Monday, March 27, 2017

Image of God

Christianity struggles with the battle of extremes regarding the nature of man, whether it be basically good or evil.  The world conceives of man as basically good.  One writer expressed it the worldly perspective well.  "Yes, we have crippled eyes, but not a core of un-goodness. We are true and right, but often ignorant and stupid, acting out of the pain of our wrongheadedness, hurting ourselves, others, and even all creation. Blind, not depraved is our condition." (from Lies We Believe About God by Wm. Paul Young, collected from http://www.challies.com/book-reviews/what-does-the-shack-really-teach-read-lies-we-believe-about-god)  The world tells us that no matter how poorly people err in our thinking or behavior, we are, at heart, good and want to do good.  How such a naive concept still persists in this world boggles the mind.  If the world truly thinks this way, the modern American practice of demonization constitutes a direct contradiction to this idea.  Half of the nation think the other half seek to destroy the country, and the other half return the favor.  Each remains convinced that their political opponents are basically evil.

On the other hand, the church has proclaimed the total depravity of man.  The Bible teaches that man is basically evil.  We appreciate the disastrous effects of the fall.  We quote verses like, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?" (Jeremiah 17:9)  We proclaim that even the plowing of the wicked is sin. (Proverbs 21:4)  Man can do nothing to make himself right with God.

The extent of man's depravity, we will examine later.  Here, we want to inject a modicum of balance.  Man is not basically good, but man's depravity does not alone express the whole story.  The Bible teaches that man was created good.  He was made in the image of God.

The concept of creation in the image of God appears in the creation narrative in Genesis. "And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.  So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them." (Genesis 1:26-27)  After God had created all other creatures, He chose to create man in His image.  He gave this unique creature dominion over all the creation that He had made.  Man was to be God's vice-governor over all the created order.

The nature of this image of God also appears in the most focused account in Genesis chapter 2. "And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul." (Genesis 2:7)  The creation story here shows the close connection between God and man.  We may never know the exact nature of the "breath of life" with which God endued man.  We do know that our soul comes from God.  We do know that some part of God is imaged in man.

Before proceeding on, we must address the worlds false conception of man's creation.  In former days, John Milton described the diabolical mindset in his epic poem, Paradise Lost.  In Book 5, Satan argues with the angel Abdiel the rightness of his rebellion against God.  Abdiel, the faithful angel, charges Satan with treachery against the one who created the angels.  Satan responds in these words, "[W]ho saw [w]hen this creation was? [R]ememberst thou [t]hy making, while the Maker gave thee being?  We know no time when we were not as now; [k]now none before us, self-begot, self-rais'd [b]y our own quick'ning power."  Satan questions the argument by suggesting that the angels were not created but self-originating.  None remembered their origin, so none could authoritatively claim that they were created.  If they were self-originated, they owed not duty to God.  To the devil, submission to the Lord based on His creation of the angels was a specious argument.

Milton's description of Satan cannot be held authentic.  Milton had no revelation of God to aid him in his poetry.  Instead, he took rebellious human thought and put it in the mouth of the devil.  One might note with irony that a man replaced the lie in the mouth of the one who whispered it into the ear of man.  As man believes this about himself, Milton puts it in the mouth of the one who likely persuaded man of its logic.

Man cannot be so mindless as to assert his own self-origination.  He cannot compete with the pride of the angels.  Rather, he places his origination at the hand of impersonal science, statistics, and chance.  These forces create no relationship that must be honored.  They impose no duty that must be fulfilled.  They function as good as self-origination in the conception of man.

What man and Satan recognized was that if created, the creation must submit to the creator.  If created, the creation can never hope to overthrow the creator.  If created, rebellion against the creator is futile and evil.  We can overthrow other created things, no matter how strong with enough manpower, time, and skill.  The gods fell and continue to fall to the ingenuity of man.  Rebellion against immoral tyranny does not contradict our notions of justice.  Rebellion against the creator defies logic and basic morality.

Instead, the Bible reminds us that we are created beings, made in the image of God, and so responsible to imitate His character.  We may not know much about the image of God, but we must conclude that it included the moral attributes of the Lord.  The duty before God is summarized in the statement given to Moses. "Speak unto all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say unto them, Ye shall be holy: for I the LORD your God am holy." (Lev.19:2)  The Lord repeats this command in the law. (Lev. 11:44,45; 20:7,26; 21:8)  It also appears in the New Testament as well. (I Peter 1:16)  The moral attributes of God are part of that image imprinted in us.  These we are to imitate.  As we are made in the image of God, we are to imitate God.  The parts of us imprinted by God only work correctly when functioning like God.  The human does not work well when it attempts to operate opposed to the moral character of God.  To do so is like a man trying to hammer a nail with an iPhone.

Another part of the image of God granted to man, we may call communicative rationality.  As God gave man dominion over the creatures, we must assert some natural superiority to the physical creation.  The evolutionary myth concerning our origin robs mankind of its dignity over the creatures.  The Bible teaches that our dignity comes not from our prowess or conquest, but was given to us by God.  We exercise dominion, not because we conquered creation, but because it was made for us and subservient to us.

In order to rule, God provided us with two gifts, the ability to reason, and the ability to communicate.  As governors of creation under God, we are commanded to execute distinct judgment. This appears in the grant of authority to man from the Lord God.  "And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die." (Genesis 2:15-17)  As man is granted governance of the garden of Eden and commanded to refrain from eating of a certain tree, we must conclude that man has a rationality distinct from the mind of God.  This rationality has duties and responsibilities attached to it.  Man cannot choose his own path without consequences, but is able to consider how best to fulfill his duty before God.

Man is also granted the ability to communicate.  The evidence appears first in the communication that the Lord speaks to man.  It also appears in the relationship between God and man appearing later.  In the fall narrative, the man and woman hear the voice of God moving in the cool of the day.  The presence of God in the garden suggests that there was ordinary conversation between God and his regent on earth.  Man was never an absolute ruler, but a vice-ruler under God.  Communication between man and God, man and man, man and woman, all appear within the first four chapters of the Bible.  As God spoke the worlds into existence, so man shares that ability of speech as part of the image of God.

As vice-regent of the creatures, God gave man with that rationality a measure of freedom.  Man's freedom cannot contradict God's sovereignty, anymore than his rule can exceed God's.  Man's dominion and freedom are derivative, they come from God.  Thus, they are subordinate to God.  Man's freedom can never thwart God's sovereign plan, purpose, or power.  Nevertheless, man is granted freedom.  This freedom, we will see, he used to his own end and own hurt.

Finally, we must note the declaration of God regarding man.  After the creation of man, we read, "And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good." (Genesis 1:31a)  God created man good.  So the world is right, in a sense.  Man was created basically good, and if the Bible contained nothing but the first two chapters of Genesis, we could agree with the world.  But chapter 3 ruins the potential for conciliation.  Man was made good, but did not stay good.

When we think of the principles for living Christian in an unchristian world, we can identify several from the concept of man's creation in the image of God.  Unlike the world, we must understand the consequences of being created by God.  We must understand that the world thinks nothing of rebellion because they are uncreated.  They may think they can win against God because they were not made by Him.  We cannot afford such a naive thought.  As the moral attributes of God are imprinted on our nature as made in His image, so the human cannot operate properly in disobedience.  Not only is disobedience insane rebellion against the Lord, but it also constitutes a malfunction of the human creature.

Man in the image of God possesses the capacity to reason.  What he does with that capacity may not turn out well for reasons we will discuss later.  Nevertheless, the ability to reason exists because of the image of God.  Man also has the ability to communicate, a gift again that he often uses for evil instead of good.  God has given man a measure of freedom created in His image.  The world may take this freedom as an excuse for immorality, but the concept of freedom is in itself not evil.  Coercion of one man against another ought be avoided.

Man was created good.  Even in the face of the crippling damage done to that goodness, man still occasionally does something good.  In the wake of the fall, in the depths of man's depravity, God ordains for us to remember the goodness of His creation in glimpses of goodness.  Living Christian in an unchristian world means we cannot agree that man is basically good.  However, it also means we must understand that man was created good.  What happened next reminds us why we need this study at all.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Creation

My father had concerns that he was eager for his children to adopt.  One was an animosity against materialism. He saw a world where the acquisition of stuff rule people's lives and didn't want his children to fall victim to its sway.  In this effort, he never ceased reminding us not to put our affections on stuff because eventually, it would all burn.  This theory he adopted from a reading of II Peter 3.   These experiences started my process of thinking about the created order.

Having finished our examination of the character of God, we turn to discover a principle in His first work recorded in Scripture, creation.  We must begin by asserting the truth of the creation narrative in the first two chapters of Genesis.  Numerous theories have struggled with the relationship between the first and second chapter.  While holding to the traditional understanding, I have no interest in entering into those debates here.  Rather, we must understand that even in the church the doctrine of divine creation ex nihilo finds itself under attack.

Whatever theory you adopt about creation, Christianity proclaims that God created the world out of nothing and into nothing.  God did not use preexisting matter to make the world, nor did He create into something that pre-existed.  Where there was nothing, with nothing, God created the universe.

This type of theology has come under assault because of theories of science developed in conflict with scripture.  The theory of evolution and concepts of time estimation argue against scripture.  Sinful, human minds created theories to justify their rejection of God, even in their concepts about the origin of the universe.  The data they collect to justify their theories may seem daunting.  The Christian must decide whether he will accept as foundational truth the word of God or the word of man.

This debate brings to mind the seventeenth century battle over geocentrism and heliocentrism.  Many choose to blame the church for its reluctance to accept new theories of science, justifying their reluctance with scripture.  Traditional understandings should not be so easily swept aside for novelty.  Yet the church must acknowledge that the Bible does not speak primarily about science.  For every human theory, data can appear for its defense.  Even geocentrism had its proofs.  The rush to accept new theories of science has not proved beneficial to holiness.

If God created the world out of nothing and into nothing, what does this matter?  The western world has seen an influx in the past two centuries of the theology of the east.  As trade between east and west grew, the west grew in its knowledge about the religions of the east.  With this understanding came syncretism and adoption.  While not everything in eastern through appeared in the west, a number of ideas grew in unexamined adoption and popularity.  Chief amongst these were concepts of divine origin.

In our previous discussion about God, we learned about the world's desire for a deity without personality.  This desire originated from the west's acceptance of an eastern idea.  Some have called it eastern pantheistic monism.  "Eastern" means the idea's origin in the east.  "Pantheistic" means the universe is god.  "Monism" means all is one.  This principle appears in many of the religious concepts of the east.  It means that the universe is god and one.  All things are a unity, and that god is in all things.  You are the rock and the rock and you are god.

Christianity denies this concept.  God is not His creation.  God created out of nothing (ex nihilo).  This proves that nothing is greater or pre-existing to God.  God didn't need to use other stuff to create the universe.  The principle of creation ex nihilo demonstrates the superiority and sovereign power of God.

But God also created into nothing.  This means that the universe is not a part of God but something distinct, yet dependent upon God.  Without God, the universe would cease to exists, but the universe isn't God.  By this doctrine, Christianity denies pantheism, the idea that god is everything, and everything is god.

Christianity also denies panentheism.  In contrast to pantheism which says that the universe is god, panentheism asserts that god is in everything.  This also comes from certain easter religions.  It constitutes a variant within eastern pantheistic monism.  All are one, not due to all being god, but due to all having god within.  I am one with the rock because god is in both me and the rock.  While Christianity asserts the omnipresence of God, it denies the essential indwelling of God.  God is present, but not inside, or part of all things.  Again, God is not a part of His creation, though He is present everywhere within His creation.

The reason that the east maintained these concepts arose from their high opinion of nature.  The nature is good.  It is man that messes stuff up.  What man needs to do then is to reconnect with the oneness found in nature.  How they maintain this in the face of the diversity and war within nature is a discussion outside the bounds of this study.

Christianity understands the goodness of nature too, but in a different and more consistent way.  At this point, we must deal with some linguistic challenges.  In this series, we have used the term "the world" in a very negative way.  By "the world" we mean the actions and thoughts of sinful humanity so ubiquitous that they can be considered as global.  By this definition, we admit that "the world" involves the use of a stereotype.  Modern society rejects stereotypes because they brand members of a group that may think or act different from the stereotype.  This does not diminish the truth of the stereotype, but limits its descriptive power.  Not everyone within the group will act or think like it, but sufficiently enough of them will that the description of the group generally fits.  Racial and ethnic stereotype have the added detriment that they often hinder the proclamation of the gospel and ought not arise in the Christian's conversations.

"The world" is a stereotype that the Christian must use, since we find it in the Bible.  John writes, "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him." (I John 2:15)  Paul wrote, "And be not conformed to this world." (Romans 12:2)  "The world" often refers to an undifferentiated group of humans that act and think sinfully.  Jesus cautioned His disciples saying, "If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you." (John 15:18-19)  Nevertheless, Jesus will also limit the stereotype by using the same word to mean all the people groups of the globe. "I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness." (John 12:46)

For the purposes of this study, in order to avoid confusion, we will limit our use of the term of art, "the world" to the acts and thoughts of sinful humanity that appear ubiquitous, or to those same themes revealed in scripture.  In contrast, we will use "the created order" as a term of art to refer to a different use of the word "world."  By this, we mean the universe God created, including man.

This distinction is necessary, for although the world is corrupt and corrupting, the created order was good and maintains some of its goodness, though bearing the stains of sin.  The Bible requires us to make this distinction.  In the creation account in Genesis 1, God sees all that He has made and pronounces it very good.  Whatever the fall may have done to the created order, it originally was very good.  The story of redemption also affirms the goodness of the created order.  Paul describes the created order's current condition in chapter 8 of the letter to the church in Rome. "Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now." (Ro.8:21-22)  Paul describes the creation as groaning in anticipation of the completion of redemption.  The state of glory in Revelation depicts the created order as restored to its pre-fall glory and peace.

While materialism is evil, material is not.  The created order was made for man.  Genesis 1, whatever view you hold on the days of creation, describes God's preparatory steps to make the earth habitable for man.  Man needed light, air, land, sun, and animals.  God made paradise for man to inhabit and to enjoy.  The created order is good, given to us by God for us to enjoy.

This requires discernment.  We must separate the sinful corruption of the created order and our enjoyment of it, from our godly appreciation of the created order and our enjoyment of it.  Many of our human appetites for that which the created order offers are not evil.  Sin tempts us with faulty appetites, distorting how, how much, when, and where we enjoy those good things He created.  In short, much of what we see in the created order is not evil, what we do with it often is.

If we would live Christian in an unchristian world, we must learn this discernment.  Notice our use of the concept of the unchristian world.  We use the stereotype to acknowledge that the majority of the things around us constitute temptations to act and think like the world.  Living in the midst of that confusion is difficult.  We have to apply scripture to that which confronts us to determine how to resist the temptations of the world while enjoying the benefits of the created order.  We cannot simply revel in the world's sinful enjoyment.  Neither can we retreat into asceticism, denying the truth of God's good gifts.  The first calls God a miser.  The second rejects His gifts.  Instead, we must live Christian in the unchristian world.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Wisdom

One of my pastor friends repeatedly says, "God is a genius."  I react negatively to this characterization.  In my experience, we usually gauge genius by human standards.  To ascribe "genius" to God assaults His transcendence and brings Him down to a human level.  Man ought not judge the acts of God by human standards for they are superior in quantity and quality to any human analysis.

Nevertheless, I understand the awe that the works of God demand.  Isaiah wrote, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts." (Isa. 55:8-9)  Paul asked the church at Rome, "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!  For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor?" (Ro.11:33-34)  The Bible records the works of God in such a way that prove His wisdom.

To begin a discussion of wisdom, we must first understand what wisdom is.  Most people think wisdom comes from intelligence.  They assume smart people are wise people.  This does not immediately follow.  Smart people can act foolishly.  Informed people can lack wisdom.  This separates information from wisdom.  Information means knowledge of facts.  Wisdom is a skill, knowledge of how to do a thing.  Wisdom has been defined as skill in living.  A better definition is skill in accomplishing one's objectives.  The more elegant the solution to those objectives, the higher the level of wisdom displayed.

When we consider the works of God, creation and providence (redemption), we see that characteristic of wisdom displayed.  The wonders of creation reveal the wisdom of God.  The might of God's work appears in the grandeur of creation.  The wisdom appears in the interconnectedness of creation.  The more natural laws that science discovers, the greater our appreciation grows for God's wisdom in creation.  From minerals to biology, plants to insects, animals and rivers, mountains and galaxies, atoms to quarks, and even dark matter, all these proclaim the infinite wisdom of God.  If we would applaud a watchmaker for his skill in making the intricate working of a complex machine, how much more ought we stand in awe at the skill evident in creation.  To call it "genius" simply fails to capture its immensity.

Turning to redemption, the skill with which God saved His people also proclaims His wisdom.  The Lord faced a knotty problem with the fall of man.  His love motivated Him to reunite with His rebellious creation.  On the other hand, His justice could not ignore the gravity of sin.  That cosmic rebellion required punishment, and God's justice could not merely overlook the crime.  How could God be wholly loving and wholly just?  How could God restore a relationship with His creation and yet deal with their sin justly?  Redemption shows us the answer, the only answer possible.  This answer reveals both God's infinite love and absolute justice.  God's love sent Jesus to the cross to take the penalty justice demanded due to man's sin.  Justice and love meet at the cross.

As we mentioned before, God requires His people to imitate His character.  As He is wise, so are we to be.  He made us in His image, therefore His character resides within us.  To be authentically human, we must endeavor to reflect that character.  God expects us to develop wisdom.

As with all the other attributes of God, we struggle to imitate them due to sin.  Sin has corrupted our understanding.  We don't know how to be wise.  We must learn wisdom.  This necessity appears in an imperative in scripture. "Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding." (Prov.4:7)  The Christian must get wisdom.

Getting wisdom is not as easy as it might seem.  Going back to the difference between information and wisdom, educators know that different disciplines require different teaching methods.  Law school is different from medical school.  Both are different from college or high school, and none of these looks like seminary.  The content to be taught determines the method of teaching.

Informational content is taught most often by lecture.  Memorize and regurgitate is the cycle of informational teaching.  Wisdom is not merely informational.  Certainly, without information, wisdom cannot exist.  Having skill to accomplish objective requires information, but wisdom involves putting that information to good use.  For skill training, educators turn away from lecture to other means of teaching.  Law school uses the socratic method.  Medical school uses patient case studies.  Seminary uses a whole bunch of stuff, but at the essence of this training is practice.  Skill learning is most easily seen in music.  To learn to play the piano, you don't need to sit in endless lectures.  You need to put your fingers on keys and practice.  You still need a teacher.  You may still benefit from some informational teaching, but at the heart of learning to play piano is practice.

Wisdom is like playing the piano.  You need information.  You need understanding to apply wisdom, but the only way you will increase in skill is practice.

If this series is anything, it is a skill acquisition program.  The particulars we will look at are categories in which you will have to apply the information and procedures to develop answers to the situations that confront you in life.  It requires discernment.

Lest you think this process is too pedagogical for you and you want some more Bible, let me direct your attention to the book of Proverbs.  Most Christians understand that the Proverbs were written so that God's people could learn wisdom.  It's right there in the beginning verses. "The proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel; to know wisdom and instruction; to perceive the words of understanding; to receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, and judgment, and equity; to give subtilty to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion." (Prov.1:1-4)

Now let us look at a couple of verses written to teach us wisdom. "Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit." (Prov.26:4-5)  Notice that these verses are not taken out of context. (a thing rather hard to do in Proverbs)  They appear adjacent to one another, yet they tell us to do contradictory things.  Are we to answer a fool according to his folly or not?  Solomon doesn't tell us.  These verse teach us a number of lessons about wisdom and discernment.

Rules cannot replace wisdom

The path of wisdom challenges our thinking.  The answer is rarely easy.  A rule cannot replace wisdom.  Parents, consider what this means for how you train your children.  Don't mistake me.  Rules are necessary for children.  They provide boundaries and stability.  They circumscribe an acceptable pattern of conduct.  However, giving your children all the answers will not produce wisdom.

My father did this well, too well for some of us. (N.B. I credit my father with much of what he did well.  He wasn't perfect and I know some things he didn't do well.  However, I don't tell you what he did wrong.  What would be the point of that?)  When we were teenagers, he would often not tell us the answer to our questions, especially when we came to him for advice.  He would tell us the biblical principles and force us to make decisions, good and bad.  He wanted us to work it out for ourselves, to learn how to apply the Bible to life.  It would frustrate us at times when all we really wanted was an easy answer.  I'm thankful now that he showed us how difficult wisdom can be.

Wisdom requires understanding the situation

Returning to whether to answer a fool according to his folly, Proverbs also teaches us that wisdom is not a static solution.  Sometimes it is wise to answer a fool according to his folly, and sometimes it isn't.  Proverbs here requires of us discernment, the ability to analyze the probable outcome of our response.  If it would humble the fool, answer him according to his folly.  If it would entrap us in his worldview, don't answer him according to his folly.  The situation in which we find ourselves will determine the wise course of action.

Christianity rejects situational ethics, but not situational wisdom.  The proponents of situational ethics argue that morality is not a fixed concept but adjusts to the changes in life and situation.  This theory, Christianity denies vehemently.  As God is unchangeable, so is His character, law, and righteousness.  What is good never changes.  Wisdom did not overcome either justice or love, but found a way to satisfy both.

Take for example the Ninth Commandment.  the duty to tell the truth never changes.  How we tell the truth does.  Wisdom requires, not just that we tell the truth, but that we tell the truth well.  What good is the truth if we tell it in a way in which people cannot hear it?

Wisdom requires understanding yourself

Proverbs also shows us that wisdom directs different people in different ways.  What may be wise for one person may not be wise for another.  Returning to our text, one person may not be susceptible to being entrapped in the worldview of the fool, yet another may.  Paul will speak about the weak and strong Christian and the different ways in which they should relate to situations and to each other.  This requires discernment as well.  Wisdom require an accurate analysis of oneself.  If you don't understand your personality and susceptibilities, you may find yourself doing unwise things.  Mimicking someone else in order to walk wisely is dangerous.  That appears in Paul's warning about the strong Christian leading the weak Christian into sin.  We have to develop wisdom by our own practicing.

It is significant that the first nine chapters of Proverbs were written to convince the reader how important getting wisdom is.  Wisdom does not come easily.  You cannot establish it by rule.  You cannot copy someone else's work.  You have to learn to apply the scriptures to every event in life.  A computer programmer understands this challenge to a point.  In essence, all a computer program does is take input and respond.  We refer to unexpected responses as bugs.  Yet that unexpected response is the result of unexpected input.  Like a computer programmer, wisdom requires us to predict and prepare for all the possible events that might confront us.

Wisdom requires practice

Since we cannot predict perfectly, we learn from the bugs as we practice.  Practice weeds out errors.  We cannot expect that we will exercise wisdom perfectly.  We have to learn it, and it is a difficult thing to learn.  We will make mistakes, but just like practice, we try again to perfect our performance.  It is a lifetime's work, but the improvement reaps a harvest of benefits.

You are here because you want to know how to live Christian in an unchristian world.  You desire to learn how to live well, in a confusing society.  You want wisdom.  You want discernment.  You will not find easy answers.  I will not give you easily applied rules.  You will have to work to analyze people, situations, and even yourself.  Why do this work?  Because God calls you to do it.  Because you desire to honor Him by walking wisely.  Only by pursuing wisdom will you be able to live Christian in an unchristian world.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Love

The world misunderstands love more than most any other concept known to man.  It's ironic that they also consider love one of the most important things that exist.  How can something so important be so misunderstood?

If we would live Christian in an unchristian world, we must understand the concept of love.  The first lesson reminds us that God is love.  As we continue to build the principles based on the character of God, the Bible reminds us that one of the core attributes of God is love. The apostle John declares this truth in no uncertain terms in I John 4:16.  "And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him."  John tells us that as we have experienced the love that God has for us, demonstrated in Jesus Christ, that work reveals the character of God, that He is love.

We remember that the reason the character of God is so important is because we are made in His image.  As those who bear the image of God, we are called to imitate God.  We are called to live like the one who made us.  His character of love defines how we are to live before Him.

This ought to radically change our understanding of love, the source from which we define love.  We cannot allow the world to define love.  We cannot allow book, music, movies, or television to tell us what love is.  We cannot trust our feelings to instruct us in love.  God alone defines love.  We have the capacity to love because God made us in His image.  We have that character within, because He put it there.  Knowing what love is then must come from our study of God not something else.

How then does God define love?  John points us to the definition in the verse quoted before.  We know of love, because we have experienced it in Christ.  God demonstrates love in redemption.  Paul wrote, "But God commendeth (to demonstrate by action) his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." (Ro.5:8)  If God demonstrated love in redemption, then redemption best defines what love looks like.

In another place, we will examine redemption and its ramifications on the question of how to live Christian in an unchristian world.  Here, we want to understand what redemption tells us about love.  Redemption tells the story of how God saves His people through the sacrifice of Jesus.  This simple statement reveals much about love.  First, we discover that love  involves a relationship.  Love doesn't exist in a vacuum.  Love requires a relationship between persons.  God by His nature demands this concept of love.  God does not reveal His nature to man as a single unity, but as the triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  These three are one, but also love one another.  ("Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again." John 10:17)

If love requires relationship, then also that relationship requires something of love.  Better expressed, you cannot separate love from the relationship and the relationship will conform to love.  You cannot simply claim a relationship of love based on subjective standards.  Love and its attendant relationship have certain necessary criteria.

This takes us to the second concept of love that we find in redemption.  Love seeks the good of the other, not the self.  If A loves B, then A will seek B's good, even if it does not benefit A, even if it costs A.  It cost God to love us.  His justice demanded satisfaction and since we could not satisfy His justice, God had to do it Himself.  It cost Him something to justify us.

Love is not self-seeking.  In the most famous Biblical text on love, we read these words. "Charity (love) suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil." (I Cor. 13:4-5)  Patience, lack of envy, lack of pride, not seeking its own--all point to the reality that love is not self-focused.  We cannot assume that love has no self-benefit.  Rather, love recognizes that doing good to others as our cost increases our good.  In love, if we serve others, we find ourselves reaping benefits.  The stability and enjoyment of the relationship increase as we focus on the good of the other rather than on ourselves.

Thirdly, love does not trump other duties.  In redemption, the love of God cost Him because His justice required satisfaction.  Love did not trump justice, but redemption fulfilled both.  This concept means that people cannot avoid obedience by a claim of love.  Love never requires us to violate God's law.  Love is God's law and any claim of love that opposes God's law is not love.  Entering into a relationship God forbids using the justification of "love" is not love.  When someone does something God forbids because of love, the motive is not love.  It is something else.  Love never annuls our other duties to God, for love encompasses all our duty to God and man.

Fourth, love requires sacrifice.  Redemption required Jesus to sacrifice Himself upon the cross.  Love is costly.  What it will cost often conflicts with our expectations.  Sinful man will exchange the true cost of love for a different price.  How many husbands have paid a cost in gifts, instead of a cost of time, or vice versa?  How many Christians would try to make up in the offering plate what they lack in worship?  Sacrifice normally means giving up something we would rather not.  In Paul's instructions to both husbands and wives, he strikes at what each probably least wants to sacrifice.  Husbands have to sacrifice self-interest.  Wives have to sacrifice self-rule.

Finally, and most importantly, redemption teaches that love is unconditional.  Paul reminds us that while we were enemies of God, the Father sent Jesus to the cross.  God's love for His people must be unconditional.  He could not love us in any other way.  There was nothing in us to love.  We were the unloveable, and in a sense, still are.  Unless God loves unconditionally, humanity is lost forever.  That He loves us, since He died for us, we must conclude that His love is unconditional.

As we define love according to redemption, we must step back and remember, that, like most words, the word "love" has a wide semantic domain.  "Love" can be used to describe a number of things beside the origin of love found in the character of God and describe in His work of redemption.  In the Bible, while "agape" normally appears as the term for "love," "philos" and its derivations also is used for "love".  We use the term "love" to describe our relationships with father, mother, pet, car, and hot dog.  Each relationship requires a different concept of love.

Most often, when the world uses the term "love," it means a feeling of attraction.  This appears in the sentence, "I love him/her."  In other uses, "love" means the absence of hate or animosity.  "All we need is love."  This unusual expression gives voice to the belief by the world that man's problems are solved by love.  What "love" is here is incredibly uncertain, other than the absence of hate.  Here love is not an affirmative ideal, but the absence of a negative concept.

It is not illegitimate for the Christian to use the term "love" in various ways.  It is a problem when we adopt those uses into our conception of love as the core of our duty.  We cannot allow these uses to infect our understanding of our relationships.

Jesus said something very demanding when questioned by a lawyer. "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.  This is the first and great commandment.  And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets." (Matt.22:37-40)  The divine character of love defines the whole duty of man.  The totality of the Ten Commandments can be summarized in loving God and loving our neighbor.  This means that all people have a relationship with God and their neighbor.  God requires us to have a self-less focus in both relationships.  God expects us to sacrifice for both relationships.

For our relationship with God, this concept is static and absolute.  Nothing will change our duties before Him.  For our duties to our neighbors, they will vary by relationship.  We do not have the same relationship to all people.  Some of our neighbors, live no where near us and our duties are relatively light until they come into proximity to us.  Remember that when question on the definition of neighbor, Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan,(Luke 10:29ff) reminding us that our neighbor may normally be far from us, but if near and in need, we have a duty to aid.  Some of our neighbors live across the street.  Some live in our homes.  Some worship with us.  Our relationships determine what our duty to love looks like, but the general duty remains.

I would regularly tell people, "love is always the wrong answer unless it is the right answer."  The reason I would make this absurd, circular, and redundant statement arose from our modern culture.  Love is the answer, the world tells us.  This love has no content as we have seen.  It generally means the absence of hate.  This concept has been used to corrupt the teaching of the Bible, to devalue sin, and to promote worldliness.  This idea of love fails.  God's love shown in Christ always wins.

As we endeavor to live Christian in an unchristian world, we must take this concept of love into our daily lives.  This principle of love will apply to many of the situations we will encounter in this world.  It must be the love of God, not another "love" that we use to guide us to live as unto the one who first loved us.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Justice

When I was in college, the students were often preoccupied with what most considered an important decision, the choosing of a "life-verse."  This choice required the solution to two questions, what verse describes my life, and what verse do I want to describe my life.  In retrospect, the pursuit of a "life-verse" seems crude and unbiblical.  Should any Christian hold one verse above the other or make a single verse the cornerstone of their Christian life?

Before my call to the ministry, I actually had a "life-verse," of sorts.  It was Micah 6:8.  "He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?"  The idea of doing justly, doing justice seemed to me an admirable goal, and one I pursued for quite a while.

This verse, along with many others, reveal God's interest in justice.  The concept of justice appears in the self-declaration of God's character in Exodus.  After the regrettable incident with the golden calf, Moses asks a bold thing of the Lord.  "I beseech thee, shew me thy glory." (Ex.33:18)  In the aftermath of the sin of Israel, to ask the Lord for such a blessing displays an incredible reliance on his relationship with God.  The Lord obliges with an incredible revelation found in chapter 34. "And the Lord passed by before him, and proclaimed, The Lord, The Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation." (Exodus 34:6-7)

God will by no means clear the guilty.  The guilty must make amends.  The nature of justice demands penalty to the guilty and reward to the righteous.  The demands of justice appear in the lex talonis, we know this concept by its description.  "And thine eye shall not pity; but life shall go for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot." (Deut.19:21)  This is God's demand for absolute parity.  The evil done or thought to be done is done again to the offender.  The good done or thought to be done is rewarded to the righteous.

The concept of parity is the essence of justice.  You receive what you deserve.  The absence of pity means that justice, pure justice does not take personal relationships or extraneous circumstances into account.  Justice does not consider the personal connection to the judge or the hardship to the offender in so far as it has no bearing on the offense.  In order to do justice, the analysis of what is just must remain impartial and determine the parity of what someone deserves.

Justice is simple.  The concept is easy.  What God is, does, and requires in principle isn't hard.  We may not like it, but the idea is not confusing.

If the foregoing is true, why do we find justice such a  difficult thing to obtain.  We all confess that we live in a very unjust world.  Economically, politically, socially, and legally people simply don't get what they deserve, or at least what we think they deserve.  Even the preacher of Ecclesiastes comments on this reality.  "There is an evil which I have seen under the sun, as an error which proceedeth from the ruler: folly is set in great dignity, and the rich sit in low place.  I have seen servants upon horses, and princes walking as servants upon the earth." (Eccl.10:5-7)  The foolish rule instead of the wise.  The servant rides while the master walks.    The world is turned upside down.

Why is justice so hard to obtain?  We can put some of our problem down to sin.  But there are elements to our own finitude that hinder the administration of absolute justice.

First, we are not omniscient.  Justice presupposes knowledge.  In order to administer justice, you must first know the truth.  We practice this in our legal system where the trial, the pursuit of the truth precedes the judgement.  The adjudicator searches for the truth in order to render a just verdict.  Our justice system uses a confrontational trial to facilitate the search for the truth.  Scholars still debate the success or failure of the confrontational system.  Nevertheless, we acknowledge that knowing the truth is necessary to administering justice.

The fact that we are not all-knowing is a heavy blow to human justice.  In the Bible, often the facts were derived by divine oracle.  The one who was all-knowing could divulge the hidden facts to man by oracle.  For instance, the fidelity of a woman accused of adultery was determined by a water trial. (Num.5)  That trial had no natural reason for ending one way or another.  God directed it to be done so that He might reveal the truth that no witness could have provided.

Without a divine administer of justice, man will always struggle with justice.  How can we know perfectly whether a person is guilty or innocent?  How can we know perfectly what parity would be in a given crime or circumstance?  Will the worker ever be perfectly recompensed for his labor?  Will society ever police itself perfectly?  Will the most qualified people fill governmental posts?  Can the electorate have perfect knowledge of the candidates?  Our lack of omniscience lowers our expectation of justice.

Another blow to human justice has arisen in our modern era.  We cannot achieve parity.  We cannot return eye for eye, tooth for tooth, wound for wound.  First, we revolt at the ides of eye for eye.  How many doctors would be alive if medical malpractice claims were resolved according to this concept of parity?  If you think we would do better if they were, I refer you to the previous point about our lack of omniscience.

Since we have backed away from the lex talonis, (for the worse in my opinion) we have created a problem.  We still want parity, but we added the complication of conversion.  In one of the few academy award decisions I agree with, John Houseman won Best Supporting Actor, the only Oscar for the movie, The Paper Chase, because he was the only good part of that movie.  In his opening discussion, he deals with the problem of conversion. In the case Hawkins v. McGee, a boy was burned by touching an electric wire.  A doctor, eager to try skin grafting, guaranteed to restore the hand.  The surgery left the boy with a scars and a hairy palm.  Kingsfield then asks what the damages should be, how much the doctor should pay.

Do you see the problem?  Parity under the lex talonis would demand that the doctor receive a hairy hand as well, potentially.  Society finds that kind of justice objectionable and nearly impossible to achieve.  Thus, some type of conversion must take place from that physical damage to monetary damage.  In criminal courts, we also convert physical damage to time, time in prison.  This conversion is at best imperfect and unsatisfying.

So, do we give up on justice?  Certainly not.  God requires of us justice, to do justly.  We are committed to deal with lack of knowledge and conversion to do the best we can before God, relying on His final justice to recompense where ours cannot.

Two final thoughts about justice as we think about living in an unchristian world.  We are called to consider what we as Christians owe people.  We often think of justice as reactionary, and so it often is.  However, the concept of doing justice is a proactive one.  We are do do justice, to do what is right for us to do toward others.  This forces us to remember the Lord's law, even summarized by Jesus, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." (Matt.22:39)  To do justice, we must pay what we owe to our neighbor according to God's commandment.

Finally, building on the previous point, doing justly requires forgiveness.  In Matthew 18, Jesus describes the duty of the Christian to forgive and restore.  This duty means that justice does not demand a parity that we often think necessary.  Let us consider this situation.  In modern days, parents use a concept of "time out" to discipline their children.  (N.B. Discipline is not always punitive justice.  Punitive justice means the punishment must fit the crime. Parity and retribution govern this type of justice.  Discipling aims, not at retributive justice, but in training and behavior modification.)  "Time out" permits the child to calm down, to consider their actions, and to decide what their actions should be.  It can be very useful for children.

Now let us take more mature relationships.  Often, we talk about people being "in the doghouse." By this we mean that someone has done something to offend us, has repented, but still remains outside full fellowship.  It is like we have put them in "time out."  But we are not responsible for discipline.  Christians are to forgive.  This behavior is not forgiveness and finds no support in the Bible.  It is not justice at all, but malicious vengeance.

The simplest example of this appears in David's dealing with his son Absolom.  After killing his half-brother, Absolom flees from the king's justice.  Unwilling chase his son, David lets him go.  Joab intervenes for the king's son to the king, and David allows Absolom to return to Jerusalem, but forbids him from seeing David's face.  Leaving to one side the lack of justice for a murderer, David puts his son in "time out".  Whether this be right or not for the father and son, king and subject, it is not forgiveness.  It is not just for the Christians.  Justice demands that we owe all who truly repent forgiveness.

Justice is simple in the abstract, simple in its mathematics, but also hidden in ignorance, complex in calculation, and difficult to live.  These challenges ought not cause us to give up, but strive the harder to live, if we would live Christian in an unchristian world.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Goodness

If one would examine the topic of God's goodness, one must begin with one of the most quoted passages written by C.S. Lewis.  In his children's book, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Lewis introduces the Christ figure Aslan through a discussion between the children and talking beavers.  As the beavers describe Aslan, the lion, both Susan and Lucy ask the same important question.  "Is he -- quite safe?"  "Then he isn't safe?"  Mr. Beaver responds, "Safe?  Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe.  But he's good."

To the average person, this explanation sound like a contradiction.  How can something be good and yet unsafe?  The dictionary defines "safe" as, "not likely to cause or lead to harm or injury; not involving danger or risk."   The same source defines "good" as "possessing or displaying moral virtue."  Here is where the modern conflict arises.  We identify "safe" as a moral virtue.  We like safe things.  We don't want anything that would cause harm.  We don't like risk.  We might engage in behavior that some consider risky, but only in denial of its risks, or denial that those risks could ever affect us.  Whether we engage in dangerous pursuits or not, we imagine ourselves to be safe.  No skydiver ever thinks that they will die on this jump.  No aviator thinks the plane will crash on this flight.  While adrenaline junkies understand the risks and take appropriate precautions, at the end, they think they engage in their dangerous pursuits safely.

Perhaps safety is not the moral virtue we think it to be.  Perhaps goodness requires a bit of risk, a hazard of harm.  In the Middle Ages, the concept of chivalry developed with one common theme, the mighty knight was good when he protected the weak.  Goodness didn't make the knight any less dangerous.  Rather it focused that danger against those who would harm the innocent.

We consider bravery and self-sacrifice as virtues, and they certainly require the presence of danger and harm.  What many miss in the conception of "good" is its linguistic antonym in "evil."  Bravery is good only because it fights against the evil.  The bravery of an evil man who fights against the good is not considered a virtue, but an aggravation of his evil.

Good and evil are at war and have been from nearly the beginning.  Even our narratives bear this truth out.  Every good story has this war at its heart.  The character of the protagonist battles an antagonist at some point.  While many dramatist try to play with the formula, the repeated structure continues because it speaks to our own experience.  We live in a reality where we see the struggle between good and evil.  And we want goodness to win.  We want evil to lose.

Mankind often prefers to ignore this war or redefine its parameters.  The world would prefer not to engage the antithesis that exists.  War is costly, bloody, dangerous, and deadly.  Military conflicts have not alway given the world a concept of one good side against one evil side.  This has cause in the present society a reluctance to engage in military struggles.  It has not stopped wars, for now they are fought with words and protests.  Those most against wars fight on in other ways deluding themselves that by them they are bringing mankind together.

The reason the world is forced to admit this struggle between good and evil still exists is due to the experience of opposition.  We think of good and evil in subjective and relative concepts.  We consider our position "good" and any who oppose us as "evil".  This simplistic view continues to confront us with the reality of the struggle, but often warps our definition of good and evil.  "Good" no longer has an absolute standard, but means what we prefer.  "Good" has lost its moral perfection to moral preference.  "Good" no longer is that is morally right, but what is morally preferable to someone: ourselves or society.

This illusion of the good fails to recognize the objective reality of goodness.  What was good now, was good millennia ago and will be good millennia future.  It cannot be otherwise.  For good to change, it must not have been moral perfection, for perfection cannot change due to the ravages of time.  Perfection lasts, else it is not perfection but merely superior or superlative, better than all the other alternatives.  Goodness and perfection are absolute conditions.  As an absolute condition, its quality remains static.

If the definition of the good remains static, how do we know the good?  The illusion of goodness reminds us that the knowledge of these attributes cannot come from some internal source.  Our opinion does not determine what goodness is.  The evidence of our own logic or experience may mislead us due to the corrupting power of sin.  Goodness must be revealed to us.

What reveals what is good to us?  The Bible reveals that the law of God reveals the good.  Goodness is defined by God as part of His nature.  The summation of the law is to be like God.  The law (goodness) then is not an arbitrary set of rules constructed to meet a capricious deity's preference.  It is the revelation of God's character, the good.  As man was made good (Gen.1:31), as man was made in God's image (Gen.1:26), it was man's destiny and responsibility to be good.  Man failed to live to the level of his nature and ability by the first sin of eating the forbidden fruit.  In doing so, he lost goodness and became evil.

People object to the binary division between good and evil.  They prefer gradations of good, hues of evil.  Goodness is not subjective, relative, or comparative.  It requires moral perfection.  It means moral behavior without one single flaw.  One sin ruins goodness.  One sin translates good to evil.  That sin of eating the forbidden fruits changed the relationship of man to God.  He who was a friend of God and enemy of evil, became a friend of the serpent and an enemy of God.

My former pastor regularly said that the goodness of the Lord was the most frightening aspect of God to man.  The fear comes from the antithesis that man must recognize within himself.  Within himself, and finds evil, not goodness.  The evil in man causes fear.  The almighty and sovereign God is not safe to evil man.  Can you image anything as terrifying as as being an enemy of God?  Remember, goodness must win.  Evil cannot prevail.  Man will perish before the goodness of the almighty God.  He can expect nothing but condemnation.

Unbelieving man claims to prove the unrighteousness of God by arrogant statements like, "If God is good and almighty, how could He allow evil in the world."  By evil, they do not mean the antithesis of goodness.  They mean some idea, practice, event, or person they find unacceptable.  This question ignores an even more troubling question.  If God is good and almighty, why is there any human still living?  Shouldn't we all have perished already?  The answer is, Yes.

God is not safe to sinful humanity for the very fact that He is good.  Men looking on with sinful, outward vision lack the ability to understand His ways or plans.  They willfully ignore the reality they face excusing their sin with redefined concepts of the good.  They must do so lest their conscience condemn their own selves.

As we go into the world, we must understand that the world functions with a completely different set of definitions for the "good" than the Bible reveals.  We cannot use the language of "good" without first defining "goodness."  Even ideas the Bible declares "good", the world redefines to allow sin.  Love is "good."  By this truth, the world justifies its addiction to sexual sin.  But sexual sin is not love, no matter how you feel.  Homosexuality, as one sexual sin among many, the cause celeb of the present day, is not love.  It is not good.

Identity is good.  We affirm this truth, but identity is not self-determined.  It is the whole self, not merely aspects of the self.  Gender does not give identity.  Humanity's identity comes from the Savior.  He who gave us life, by His resurrected life defines life and shows us who we are.

In Christ, we are free, but the murder of the unborn is not freedom.  With many of the concepts we study in this series, we need to take to heart and use the statement of Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride, "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

We cannot leave the concept of goodness without applying it to the way God deals with His people.  Earlier, I mentioned chivalry and its connection between goodness and danger.  The Lord is our Savior, our Champion, and our king.  The Shorter Catechism puts it well.  "Christ executeth the office of a king, in subduing us to himself, in ruling and defending us, and in restraining and conquering all his and our enemies."

If goodness is not safeness, if goodness involves danger, then let us consider this as we reflect on this statement.  "God does good to His people."  We often think of that statement in one direction.  We think of the good that God does for us as blessing.  God does good to us when He makes our lives better.  When the promotion comes through, when we get the bonus or raise, when the new baby is born, we pass the test, we win the game, we hear the applause, we graduate, we enjoy the vacation, we remember that God does good to His people.

That view is accurate, but incomplete.  God always does good to His people even in the struggles.  When we are fired, when the loved one dies, when we fail, when we hear boos, when the car breaks down, when the doctor makes that face, we need to remember that these also reflect the goodness of God to us.  God does nothing that does not grow and encourage His people.  God allows nothing into our lives that is not ultimately good.  That does not deny the present evil of those things.  Death, failure, brokenness, sin, sickness, and pain result from sin and reflect the evil in us and in the world.

If we are to live Christian in an unchristian world, we must understand goodness.  We must understand that the standard of the world will not determine what is good.  The character of God is the source of all goodness.  We are called to reveal the good to the world.  We are called to live good.  We are called to accept the events of life as reflective of the goodness of God, even in the most painful events.  Only by this faithfully applying this biblical principle will we be able to live as we ought.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Truth

John 18 records the interview between Jesus and Pilate.  At the close of that interview, Pilate asks a rhetorical question, one that has often led to his being an object of ridicule.  It appears in verse 38, "What is truth?"  We are tempted to ridicule Pilate for failing to understand such as critical concept.  Pilate lived in a day and age that looked quite different from our own.  He lived in the midst of a set reality that governed the lives of the people.  Filled with competing deities, the reality posed what to Pilate seemed unanswerable questions.  His question expressed his doubt that knowledge of the truth could ever exist in the maddening cacophony of his day.

Pilate's question echoes through the centuries to our own day.  Unlike his conundrum, we face the abject denial of the possibility that man can know reality.  The question has even seemed irrelevant as "truth" no longer stand alone but needs modifiers to clarify the question.  We no longer speak of truth, but subject, objective, or absolute truths.  Truth has lost its universal scope in favor of democratized flavors.  Your truth is merely what you believe to be the case, unavailable for examination against any other standard than the individual's belief.

This pernicious worldview has even invaded the church.  We often are tempted, even in our reviews of competing worldviews to assert that Christianity is the superior belief system.  We dare not assert that it is true lest we confuse or offend those outside the sanctuary.  Even those within the church appear to ask, "What is truth?"

Let us stop a moment.  Try to define truth.  How would you answer the question, "What is truth?"  Don't tell me things that are true, but define truth.  What makes something true instead of false.  For most of us, this simple task baffles our vocabulary, and yet we constantly use this word to divide one statement from another, the truth from the false.

In its most basic form, "truth" a description of reality that corresponds to reality.  It is an accurate statement of what is, was, or will be.  The statement, "The sun rose this morning," is only as true as whether that even actually occurred.  Other statements require more careful analysis to determine truth, but in the end, the correspondence to reality, to what is, was, or will be, determines truth.

When we speak of truth as a part of God's nature, we make two assertions about the relationship between God and the truth.  First, we understand that God plays a role in the comprehension of truth.  When we looked at the issue of sola scriptura, we considered the manner in which God reveals to man making knowledge of reality reliable.  Part of that concept we assumed but didn't really delve into, was the idea that the revelation of God was true.  God spoke in two ways that ground man's knowledge of reality.  He spoke in creation, and He spoke in revelation, both general and special.  In creation, we cannot but conclude that He spoke truly.  God spoke and formed reality.  He spoke and what He spoke became part of creation.  To assert that that speaking was anything other than truth is illogical and irrational. (FYI: Illogical truth is nonexistent.  As the one fundamental axiom of logic is identity, "A is A," the correspondence of truth rests on this logical axiom.  While illogical truth may not exist, inexplicable truth probably does exist.  The duality of light as wave and particle provides sufficient evidence to support the proposition that unexplained truth exists.  We can speak truly about something without being able to explain it perfectly.)

God also spoke in revelation.  This encompasses the sense experience of creation and the special revelation recorded for us in the Bible.  Did God speak truly in this revelation?  In one sense, the question pointlessly suggests something that we could never verify.  How could you prove the truth or falsity of the reality of things limited as we are to sense experiences?  In the philosophy of science, many are intrigued by the "anthropic principle."  The best way to understand this concept is to first grapple with the multiverse concept.  Some posit an infinite number of universes of which ours is only one.  The anthropic principle argues that the reason we only perceive the present universe is that life tends to have a self focus.  We explain the universe only in a way sentient human life could understand it.  Some have said that the universe itself has this carbon prejudice.  Critics argue that this theory has no means by which to disprove the theory and must therefore fail.  The point works here also.  How could man ever verify or falsify the universe presented to him?

We must then fall upon a criteria other than scientific observation to verify the truth of God's revelation.  This leads us to relational consideration and the reliability of revelation.  We could begin with a pragmatic consideration.  Does general revelation work?  Can you operate in this world reliably well according to sense experience?  Most of us would answer yes.  Hallucinatory delusions not withstanding, we are able to rely on our senses to skillfully manage life in this apparent reality.  Turning to scripture, the history contained within has been proved to be generally reliable as well.  Even the moral precepts have guided humanity for most of recorded history.  It follows that God's revelation should be accepted as generally reliable.  We fail to identify major gaps in the correspondence between God's revelation and reality as presented.

When considered with the sole rational connection between our minds and reality being found in the being and work of God, we are compelled to consider the probability that truth only rests in the revelation of God.  Taken to a logical conclusion, all truth is God's truth.  When we say, "The sun rose in the morning," that truth is only a copy of the revealed truth that comes from God.  Psalm 19 says the following:

The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork.  Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge.  There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard.  Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun, which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoiceth as a strong man to run a race.  His going forth is from the end of the heaven, and his circuit unto the ends of it: and there is nothing hid from the heat thereof.

Notice in this description how the sun is included in its rising and setting as a revelation or declaration of the glory of God.  This truth God speaks every day to mankind, to those who have ears to hear it.  Whether from general or special revelation, all truth comes from God.

The second consequence of God's truth, and generally more relevant to the text of scripture, is His faithfulness to His promises.  You will remember that I said that truth is correspondence with reality, with that which is, was, or will be.  That last element has been attacked in recent Christian theology.  A movement often characterized as "open theism" asserts that the future is not a proper object of reality.  It argues that the future is in flux and not fixed in any way.  They make this rationale to enable the so-called freedom of man and God to make meaningful choices.  The error with this concept is that it generally makes God's promises and prophesies more aspirational that truthful.  It is as if God intends to do what He says He will do, but conditions must eventuate so that they may.  He cannot declare definitively what will occur, the way it will occur in the future without violating the ground of "open theism." (Open theism also places God within the rive of time, an idea we have already rejected.)

We reject such a view of the future.  God has declared the end from the beginning. (Isa.46:10)  He can speak truly of the future, because He knows it as surely as the present as a reality He has established.  This is the present value of the truth of God.  We can rest in the promises made to God's people that He will not, cannot fail to keep them.  They contain the same nature of truth that we see in the statement, "The sun rose this morning."

You may be asking yourself in light of so many connections to our foundational discussion of sola scriptura, why we have considered this in the principle portion of our study.  It is an important question.  As a foundation, it served to solidify our commitment to applying scripture to our interactions with the unchristian world.  As a principle, we learn that we are to pursue truth in those interactions with the world.  We are called to be those who tell the truth, who value the truth, and promote the truth wherever it is found.

This often becomes harder than it initially appears.  Scripture presents one person as the prime enemy of the truth, Satan.  He is called the father of lies. (John 8:44)  As the prime enemy of the truth, we ought to learn how that enemy assaults the truth.  We have two examples in scripture of the enemy's deception.  The first is in the garden against Adam and Eve. (Gen. 3)  The second was against the second Adam, Jesus, when He lived in the wilderness for forty days. (Matt.4:1-11; Lu.4:1-13)  In both assaults agains the truth, Satan rarely makes a frontal attack, but mixes truth with lies.  From this, we learn the serious danger in mixed truth.

When we come to interacting with the unchristian world, we must understand that they are not devoid of truth.  The general revelation of God indeed descends upon them, and by common grace, many are able to use that truth to beneficial ends.  However, most of the time, that truth they often speak is mixed with lies from the evil one.  It will be our job of discernment to extract the truth from the lie.

Some have asserted that due to this mixing of truth and error, Christians should not interact with unbelieving human endeavor.  This monastic concept, even if it could be consistently followed, seems contradictory to the Bible's message that the church is to be salt and light in the world and not a retreat from it.  Even wicked government has its advantage to the church that it is not anarchy.

We must then speak the truth, find the truth, and promote the truth.  As Paul writes in Philippians 4, "Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things."  The way we engage in this task will vary according to the specifics we encounter in the world.  Nevertheless, we must go into our application of discernment with the conviction that truth is knowable, from God, and worth promoting to others.