God made a big mistake! He forgot to fix the universe so that it would keep rotating around us, thus, we get what we want sometimes but most of the time, the universe grows bored with us and runs off to spin around other things, leaving us with crushed hopes and failed plans. What sort of God does that to us? We have a right to get whatever we want. Of course, the universe ought to spin around us, our signatures are etched in the planets and our selfies are posted on the very stars after all! Fortunately, God has a weakness Continue reading
It’s getting to where a guy can’t sit down to enjoy a steak and kidney pie without some hashtag crusader screaming bloody privilege. We have become a world obsessed with exclamation marks, a society hooked on outrage. Embracing chiaroscuro, we’ve spurned nuance and so we leap from hashtag to angry hashtag, not stopping to ask if any individual heart has the capacity to be angry about so many things at once. It is not only unhealthy, Continue reading
“Think for yourself but not by yourself,” are words that succinctly capture the tension between individuality and community. On one hand, none should leave their brains at the church gate and on the other, nobody is an island. We easily swing from one extreme to the other, hugging each other with smiles in one moment but storming off to angry solitude the next. In our time it has become popular to focus on “me and God” but we are more than bleeding hearts and talking heads, we are irrevocably social creatures. An individualistic DIY Christianity is without echo in the Bible.
Accountability. That’s a tough word to swallow. Leaving trembling knees in its wake, it is a word that floats into our minds and paints pictures of auditors poring through our past seeking to laud or chastise in the present. It is a word waved by irate subordinates demanding nothing but transparency from their leaders. It is a word sweet to the mouth that utters it but bitter and maddening to the ears that hear it. Despite all this, accountability is necessary, an indispensable tool to pull the wayward back to the straight and narrow.
In our day, though, it is popular to declare that God is more concerned with our hearts than anything else. Terms such as church discipline are considered the worst taboo. With the unfolding history of the church’s abuse of power and menacing attitude toward individuality, contemporary leeriness of church discipline is hardly unfounded but it would do us all a world of good to remember that the cure for an extreme has never included swinging to another extreme. Individualism is contrary to the communal tenor of scripture from the man and woman created in God’s image to the city in the Earth made new. We are to be a community.
Paul himself, when struck with blindness by the panoply of the vision on the road to Damascus was directed to the church for healing by Jesus himself. Some time before that, Jesus, freshly resurrected, had declared the church, the community of believers as the highest spiritual authority on earth. This authority was never meant to be authoritarian, coercive and exclusionary but respectful, humble, inclusive and redemptive. The church’s role is to take part in expanding God’s kingdom on earth. From that perspective, the church’s success must be measured by how many it has introduced to the King and not by how many it has excluded.
The cold hard truth that we have to swallow is that we are too weak to stand alone. The Christian who deludes himself into DIY thinking is in danger of falling. Paul’s words to the struggling Galatians were timely: “bear each other’s burdens.” When one of us stumbles and falls we must all gather around to help lift them up and not trample. Building the community needs not the dissolution of individuality but the death of individualism. The church’s answer to Cain is yes, you are your brother’s keeper.
“You’ll be back,” says the haunting thought. It mocks as you swear you’ll never dial that number again, even though you leave it in your phonebook or when you clear your browser’s history but leave that hidden folder (for next time?). Maybe it rolls its eyes at you when you quit smoking for the sixth time that month or when you pour that drink into the sink but keep it for deposit.
Some people need a verse for every step they take. During a discussion, I spoke at great length about how the stories of Sodom and Gomorrah’s destruction and Nebuchadnezzar’s madness showed that heaven’s government is hardly a one-man dictatorship but a transparent collaboration between God and created beings ( Sodom was condemned by an independent investigation and Nebuchadnezzar’s madness was decreed by the Holy Watchers) when I was suddenly requested to furnish proof texts to corroborate my conclusion. Stunned speechless at first, I caught my breath and Continue reading
Wincing with fearful anticipation of the awful wrath of God, he begins his life of penance, a constant eschewing of all bad deeds in his attempts to do “the right thing.” Roaring applause and smiling nods of approval from all around him are his reward. Protective fathers snarl at all their daughters’ suitors but invite him for lunch as they loudly wish their sons could be more like him. With feet barely touching the ground when he walks, he is the hero; the quintessential good boy.
Behind their benign faces, good boys frown uneasily. They frown for one reason with many manifestations; from less benign manifestations such as a certain Delilah’s number lingering in his contacts, to malignant ones such as a growing resentment towards all things religious or a squeezing despair of ever reaching perfection. The manifestations are many but there is one underlying cause: despite his spirited attempts at avoiding bad deeds and straining to do “the right thing”, he is not a righteous being.
His righteousness is an illusion. Like a scratch revealing the stone wall as mere wallpaper, the simplest agitation reveals the malevolent sinner belying the smiling saint. The terrible things we do are not sin but its results. Murder is not sin but is caused by it. Sin is a software issue that crashes the hardware. Sin lies in our attitude toward God and reality. It is more perception than action; it is twisted perception that leads to twisted deeds. The good boy’s attempts are in vain for he is like a man trying to push start a car with no engine.
Good boys, just like bad boys, can only be truly good by relying on God. This is not to mean that they need not exert themselves but that they must draw strength from God. Only God can put an engine in the car, you need to exert effort in driving it. Only God can supply the stones for your wall, your part is to build it, stone by stone. Effort is indispensable in living a righteous life but only God can supply the strength and guidance. The trouble with good (& bad) boys is that they don’t trust God.
Believing the diabolical insinuation that God wasn’t trustworthy, Adam and Eve rebelled against Him and hid when He came to talk. The Israelites cowered with fear even when Moses told them not to (Exodus 20:18-21). Sin is the failure to perceive God’s goodness. This leads us to distrust God and look to ourselves for salvation. Thus, the bad boy who does his own thing and the good boy who tries in his own power to do “the right thing” are sailing in the same boat: away from God. The good boy is in worse shape though, because he doesn’t realize it; he thinks he’s sailing to God! Remember Saul who was surprised to find out that he was persecuting God when he thought he was serving Him? Remember the son who didn’t leave home but whose refusal to celebrate his brother’s return showed that he didn’t see himself as part of the family as he worked to earn what was his by birth?
God made us in His image: He endowed us with responsible benevolent creativity. We are designed to act from conviction not compulsion or impulse. In keeping with that God can neither demand trust nor manipulate us, not if the trust is to be eternal. Conviction demands evidence thus Jesus came to reveal God’s trustworthiness by living a life of total trust in the Father and unbridled goodness to mankind. The life of Jesus showed God’s eagerness for unfettered communion with mankind. His death showed that death by divorce from God is not arbitrary but consequent. His resurrection provides assurance that God is able and willing to restore that which is killed by sin, be it Christ or us. This is the trustworthiness of Jesus or the faith of Jesus or Jesus faithfulness (pistis Christus). Good boys need to realize that we serve a God whose “law cannot be enforced and whose favour cannot be won,” and rest in the knowledge that Christ can and will recreate all those who trust in Him.
“A sullen submission to the will of the Father will develop the character of a rebel. By such a one service is looked upon as drudgery. It is not rendered cheerfully, and in the love of God. It is a mere mechanical performance. If he dared, such a one would disobey. His rebellion is smothered, ready to break out at any time in bitter murmurings and complaints. Such service brings no peace or quietude to the soul.
“Christ assumed humanity, with all its humiliation and service, that he might set men free from the bondage of Satan. He knew that the service of Satan can bring only wretchedness and misery in its train. The sinner is a stranger to repose. He says, ‘I want my freedom.’ He hopes to get rid of all restraint by casting aside the law of God. But it is this desire that has made the world what it is today, corrupt as in the days of Noah, and polluted as the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.” (Ellen G White, Signs of The Times, 22 July 1897)
“… A mechanical obedience may hide the smoldering fire of rebellion, but it is ready to break out at any time against restraint. In the service of such there is no peace or light or love. The atmosphere surrounding their souls is not fragrant.” (Ellen G White, Medical Ministry page 177)
“…Jesus came to teach men of the Father, to correctly represent Him before the fallen children of earth. Angels could not fully portray the character of God, but Christ, who was a living impersonation of God, could not fail to accomplish the work. The only way in which he could set and keep men right was to make himself visible and familiar to their eyes. That men might have salvation he came directly to man, and became a partaker of his nature.” (Ellen G White, Signs of the Times, 20 January 1890 egwwritings.org)