First, an admission: I stink at math. Marcy has to do the checkbook and does great with our finances (we have no debt or depreciating loans). But that’s because she gets math. Though I’m mathmatically challenged, I at least know that I am because I understand some mathematical absolutes. And I don’t argue with them.
Having said that, I recently got baited into a discussion/argument with a couple of reader-friends over what they perceive as judgmentalism, intolerance, and forcing my views on readers. This discussion came as a result of them reading a recent blog post which got more hits than any post I’ve ever written.
Their biggest question (gripe) was, “Why are Christians so pushy and dogmatic about God’s standards?”
What many people (especially unbelievers) fail to understand is that for devout, serious, Spirit-born followers of Jesus, God’s standards are absolute. When God says that something opposes his values and is bad for people because it will harm them, then that’s it! That’s the last word. God gets that last word with serious followers of Christ because he’s God, we’re not. Our opinion is immaterial. God has spoken . . . period!
So, I was thinking and wondering . . . how can I make this crystal clear in a way that even a person who shuts off the moment you challenge their “opinion” can recognize, that sometimes our opinion–no matter how much we’re entitled to it and in love with it–is simply WRONG?
What’s even more amazing is the line of reasoning that an unbeliever follows when you challenge his/her “opinion” with God’s absolute. If people are shown his Word, they say either that men wrote the Bible (as though that should disqualify it) or they say that they don’t believe in God.
MEN WROTE THE BIBLE?
Of course men wrote the Bible. Biblical scholars and educated beleivers alike would never dispute that. What they would dispute is the implication that because men wrote it, they made it up. This is an absurd line of reasoning for many reasons but scholars more astute than me have established divine biblical inspiration far better than I could. And any intellectually honest person can read their work if they are genuinely interested in how the Bible came from the Holy Spirit through its human agents as God gave them utterance. But back to my point.
Then it came to me. I know . . . Teachers and students alike will get this . . .
You’re a math teacher and are conducting a class on Addition.
You tell the students 2+2=4. But two or three of your students don’t agree. They say that 2+2=7. You tell them gently that they’re mistaken.
They take offense and tell you that your answer is your opinion. But in their opinion, 7 is the answer. Because you’re well versed in math, you explain to them that math has absolutes. And you gently assure them that 2+2 will always equal 4 whether they agree on it or not.
They still insist that though you may know more math than they do, they’re not going to allow you to shove your intolerant opinions about addition down their throats. They now take a different tact. No longer do they remain with the 2+2 point.
“Well, that math book was man-made. It is a book written by men.”
“Yes, that’s true,” you say, “but the principles in it are established absolutes just like the law of gravity.” What they’re describing faithfully are the foundations and principles of Math.
Now they’re really going to push you into the corner. “Well, we don’t believe that Math exists. We’re amatheists! We don’t believe in your Math or its principles or your judgmental, intollerant views. We believe in love. And love would never tell us that 2+2 has to be 4 and can’t be 7.” What do you do now?
DEPARTING FROM REALITY
There’s really no arguing. You have to give them an “F” and let them live their lives believing that 2+2=7. Now a bunch of them gang up on you for being unjust to those who received “F”. They harange you and call you a mathematical bigot. You’re intolerant. You’re a 7-phobic. What makes your opinion superior to theirs?
Of course this analogy falls apart at the end, because what they believe about math, only affects their grade in school, not their immortal souls. But what would happen if their eternal destiny was settled by the stubborn insistence upon their error? What would you do? How would you respond if you knew that they would be eternally lost if they held to their mistaken opinions? Would you write them off and say “Hey, they’ve made their choices. Let em face the consequences.
BRING THEM TO THEIR SENSES
Most likely, if you were a compassionate, loving teacher, you would try to convince (not force) them. You might cite all kinds of people and authorities to try to bring them to their senses to escape the lie they have embraced as their firm opinion. You would provide them with expert testimony and scholarship. The problem is that they wouldn’t care. They have made up their minds based upon their opinions (and of course they got those opinions from others with the same misinformed, unexamined opinions).
THE PROBLEM WITH OPINIONS
G.K. Chesterton once said, “An opinion lacking in knowledge is an ugly thing.” It destroys truth. It undermines reality. An uniformed opinion is the devil’s delight, especially where souls are involved.
In our culture, opinion reigns when it comes to God and spiritual matters. With regard to morality and spiritual reality, unbelievers don’t want the facts to cloud their right to believe any fantasy that appeals to their imaginations. Yet, we would never base our destiny on a stubbornly held opinion when it came to other matters of living.
DON’T TRUST YOUR OPINION, GET THE FACTS!
What if a bridge under construction was blatantly unsafe? Signs warn motorists to proceed no further. But a driver–insistent upon her own opinion–decides to cross. What would people say when her car plunges into the depths of the river below?
How far should we trust our own opinions?
Another scenario: What about the patient, who’s scheduled for a brain operation and decides that in his opinion what his doctor proposes is not in agreement with his opinion as a patient. The surgeon insists that she needs to operate on the patient’s left side to affect his motor functions on the right side of his body; but, he insists that if the problem is on the right side of his body, then it only makes sense that she should operate on the right side of his brain. Seems resonable right? No matter how much the patient insists upon the validity of his reasons and his “opinion,” this man is dead wrong. His opinion means nothing, though he’s entitled to hold it dogmatically. It won’t change the reality for his surgeon (fortunate for him.) She will not be convinced by her patient’s stubborn insistence upon his own limited views of anatomy and physiology. She will perform the operation as she has been trained in her knowledge of the human body. The patient’s only choice is to proceed with the operation or not.
You get what I’m concerned about? When it comes to universal principles, opinions are meaningless and only get in the way of the greater good–God’s Kingdom and His reality which includes our joy, peace, and eternal destiny.
Now you can insist that Math doesn’t exist and close your eyes, stop up your ears, jump up and down and cry, but Math exists. And math will not bend its principles for you, me or anyone else–regardless of our cherished opinions.
DON’T BLAME THE MAILMAN
In my post I shared God’s view. It’s not my view. It’s GOD’s view. The believer or disciple who delivers God’s Word is just the mailman who delivered the letter. Don’t whack him because you don’t like what’s in the letter.
The problem with the unbeliever is solved by God. He has already told us why they don’t and CAN’T get it. He says:
1 Corinthians 2:14 (ESV)
14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.
This is where our prayers come in. All that we can do is gently share the truth with them that may be set free and to see that 2+2 really does equal 4. God really does have absolutes that include or exclude us from his marvelous Kingdom:
2 Timothy 2:24–26 (NIV)
24 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. 25 Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.
It’s really a matter of humility. As long as they remain in pride, they are captive to a spiritual entity that will not let them see the truth. Only when they respond to the truth with humility and let go of their opinions will God “grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth” that will bring them to “their senses.”
What’s frustrating is when you know their time for “getting it” is short. That makes us more insistent because of our love for them. And that makes them more intolerant with us because they think that we’re forcing our values and reality on them or patronizing them. Lord, remove the veil. Grant the the grace you granted us when we were 7’ers ourselves.
QUESTION: Have you run into this stubborn insistence upon a person’s culturally informed opinion?
I’m shifting gears. I just returned from a week at the Carmelite Monastery in our city. I spent the week there responding to an invitation to solitude, silence, and prayer. That invitation came by way of a deep inner desire to be alone with God and a divine discontent in my soul that had been growing more intense over the previous several weeks. I was actually thinking about discontinuing my blog and getting off the internet altogether. But I’ve changed my mind. I simply need to shift gears.
As I gave myself to quiet and prayer, reflecting on the goodness and love of God, something happened. I want to write about what happened. What my Father showed me. Things he has been, and is, doing to reveal his love.
We get enough bad news. We hear too much cynicism and skepticism. So I’m making a schism with “cisms.” He’s drawing me to deeper wells. I want to write about the love that surpasses knowledge. I want to write about the journey our hearts are called to embark on. I want to write from the heart about how to go farther up and deeper in . . . to the immeasurable love of God.
I’m hoping that I won’t lose those of you who are here because of my perspective on Islam and things I’ve written in the past. Hopefully, you will find something else here for your enrichment. Something for your soul. Something that calls to the deep places of your heart. In any case, I’m not sure yet exactly how we’ll arrive, but I invite you to hang in here, as we continue on a wonderful Adventure with our Father. Because, I do know the ultimate destination.
If it’s true that “knowledge puffs up, but love builds up,” then I’m inviting a handful of readers to stick with me and see what God will be pleased to do as we dialog together about the journey we’re on.
I’m not a great writer. Nor is my content going to be the buzz online. But I do have a deep abiding relationship with Abba. And my wife and daughter tell me that I’ve shown the heart of God for them. So why not share with you some of what I’m experiencing as I plumb that deep love of God. That love that is greater than any ocean. That love that has as its goal your heart too.
Thanks for being here. Thanks for reading. I hope you’ll stay for a while longer to see if there’s anything here that your soul will be able to feed on. Perhaps we’ll mutually encourage one another’s faith.
I’m still going to try to post 2-3 times a week.
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I hope you’ll take the time to comment on this and future posts. I’ll always moderate to ensure that comments are edifying. Let’s start a discussion that can enrich us all.
“You mean I can’t just decide I want to be a Christian and be “born again?”
Scripture teaches that our minds are darkened. We cannot perceive the things of God with unaided reason. No “decision” for Jesus will ever produce the spiritual birth that Jesus said is prerequisite to knowledge of God and entrance to the Kingdom. Neither Jesus nor the Apostles ever described the new birth as a “decision.” All we can decide is to agree with the Holy Spirit and the Word regarding our need before God. We must agree with him that we are spiritually destitute. And that we need him. That we don’t know how to love him sufficiently to produce lasting change in our lives. This is an important truth, because it explains the missing component in the American Gospel.
Somewhere along the line, the Gospel became infected by the notion that a relationship with God could be attained by human effort, apart from revelation–God personally “revealing” himself to a human being. Proclamation included making a “decision” for Jesus. And dispensing with emotion. Unusual since throughout the Bible we see that God is a God of emotion. He created emotions.
You cannot approach God on your own terms. Without His previous action in personal experience, we do not have in us that love that produces devotion and obedience. He must “reveal” Himself to us.
The Bible, God’s own Word, says it this way:
“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5, ESV)
Here Jesus told his disciples how they could bear fruit. They needed to stay in close relationship to him (and God’s love). They needed to be connected. For apart from love (and proximity to Him through Christian community) they would not produce fruit worthy of the kingdom.
In the following verse, the Apostle John says it more directly:
“We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19, ESV)
Scripture teaches that “His Love Comes First.” His love–a prior revelation of Himself, His heart, His values.
I believe that the lack of an experience of God’s presence and love explains in part the shallowness of much “so called” Christianity. This love-deficit is behind poll figures that claim that 84% of adults who claim to be Christians; 40% of Americans claim a “born again” experience.* Yet fewer than 21% believe that Christian community is vital to their faith.** They do not discern the Body–recognize the Family of God as important in their spiritual growth. Many who claim to know God have no passion for him or the people and values He loves.
The Barna Group shares these interesting trends:
On the one hand, four out of five self-identified Christian adults (81%) say they have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today. More than three out of four self-identified Christians (78%) strongly agreed that spirituality is very important to them. Yet, less than one out of every five self-identified Christians (18%) claims to be totally committed to investing in their own spiritual development. About the same proportion of self-identified Christians (22%) claims to be “completely dependent upon God.” Those figures help explain why a majority of self-identified Christian adults (52%) believe that there is much more to the Christian life than what they have experienced. Without a full determination to live like Christ and for Him, the path to complete transformation is blocked.**
“Well, if the love begins with God, then what can we do?”
We can desire to know Him. We can place ourselves in an “environment of grace” by being with others who know Him. Or by reading his book, the Bible. We can listen to those whose lives demonstrate that they have a relationship with God. As we do, and as others pray for us, God meets us.
The Bible says it this way, “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you.” Begin to do the things that you think please Him. As far as it is in your power, keep a clear conscience. From time to time, focus your thoughts on Jesus Christ. Think about his life. If you can find a copy of the Jesus film, watch it. Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal the Father’s love to you.
“But isn’t this my behavior or actions before God’s love?”
Yes and no. You are simply seeking. God’s promise is that when you seek (and keep seeking) you will find. When you ask (and keep asking) it will be given. When you knock (and keep knocking) the door will be opened to you. Seeking, asking, and knocking are not the same as approaching God intellectually, then making a decision. Our intellect can only take us so far in our search for God. Reason and will can place us on the path. Only love takes us the distance. And His love must be prior.
That is why He gave Himself to us in His Son, Jesus. And as we gaze at his life, death, and resurrection, we see the Father-Heart in Christ. Jesus came to reveal the Father’s love.
Revelation is always the initiative of God:
“All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”” (Luke 10:22, ESV)
God’s Love Comes First! If you have not already–at whatever stage you are along your spiritual journey–ask Him to reveal himself to you. You will not be disappointed.
QUESTION: Has he revealed his love to you, personally? Do you know yet, in experience, how deeply you’re loved by Him?
©2012, David C Alves
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Barna Quote Source: