Aug 26 2010

Trust And Obey

In Sunday School, we used to sing this song:

When we walk with the Lord
In the light of his word,
What a glory he sheds on our way!
While we do his good will,
He abides with us still,
And with all who will trust and obey.

Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.
~ Lyrics by  John H. Sammis, 1846-1919

It’s a very interesting little song. If you look at the words, you can see that it would be easy to give the song a legalistic twist so that the message becomes, “If we don’t trust God enough and fail to obey Him, He won’t abide with us.” Unfortunately, far too many of us have been subjected to this kind of bullshit, which is definitely a contradiction to Romans 8:38,39. Fortunately, no one close to me saw fit to pile this kind of legalism on me as a child. There were a few legalists in the area, but I knew enough to be able to shake off their craziness.

The message of this song, as I understood it as a child, is this: We can obey God, because we can always trust Him. If we ask for bread, He won’t give us a rock (Matt. 7:9). Obedience is not so that God will be happy with us, obedience is so that we will be happy. Our lives simply work better when we operate according to God’s direction.

This, of course, is one of the main messages of the Old Testament. It seems that nearly every story, from Adam and Eve to Noah, Abraham and Moses, repeated this theme – God could be obeyed, because He could be trusted.

There’s an old story that I’ve heard over the years about a hiker who falls off a cliff only to grab on to a lone tree branch sticking out over the abyss. The hiker begins screaming, “Help! Is anybody up there?”

After what seems like hours, a booming voice answers, “I’m here.”

“Who are you?” the hiker yells.

“I’m God.”

“Can you help me?”

“Yes. First, let go of the branch.”

The hiker takes several moments to consider this, and finally yells, “Is anybody else up there?”

God is not capricious. He doesn’t ask us to jump through hoops or make sacrifices simply for His amusement. Sometimes obedience is so we can accomplish one of the “good works” that God has prepared for us (Eph. 2:10); often, however, I suspect it is simply for our own good, so that we avoid or be rescued from our own “cliff-hangers.” In other words, it’s so we can enjoy abundant, happier lives.

Being able to obey – even when it seems our only option – is sometimes difficult. However, if we know God and believe that He loves us, and that He can be trusted, it becomes easier to “let go of the branch.”

Questions:

  1. Are there circumstances in your life where God is asking you to let go of the branch?
  2. What, if anything, is preventing you from letting go?


Jun 25 2010

My Childhood God

Sometime tonight between wandering around Borders looking at NT Wright’s latest book as well as a collection of essays called “Belief” and walking out to my car, I had a very interesting revelation. As most really cool revelations go, I can’t really connect it to anything I saw or happened to be thinking about. In fact, I was probably thinking about going home and eating some ice cream, but that’s beside the point. The revelation was this: I believe in the same God I believed in as a child.

Seriously.

In spite of traveling in and out of various evangelical, charismatic, sometimes wacky, ancient liturgical, emergent, and boring intellectual Christian churches and groups, in spite of moving from liberal to conservative to something else, and in spite of being led through the morass of theological trends, I believe in the same God I believed in as a child.

I’ve had many, many people try to talk me out of it. I’ve had folks try to get me to pray “the prayer” once again. I’ve had folks pray for me and try to knock me over. I’ve had people try to deliver me from evil. I’ve been dispensationalized, fundamentalated, legalized, charismatized, jeopardized, and tribulated. I’ve gutted my library of trash theology more than once. And in the end, I believe in the same God I believed in as a child.

Now, smart atheists will tell me this proves that religion is a product of our environment, that if I grew up believing in Some Other God, that’s who I’d believe in today.  Granted, exposure is an obvious factor in belief. Paul says this himself in Romans 10:14, “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?”

However, I know many, many people who believe differently today than they did as children. Tons. So, I’d have to say that while I truly appreciate the fact that I was raised a Christian, I’d have to say that what I believe today is not because of what I believed as a child (I believed in Santa Claus, too).  What I believe today about God is a product of my fifty-plus years of relationship with God. And, as it turns out, I was taught pretty well.

This post starts a new series, where I discuss the things I remember learning about God–and Christianity–as a child.  As I go on, I’d also like to hear about the things you were taught about God as a child, and how you believe today.  It should be fun.


May 18 2009

More on morality and atheism

This post follows up on the discussion on my prior post, Moral reasons for atheism, in which I suggested that many atheists choose not to believe in God because of moral issues – they don’t want to change, acknowledge sin, or acknowledge any absolute moral code – not because of intellectual issues.  Modern atheists typically try to pass themselves off as being rationalists, discounting a belief if God because God is not possible in the universe they have invented to believe in – one is only material in nature.

To perhaps oversimplify the argument (but not by much):

  1. the only evidence we can accept is that which is verifiable in accordance with the modern, scientific approach.
  2. we cannot verify the existence of any non-material being according to the method.
  3. therefore we must assume God does not exist.

It is, of course, self-fulfilling; but in the absence of any greater understanding, this argument “works” for them.  Most, for example, simply ignore the fact that “the method” is not itself something which can be proven to work. There are foundational issues with a reliance on reason itself which I’ve discussed before.  The only way that atheism functions in its current state is really to sidestep these issues completely.  But, if belief in God is merely an intellectual issue, why would anyone not want to deal with these issues?  It begs the question of what, then, is the real issue.

Now, I am not saying that atheists are immoral and Christians are moral; nothing, in fact, could be further from the truth. We are all immoral creatures.  At the very heart of Christianity is the acceptance that “all have sinned” and that we are saved “by grace and not by works, that no man should boast.”   Martin Luther coined the phrase, simul iustus et peccator – simultaneously saint and sinner; we are made perfect in Christ, but on our own we stand condemned by the law.  To deny that we are in any way righteous, or even morally superior, is to have a false gospel; Christians who claim a morally superiority are frauds (I’ve just finished writing a book on this).

One of the problems with modernism – which, by the way, we were all “baptized” into, whether we like it or not – is dualism, in its many forms.  We separate the physical from the spiritual, mind from body, and mind from emotions.  Slowly doctors are discovering that we are more internally connected than modernism would want us to be; many physical ailments are in fact known to have emotional causes.

This dualism is handy if we want to ignore our emotional or moral components; we can pretend to be totally objective, we can create wonderful logical arguments, and we can use lots of fancy-sounding words to sound intellectual. However, I do not think that any of us can reduce the choices we make about what we believe about life and God to mere intellectual issues. We are more complex than that.  A lot is said about intellectual dishonesty – arguing things we know are not correct – but not much is said about emotional or moral dishonesty when talking about a belief in God (except, it seems, by Christians who are unable to grasp the intellectual issues; it’s that dualism thing again).

In discussing one’s choice of beliefs (and I insist they are choices), I believe we have to take more of a gestalt approach.  We all have our issues; that is, those things we acknowledge as maters for discussion. We also have our interests, the things that really matter to us, that may be unconscious motivators, and the more substantive of the two.   Morality – not “being good,” but how we view what is good or bad – is, I suspect, at the very core of who we are.  It is interesting that guilt is nearly universal; the absence of guilt pretty much makes you a sociopath, even if you’re an atheist.  Since we all have our internal morality meters, we all deal with sin, even though atheists wouldn’t consider it as such. But, as Paul wrote, to do that which someone considers wrong is for him, sin.

What is different is how we deal with sin.  We can blame it on evolution, upbringing, society, genetics, Adam, or Satan – most of us hate to blame ourselves, although most of us do, deep down.  This gap between who we really are and who we think we should be – what a friend calls the “crap gap” – affects us in more ways than most of us care to admit, whether we are Christians, Buddhists or atheists.

Intellectual debates are great, for what they are.  I appreciate reason and logic, accepting their foundational weakness.  Many atheists are quick to point out the Christian’s need to believe in God; I’ve yet to see one own up to a need not to believe in God.  But, I suspect it’s there for many, if not for most.


Apr 14 2009

Atheist convert A.N. Wilson deconverts (back to Christianity)

Perhaps one of the more famous Christians-turned-atheist is author A.N. Wilson, who wrote biographies of people like C.S. Lewis & Tolstoy, as well as the “demythologizing” Jesus: A Life.   In this morning’s Mail Online, he writes,

For much of my life, I, too, have been one of those who did not believe. It was in my young manhood that I began to wonder how much of the Easter story I accepted, and in my 30s I lost any religious belief whatsoever.

Like many people who lost faith, I felt anger with myself for having been ‘conned’ by such a story. I began to rail against Christianity, and wrote a book, entitled Jesus, which endeavoured to establish that he had been no more than a messianic prophet who had well and truly failed, and died.

Why did I, along with so many others, become so dismissive of Christianity?

He blames the anti-Christian attitudes of Britain for much of his loss of faith, which “lends weight to the fervour of the anti-God fanatics, such as the writer Christopher Hitchens and the geneticist Richard Dawkins, who think all the evil in the world is actually caused by religion.”  He discusses some of these attitudes, then writes,

For ten or 15 of my middle years, I, too, was one of the mockers. But, as time passed, I found myself going back to church, although at first only as a fellow traveller with the believers, not as one who shared the faith that Jesus had truly risen from the grave. Some time over the past five or six years – I could not tell you exactly when – I found that I had changed.

When I took part in the procession last Sunday and heard the Gospel being chanted, I assented to it with complete simplicity.

He then goes on to explain in part why he began to once again believe – and it is not perhaps what you would think, unless you understood the true nature of Christianity, as celebrated in Easter.  He concludes the article with

Materialist atheism says we are just a collection of chemicals. It has no answer whatsoever to the question of how we should be capable of love or heroism or poetry if we are simply animated pieces of meat.

The Resurrection, which proclaims that matter and spirit are mysteriously conjoined, is the ultimate key to who we are. It confronts us with an extraordinarily haunting story.

J. S. Bach believed the story, and set it to music. Most of the greatest writers and thinkers of the past 1,500 years have believed it.

But an even stronger argument is the way that Christian faith transforms individual lives – the lives of the men and women with whom you mingle on a daily basis, the man, woman or child next to you in church tomorrow morning.

Christ is risen indeed!  There is hope; but then, some of us already knew that.