False Ideas About God


I think perhaps the most harmful idea about God is that He’s sort of like a kindly, somewhat doddering, grandfather with a long white beard, waiting to give out presents to people who ask.

This false image is not only damaging as it is, it opens up a lot of people to anger who expect God to be this way but instead find Him to say no to their requests and to be quite engaged, in control, and not at all doddering.

I’m not sure where the idea of “grandfather god” came from, how it got started. I think it’s a fairly recent concept, though I don’t think Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel painting of God in the act of creating did anything to dissuade people from seeing God in this benevolent, passive, aged way.

I find it hard to imagine, though, that the people in the 1700s listening to preachers like Jonathan Edwards who preached “fire and brimstone” sermons such as “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” would conceive of God as a kindly grandfather. They understood from the sermons they heard on Sunday and those they listened to during revival meetings, that God’s judgment of sinners was anything but kindly.

In reaction to this focus on God’s judgment, I believe Christendom began to focus on God’s love rather than on His wrath. Hence, the script flipped to this kinder, gentler God who loves the world. The natural outgrowth of this emphasis was a redefining of God’s image. He was not angry; He was loving. He was not eager to judge; He was eager to save. He was not a kill-joy; He was willing, even desirous, of showering His people with good gifts.

The problem actually is the focus, the over-emphasis of one of God’s traits to the exclusion of the others. And to be honest, grandfather god, while accurately identifying some of God’s attributes, neglects others so that the overall concept of God is drastically distorted.

As you would expect the preachers of Jonathan Edwards’s day knew nothing of “grandfather god.” Here’s a flavor of Edwards’s famous sermon:

II. They deserve to be cast into hell; so that divine justice never stands in the way, it makes no objection against God’s using his power at any moment to destroy them. Yea, on the contrary, justice calls aloud for an infinite punishment of their sins. Divine justice says of the tree that brings forth such grapes of Sodom, “Cut it down; why cumbreth it the ground” (Luke 13:7). The sword of divine justice is every moment brandished over their heads, and ’tis nothing but the hand of arbitrary mercy, and God’s mere will, that holds it back.

III. They are already under a sentence of condemnation to hell. They don’t only justly deserve to be cast down thither; but the sentence of the law of God, that eternal and immutable rule of righteousness that God has fixed between him and mankind, is gone out against them, and stands against them; so that they are bound over already to hell. John 3:18, “He that believeth not is condemned already.” So that every unconverted man properly belongs to hell; that is his place; from thence he is.” (excerpt from Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” as posed by Yale.edu)

What I find interesting—though I haven’t read much of the sermon at all—is that I see nothing so far that doesn’t square with Scripture.

So which is true about God? Is He angry or is He a kindly grandfather?

Again, I’ll say, the problem is that both these perspectives are incomplete. God is kind, loving, merciful but He is also just and uncompromising and angry at sin.

The thing is, in this era of grandfather god, we don’t like to hear those things about God that contradict our image of universal benevolence.

But actually God is universally benevolent. He sends rain on the just and the unjust. He mercifully withholds His wrath from deserving sinners so that we have a chance to accept His free gift of grace. And it is His kindness and love for mankind that prompts His offer of salvation.

The mistake we make today, I believe, is speaking only of the traits that we like, that we’re happy about, and sort of mumbling under our breath that yes, God hates sin. Honestly? It’s even hard for me to write these truths. If feels a little foreign and I’m afraid someone will misunderstand. After all, we humans don’t have the holiness that God does which mitigates His traits we can only understand as negative.

In truth, God’s wrath is no more negative than His love is. His wrath is directed at rebellion and the cause of death which haunts the human race, and in fact all of creation. God hates death. He hates the sin that caused it. His plan is to bring it to an end. But the truth is, some will resist His love, His kindness, His mercy, His grace. As a result, they align themselves with that which God hates.

The best analogy is not a new one. Sin is like a cancer that will take a person’s life unless it is attacked aggressively, excised, dealt with ruthlessly. Should a doctor be benevolent toward the cancer? Or toward his patient?

To be benevolent toward the one is to be wrathful toward the other.

In short, God is both, kindly and angry. But grandfather? No. That doesn’t fit. God dwells in inexpressible light.

Time we retired the idea of grandfather god and look at Almighty God as He has revealed Himself—and that means we need to look at more than the qualities we find easy to talk about.

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Volcanoes And Earthquakes And The Flood


This post is mostly my speculation. Some of you might be aware that in the last month there have been three volcanic eruption along the Pacific Rim. The first was in Indonesia and didn’t end up with any lose of life. The second is in Hawaii and is not finished yet. A few people have died. The third was just last Sunday in Guatemala, the land of volcanoes. That eruption was more violent than the first two and at least 69 known deaths have occurred.

Besides these, Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming has recently experienced some “unusual activity” from at least one of their active geysers. Not Old Faithful. This one is known as Steamboat. But of course the fact that unusual seismic activity is taking place in the region reminds me that Yellowstone is actually an active volcano. A BIG, active volcano.

So what’s with all the volcanic activity?

The Bible talks about an increase in seismic activity in the form of earthquakes. Nothing about volcanoes, though, unless we understand “fire and brimstone” to be the residual effect of a volcanic eruption.

But here’s my speculation.

The facts: when God created the world, Scripture says “the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.” We don’t know when He created that water or where it was located. But in the process of creating our world, He divided the water, some above and some below.

Later, when God sent a world-wide flood as judgment on the earth, He didn’t just send rain. Rather, Genesis 7 tells us “all the fountains of the great deep burst open, and the floodgates of the sky were opened.”

Interestingly, after the flood, the life span of humans plummeted.

My conjecture: The “floodgates of the sky” were a layer of water in our atmosphere that protected us and enabled life to exist in an Eden that allowed everyone long life. The “fountains” were likely an increased amount of water in the water table that cooled the earth and prevented the seismic activity which we have seen and are seeing today.

I suspect the water table is continuing to be depleted and therefore seismic activity will increase.

Of course, I could be wrong. All these volcanic eruptions so close together in time and all along the Pacific Rim could mean nothing.

But God is sovereign over this world, whether we humans recognize it or admit it, or not. There is no random “Mother Nature.” God is also purposeful. He doesn’t allow things for no reason.

Once we understood that God’s hand was in storms and drought and wind and lightning and earthquakes. But now humans have become so very smart and aware of how our world works, that we no longer want to credit God with being in charge. Even Christians assume that much of the attitude toward natural phenomena in years past was a result of simply not knowing or understanding the way things work.

But really?

Understanding tectonic plates or wind patterns or high and low tide does not give us humans control over those things. Nor does it negate God’s sovereignty over those things. Do we think less of an automobile maker because we understand what makes a car work? Are we less inclined to credit Henry Ford or the other inventors for their work because current day auto plants put out a much more complex product? No and No. We understand that the inventors created something new and that the manufacturers today keep updating that invention. We average Jo or Josephine drivers aren’t giving ourselves credit because we understand something about the combustion engine or about how to drive.

We certainly don’t think that now that we have learned how a car operates, it operates itself.

Why would we think that about nature?

Yes, we understand something about the way the world works that people five hundred years ago did not understand. But our understanding does not negate God’s creation of the systems we’ve discovered or His control over them. Just because we don’t see Him causing an El Niño does not mean that He isn’t doing the work. Scripture says He sustains the universe. He’s holding our world together, He set in motion what we now call laws of nature. They are actually laws of God and He can let them play out or He can stop them with a word.

I mean, the resurrection of Jesus Christ should convince us that God is not beholden to the natural way we’ve grown accustom to. He can reverse them, uproot them, change them, replace them.

He is the Sovereign Lord.

And us? We would be wise to see what’s happening in the world and take these “unusual activities” as warnings. God does nothing without purpose.

I don’t know what His purpose is now for all this seismic activity. But why should we not use these things as alarm clocks? We, God’s people, are to be ready for His return. Might these events be reminders that God will bring judgment, that He means what He says about the end of all things? Certainly we can allow them to turn our minds to the things that are eternally important.

God And Culture


Culture is, according to the Oxford-American Dictionary, “manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively.” As a fantasy writer, I’ve learned that building a world requires putting in place the bits of culture that your pretend people have constructed including language, government, schooling, religion, entertainment, art or literature, and so on.

In our western culture, there seem to be parts of what we do as a people that are held in higher esteem than other parts. I suppose that’s true in all cultures, but I’d say these are the aspects of culture we value most: celebrity, primarily gained through sports or entertainment; wealth; political power, external beauty. A distant fifth might be intellectual standing, but that certainly doesn’t overrule any of the others.

Few people who serve others in sacrificial roles get much attention at all, and little or no emulation. In times of need they might receive some measure of appreciation from those who have been helped the most, but generally our society doesn’t lift up “serving others” as a role to be admired.

All this look at culture because I think the way we determine our values is upside down. As it turns out, God says as much in Scripture:

[Jesus concluded,] “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, were listening to all these things and were scoffing at Him. And He said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God. (Luke 16:13-15, emphasis mine)

Think about that for a second: what men value, God finds repulsive. Essentially, God hates what we spend most of our waking hours trying to obtain. Unless we are countercultural.

I mean, it’s possible to be a self-sacrificing servant who no one notices, no one rewards or praises. It’s possible because we wouldn’t ever hear about those people.

It’s also possible that a man like Billy Graham who refused to take any credit for what God did through him, remains humble and committed to serving God, not fame or power or wealth. But there don’t seem to be many men like him. Too often the servants become the celebrities and then the wealthy, and somewhere along the line they are no longer serving but being served.

As I’ve been reading through the gospels, I’ve noted that more than once, Jesus told some person who He’d just healed, not to tell anyone what He’d done. Why, I wondered. The best answer seems to me to be the fact that the majority of the people of His day expected the Messiah to be a political figure, a military leader, even. Jesus didn’t want people to prematurely crown Him King of the Jews until He had a chance to explain, at least to His disciples, what that actually meant.

In addition, with His growing celebrity status as a healer, Jesus had fewer opportunities to preach, less time one-on-one. He wouldn’t be able to confront people about their inner life, about their sin, their need to repent.

So, more often than not, Jesus told the newly sighted blind, the healed lame person who could now leap and dance, the cleansed leper who could move back home, to tell no one about Him.

Jesus clearly was not seeking the stuff our culture values. Fame? He tried to dodge the limelight. Political power? He wanted the opposite. Status? He washed His disciples’ feet! Wealth? What He gave had no cost attached. More than once the Apostle Paul refers to the gift or even the “free gift” of grace or of righteousness, found in Jesus (see Romans 5).

I wonder. Are we Christians countercultural, so that the people we most admire are the ones rich in grace? the ones who live righteous lives? Is that what we want in our pastors? Our best friends? Our spouses and our children?

It’s kind of hard to do. We have to understand that God values suffering, that He tells us to rejoice when we suffer for His name’s sake, that we are blessed and the glory of God rests on us. So suffering for Christ—yes. Comfort? That didn’t seem to find its way into Jesus’s lifestyle very much. He had no place to lay His head. Of course He did have a place—just not one He could call His own.

I think it’s pretty clear those first Christians were countercultural. A look at the book of Acts makes that pretty clear. But where are we in 21st century western culture> Still taking up our crosses and following Jesus? Or are we looking for our 15 minutes of fame? Our piece of the American dream?

I don’t honestly know what a countercultural lifestyle will look for anyone else. All our circumstances are different. I have to be asking these questions for myself, not for anyone else. And the Holy Spirit is prompting me through the Word of God, to ask.

God And Reconciliation


One of the things that’s hard for people to grasp is our unworthiness to be in relationship with God. God pretty much needs to spell it out because most of us compare ourselves to, well, us. So we look at our lives, our behavior, our attitudes, and it’s pretty easy to find someone who is doing life in a way that we can look down on. So if we start to feel bad about ourselves, we simply say, Well, at least I’m not as bad as ____. You fill in the blank.

Pretty much everyone can fill in the blank with somebody. Even the worst people we can think of. Hitler. He likely would have said, Well, at least I’m not a Jew. Though he actually did have Jewish blood. The point was, he had people he looked down on, people he said he was better than. Never mind that he was vile for doing so. In his mind, he could sort of congratulate himself for being better. And in his case, being under the influence of the ideas about a Superman race, Hitler likely thought he was better than most people on the planet.

I suspect most people, most tyrants even, do the same: they think they are better than some person, some group, and therefore, doing just fine, thank you very much.

God doesn’t measure us that way. He looks at our nature which causes Him to turn away. He doesn’t hold up some list of Do This and determine who is better at obeying then the others. He doesn’t grade on the curve. It’s pretty categorical: humans have sin in their DNA. All humans. All are therefore separated from God.

That would be the end of the story except for one thing. God loves us. Mysteriously. Surprisingly. Unearned. Without justification.

But God demonstrates His own love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)

So the story’s not ended. There is still hope. The only thing necessary on our part is to accept God’s free gift of grace and righteousness in Christ Jesus. Because Jesus doesn’t have a sin nature and He will clothe us with His nature, if we let Him. Then we will be in Christ.

Anyone not in Christ still has the same ol’ problem: measuring himself against others of like kind, ranking himself above some other poor soul, and finding solace that he’s therefore doing just fine. But slavery to sin is not fine. Paying the penalty of sin is not fine. Living apart from God is not fine.

These are all things that God offers to change.

Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation. (Romans 5:9-11; emphasis mine)

If we’ve received the reconciliation. God doesn’t force us to accept his free gift.

Those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:17b; emphasis mine)

Just like revelation, God initiates reconciliation. He makes it available, but without violating His sovereignty, He puts His free gift out there for us to receive or to reject. No one is condemned for the stuff we do. Only for thinking we don’t need Jesus as our Savior.

For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (John 3:17-18)

The part of the equation I don’t understand is why someone would not accurately assess the problem and/or accept a free gift. I mean, nothing has changed from the time God told Adam he would die if he ate of the forbidden tree. He ate, and he condemned to death the entire human race along with him. People have died ever since. I don’t think evolution even has an explanation for death, though I could be wrong about that.

Evolution doesn’t have an answer for how intelligence came from non-intelligence, how life came from non-life, how moral beings sprang from amoral beings. Does it postulate a theory about how death comes from life?

God gives a clear explanation: death is a consequence, but it doesn’t have to be a final one. God made a way of escape, a way out of the endless cycle of sin and death. A way to reconcile us to Himself.

Published in: on May 30, 2018 at 6:00 pm  Comments (3)  
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God And Revelation


I know this thought is not particularly profound, but I am struck by the necessity of, the utter dependence on, the helplessness which we have without the revelation of God—His character, His purpose, and His plan.

There really is no way we can reason ourselves to God. We might have a sense of intuition that opens us up to God’s existence, but that inner tug would not actually bring us any closer to God. In truth, God has to be the initiator if we are to have a relationship with Him. The lesser can’t move toward the greater.

Think about it this way: does a puppy pick out an owner or does a human pick the puppy he wants for a pet? Does the child choose his parent, even in cases of adoption? Does an individual choose his ethnicity? None of those happens because the lesser is not in charge, even to the point of knowing what life will be like in relationship to a particular owner or parent or ethnic group.

Rather, the greater chooses the lesser, or defines him.

When it comes to God, He is so transcendent, it’s hard to imagine that a human would ever come up with the idea of God—perfect, all powerful, present everywhere, unchangeable, infinite, knowing everything, and more. I mean, the human experience is sort of the opposite: fallible, temporal, moral, limited, without power, fickle, and more.

Sure, there are some qualities of God that we humans also have, in a limited capacity—things like love and forgiveness and kindness and wisdom—so it’s foreseeable that someone who wanted to invent a god would give him those traits. But who would conceive of something we humans don’t have? And not just humans, but which no creature in existence has.

Yes, it’s possible for imagination to take us to that which we have never experienced, such as unicorns (though we know what creatures with horns look like) or vampires (though we know what fangs are, what blood is) or hobbits (though hairy feet are not so different from hairy faces). But making something up and understanding that it is imaginary is something completely different from making something up and saying that is real.

Beyond God’s obvious qualities, there are the mystifying aspects of His nature such the trinity. God is one, and yet He is three. Who would make up such a difficult concept? Jesus is a man and Jesus is God. How would we ever conjure up such an impossibility?

Where would we get the idea that God breathed His life into humans and that sets us apart from all other created things? Where would we get the idea that God’s Spirit breathed inspiration into the written word, so that it is the work of individual people but also the exact word of God? How would anyone come up with the idea that justice and mercy are compatible qualities God exhibits?

Furthermore, who would invent sin? Why would anyone purposefully doom the entire human race? And then conceive of a rescue plan that cost only God?

I could go on. The point is, what the Bible tells us about God—His person, His working in the world, His long range objectives—is a bit outlandish and beyond the realm of human thinking. Except for revelation. God needed to tell us what He’s like. And He has.

Published in: on May 29, 2018 at 5:15 pm  Comments (14)  
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Look, Mom, No Hands


This isn’t really a Mother’s Day post about my mom who has been deceased these past 16 years, but I’ll dedicate it to her. It’s actually a devotional meditation posted originally January 2011.

– – – – –

Kids love the spotlight. They run, jump, turn somersaults, dive into the pool, what have you, then rush back to the adults close by. “Did you see me, did you see?” they ask.

Inevitably their antics get braver and bolder. When I was growing up, one such bit of tomfoolery was to walk up the stairs on the piece of each step outside the railing.

I remember, too, learning to ride a bike. For some time I had training wheels, but eventually those came off, and I was on my own. The initial fear I felt when the safety wheels were no longer in place soon gave way to confidence.

And one day there came a time when I could balance well enough that I could take my hands off the handlebars.

“Look, Mom, no hands.”

For some reason, Mom wasn’t as thrilled as I was over this new development. She knew what I didn’t — that even a small pebble in the road could upset the balance I enjoyed, and consequently upset the bike, and me along with it.

I suffered a bike accident or two in my day. One was on gravel and tore up my elbow and knee. Another gave me a concussion and landed me in the doctor’s office (so they told me).

Funny thing, I wasn’t so quick to relinquish the handlebars any more. In fact, I was more inclined to grip tight. When I was ignorant of the dangers, I showed off my perceived independence from the mechanism that kept me moving forward. But when I learned of them, through the hard knocks of accidents, I began to cling tightly.

So it is in our spiritual lives, I think. In our spiritual immaturity we may think we can manage on our own: Depend on God … for everything? Why would I do that? He’s given me a brain. Doesn’t He expect me to use it?

Well, yes, but He also delights in being involved with His children, in giving and loving beyond our expectations. And He knows our weaknesses. He knows what tares can do to wheat.

He warns us and woos us and reaches out His hands, inviting us to take hold and hang on, to cling and never let go. And we do. For a time. But then we start feeling comfortable and self-assured. I can do this, we think, and we loosen our grip, maybe even let go, just for a second. “Look, Dad, I’m on my own.”

It’s a sure recipe for disaster, except for God’s sustaining love.

The steps of a man are established by the LORD,
And He delights in his way.
When he falls, he will not be hurled headlong,
Because the LORD is the One who holds his hand.
– Ps 37:23-24

I might not cling to Him as He wants me to, I might be prone to wander. But God isn’t show-boating or feeling the need for independence. He’s looking after His children, even we who need to learn our lessons the hard way.

Published in: on May 11, 2018 at 4:44 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Daniel, Head Magician—A Reprise


When the first Harry Potter book came out, it quickly became embroiled in controversy largely generated by Christians who were opposed to a book about magic written for children. I understand the thinking. It’s not my intention to rehash the issue, but I can’t help but make a comparison: Harry with Daniel.

Yes, I’m referring to the Daniel-in-the-lions’-den Daniel. First, both were teens. Well, Harry was only eleven when the books started, but he grew up before the eyes of his adoring public. Daniel was a teen at the beginning of his true story and became an old man by the end.

Second, both lived as aliens and strangers. Harry was a gifted, powerful wizard living with people who hated and feared him because of it. Daniel lived with people who had captured him and held him as a slave.

Third, and this is really the point of this post, they were both gifted in magic. Harry’s magic, of course, is pretend. He could learn how to mix potions, wave his wand just so, incant spells, fly his broom—things which are make-believe. Daniel learned, too—the language and literature of the Chaldeans. Did that include their astrology, necromancy, sorcery? Hard to say.

We know he interpreted dreams, starting with the one Nebuchadnezzar wouldn’t describe. But he had already earned a spot as one of the “magicians, the conjurers, the sorcerers and the Chaldeans” marked for death, because it appeared no one could do what the king demanded.

And Daniel’s reward when he did actually give the king the dream and its interpretation? He was promoted. Among other duties, he became chief of the magicians (see for example Dan. 4:9).

Think about that for a moment. He not only lived among those people who worshiped idols, but now he was head of those who used the dark arts to guide their king in his decisions. Talk about being in the culture!

But Daniel and his three friends early in their captivity made up their minds that they would not defile themselves. At issue in those days was what they were to eat. Seemingly, Daniel knew the Mosaic Law, and he intended to abide by it.

We know years later he was still maintaining a regular prayer life, one that was not secret. He lived, as he intended, in communion with God.

And yet his job was chief of the magicians.

I imagine these were people like the Egyptian sorcerers who matched miracles with Moses and Aaron for a short time. In other words, they had real power—just not God’s power.

And Daniel was their chief.

I find that incredible! Today many Christians run from reading about pretend magic, and Daniel was put in charge of real magicians, people who knew how to read the heavens.

Sure, some of what they did was undoubtedly a scam. I suspect that’s why Nebuchadnezzar came up with his impossible request: they were to first tell him what he dreamed, and only then interpret it. I imagine he was fed up with what he had detected to be party-line interpretations. He wanted to know what the dream actually meant, not whatever flattery those fakes might come up with.

But later if they were all fakes, all the time, and Daniel was their chief, why wouldn’t he simply clean house and get good, honest Jews in their place, men like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego whom he could trust? He could have turned the magicians’ arm of the government into a Christian uh, a department run by believers in the One True God.

Of course, Daniel might have been the only person God gifted with the power of divination among the Jewish exiles. But what did he think of the pagan diviners? That they were illegitimate? That they were tapping into the power of the evil one? That they were just one more evidence of the sinfulness of the nation in which he was forced to live? Did he respect them? Or did he squelch them as often as he could?

They owed him their lives because they were due to be executed, but that fact didn’t stop the from coming up with a scheme to get Daniel killed. Clearly, there was no love lost on their part.

Why all this speculation?

I think Christians today in the Western world tend to run scared when it comes to evil. I know I have. I’ve been places where offerings were made to idols, and I sensed evil in a way that freaked me out. But I think that plays into Satan’s hand. The truth is, he is not stronger than God—that would be He who resides in the heart of every Christian. Why are we running scared? it should be Satan running scared when he sees us advancing on our knees.

This post is an edited version of one that appeared here in May, 2012.

Published in: on May 9, 2018 at 6:00 pm  Comments (2)  
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The Lord Is In His Holy Temple—A Reprise


Habakkuk had it right when he wrote, “The Lord is in His holy temple.” That statement stood in contrast to the idols of wood, overlaid with silver and gold that the people of Israel were guilty of worshiping.

What profit is the idol when its maker has carved it,
Or an image, a teacher of falsehood?
For its maker trusts in his own handiwork
When he fashions speechless idols. (Hab. 2:18)

I find it interesting that the idol is without profit, yet it is the teacher of falsehood. In other words, it cannot answer prayer; it cannot save, but it is fully capable of deceiving. The idol, a product of a craftsman’s talent and skill, induces him to believe in himself.

“Believe in yourself” is the current mantra of Western civilization. It’s an acceptable theme in children’s literature, one that is sure to garner little opposition. Who would tell someone else to doubt himself?

Well, essentially God does.

The heart is more deceitful than all else
And is desperately sick;
Who can understand it? (Jer. 17:9)

If the heart is more deceitful than all else, why would a person want to look within for his source of strength, why would he trust in himself rather than in God? He wouldn’t. So trusting himself over God is tantamount to calling God a liar.

To get to that point, of course, a person also must put himself up as God’s judge. This person, in his vast wisdom and knowledge, can make the determination whether or not God is right to say the heart is more deceitful than all else. How ironic! A deceitful heart, deciding whether or not hearts are deceitful.

Sadly, our culture is training us to abandon reason, abandon authoritative truth and moral absolutes in order to believe whatever we wish to believe.

Enter God’s word.

But the LORD is in His holy temple.
Let all the earth be silent before Him. (Hab. 2:20)

A person who believes in himself will still one day meet his Maker face to face, and what is he going to say? I did it my way? I followed my dream?

Yes, God will say, you believed in the wooden idol you carved out for yourself, your own speechless handiwork. And how is that working out for you?

This post is repeat of one that appeared here in May, 2012.

Published in: on May 8, 2018 at 5:52 pm  Comments (7)  
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God Is Not Benevolent


copOne of the “faults” atheists find with God, and apparently some professing Christians share this thinking, is that He shows Himself in the Old Testament to be wrathful. The first conversation I had with someone about this subject made me think we simply were not defining “wrathful” in the same way. She, I believed, meant that God was quick to anger, that he “flew off the handle” easily, and that He was capricious about when and why He “lost it.” I knew He wasn’t any of that.

Apparently I was wrong about her definition. She meant that God was wrong for punishing the unrighteous.

There are indeed those in the world who think God errors because He judges sin. His wrath, then, isn’t acceptable in any form. There simply isn’t room for a god who doesn’t bend his will toward making life better for the universe. Only if he did so, in this view, would he be a benevolent god.

And clearly, so these thinkers say, the God of the Old Testament is not benevolent.

I agree with this conclusion. The God of the Old Testament, who happens to be the same as the God of the New Testament, is not benevolent by those standards. The Oxford English Dictionary defines benevolent as “well meaning and kindly.” Ah, but as C. S. Lewis reminds us, God is good, not simply well meaning and kindly.

God does not “mean well” in the sense that He’s hoping for the best and trying to help and aiming for what’s good. NO! God is good, does good, brings about good. But good is defined on His terms.

I can say it would be good for me to sell my book for a million dollars. But my understanding of good is limited and finite. I don’t know if a million dollars would make me happy or angry at people who I perceive as trying to leech off me once I got some cash. I don’t know if a million dollars would change my perspective so much that I’d stop doing things of value like writing blog posts and doing freelance editing. I don’t know if a million dollars would make me more prideful, self-centered, and egotistical that I’d lose all my friends. And most importantly, I don’t know if a million dollars would become my idol, if I would worship it in God’s place.

God knows these things, however, and may, for my benefit here and now, in this life, prevent me from getting a million dollars. I also have no doubt that God could give me a million dollars if that were truly for my good—if it would bring me closer to Him, cause me to serve Him more truly, make me conform more closely to the image of His Son. What’s a million dollars to the Owner of the cosmos?

But He withholds what would harm His people in the same way that a good parent doesn’t give a three-year-old candy for breakfast just because she asks. God knows better than we do what is truly good.

God Himself is good, so we can conclude that His judgment is good as well. When He says, the wages of sin is death, that’s not an arbitrary judgment—that’s the testimony of an all knowing Creator. Much the way that a policeman might point to a sign and say, this is a handicap parking zone; you’ll get a ticket if you park here, God has made plain what disobeying His righteous standards will cost.

handicap parking signSomeone who didn’t know what the handicap parking sign meant would be grateful that the policeman told him. They wouldn’t rail against him because he didn’t tear the sign down and let them park in the specially marked spot, and they certainly wouldn’t ignore the warning and park there right under the watchful eye of the policeman.

But that’s what many people want of God—that He would ignore justice for them. Of course, few want Him to ignore justice for those they consider enemies, but they reserve their idea of His benevolence based on how He treats them.

Jesus told an interesting story about a man who thought much as these people do. He owed a debt so great he could never manage to pay it back in his life time–the equivalent would be millions of dollars. His creditor said all the man owned would have to be sold and he himself would go into servitude until he paid his debt. The man begged for more time. The creditor had compassion on him but instead of giving him more time to pay, which was really an impossibility, he forgave him the entire debt.

The man left and immediately ran into a fellow worker who owed him the equivalent of about ten thousand dollars. The man grabbed his co-worker and demanded that he pay up or he’d have to sell everything he owned and go into servitude himself until the debt was paid. The co-worker begged for more time, but the man refused.

A bunch of other workers saw what happened and told the man’s creditor. And this is how the story ends:

Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. (Matt 18:32-34)

Was the creditor in the wrong because he didn’t treat the man in a benevolent way? Of course not. He had in fact canceled the man’s debt. It was the man himself who wasn’t benevolent, who didn’t understand what receiving a gift of forgiveness actually meant.

So, no, God is not benevolent in the way the people of today want Him to be. He doesn’t tear up the ticket we deserve. Rather, He paid it for us. The point isn’t to get us off so we can go pile up more debt. The point is to change our status from debtor, to adopted child; it is to give us an inheritance far richer than any we can imagine.

This post is an edited version of one that appeared here in June, 2013.

Published in: on May 7, 2018 at 5:00 pm  Leave a Comment  
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What Happened To The Assyrians?


Jonah was God’s prophet. Granted, he didn’t always happily declare God’s message as he was instructed to do. But apparently God can use a reluctant prophet because when Jonah finally made his way to Nineveh, where God sent him, the people of this warrior country heeded the warning of calamity and repented. All of them, from king to commoner.

A hundred years later the prophet Nahum is once again speaking into the lives of the Assyrians to deliver God’s message of warning. This time, apparently, the response was nothing like it had been to Jonah. Instead, in a matter of years the very thing that Nahum said would take place, did in fact happen. Assyria collapsed, devolving into a series of civil wars until their territory was taken over by the Medians. They have never regained their standing as an independent and powerful nation.

So what happened? From repentance to calamity in a couple generations. Of course the Bible doesn’t tell us, but clearly, the people who repented in Jonah’s day did not successfully pass on to their children and their grandchildren the need to bow in humble repentance before the Living God.

In some ways they remind me of the people of Israel. God rescued them out of the hand of Pharaoh, miraculously provided for them to cross the Red Sea on dry land, and then met with Moses to give him the Ten Commandments. The people were completely on board with the idea of following and obeying God. They vowed to do so. Until they didn’t have enough water. Until they didn’t have any meat. Until they got tired of eating manna. Until they faced another enemy who wanted to destroy them.

At each of those turns, the people grumbled and complained, essentially accusing God of wrong doing against them. God, You shouldn’t have brought us here. God, You should have left us in Egypt. God, there are giants in this Promised Land of Yours, and we aren’t going up against them.

From gratefully vowing to do what God required, to complete rebellion. And it didn’t take them a hundred years to get there.

How easily we humans turn our backs on God. The Assyrians were no different. How could they be? We suffer with a nature that basically tells us we should be on the throne of our own lives. We should get to determine good from evil on our own.

So no wonder that today, some atheists deny a moral right and wrong. Those don’t actually exist, they say. Rather society simply decides what they as a group believe will be good or . . . not good. They don’t actually believe in evil, any more than they believe in a fixed morality, an absolute standard.

But God Himself is that fixed point, that unchanging standard, that Absolute Truth. We can either embrace Him or turn from Him.

Not that we necessarily turn from Him in one swoop. Repentance might sweep the city like it did Nineveh when Jonah preached, but turning from God seems to happen more slowly, over time.

It might start with our own grumbling against God by excusing our complains with the idea that God is big enough to handle our anger or God wants us to be authentic or God is so gracious and merciful, it’s OK if we vent to Him.

The thing is, all those are true, but so is the road to apostasy the people of Israel took on their way to their homeland. So is Paul’s statement to the Philippians:

Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world (Phil. 2:14-15).

So who was a light to the crooked and perverse world of the Assyrians? Who stood in the gap for that nation?

Of course, the Old Testament prophets are so relevant today because they show us our choices. We can respond with repentance, as Assyria did in Jonah’s day, or we can respond by ignoring the warnings, as Assyria did in Nahum’s day.

Because of Jesus Christ, God has made those who follow Him

A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9)

In some senses, we are no longer called to stand in the gap for a nation but for the whole world since Christ’s command to make disciples extended to the uttermost parts of the world. There is no limit to whom or where we are to proclaim God’s excellencies.

The early Church is a great example. The more they were persecuted, the more they were martyred, the more they grew.

Oddly, here in the US, the more we fight for our rights, the more we seem to lose significance. It seems we live in a strange tension. We can and should stand in the gap for our culture, our post-truth culture that wants to walk away from God as completely as if they were turning to a Buddha or a Baal or to the Egyptian sun god. But we ought not confuse the symptoms with the problem.

The problem is not a drift from our Constitutional rights. The problem is not a change from Biblical morality to reliance on feelings and perception. The problem is that our culture, our friends and neighbors, our family, need to know the Truth because the Truth will set them free, just like He has set us free.

Yes, He. Jesus Himself declared that He is the way, the truth, the life, that no one comes to the Father but through Him.

Coming to the Father is exactly what the Assyrians neglected. I wonder, in a generation will someone ask, What happened to the American Christians?

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