Who do you say I am?

In The Truth Project’s lesson on theology, several “men on the street” were asked the question, who is God? When I heard one of the responses, I laughed because it sounded ridiculously conceited. What hubris! To paraphrase: Who’s God? I am. I am a tattoo artist. I create. I’ve done very well for myself. The tattoo artist is not alone in thinking he is a “little g” god. But who is God with a big G? And if you know the answer, what do you do with it?

Who is God?

Although we cannot fully know God, a long list of attributes have been used to describe his nature – holiness, graciousness, omnipotence, etc. The authors of The Westminster Confession of Faith (1646) wrote a lengthy sentence about God’s nature with scriptural sources for each attribute.

There is but one only living and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions, immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute, working all things according to the counsel of his own immutable and most righteous will, for his own glory, most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; the rewarder of them that diligently seek him; and withal most just and terrible in his judgments; hating all sin; and who will by no means clear the guilty.

The Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter II, Of God and of the Holy Trinity

The words “without body, parts or passions” gave me pause. What did the writers of the confession mean when they said God is without passions? My mind interprets “without passions” as emotionless, which isn’t consistent with my view of God. The God I know loves deeply. According to William Tate, as published in Reformed Perspectives Magazine, to affirm that God is without passions means that God is not moved or controlled by something else in the way that humans are controlled by our emotions and passions.

The many names of God in the Bible – Abba, Father, El Shaddai, etc. – reveal a lot about his nature. Dr. Tackett spoke at length about the name El Qanna, Jealous God. Tackett struggled to understand how jealousy is consistent with a God who is without sin. But God is described as a jealous God because he wants to preserve the covenant relationship he has with his people.

God is my Father, Rock, Redeemer and Shepherd. He disciplines me like a father. He is strong and dependable, a firm foundation. He saves me and leads me. But one of my favorite names for God is I Am because it so simply affirms that he always was and always will be. He is immutable.

I AM: (Exodus 3:14) – This name for God, given by Him to Moses, is a form of the Hebrew “to be.” It expresses His self-existence and the unchangeableness of His nature. He is the “eternal present,” because He always was and always will be. Because He is outside time, He is always in the present. He does not change or change His mind. He is immutable.

From Compelling Truth: What are the names of God?

Knowing God

A central premise of The Truth Project’s lesson on Theology is that there is an important connection between knowing God and receiving eternal life. Eternal life is mentioned several times in the New Testament, including the familiar John 3:16, which says that whoever believes in the Son will have eternal life. Dr. Tackett pointed out the prayer in John 17:1-3, in which Jesus said, “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”

The key to receiving eternal life is knowing the one true God. You can’t know God unless you have a personal, intimate relationship with him. As Dr. Tackett says, God revealed himself to us in his Word. The Bible is God’s Word but God’s will was made clear when the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14).

Dr. Tackett warned about the people who have attacked God’s Word throughout history. I am not concerned about people who question the veracity of the scriptures. I do, however, feel compelled to repeat the warning that Jesus gave in Matthew 7. Not everyone who calls out to Jesus, Lord, Lord (as if they know him) will enter the kingdom of heaven, only those who show that they understand the Word of God by doing God’s will. Jesus will tell the false disciples, ‘Get away from me. I never knew you.’

Jesus often spoke in thought-provoking parables that were incomprehensible to those with hardened hearts. When asked why, he said:

In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:

You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
   you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.

For this people’s heart has become calloused;
    they hardly hear with their ears,
    and they have closed their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
    hear with their ears,
    understand with their hearts
and turn, and I would heal them

Matthew 13: 14-15

Through Jesus, I see the grace of God. I see how much God cares for the least among us. I understand with my heart.

Who do you say I am?

Focus on the Family posed the question, who is God? Jesus asked the question, who do you say I am? Do you see that God loved the world so much that he sent his only Son to save us? Do you grasp how wide and long and high and deep the love of Christ is? Do you see how much the rest of the world needs to know God too?

When asked the question, who is God, the tattoo artist in The Truth Project video facetiously responded that he is. I found a video about Flash on Focus on the Family’s website. As I listened to him talk, I saw the pain behind the conceit. Many people reject God because the world is dark and cruel and the “churchy” people they see are not genuine. One bright memory in Flash’s childhood was a woman from church named Millie. She was the real deal. She was a light in the darkness.

As I reflected on this lesson on Theology, I am convinced that knowing God is not merely an intellectual exercise. It is much more than knowing his many names. It is much more than being able to describe his mysterious attributes. It is about knowing and loving him with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength. It’s understanding that people like Flash won’t know the love of God unless you show them who He is.

Tell the truth: who is man?

The third lesson of Focus on the Family’s Truth Project is Anthropology: Who is Man? Our culture’s assumptions about mankind conflict with the Christian worldview in significant ways: beliefs about the essence of man, his moral state, and the purpose of his existence. Is man purely the product of mindless forces? Is man basically good? Is our purpose for existence nothing more than self-fulfillment or do we have a higher purpose?

Is man merely a physical being or both flesh and spirit?

The first chapter of Genesis say that God created the heavens and the earth; before the earth was formed, the Spirit of God hovered over the waters. So from the earliest scriptures, God is described as a creative being with a Spirit. According to Genesis 1:27, “God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness…” If God has a Spirit and we were created in his image, it follows that humans are more than a physical being.

Spirit is defined as “the nonphysical part of a person which is the seat of emotions and character; the soul.” Scientists study the brain to find physical or chemical explanations for emotional or even spiritual experiences. And while scientific knowledge is useful, it doesn’t disprove what intuition and experience tell us is true. Many of us have a strong sense that there is a powerful life force within us that is independent of our physical bodies.

Is man inherently good?

In the video lesson, Dr. Tackett asked one of his students: do you do what you want to do? I don’t think the student understood what Dr. Tackett had in mind because he responded yes. The apostle Paul wrote, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” Paul realized that the sin living in him kept him from doing the good that he desired to do. (See Romans 7:15-25).

I don’t do what I want to do. I want to be good. I want to be in control of my emotions. I know that I shouldn’t get angry when things don’t go my way. But even though I want to be patient and calm under pressure, evil is right there with me making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. No matter how good my intentions are, I am a slave to my impulses.

Christians believe that when God created the first man and woman, they were good. Sin entered the perfect world God created when man disobeyed God’s command to not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Man still bears the image of God within his being but he also has a sin-prone nature. As a result of “the fall,” our sinful nature is in constant conflict with the Spirit of God. As Tackett says, there is a “conflict between humanity as it was meant to be and what it has actually become as a result of sin.”

What does our culture say about our moral state? Dr. Tackett quoted psychologist Carl Rogers, who said, “I do not find that evil is inherent in human nature.” If people are not inherently sinful, where does the sin come from? Why do good people do bad things? Secular psychology places the blame on cultural influences. But as Rollo May asked, who makes up the culture if not people like us? And how can a culture become evil if there is no inherent tendency towards evil within each of us?

What do we need to be fulfilled as human beings? What gives our lives purpose?

Dr. Tackett says that the notion “that man is basically good and that his greatest need is to self-actualize and get in touch with his inner desires” is a “pernicious lie.” We certainly deceive ourselves about our sinfulness. We focus on outward appearances of goodness. We compare ourselves to others and conclude that we are not as bad as they are even though other people cannot see the sins hidden in our own hearts.

What is our greatest need? Dr. Tackett spoke dismissively about Maslow’s theory of the hierarchy of human needs. According to Maslow, once our lower level physiological needs are met, we ultimately seek self-esteem and self-actualization. Self-actualization can be defined as self-fulfillment or reaching one’s personal potential. Maslow’s original five level model has since been expanded to include cognitive and aesthetic needs and a level even higher than self-actualization – transcendence.

I am not as dismissive of Maslow’s ideas as Dr. Tackett. I don’t see the hierarchy of needs as necessarily self-centered. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be your best and reach your potential. To me the pernicious lie is the objectivism philosophy expressed by Ayn Rand. She said that “man exists for his own sake, that the pursuit of his own happiness is his highest moral purpose, that he must not sacrifice himself to others, nor sacrifice others to himself.”

How does this contrast with the Christian view? Christians believe that we exist because God created us. Christian’s believe that what humans need is not self-fulfillment but grace, redemption, and spiritual transformation. Christians believe that our ultimate purpose is to love God with our whole being and to love others as we love ourselves. Christians believe in living sacrificially, in serving others and putting the needs of others before your own. The reality is that we have a moral responsibility to look out for the interests of others.

The human dilemma

Thinking about human nature reminds me of the essay written by Rabbi Soloveitchik, The Lonely Man of Faith. He pointed out something I had never noticed before about the story of creation in the bible. In the first chapter of Genesis, it says that God created both male and female at the same time. He told them to be fruitful and fill the earth and to subdue it and to rule over every living creature on earth. In the second chapter, the story is very different. In this version, God created man from the dust of the ground and breathed life into him. He put man in the Garden of Eden to work and take care of it but prohibited him from eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Then God decided it wasn’t good for man to be alone so he created woman from man’s rib to be a helper for him.

The rabbi believed that the reason there were two versions of mankind’s creation is that there are two natures in man. Each nature has its own needs and purpose for being. The personality described in Genesis I, Adam I, strives to control his environment. He is achievement-oriented and has a practical, utilitarian approach to life. He is on a narcissistic quest for human dignity – to feel important. In contrast, Adam II yearns for a relationship with his Creator. He is humble and not self-centered. He is on a quest for redemption and so he strives to control the self and its selfish impulses.

Personally, I do not think it is truthful to look down at our culture from a religious point of view. Every culture is flawed because mankind has always been flawed. Many people who are outwardly religious have never honestly confronted their own need for redemption.

However, pragmatic modern man – whether secular or religious – works only with categories of the intellect, not realizing their limited purview. He adopts religion to the extent that he deems it as being useful and comprehensible to him. His is a religion of convenience, not commitment; it is geared to suit his own needs, not to serve God’s will. He does not comprehend the meaning of total devotion and does not sense the need for redemption, which constitute the essence of faith. The danger, then, is not just that secularists have ceased to understand the man of faith; it is that adherents of religion have ceased to understand themselves and their commitment.

Reuben Ziegler, an Introduction to The Lonely Man of Faith

The truth is, God designed man as a complex physical and spiritual being and he created a world in which we are in constant conflict with our human nature. Man often suppresses or ignores the Adam II part of his nature. He denies that God exists. He denies his need for transformation. For those of us who do pursue the quest for a relationship with God, we must honestly face the ugly reality of our own brokenness. We must confront the truth about who we really are and who God meant for us to be.

Truth: Philosophy and Ethics

I am studying Focus on the Family’s “The Truth Project” this year. The topic of the second lesson is Philosophy and Ethics. The lesson guide states that “there is a formal and vital connection between our ideas about the nature of the world (philosophy) and our understanding of right and wrong behavior (ethics).” What happens to this connection when you exclude God from your search for knowledge and wisdom? How can you really understand God’s truth if you conform yourself to the ways of the world?

Dr. Del Tackett says that philosophy is the love of wisdom. Dr. R.C. Sproul defines philosophy as “a scientific quest to discover ultimate reality.” The website, The Basics of Philosophy, lists many other definitions of philosophy including “the study of knowledge” and “thinking about thinking.” Philosophy is a broad subject that includes thinking about the nature of existence and reality and the search for knowledge and truth.

Because truth is based on reality, the quest to discover ultimate reality should be aligned with the quest to discover ultimate truth. Dr. Tackett notes that contemporary culture has excluded God from the search for ultimate reality. Many people only believe in what can be perceived with the senses. As an example, Tackett quotes Carl Sagan:

The Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be. Our feeblest contemplations of the Cosmos stir us — there is a tingling in the spine, a catch in the voice, a faint sensation of a distant memory, as if we were falling from a great height. We know we are approaching the greatest of mysteries.

Carl Sagan

Tackett calls Sagan’s philosophy the “cosmic cube.” It’s the belief that the material world is all that there is, that nothing exists outside the box. And yet human beings long for something beyond the material. We long for a higher meaning and purpose. We sense that we are not just physical beings.

Tackett points out that many people accept the words of people like Sagan because they use powerful and deceptive “assumptive language.” If you don’t critically examine the assumptions, they may sound plausible. He makes a good point. I have long noticed that when explaining human conduct, people claim, without proof, that evolution explains our behavior. For example, they would explain my husband’s inability to find something in the kitchen cabinet and his concurrent ability to spot a deer far away with evolutionary psychology. 

Tackett reminds us that there are scriptural warnings about being taken captive or sucked in by hollow and deceptive philosophy.

See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces[a of this world rather than on Christ.

Colossians 2:8 (NIV)

Dr. Tackett didn’t say much about ethics but he explained the difference between morality (the rightness or wrongness of conduct; that which is) and ethics (principles of conduct; that which ought to be).

I have taken ethics courses but I have never formally studied philosophy. So how do I connect philosophy and ethics? How are my ideas about ultimate reality connected to my beliefs about right and wrong and how humans ought to behave? Why do I believe God exists? How do I defend my faith in an age of profound skepticism?

Those of us who believe in God believe that he is inside the box and outside the box. He’s everywhere. We can’t see him with our limited human senses but we see physical evidence of him in the wonders of creation.

C.S. Lewis said that if there is a controlling power outside our universe, it could show itself as one of the observable facts, as an influence to behave a certain way. He said that if this power behind moral law is interested in morally right behavior, then it follows that it would not approve of wrong behavior. I think it also follows that this higher power would want us to know what it means to be upright and moral and he would want us to live together in peace. And what better way could he show us the way the world ought to be than to come down to us like a Son of Man?

We have a sense that the world is not the way it ought to be. We have a sense that we are very flawed and yet very great. We have a longing for love and beauty that nothing in this world can fulfill.  We have a deep need to know meaning and purpose. Which worldview best accounts for these things?

Timothy Keller, The Reason for God.

The Nightmare of Imperious

I’ve taken the liberty of treating the adjective imperious as if it were a noun because for some reason it reminded me of the word Aquarius. That brought to mind the Age of Aquarius song. Imperious means assuming power or authority without justification, which reminded me of you-know-who.

When a reality star acquires power
‘Cause people wanted a savior
Greed guides their new oppressor
And his rage fuels vile behavior
This is the Nightmare of Imperious
The Nightmare of Imperious
Imperious
Imperious

Division and discord abounding
Hostility and fear resounding
Bald-faced lies and aspersions
Malignant narcissist delusions
The audacious authoritarian rises
And the whole world he surprises
Imperious
Imperious

Let the truth win, let the truth win, let sanity win
Let the truth win, let the truth win, let sanity win
Let the truth win, let the truth win, let sanity win

Oh, it’s let Mueller time, c’mon
Now all who love truth sing along
Truth and justice will march on
Speak truth to power and watch truth march on
When you’re discouraged, let truth march on
We’ll wake from this bad dream and truth’ll march on
And when you feel like you’ve been lied to
When the arc of the moral universe seems too long
Just remember it bends to justice, and let the truth march on

****

Daily word prompt: imperious

https://onedailyprompt.wordpress.com/2018/12/08/your-daily-word-prompt-imperious-December-8-2018/

In Defense of Truth

Five years ago, I wrote an essay In Defense of Truth. I decided to revisit and update it a bit in preparation for my blog series, Testify to the Truth.

One of my nephews once wrote that Buddhism “teachings are far more modern and applicable to life than any other religion” and that it isn’t fair to have to choose a religion “because most religions are fragments of stories and ideas passed down from other cultures anyway.” I did not comment on his statements for a couple of reasons. One, I didn’t have a defense of my own religious beliefs ready. Two, I tend to worry too much about offending when I should have the courage to stand in my truth.

Relative Truth

My nephew’s thinking reflects the ideas of Postmodernism, a philosophy based on the idea that truth is subjective, a matter of personal preference or point of view. Postmodernists believe that there is no objective reality. They believe that our sense of morality is shaped by our culture, thus the casual dismissal of Biblical teachings passed down for thousands of years.

The Postmodern religious philosophy trivializes the distinctions between religions. Choosing a religion is not like choosing a flavor of ice cream. Jesus Christ is very different from Buddha, Joseph Smith, L. Ron Hubbard, Mohamed, and the leader of every other religion.

To the postmodernist, the individual defines his or her reality. This a dangerous way to think. Not everything is a matter of personal interpretation. It is important to be able to discern what is real and true based on objective fact.

Objective Truth

What is truth? If a statement is true, it conforms to fact or reality. Because truth is based on facts, evidence and reality, it is objective. It is not dependent on personal feelings and opinions. Truth exists outside the self; it is independent of the human mind. 

Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.

John Adams

We can resist facing the truth. We can deny the truth. We can suppress the truth. We can hide the truth. We can bend and distort the truth. But truth is immutable. We cannot change facts to suit our own desires. 

Objective truth matters. Truth holds humanity accountable to facts, to reality, to the consequences of our words and our actions.

Trust

Not all truths are knowable with the same degree of certainty and not all truths are provable. Sometimes a personal relationship is enough to give you confidence that what someone tells you is true. You believe what they say even it you can’t prove it to be true. This is the trust I have in my friend Jesus.

That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet this is no cause for shame, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.

2 Timothy 1:12 (NIV)

I know that the teachings of Jesus Christ are right and true because I’ve tested and tried them. Love your neighbor as yourself. Be merciful. Forgive. Focus on your own sins and let God be the judge of others. Don’t be a hypocrite.

Jesus made extraordinary claims about himself that I cannot prove. He said “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” He claimed to be able to forgive sins and promised everlasting life to those who believed in Him. He equated himself with God yet lived humbly as a servant.

Prophets predicted the life and death of the Messiah. I take as “gospel truth” the testimonies of his life and resurrection from those who were there even though I can not prove the veracity of their accounts. Yes, the stories were written and passed down long ago, but truth stands the test of time.

The Law of Noncontradiction

Aristotle’s law of noncontradiction is a principle used in logic that means that a statement cannot be both true and not true at the same time in the same context. Truth cannot contradict itself.

C.S. Lewis and others have made the “trilemma” argument that Jesus was either a liar, lunatic, or the Lord.  Jesus was either telling the truth when he said he was the son of God or he was a liar or he was insane. 

Jesus could not be the good, moral teacher he was shown to be and at the same time be the greatest conman of all time. He spoke this truth: A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. 

Truth is on trial

When Jesus stood trial before Pilate, he said “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

Truth is on trial, standing firmly against the dark side of deception. It may not seem fair to have to choose which side you are on but you do have to choose.  If you choose to stand on the side of truth, be prepared to stand your ground with the full armor of God. 

Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Ephesians 6:13-17 (NIV)