And the storm carries them away like stubble.
“To whom then will you liken Me
That I would be his equal?” says the Holy One
.
Lift up your eyes on high
And see who has created these stars,
The One who leads forth their host by number,
He calls them all by name;
Because of the greatness of His might and the strength of His power,
Not one of them is missing.

The Apostle Paul brings together God’s transcendence and his “knowability” in 1 Cor. 2:12-16:

Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words. But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, THAT HE WILL INSTRUCT HIM? But we have the mind of Christ.

In that last verse, Paul quotes from Isaiah, showing that God’s transcendence is unchanged, and yet, because of Christ’s work on the cross and God’s gift of the Holy Spirit to believers, we have the mind of Christ.

In other words, Christians can know, we do have answers, we don’t need to walk around in a cloud of doubt.

Granted, the answers may not be what people want to hear. More often than not, our “why” will be answered by God’s “I’m working out my will in the world.” For some, that’s not good enough.

For others that’s too spot on. That sin and suffering, pain and heartache, have a purpose seems too unambiguous. That God is sovereignly in charge over things we wish He would eradicate makes us uncomfortable. How can we trust a God whose answer to our questions is, Trust Me?

We want more, or we want to say, more isn’t attainable. For some reason, a segment of the religious find satisfaction in a declaration that things are ambiguous. Some readily belittle faith that claims to be the assurance of things hoped for. Faith, in these critics’ way of looking at things, is actually doubt.

What I find interesting is that this embracement of doubt, of uncertainty, of ambiguity, seems to mirror the rise of postmodernism’s version of relativism. Essentially, the idea that we cannot know—because history changes facts and redefines terms, because we are constrained by our culture and our experiences to understand only within our own narrow framework, not that of the broader context—shatters the idea that there is an inerrant, infallible Word of God upon which we can rely for Truth.

The problem in all this is that those who say we cannot know, rule out the possibility that God did in fact give us a written record of what He wants us to know, that He preserved what He told us down through the ages, and that He gave us His Spirit to understand it apart from and beyond our own cultural constraints.

And why do they rule God’s transcendent work out?

They would rather believe in mystery, I guess, rather than transcendence. But in so doing, they are, themselves, drawing the conclusion that they KNOW God could not work in such a transcendent way. It’s another way of putting Man in God’s place.

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