The Results of a Simple Theological Truth

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. (Psalm 139:13-14)

Dad: We made a beautiful daughter

(4 year old) Daughter: God made me, and you are not God.

As I was walking out of Church on Sunday, the above-mentioned father related the above exchange with his precocious daughter. While it was an amusing exchange, it also reflects a correct, and I would say, very useful understanding of theology.

I can only pray that both father and daughter remember it.

I pray that dad remembers it when in a few years his daughter begins to show her intelligence and beauty to the world, and he thanks God for her, instead of pegging his own value on how well she performs in the world.

I pray he remembers it when this same daughter cries at some failure, which will seem huge to her. That he then avoids piling on to her disappointment, and instead reminds her that the good and wise creator of the universe made her, and he does not make mistakes.

I pray he remembers it as she rejects him at different times. First as she leaves him for her new friends, and later as she rejects him for being embarrassing in her teenage years, and finally if she walks down the aisle to begin a life together with another man.. He will need to remember the gift of God that she is, and that she was his gift only for a time.

I pray she remembers the truth at the same time, when she realizes that her dad is not perfect, and he will let her down, but she is made for greater things than simply her father’s decision or desire, and while her genes are a mix of her dad and her mom, they are not simply random ones.

I pray she remembers it as she gives birth to her first child, who will be beautiful, and full of potential, and yet blemished and imperfect in some eyes in the world. God will have made her child too.

I pray also that she remembers it (by God’s grace) many decades hence, when with tears in her eyes she buries the earthly father who loved her well, confident that the God who made her and him, and brought them together for a time by his grace, is trustworthy to take care of him until time ends and all tears are wiped away.

Loving a Cipher

I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways (Psalm 119:15)

In my reading and experience in counselling, the saddest times are when people realize that what they had called love for someone else had been simply their need to love something, not really a love for the thing loved. In essence, the object of their love is nothing but a cipher; an empty vessel they can pour their affections into.

The result is that while they do nice things for the person, their expressions of love are based on what they themselves desire to give as love, not really what the other person would need to actually be loved. The result is that they then get frustrated when the other person doesn’t react to the love their showing… because all this time there wasn’t love of another person being shown, but the need to love……. something, anything. The other person wasn’t important.

This seems less selfish than at least the habit of humans to love the reflection of themselves in someone else, and hate whatever does not reflect them, but I’m not so sure. At least the “selfish” love actually reacts to something in the object of affection (if only because it reaffirms the lover).

I think this may also be part of what happens to Christians in some ways that they “love” God. C.S. Lewis hits on the point when he says:

“For my own part, I tend to find the doctrinal books often more helpful in devotion than the devotional books, and I rather expect the same experience may await many others. I believe that many who find that “nothing happens” when they sit down, or kneel down, to a book of devotion, would find their heart sings unbidden while they are working their way through a tough bit of theology with a pipe in their teeth and a pencil in their hand” (C.S. Lewis,”On the reading of Old Books” in God in the Dock, 205)

The reason for this difference is, I think, a simple one. In much devotional literature, there is an assumption that one has a close and real relationship with the God of the universe. However, we read devotional literature in the desire to actually strengthen that relationship, not because the relationship is already strong. Devotional literature often has trouble moving us to worship, because it so rarely moves us beyond the cipher-god of our own creation to a meditation on the real God. Heavy theology does just that, because it is only in the harder to understand ideas and revelations that our self-centered ideas of God and how He should be loved are questioned, and as a result where we can be moved to see God for who He really is.

The result of that vision for a heart renewed by the Holy Spirit, will always be worship.

A Danger of Preaching a Substandard Gospel

Recently I’ve been reading some of the critiques unbelievers have about Christianity, and have been struck by a commonality that I have found in many of them. People began to read the Bible, found that the God of the Bible did not square with their beliefs in a loving and good God, and so they figured that there was no support for the Christianity they had believed, and thus they rejected it.

To be a little surprising, I agree with their assessment of the modern Christianity they were taught.

Like many of them, when I first became a Christian after the confused atheism of my high school years, I was taught a version of the Gospel that accented the love of God and the close friendship of God to the total exclusion of the wrath of God. The cross of Christ was seen as a sign of love in some kind of abstract way (I’m not sure how it can be a sign of love without a real wrath that we face, but there it is).

The problem is that such is only a half-measure of the Gospel. It is true, but is not the whole story as the Bible has it. Thus, if someone who believes like that actually reads the entire Bible, there is an awful lot about God that they have no method of dealing with. They have no category for a wrathful and angry God, and so they assume that such a God in the Bible cannot be true. They will thus either reject God, or reject the Bible (or both).

This rejection is, of course, where I part company with them. I know myself to be a sinner, and honestly, I actually believe that I deserve to go to hell. Not because I’m worse than other people, but because if God really fills the role in the universe that the Bible says he does, my sin is honestly disgusting (not just a mistake, not just a minor infraction, but disgusting and evil). I honestly wonder how God can stand the people he has called, including me. The ways I have thought about those around me, and about God, even in the 2 hours I have been awake today, if you could see into my mind should make you sick. In my best times it makes me sick. My repentance is not just because I am afraid of the wrath of God, it is because my sin is sickening.

God’s wrath against me is just. Outside of Christ, he does see my mind, he does know how evil my desires can be, and how much I belittle Him. He sees it every time I do it, and without the fact that I stand in Jesus Christ, he would be wholly right to punish me for it, and I have no reason to believe that anyone is righteous enough in themselves to avoid this.

“Wretched man that I am! Who is to deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Christ Jesus our Lord!” (Romans 7:24-25a)

The danger of preaching less than this is simple. Without the wrath of God against our sin, we are simply not being honest about God, or ourselves. We thus end up teaching a Gospel that places us at its centre rather than Jesus Christ. That Gospel is not true.

People who see that anemic Gospel are right to reject it. But in so doing, they are not necessarily rejecting the Gospel of Jesus Christ, though it can lead to that.

Online Reading (October 21, 2008)

Aid Work: The Taliban shoots to death a Christian woman working with the handicapped in Kabul. (Can’t have Christians doing nice stuff for the disabled, after all). The BBC does a special report on the dangers facing aid workers

U.S. Politics: I wonder how a libertarian squares a vote with the apparently socialist leanings of this candidate for president.

More U.S. Politics: William Kristol in the New York Times writes on the question of intellectualism and populism in politics.

Canadian Law: Ezra Levant (who gets many complaints against him in human rights tribunals) points out the troubling fact that the federal commission is apparently censoring the accused’s defense.

Online Reading (October 17, 2008)

Archaeology: The tomb of one of Marcus Aurelius’ generals is found in Rome.

Politics (sorta): Kenyan officials want an upgrade to the airport in Kisumu (Kenya) so that Air Force One can land there if Barack Obama is elected president. Obama also has a beer named after him there.

Religion and speech: Apparently it’s anti-Hindu to report the anti-Christian violence in Orissa. After all, it’s the missionaries’ fault for actually giving people an option other than Hinduism.

College Ministries: Russel Moore writes about the need to be not just in a campus ministry, but also a Church.

Online Reading (October 15, 2008)

*phew* lots to read today

Exegesis: A new site gives a tutorial on Biblical Arcing (a method of understanding texts by grapically representing the flow of the argument). If you prefer the method in a regular text, try “Interpreting the Pauline Epistles” by Tom Schreiner.

Study Bible: Speaking of which, today marks the launch of the ESV Study Bible, of which Tom Schreiner is one of the contributors. There is also a preview of the online version for the book of Matthew.

Culture: France’s political establishment warns that soccer matches in France may be called off if fans (often immigrants cheering the country of their birth)  jeer at the French National Anthem.

Pluralism: The Buddhists in South Korea are angry, believing that the Presbyterian president of the country is discriminating against them.

Law: an expression of the pain caused by legal “fishing expedition” medical malpractice filings (and the detriment to culture as a whole).

History: as an unmarried, balding, unemployed wannabe pastor with crooked legs, I am somewhat encouraged by the Historical Paul.

More History: An article debunking the idea that the majority of educated ancients believed that the world was flat (apologies to Washington Irving).