The Good, the Bad, and the Nothing In-Between

Every society since the enlightenment has entertained the notion that a utopia will follow its socio-political progress. Once the shackles of antiquated thinking have been removed, people will be free to progress into new heights of peace and prosperity. America is a unique picture of this ideal; our founders thought that allowing free people to be free would produce a just society. Though they did know, as John Adams said, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other,” they believed that the American people were generally good people, and that, as such, they would flourish. More or less, they were right. Though they were acquainted with enlightenment notions of human autonomy (without relying on God), they generally understood that objective morality grounds people, and grounded people produce a stable society. Our society has typically been stable and just (relatively speaking). 

Today, our moral bedrock has been a bit rocky. Americans are more divided than ever on what is right and wrong (with the exception being slavery during the civil war). It has become difficult to point to an objective standard, like the Bible, in order to make substantive claims about good and evil. Despite this lack of a moral bedrock, ‘good’ and ‘evil’ are in use at rates that are reaching those of the civil war.

In our current cultural moment, systemic racism and LGBTQ+ issues are debated using these terms (‘good’ and ‘evil’) to classify certain approaches. If a person is against the desires of the LGBTQ+ community (like, for example, preventing religious institutions from only hiring people who agree with Biblical sexuality) they are often labeled ‘bigoted’ or even ‘evil.’ Not surprisingly, the more recent debates about racism and systemic oppression of certain groups have followed this trend. To question systemic racism is often attributed to willful ignorance, or plain racism. To discuss the moral character of the oppressed is to be a blame shifter, and therefore, ‘racist’ or ‘evil’. On the other hand, to admit that America’s sins of racism are still to be purged from its midst, is to give into the ‘narrative’, to be ‘gullible’, or to, ironically, be guilty of ‘racism’. Essentially, any dissent from a particular group’s stance on current events all but guarantees that the group being questioned will respond by labeling the questioner as evil, to one degree or another.

Since our moral bedrock has been abandoned for the floating island of personal opinion and political agenda, we are free to label those who dissent from our opinion as ‘evil’. Since we no longer need the Bible to define good and evil, we can define those who have questions about systemic racism, for example, as ‘evil’. Those who disagree are not simply misinformed, or interlocutors, or even ignorant, they are straight up evil. Like Hitler evil. 

This harsh labeling is exacerbated by our tendency to lump people into categories (ironically, this is what racists do). Americans tend to see things in black and white. One side must be to the good side, and the other the bad side. We generally don’t have a category for ‘mostly good, but with some issues,’ etc. This is most plainly seen in the President. By the account of a low-performing 3rd grader, the President has some serious foibles. But, his supporters have been known to compare him (or his treatment by his opponents) to Jesus. On the other hand, he does have some redeeming qualities (or, incontrovertibly for Christians, policies). But his opponents find it all but impossible to commend anything he does – even if it is something they would have done! We are generally unable to see people and situations with nuance. Rather, we prefer to paint with broad strokes and present one side as ‘black’ and the other as ‘white.’ Grey isn’t on the palette. 

So, to summarize at this point, we have a pliable definitions of good and evil which can be applied essentially wherever we want, and when we apply those monikers, they are done holistically. That is, we can label any position ‘evil’ and when we do so, it is not just the position, but the person who holds it, who is ‘evil’. 

Therefore, when Americans consider their own guilt we usually see it in these terms of black and white. One side, or person, must be the guilty one, and the other side is, by extension, the innocent one. The easiest way (if not the only way) to placate a guilty conscience then, is to point the finger. If we can locate guilt in the person who disagrees with us, we think that we are therefore innocent. If they are ‘evil,’ I must be ‘good.’ As our society considers what is going on in the world today, it is with a guilty conscience and a big brush that it paints. The brush is moved furiously in jet-black tones. The darker the picture that emerges at the end of the brush, the lighter the conscience of the painter. If that side is evil, my side must be good. The more I feel guilty, the louder I condemn. 

We start out by considering the cultural issues, but the inescapable guilt that we all have for being sinners in the hands of an angry God leads us to vent this guilt as rage for others. There should be, therefore, no surprise at the rage we see in the world today. People feel incredibly guilty and they vent those frustrations upon others who they deem to be the real culprits. In doing this, they psychologically and imaginarily transpose their guilt upon someone else. The social media rage and rioting is just simple catharsis. The guilt for breaking God’s laws feels diminished when one is raging against, what they deem to be, ‘evil.’ This psychological trick makes us think that the guilt we feel must be untrustworthy. We say to ourselves, “How could I be guilty if I’m so mad at this racist? My anger toward the racist must mean I’m innocent.” The guilt then, gets hastily relabeled as ‘empathy,’ or ‘a desire to help.’ We think that the feeling inside us that leads to the rage must be a feeling of care for other human beings. This, however, cannot be true, because caring for human beings cannot be expressed by harming other human beings. If we really had empathy for all human beings, we would pity the person we label as ‘racist’ or ‘ignorant’ and do whatever we could to help him or her out of their ignorance. However, we are almost happy when we get to slap that label on people. This is not empathy. 

You might be surprised to hear me say that I think this paradigm is actually fundamentally correct. I do not have a problem in painting all people into either good or bad categories. The problem isn’t with the paradigm, it’s with the application. It is indeed possible to accurately categorize all people into one of these two boxes (i.e. ‘good’ and ‘evil’) and there is a much easier way to do it. We do not need to evaluate a person’s social media platform, their personal history, their voting record, or their stance on a particular issues. Rather, we simply need to inquire whether the person has ever sinned. Once we make that assessment, we can safely place them into the category of ‘evil.’ Of course, every person has sinned and therefore every person should be placed in that category. What about the other category? The usefulness of categories is only seen if there are more than one; they are designed to distinguish one thing from another. In our case, there is someone to put in the category of good—Jesus Christ. He is the only human being who was ever good. We are all not-good. 

If we return to the objective standard of the Bible, we will recognize that we are all sinners before God, and the only way to remove the guilt for sin is to trust in the only human who has ever been in the ‘good’ category His whole life. When that guilt has been removed, we will then be free to evaluate current events without assuming, like the world does, that our position is perfect, and the other position is evil. Rather, we will see that we remain sinners and our perspectives are prone to be faulty. This enables us to discuss current events with humility. This will help us to better evaluate opposing opinions and notice the goodness in them, where and when it is present. When we are freed from the desire to paint all opposing opinion as ‘evil,’ we are enabled to locate the good things within those dissenting opinions. Christians, therefore, should be able to engage with those who disagree with them “in gentleness and respect” because they know that the removal of their guilt isn’t dependent upon that conversation. 

If you stay up all night thinking about how to win an argument about systemic racism with someone on social media, you’re not concerned with the issue, but with winning the argument. If you were concerned about the issue, you’d be doing something about it, rather than arguing with someone who is not going to help you. You’d be locking arms with those who agree and getting to work on solving the problem. If you’re sitting in a dark room calling someone ‘evil’ on Twitter, you’re just trying to push down the guilt you feel in your own heart. Of course, there is a place for dialogue and debate, but it’s easy to debate for its own sake, and not in order to change things. When we love to slander people, it’s not debate, but sinful catharsis.

Carried Along by the Love of God

The battlefield gets its name because we instinctually believe that warfare should be reserved to a certain place. No one wants to see warfare spread. We all want it confined. Unfortunately, the battle often comes home, and it is between the walls where we are supposed to feel at peace. In warfare, there are tools of the trade. There are weapons to hurt the enemy in order to subdue him and defenses to stop his assault when attacks don’t work. In the home, words are the weapons, and door slamming is the defense. War is an extension of the sin in human hearts. So, it doesn’t stay “out there” because it’s always “in here.”

In the fringes of society are those who lash out in anger and seek to hurt their domestic enemies. This is generally condemned, but with much understanding (even silently accepting) sympathy. Closer to the center, are those who cut all ties and “remove toxicity” from their lives by trimming family members like malignant tumors. This is the golden standard of self-actualizing, independent maturity. This is the hero who is the captain of his own soul—the man who can “peaceably” reject every opportunity for conflict by deleting his opponents. He has let loose his digital life into the world. He see what and who he wants, when and how he wishes. If you disagree with him (no matter what the issue is—relationships, politics, religion, a simple argument) he will stoically resist your initiation for adult dialogue and simply remove you from his reality. This is because he has bought a two-fold lie. 1) Humans are incapable of disagreeing on important (or emotional) topics without devolving into warfare and 2) since he cannot change other people, relationship with those that disagree is pointless.

A Christian must go about this warfare in a different way than the world would. Rather than shielding himself with deletion, he allows his enemies to encircle him, and he relies upon the Lord to be his shield. Like Christ sleeping in the storm-tossed boat, he trusts in the tempest. How? By looking through the eyes of anger and into the Eyes of love. This is profoundly difficult in the home when those closest to us are our enemies. They have the weapons that wound our hearts, not just our bodies. They can cut us deeper because they are closer. David could bear the taunts of an enemy. But the hurtful words of his companion causes anguish within him (Ps. 55). Since this attack is more dangerous, the response must be a call to God “evening and morning, and at noon” (55:17).

When we lay down our verbal weapons and refuse to slam the door, the pain of worry is met with the comfort of hope. The nagging desire to attack and defend burns within the chest. But when the fire stays within because the tongue is bridled, one begins to feel the comforting warmth of the Father’s touch. Hot anger cools to warm rest. Of course, the storm still rages and the verbal arrows fly. Indeed, the attack increases because you are being tempted to leave your refuge. But now, the battle is over. You are in your Fortress, at the Bosom (Ps. 18:1-2). If you are to engage in this battle, you must now walk outside, back onto the battlefield, for the Lord has taken you off of it. What, specifically, is this refuge? It is simply prayer and Scripture recitation during the attack. You audibly hear hurtful words, but you internally say the words of God. You shut your physical mouth to words of anger, and open your spiritual mouth to blessing and prayer. Then you rest and say, “I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the LORD sustained me” (Ps. 3:5).

It is commonly said among the reformed theologians that the Christian must accept suffering as from the hand of God in the same way that he receives blessing. One author put it this way, “We must obey God as we bear every adversity, not grumbling against God on account of our pain, but rather trusting that He will help us. This is vehemently rejected today. People insist that suffering does not come from God, and that we should therefore resist all suffering. Instead of patiently bearing our suffering, we need not put up with it any longer. Not acceptance, but rejection of suffering is the attitude recommended today” (Douma, Ten Commandments, 27). I can still see the conversation between Stephen Colbert and Stephen Anderson as they discussed the deaths of their family members. Two men, not orthodox Christians by any stretch, considering God in the midst of trial. With tears in his eyes, Anderson asked Colbert at one point, “Do you really believe that?”

What was so incredulous? Colbert, recounting the tragic deaths of brothers and father, said that suffering is also a gift from God. A gift! If that isn’t Calvinism, I don’t know what is.

Do you have the courage, Christian, to believe that? You believe God can do all things, which means God can stop your suffering. Why does He not? He is either not a good God, or He is giving you a gift. His hand is stretched out offering you the bitter cup you need to drink in order to stay alive. How much better is it to take that cup and live, then to drink sweet water and die? These types of considerations don’t sell books and fill seats so you won’t hear them as often as you should. But they are what you need to live.

One of the sweetest and purest feelings in the Christian life is the experience of profound suffering while looking into the merciful eyes of Jesus. Silently bearing pain like a lamb before the slaughter, you wait upon your Father. The hope of medicine, money, or human intervention is dissolved into an abounding hope in the Holy Spirit. The solidarity and unification that is aroused when we suffer and trust in God is nothing short of mystical, miraculous. It is a feeling that, unfortunately, is hard to come by during life’s sweeter seasons. CS Lewis said that God whispers to us in our pleasures, but shouts to us in our pain. That does not mean that we always hear Him in suffering. It is easy to block the sound of His voice, even when He shouts. Such is the power of our sin. But when the desire to clutch comfort at any cost is given up like a sacrifice on the altar and the wounded heart is opened to the will of the Father, no matter what His plan may be, the feeling cannot be properly described with words.

Perhaps foolishly, and I hope not irreverently, I will try: The experience of God’s strong love in the midst of suffering is like being taken back to one’s homeland for the first time. It is like a person who has lived for 60 or 70 or 80 years always slightly depressed and they know not why. One day, they realize that they have been missing their homeland their whole life. There was some innate connection between their soul and the green hills of their ancestry that was continually severed. They were never really at rest because they were never really home. One day, they fly to their homeland and as the plane descends through the clouds, the green hills—only heard of by the ear, and glimpsed through photographs—are present. The person’s heart is immediately filled with a strange joy never felt before. A burden carried for decades has now been lifted for the first time. They are truly home, at rest, at peace, happy.

Or, it is like realizing one’s calling. Again, after decades of squandering life’s opportunities only living for fun and pleasure, the person realizes why they were put on earth. They find a reason for existence (entertainment is not a reason to live). As they begin doing this thing, they feel a newfound experience of deep and abiding joy because they are doing simultaneously exactly what they want to do and exactly what they were made to do. Their actions are both meaningful and joyful. Their heart is finally at rest, not looking for the next moment of fun, but enjoying the present moment of purpose and purity.

These are both Scriptural examples, but perhaps the best is marriage since it is the closest to what the Scriptures say. The feeling of connection with God in suffering is like the moment of a wedding when the bride is slowly walking toward the groom with beautiful music playing and before an adoring crowd. Everything is right in the world and the climax of happiness is being enjoyed by all, not least the couple. Looking into the eyes of Jesus while suffering is like watching your spouse come closer to you during your wedding. The moment you have been waiting for is finally here. Of course, the radical difference between these examples and the reality I am trying to communicate is suffering. However, when the experience is felt one can actually get to the point of forgetting the suffering altogether. This happens to greater and lesser degrees for longer and shorter periods of time. Sometimes it is only for a few seconds. Other times the effect is realized for days. But it never happens when that effect is the thing that is principally or primarily sought. Jesus must be sought for Jesus’ sake. When that is the case, the love between your soul and His is so great that hate must stand outside and wait to enter, until the bridegroom has finished loving His wife.

It is ironic that so many Christians take such pains to experience the love of God—going on pilgrimages to Jerusalem, readings stacks of books, going to hear famous preachers—when every single Christian has an abundance of opportunity within the walls of his home to have an existential experience of God. Suffering is the vehicle toward the bosom of the Father. We have all been blessed with that gift. It is up to us to take advantage of it.

Theological Security Blankets

It’s a common notion amongst students of theology that studying theology can ironically decrease one’s love for God. As a person begins to learn more about the Bible and gains concepts for understanding who God is, how He acts, and what He says about humanity, a temptation arises concomitant with the increase in knowledge. This temptation is both unique to the theological student, and known amongst every Christian. The unique element is in his ability to spend (lots of) dedicated time studying God’s word and this is the catalyst for spiritual listlessness. The similar element is that Satan uses this gained wisdom as a key to unlock a door that all people strive to enter. That door’s name is “comfort.”

When a theological student reaches a certain point (this point varies greatly from person to person, and it is solely based on the person’s feelings, not on something objective) he begins to think that he has attained a sufficient level of knowledge about God to relax. Invariably (if he is not completely out of touch with reality) he begins his study with much trepidation, realizing early on that he knows almost nothing about God. He also has a strong grasp of the awe and terror of God which is kept in front of him by his ignorance of who God is. 


As time goes on, this awe and terror can become abstract and ethereal. The theological student starts to get technical vocabulary to describe God’s greatness. At this point, Satan tempts the student to make a deadly exchange. He offers the student a fool’s bargain—trade in the feeling of awe for the vocabulary of awe. Instead of feeling infinitesimally small when pondering God’s greatness, use the word “omnipresent.” Instead of exulting in joy when considering the Son of God’s decision to come save mankind from before the beginning of time, use the phrase “Christological supralapsarianism.” Rather than striving earnestly to bring your neighbor into the fold, by the collar if necessary, talk to your friends about God’s sovereign election. 

Of course, this is a fool’s bargain. One need not trade the feeling of awe for the words that describe it. Indeed, the words should be used as tools to better convey to others and to oneself what the feeling is about. But, feeling things for God can be very uncomfortable. Standing at the precipice of God’s dark immensity causes one to not only recognize his or her microscopic smallness, it also reminds us of our sin which deserves God’s wrath—which is the same size as His immensity. It’s an uncomfortable feeling to put it more than mildly. It an absolute terror, to get an inch closer to the reality. Therefore, the temptation is to use words to describe the situation as if they are hermetically sealed from reality. The theological terms devolve into the same category as the words used to describe superheroes in comic books; they are technical words with real meaning, but the “reality” behind those words is just imaginary. 

Ironically, the more technical one’s vocabulary about God becomes, the easier it is to not believe what it is that they convey. This is because the words are used so often and in academic dialogue. Words like “God’s wrath” which once gave one a little shudder, are now tossed around in pontificating deliberation about the likelihood that He would really hate anyone. Once the discussion goes on long enough, and the students feel that they have a pretty solid grasp of what is true (even though that very well may be the furthest thing from the case) a subtle feeling of mastery seeps into their souls. They begin to think that they understand God’s wrath, and they no longer need to fear it. What a fearful place to be! The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who think they understand God perfectly and are on His good side when, in reality, they oppose Him at every step. Christ’s most severe words were reserved for those who knew Him the best, theologically. The Pharisees’ theology was a blanket to shield them from the wrath to come. 

In a word, theological knowledge can become a security blanket. It can be used to give oneself a feeling of comfort since it is apparently an indication that one is right with God. Possessing knowledge about God can feel like knowing God. Of course, this is completely false. Believing facts about God has nothing to do with being saved by God: “Even the demons believe—and shudder!” (James 2:19). At this point, Satan’s mastery of deception compels us to throw out theological language altogether. If we do that, however, we are then prone to God’s wrath from a different angle; if we do not have words to convey who He is, we will soon believe He is who He is not. Theology is dangerous and absolutely necessary. Tolle Lege. 

Why We’re So Obsessed With What Other People Think

God is infinitely greater than the greatest human accomplishment. What is the height of man’s life on earth? Inventing technology, landing on the moon, or winning wars? What is the best thing a human being, or a group of human beings, have ever done? Whatever it is, it is like a speck of light dust on the scale when compared to even Jesus being born. The greatest human accomplishments do not even register in comparison to God’s smallest acts. If we put humans on Mars, it is nothing compared to putting God in a Human. Nothing! The former is a mere change of location, but the latter is a change of eternal destiny. The distance of space travel is counted in miles, but the distance between God and man is measured in infinity.

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Romans 11:33)

Human accomplishments never impress God. Our strivings are but needles in the endless haystack of His greatness. The Mona Lisa is but a child’s jumbled finger-painting, or worse, compared to God’s sunsets, which renew each day in greater and greater beauty. Though, in His infinite goodness, he delights in what we do. Like a father proudly displaying his children’s finger-paintings next to his most prominent awards.

So, then, “who is the greatest” in God’s kingdom? “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 18:1, 4). Children know their accomplishments are but trifles. They know that their little dances, drawings, and delights are not to be compared with the abilities of their parents. The delight of the parent is not in the worth of the product the child produces, but in the child herself.

Yet, when we grow older, we begin to think the opposite. Years and decades in a cold world condition us to embrace works-theology. We see the correlation between good work and the praise of men, and we intuitively conclude that the delight of our Father is in what we do, rather than who we are. This is like a child thinking that his finger painting is better than the Mona Lisa – better than the sunset itself.

But what about the great men of God? Was not God impressed with Spurgeon’s sermons or Saint Thomas Aquinas’ massive theological writings? Take the latter for instance – Aquinas’ Summa Theologica has been called the most significant theological work since Augustine, if not the Bible, and “one of the most influential works of Western literature” (James Ross, Ph.D.). Though it was finished in 1274 AD, it is still used to train students of theology today. It’s one of the most, if not the most, famous Christian books of all time.

Allegedly, however, Aquinas one day had a vision of God while writing it. And he never finished it. Why? In his words, “Such things have been revealed to me that all I have written seems as so much straw.” He likened the greatest theological work in history – his magnum opus, his greatest work – to straw.

Why, then, do we strive so? Do we think we will outdo Aquinas? Perhaps someone today will (though it is not likely). What then? A little more straw? Human efforts are by definition infinitely less glorious than God’s. What will we gain by working so hard at what we work at? Who are we trying to impress? If God is not impressed with our finger-paintings, why stress so much about their colors? The little details of our lives preoccupy us like piranha’s during a swim, constantly swirling and attacking. We devote so much attention to putting them in order, and avoiding their lashes. But, why? If the greatest human works are but straw compared to God, what are these little details if not simply infinitesimal by comparison? It’s often said, amongst atheists as well as Christians, that no man will say on his death bed, “I wish I spent a little more time in the office, setting straight those accounts that went awry.”

Yet here we are, concerned about our image. We want to present ourselves to the real world and the digital world with our best foot, or best picture forward. We stand in front of the closet and the mirror as if we could conjure beauty from what see. We scroll through pictures of ourselves and read the words we’ve written as if they are pictures and words of Christ. Our focus is razor-sharp when it comes to the 140 characters we sent out to the world. But when the only One who was sent into the world says “become like children,” we forget. “Have I read that somewhere?”

“And Jesus wept.”

Rejoice, Christian. Your value is not in what you do, or how you look. Your value is in what God has done in you. Period. Your beautiful clothes, that shimmer like the sun, are the clothes of Christ – and they aren’t in your closet. Your friends can’t see them on Instagram, and they aren’t listed on your resume. So what if the world, then, sees your best efforts as nothing more than child’s play? They’re right, aren’t they? That dress really is ugly, and that meeting was truly a disaster when compared to God’s beauty and perfection. The thing the world has wrong, however, is thinking that some things aren’t disasters. The world is a disaster – this isn’t pessimism, it’s realism. The Mona Lisa will become dust like the woman who inspired it. All men must die, along with their accomplishments. A Jewish proverb says that people come into the world with clenched fists, because they want to take all they can. But when they die their palms are opened, because they can keep none of it.

Therefore, the only logical approach to life is to enjoy God in it. Only His accomplishments truly matter, for only they last. Only His beauty is true, and it is objectively so. Only His approval is worth seeking, and it has been lavished upon those whom He loves in Christ. Really, what I am trying to say, is that ultimately, only Christ matters. It is for Him that we strive, ceaselessly. Because He is so beautiful.

“It is the music with which the bells of heaven ring; a song in a word; an ocean for comprehension, although a drop for brevity; a matchless oratorio in two syllables; a gathering up of the hallelujahs of eternity in five letters.”

The Name of Jesus

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“But I Don’t Hate God” …But you do. A Summary of Jonathan Edwards’ Men Naturally God’s Enemies

I was left speechless.

My friend who identifies himself as an atheist could not make sense of my faith in God. Why would a loving God…How can a ‘loving’ God… condemn people to hell? I responded by sharing that God does not unjustly condemn people to hell. Rather, those people in hell are those who hate God. They want nothing to do with him, therefore, they are responsible for their place in hell. I told him, “God extends the olive branch, but they take up arms.” My friend’s response left me speechless—“But I don’t hate God.”

What?!

But, you do…

Jonathan Edwards gives us 7 reasons why unbelievers cannot recognize their hatred towards God.

So, here they are (I’ve condensed and edited a bit) :

1.Blinded by Unbelief

Disbelief in God does not indicate a lack of hatred for God. Rather, it conceals anger. Can you hate something that does not exist? No. Why? Because it is absurd. This can be shown in hatred for a person: “If you had a rooted malice against another man, a principle that had long been established there, and if you should hear that he was dead, the sensible workings of your malice would not be felt, as when you realized that he was alive. But if you should afterwards hear the news contradicted, and perceive that your enemy was still alive; you would feel the same workings of hatred that you did before.” (Edwards, Men).

2. Compassionate Feelings Are Aimed at a Strawman god

The ‘god’ that many amicable atheists or agnostics do not believe in is not the God of the Bible. They fashion the god that they do not believe in, into a tame and sin-tolerating grandfather in the sky. If these people truly understood God, they would understand that He is not one that would condone their actions, and He is not like them: “These things you have done, and I have been silent; you thought that I was one like yourself. But now I rebuke you and lay the charge before you” (Psalm 50:21). If they allowed themselves to understand who God is, they would hate Him because, contrary to their imaginary god, He hates their sin because it brings death.

3. Enjoying Without Gratitude, is Hate

The enjoyment of earthly things as opposed to, or in replacement of the enjoyment of God is an indirect assault against His perfection and blessings. This is because all good things come from God, and are to be enjoyed as He has instructed us, within a proper relationship with Him. If an atheist enjoys the things of God, but not according to God’s will (for example, enjoying food, but not to the glory of God as is commanded in 1 Corinthians 10:31) then he has a hatred for God in the person’s will or desire for good things outside of fellowship with God. This is like a child stealing cookies from the cookie jar, hating the fact that his parents instructed him to only eat them when they deem it permissible. In stealing the cookies, he is challenging and expressing his disrespecting his parents. The atheist steals goodness from life from God (because he doesn’t give God thanks).

4. Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

The distance between God and man is so great that any desire to harm God vanishes due to the sheer impossibility. Since man knows that he can do nothing to attack God (at least, those atheists who are not mad at God) his hatred for God is allowed to wane since it never has an opportunity to act. Edwards uses the analogy of a serpent’s disregard for threats at a distance: “A serpent will not [try to] bite that which it sees at a great distance; which if it saw near, it would do it immediately.” If the snake sees a mongoose from 100 feet away, of course it will not strike at it. But if the mongoose is only a few feet away, the snake will strike.

5. Fear Produces Servility

An atheist’s fear of God restrains his hatred for God. Since God is so powerful and fearful, the atheist is hindered from allowing his hatred to fully vent. A Soldier who is afraid of his enemy will not go out yelling for his enemy to find him—he would most likely stay hidden in order to preserve his life. Therefore, the fear of God in the heart of the atheist will often prevent his anger from becoming manifest. Calvin said as much: “he who is the boldest despiser of God is of all men the most startled at the rustle of a falling leaf” (Institutes 1.3.2; cf. Leviticus 26:36).

6. Hate is Latent

Much hate in the heart of atheists lay in latency, like a serpent resting in peace, but willing to strike at anything that disturbs it. One of the ways that this latent hatred becomes manifest is in trial and suffering. Many unbelievers feel no adverse feelings toward the God they do not believe in. However, when they undergo difficult times, they often find themselves praying! As the saying goes, “there are no atheists in foxholes.” In His marvelous grace, God sometimes answers these prayers despite the fact that the unbeliever will continue in his rejection of God – such is the undeserved grace of God. However, if God should not give the unbeliever what he asks for, he is often filled with great rage (think of the antagonist in God’s Not Dead). Addressing the unbeliever, Edwards says, “Notwithstanding the good opinion you have of yourself, yet a little trial would show you to be a viper, and your heart would be set all on rage against God” (For a recent presentation of this idea in history, see Alec Ryrie’s Unbelievers: An Emotional History of Doubt).

7. Living Against God is Hating God

Finally, Edwards notes that actions, rather than self-perception, are the best indicators of the heart (see John 13:35). The actions of the atheist are clearly contrary to the law of God, as even the atheist will admit. These actions are a better determiner of his heart, than his own feelings or words. For example, an employee who continually does things that are contrary to the goals of the company, who regularly maligns its reputation, disobeys the instruction of his boss, does not reform his ways when warned and reprimanded, and spends his time with the employees of a rival company, even supporting its goals, is clearly an enemy of the company that he works for. In the same way, a person who continually disobeys God and does the things of Satan has made himself God’s enemy, even if he does not claim to be or feel like he is.

In these ways, those who do not believe God demonstrate that they hate him. Some do so consciously, while others do so subconsciously. But, for all, they demonstrate that, “The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law. Indeed, it cannot” (Rom. 7:8). In reaching unbelievers, I think we need to allow the Bible to open up their hearts and reveal the sin within. As J.C. Ryle said, “I believe that one of the chief needs of the contemporary church has been, and is, clearer, fuller teaching about sin.” What was true in 1879 is more than doubly true now.

 

“Apart from me, you can do nothing.”

Classic Christianity

Jesus, in John’s gospel, is displayed in a unique way. The Spirit’s guiding of John’s pen and bringing to remembrance the things that Jesus taught (Jn. 14:26) depicts Jesus’ masterful arrangement of events. Like a seasoned wedding coordinator, our Lord moved the pieces of His followers’ lives in such a way to manifest His teaching by the unfolding of events. His control of the situation was absolute yet invisible. After His death and resurrection, His Spirit displays His method.

One of the (many) ways that Jesus used His own actions and circumstances to teach us is seen in John 13. At the beginning of the chapter our Lord remarkably washes His disciples’ feet and John prefaces this event by saying, “Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were…

View original post 816 more words

7 Ways To Unleash The Power of Prayer

The following 7 steps to help you pray more effectually are taken from various books on the subject. I will post them below for further reading.

1. Pray without ceasing

The most important thing to realize when seeking to increase the power of prayer in your life is the need to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17). There are 4 Hebrew words and 6 Greek words for prayer in the Bible because there are many different types of prayer. There are many different types of prayer because there are many different situations in life. There are prayers of worship, request, supplication, public, private, spontaneous, seasonal, intercessory, imprecatory, thanksgiving, and groanings. This is what that means – no matter what situation we are in, prayer is appropriate. Further establishing this point is the life of Jesus. He is recorded praying 22 times in the Gospels. He would regularly rise early and stay up late to pray. He would be up long past the time everyone else fell asleep. He would regularly withdraw from the crowds in order to be alone with His Father. He was a man of prayer. If God made flesh, the eternal Son of God, needed to pray this much – indeed, by my count, more than anyone in the whole Bible – how much more do we?

If we seek to pray continually, we must remember that our prayers will differ drastically. If our focus changes depending on what we are doing (baking a complex recipe does not require the same focus as tying your shoes) and we are praying continually, our prayers will change in fervency, focus, and faith. At times, our prayers will be short and even faithless. In a moment of distracted doubt we might simply pray, “God, help me” without much expectation of deliverance. In other times, as we all move from the valley to the mountaintop of faith, our prayers might be lengthy and ecstatic. We might find ourselves praying for close to an hour in joy and hope. No prayer is better than the other. Prayer is a reflection of our situation as it relates to God. If Christ can cry, “Eloi, Eloi, lemma sebachthani?” – “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” we can do the same.

Therefore, we must avoid the dual pitfalls set for us by the Devil, walking steadily between them. On the left, is the temptation to think that the “many words” that Christ condemned weren’t abased for their emptiness, but merely by virtue of their being plentiful (Matt. 6:7). This line of reasoning has us only pray short, pithy, dispassionate prayers continually, as if we only know one note on the piano and strike it incessantly. The many words that Christ condemned were not condemned for their plentitude, but because they were “empty phrases.” Christ prayed, as we’ve seen, with many, many words.

On the other hand, Satan tempts us to think – if we are not convinced that good prayer is only short and distracted – that good prayer is only resolutely focused and faith-filled. This line of thinking would have us only pray when we can shut out all distractions (good luck doing that while quarantined with family!) and pray with perfect faith (good luck doing that ever!). This is to fall into the ditch on the right. We must allow ourselves, like Christ did, to pray prayers of joy and in moments of extreme focus, but also pray while walking, even talking with others, and going about the activities of the day. God does not condemn your prayers. Satan does.

This can be illustrated in the life of a little Child. Everything the child does is inefficient. Watch a child learn to put on her shoes (as I am doing now) and you will soon see that patience is required if she is to complete the task. If you do not have patience (as I do not) you will simply finish the task for her (as I often do). But God is not like an earthly father; He is the patient Father. “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust” (Ps. 103:13–14). He not only waits as we stumble through half-hearted prayer, He delights in it. Not because we’re flailing, but because we’re struggling to follow Him. In my better moments, I take much delight in seeing my daughter struggle to put her shoes on. On rare occasions, I’ll even stand there and watch her for five minutes as she slowly wedges her foot into the wrong shoe, rejoicing in the fact that my once-small child is slowly growing independent. A bad father refuses to let his daughter learn to put on her own shoes. One day, she’ll need that skill for herself. Our stumbling and weak prayers, rather than bothering God, are as sweet-smelling incense to Him (Ps. 141:2; Lk. 1:10; Rev. 5:8; 8:3, 4). So, don’t buy Satan’s lies that would keep you from praying; pray always!

2. Understand Your Need and Release Your Burden

Though Christ is our example in prayer, He is not like us completely – He is without sin. Thus, if we are to pray effectively, we must recognize that our prayers are indeed weak, aside from the brief moments in which the Spirit grants a special gift of faith and we pray with great vigor. This realization, discussed above, leads us to recognize that our prayers are not efficacious on their own merit. There is no meritorious combinations of words that when strung together properly, release divine blessing. Though this sounds ridiculous, Satan often tempts us to subconsciously believe it.

But, when we reject this lie, we are released from the burden of performance prayer. We no longer feel the need to say things in a certain way with a certain feeling; we are free to converse with God as with a friend. All you need to do is put forward your heart and be willing to let God touch it. Satan wants to make simple things complex so that we will give up. Christ said, “Come to me … for my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:28, 30). We need a light burden because we are weak people. God knows our weakness. We must know our weakness if we are to pray honestly and effectually.

3. Remember that The Father Desires to Bless You!

A profuse lie circulating in the hearts of many Christians is that we bother God, especially the Father, with our prayers. We don’t pray because we subconsciously believe the lie that God doesn’t want to hear from us, we are not worthy to pray, or that our prayers do not change things. Sometimes we even blush as we pray, thinking that we embarrass Him with our fumbling words. Nothing could be further from the truth. As we said above, our prayers are as incense to Him! The Son did not stand in-between and angry Father and us. The Son was sent by the Father on account of His love for us! Before you were created, Christian, the Father loved you and determined to save you from the evil you would one day learn to love. He decided that it was worth sending His son and allowing Him to experience the anguish of your sin so that you might be united to Him. Anyone with a child knows that giving that child up for someone else is unthinkable, but the Father did that for you. Therefore, our prayers should reflect this reality.

If you’re a parent, imagine a moment when you’re alone and in a wonderful mood. Everything is going well and you’re extremely happy. Then, your little child swings open the door and shouts “Mommy!” or “Daddy!” The feeling of joy when seeing that happy face is only a small glimmer of the Father’s joy when we approach Him in prayer. We should not pray doubtingly, assuming we are pestering God. Rather, we should pray knowing that He delights to hear from us. Indeed, He desires to bless you with the abundance of His riches, “My God will supply every need of yours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19).

4. Wrestle With God

As we present our hearts to God, we must be willing to allow them to be changed. We must avoid the aforementioned trap of only praying short prayers. Sometimes we must set aside a stretch of time (preferably daily and in the morning when the mind is fresh) and pray to God in silence (as best we can). That silence gives the soul’s ear time to listen to God. In so doing, at times we hear God change our prayers so that the thing we were once praying for, we are now praying against. We might sit down to pray for a job promotion, and in the course of prayer, God reveals an egregious patch of pride in our hearts. When this realization is made, we might conclude that a promotion would only increase this disgusting pride. In this way, the Spirit might change your prayer. Not only has your primary prayer shifted from work to pride, you might even pray against the promotion! We must allow God to speak to us in prayer. If He tells you something you don’t like, don’t dishonor Him by throwing it out. Remember that His burden is light. As C.S. Lewis said, “The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and His compulsion is our liberation.”

On the other hand, sometimes in prayer, we will begin to think that our prayer is worthless and that we should just give up. We will think our sin to be too great an obstacle for our words to climb over in order to reach God’s ears. In this situation, we reject what we hear and we preach the Gospel to ourselves. We have a High Priest who brings our prayers to the Father (Heb. 4:15; 5:1-10) and His Spirit even prays for us (Rom. 8:26). Our prayers do not reach the Father on account of our goodness or the words we say; they reach the Father on the back of the Son who carries them for us and the Father delights in this exceedingly. We must, therefore, wrestle with these thoughts, subdue them, and even be willing to be injured, like Jacob was (Gen. 32:25).

We also must wrestle against ourselves. Our thoughts will wander and we will become distracted. Many prayers will seem like heard of cats constantly straying. We must set our faces like flints and refuse to let this bring us to despair. Distracted and fumbling prayer from a humble heart is better than eloquent prayers said as if they were walking on velvet from a self-righteous heart. The Father is well pleased with our attempts and will use them to grow in us the ability to pray better. We must wrestle against the temptation to stop praying or to give up. In this wrestling, our ability to pray grows. Prayer is a muscle; use it!

5. Be Persistent

It’s no accident that the parable of the persistent friend occurs directly after the Lord’s prayer – right after Jesus’ masterclass on prayer, He gives a story of a friend who would not stop asking his friend for help until he got what he was asking for (Lk. 11:5-13). A good rule of thumb is to be willing to ask God for something until He either gives it to you, or He unequivocally says no. When you identify something you want to pray for, write it down and determine to pray for it until this happens, thousands of times if necessary. One of the greatest Christians who ever lived, Saint Augustine, was prayed for by his mother incessantly. He was a debauched unbeliever, and he attributes his conversion to his mother’s persistent prayers over the course of years, even decades.

Satan often lies to us and tempts us to think that if we do not receive what we ask for after one or two tries, it must not be God’s will and we should stop praying. This lie is especially deceptive because it plays off of the Scriptural teaching that “your Father knows what you need before you ask Him” (Mt. 6:8). However, God’s omniscience is never grounds to live a life without persistence and perseverance (Dt. 5:32; Jos. 1:7, 23:8; Job 17:9; Acts 11:23; 13:43; 14:22; Gal. 6:9; Eph. 4:14; 1 Tim. 6:11; 2 Tim. 2:3; 1 Pet. 2:20; Rev. 13:10). Yes, God knows what we will ask for before we ask; but, in His wisdom, He often leads us through months and years of prayer before he blesses us with what we ask for.

Why is this? At least two reasons can be given: 1) God allows us to continually request in order that we might be made ready to receive that which we ask for. Many times, we pray for things that we are simply not ready to receive (like the example of the job promotion given above). Or, for example, we might pray for sanctification regarding a certain sin. But, God allows us to pray for months or years for this – all the while we are still struggling with this sin – before we overcome it. Why? In struggling and praying over this sin for an extended period of time, we are brought to appreciate the cost that Christ paid to abolish it. Only through many nights of tears over our sins do we realize what the tears of Christ truly meant. Sometimes He must delay His yes so that we might understand it. 2) Delaying in this way also helps us to remember when God does answer our prayers in the affirmative. It is astonishing how easily we can forget what God does for us. This is why God constantly required Israel to make monuments when He delivered them from their enemies. Not only were they to build monuments, but they were to hold feasts and festivals almost monthly in order to remind themselves of His provision (Pentecost, for example, was originally a feast celebrating the giving of the Law to Moses). So, be persistent in your prayers. Don’t give up until God says “yes” or “no”!

6. Write Down Your Answers

This leads us to the next point – every time God does answer your prayer in the affirmative (and even when He says no), write down what happened. This will rebut the human tendency to forget His blessings. Also, it will provide you with an invaluable tool in diffusing the darts of doubt that Satan will shoot at you. When you go through a season of despair, or depression, or anxiety, or faithlessness, take out your list and read about the dozens of times God has been there for you. This will be a shield that Satan will need to penetrate in order to bring you to despair. It will also be a salve for your parched soul as you wander in the wilderness of weakness. It will encourage you to lift your drooping head and look to the horizon for the next blessing from God – the next thing to record on your list.

7. Pray In The Name

Finally, always conclude your prayer with something like, “In the name of Jesus I pray, amen.” This is not a mystical ritual Christians are forced to emulate. This is an acknowledgment that our prayers are only efficacious by the blood of Christ. Unfortunately, we often conclude our prayers with this phrase and do not consider what it means. It signifies our reliance upon Christ and our acknowledgment that we could never pray to God without Him. Our prayers go to the Father by virtue of Christ, and the Father’s loving response reaches us by means of the blood of the cross. Prayer is a Christological interaction.

Further, concluding our prayers in this way also indicates that we are praying, ultimately, not for our good or for the good of another person. We are ultimately praying for the blessedness and glorification of Christ. Even when we do pray for that job promotion, we should be fundamentally seeking it for the glory of Christ. We should want the job to make more money to fuel missions, or to have a greater gospel-impact on other people, or to be in a position to change the direction of the company toward the kingdom. It’s not that God doesn’t hear our prayers when we don’t conclude with something like “In Jesus’ name,” but we are reminded of why we’re praying. “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.” (Rom. 11:36).

For further reading see:

Enjoy Your Prayer Life by Michael Reeves

The Christian’s Reasonable Service Volume 3 by Wilhelmus a Brakel (p. 443-588)

A Sweet Flame letters by Jonathan Edwards

A Puritan Theology edited by Joel Beeke and Mark Jones (p. 859-889)

 

Why We Don’t Experience God

One common objection to faith in God is grounded in a lack of experience. Since the Enlightenment, doubting the intangible has become standard. If we cannot observe it, touch it, poke it, prod it and put it in a test tube, it isn’t real. We have been conditioned to think that if something is not perceptible to our five senses (sight, touch, taste, smell and hearing) it is simply and completely imperceptible. This notion assumes that our five senses are the sum total of a human being’s capacity to experience reality. This extends to the belief that we do not have rational souls capable of experiencing spiritual reality. Since a soul cannot be touched and it has no odor etc., it must be a figment of the imagination, modern man thinks.

This lack of experience of God, which propels our atheism, is simply a contradiction in terms when approached from the perspective of Enlightenment naturalism. We are saying we do not believe in a God we cannot touch because we cannot touch Him. The intangible God must not exist because our fingers have not felt Him. This is like denying gravity for the same reason, or because one cannot smell it with the nose. It is a purely irrational critique. Gravity is experienced by using the mind and through observation. Its effects are witnessed by the eye, and considered with the mind; it is demonstrated with non-physical principles like mathematics. Gravity, like God, is an intangible reality. Both hold the world together, and because of this, they need to be intangible. For something to be everywhere on the one hand, and to allow the existence of other things on the other, intangibility is required. If gravity was a physical entity like a weighted blanket, there would be nothing but weighted blanket. We would be pushed out by the omnipresent reality of gravity. We would not exist. So it is with God, though of course, He is truly omnipresent, existing where even gravity does not exist. Indeed, gravity is nothing more than an extension of His power to hold all things together through the power of His word.

But someone would say that the effects of gravity are clearly perceptible, and therefore it is empirically verified. Though we can’t see gravity, we can see an apple fall from a tree. Of course, he would be correct. But this does nothing to counter the point that God must be experienced through spiritual (and not physical) faculties. The point is that gravity, and all other things must be experienced in the way that they dictate. Gravity must be experienced first through observation of its effects, then through its mathematical articulation which verifies those effects as having arisen from a universal rule. If we dictate the means by which gravity is experienced – by the sense of smell, for example – we only bar the door between us and it. Insisting that the nose is the faculty for experiencing gravity will produce nothing more than pointless sniffing. So, we cannot doubt God because we cannot perceive Him with the eye any more than we can doubt gravity because it doesn’t have a certain odor.

Our five senses aren’t the whole story. We must seek to experience God with other faculties, like prayer, the spiritual reading of His word, and submission to the means of grace administered through His church. Furthermore, we must not expect these other faculties to manifest their experience in a physical way, as if writing down g = 9.81 m/s2 would produce for us the smell of gravity. The equation for gravity and the faculty of smell are entirely different categories. So it is with the spiritual experience of God and physical sight or touch. They are simply different things. We must approach God with spiritual, non-physical, means if we want to experience Him. The person who gropes around in the air for a while and exclaims, “No God!” is not being very empirical.

In man’s search for God, he must use God’s means of experimentation. Man is ready to submit to gravity’s authoritarian rule that says it must be observed only with the eye and not the nose, but when it comes to God, man reverses the roles and says he will not observe God with the spirit, but only the eye. This is the cause of man’s inability to perceive God. It is a fundamental mixing of the categories, between spiritual and physical, between God and man. Everything has been flipped on its head and man wonders why he has a headache. He says the ocean of God’s existence is imaginary because he cannot fit it in his bathtub. He holds up the eye of a needle and tells the camel to walk through.

If he really wants to know if God exists, he must submit to the means by which God is perceptible, and he won’t get very far by begrudgingly using those means and all the while doubting their existence, any more than Newton would have figured out gravity by not really believing that mathematics was real. Newton based his life on the belief that mathematics was a reliable guide, and the product of that faith was a profound discovery. If we want to “discover” God, we must believe – wholeheartedly – in the spiritual faculties He has given us and use them believing that they will provide us with true experience. If a poor workman blames his tools, a poorer one doesn’t trust them (though, I suppose, blaming and mistrusting are one and the same). We must trust the tools God has given us to experience Him, and stop blaming Him when our calculators don’t show us His face.

When I was younger and more foolish (I am now a little older and slightly less foolish or, at least, older) I pursued the experience of God in terms of my senses – I wanted to physically see and hear Him. I was following certain charismatic trends in Christianity that emphasized a real experience of God in terms of naturalism. I looked for a vision of God, I prayed for physical healing, I listened to a song that allegedly recorded the voice of an angel. I still do some of those things (maybe I am no less foolish) but in so doing, I am attempting to fit God into my experience. Rather than seeking a vision of Him that is so grand it transcends the capabilities of eyeballs, I’m looking for a mere picture. Ironically, Enlightenment empiricism had seeped into my spiritual life. To be sure, God is perceptible to our five senses, but it seems that the bulk of our communion with Him this side of eternity is encountered through the spiritual senses.

So, the question is, why cut off the channel of divine grace? Why force God to come to us in the form and fashion that we have set out for Him when that reduces Him to servant and doesn’t see Him as Lord? Is it possible, that in so doing we are precluding a real experience of God in the first place? Forcing Him to crawl to us leaves no room for us at His feet. In our best interest, it seems, He refuses to capitulate.

How is God’s Word Active? An Example:

Christians often call God’s word “living and active.” This is in reference to Hebrews 4:12 which says, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

What does this mean? How is the word of God “living”? I suggest one example. We find some really challenging things in the text below, and in answering these challanges, we are challenged.

2 Samuel 24 presents multiple difficulties in understanding the text. First, David is incited to sin by God, “Again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, ‘Go, number Israel and Judah’” (2 Samuel 24:1). Taking the census, we are told, was a sinful action. But, God also commands census taking in other places and it is presented as something good (Exod. 30:11–12; Num. 1:1–2). So, God seems to be commanding something bad, and we don’t know why it’s bad. Then, we see that 1 Chronicles 21 says that it is Satan, not God, who incited David to commit this sin: “Then Satan stood against Israel and incited David to number Israel” (1 Chronicles 21:1).

So, we have three difficulties in this text that can be posed as questions. 1) How is it OK for God to incite sin? 2) Does Satan incite the sin or God? 3) Why is census-taking a sin?

In answering these questions, I think we see how the word is living.

1) God incites sin in a very different way than Satan does. God is in control of every atom in the universe and every action that takes place. The sins that occur in the world are, in that way, part of His plan. Now, it is very important to remember that God does not cause sin to take place. We know this because God is infinitely perfect and holy to the extent that He cannot sin (Dt. 32:4; Ecc. 3:14; Mt. 5:48; Ro. 11:33-36). But, when sin does take place, God is in control of it (Neh. 9:6; Ps. 102:25; Ac. 17:24; Heb. 11:3).

2) Therefore, 1 Chron. 21 explains to us how it is OK for God to incite sin. He uses Satan. Not in the sense that Satan is a puppet controlled by God’s strings. Satan is a free agent making his own choices, but God is in control of them. So, when Satan does something bad, like inciting David to sin, God is in control of that decision. In that way, it’s like God does it. But, remember that God is perfectly holy. So, when God allows Satan to incite David, and thereby is ultimately in control of the sin, God controls the situation without incurring guilt to Himself, because He’s perfect. God uses Satan and sin as tools to create goodness. Like He created everything from nothing, He creates good from evil. He takes things and makes their opposite (nothing > things; bad > good). This is a deep and difficult truth and a couple sentences could never do it justice, but the point remains. Such is the awesome perfection of our God.

3) The census taking was sinful because it was done in order to bolster military strength. The text implies that David wanted to amass an army in order to pridefully destroy other people and take their goods for his own. He seems to have let his success get to his head and begun to desire more and more. This is indicated by Joab’s quick response in questioning David’s motives (probably sensing David’s sinful incentive) and the word used for “numbering” which is applied to military enrollment (2 Sam. 24:1-3). John D. Rockefeller (one of the richest people who ever lived) responded to the question “How much money is enough?” by saying, “One more dollar.” David began to feel the desire for more that always outgrows its goal.

The other side of pride is always a lack of trust in God. This is the second way David is sinning. He is not trusting in God, but in men. This is a constant theme in the Old Testament – trust not in chariots or horses, but in the mighty arm of the Lord (Ex. 14:31; 2 Sa. 22:1-3; Ps. 18:2-3; 9:9-10; 115:9-11; 144:1-2).

How does this display the activity of the Bible?

We see in this passage that David is not trusting in the Lord. In the very same passage, we are confronted with three difficulties in the text. The very same text that displays a lack of trust in God, invites us to trust God. As we see David failing, God is offering us the opportunity to succeed where David did not. Will we trust that the difficulties in this passage are not an indication that God didn’t write them? Will we reject the temptation to think that God must not be in control because He allowed errors into His word? Will we ignore the siren call of academics who tell us that this is obviously a human book with human problems? The very same text that displays sin invites us to not sin. As we read this word in the presence of God, we are spoken to by His Spirit, asking us these questions. He is standing over our shoulder while we read, like a father teaching his son, saying to us, “You see what happened there, son? Now, you try to avoid that right now. Let’s see if you can do it.”

God put this book together so that it would convict, challenge, encourage and change us like this. But, it’s not only the way the book is organized, but the Holy Spirit who uses that organization to change us. When we encounter this perfect book, the perfect God who wrote it speaks to us. He designed it in such a way that, if we are willing, it will pierce our hearts and call us to repentance. When we repent, His living word leads us to forgiveness and joy. He designed it perfectly. This is just one small example of the innumerable ways God uses His word to change us. Let us be encouraged to excitement in reading His word. Let us expect to meet God and to be changed by Him. Let us see His word as a mountain that must be scaled in faith – a challenge. We need to read it on our knees and trust Him. The enemy not only wants us to mistrust God’s word, he also wants us to become bored with it. It’s been said that “only boring people get bored.” Well, only boring Christians get bored with the Bible. I get bored with it all the time. That doesn’t say anything about the Bible. It says something about me.

John Webster, in his book Holy Scripture, illustrates the need to approach the Bible as a living thing, and not as scientific data, “The active reading scripture as an instance of the fundamental pattern of all Christian existence, which is dying and rising with Jesus Christ through the purging and quickening power of the Holy Spirit. Reading scripture is best understood as an aspect of mortification and verification: to read scripture is to be slain and made alive … reading can only occur as a kind of brokenness, a relinquishment of willed mastery of the text” (87-88).

In a secular book called How to Read a Book, the “living” nature of written material is demonstrated by its ability to continually instruct the reader who never fully learns everything written (assuming the book is a really good one), “How can a book grow as you grow? It is impossible, of course; a book, once it is written and published, does not change. But what you only now begin to realize is that the book was so far above you to begin with that it has remained above you, and probably always will remain so. Since it is a really good book – a great book, as we might say – it is accessible at different levels. Your impression of increased understanding on your previous reading was not false. The book truly lifted you then. But now, even though you have become wiser and more knowledgeable, it can lift you again. It will go on doing this until you die.”

The infinitely knowledgeable and eternal God of all creation wrote the Bible. Therefore, even on a secular account, the Bible will be infinitely “growing” because we can never master it. But, the Bible isn’t just a book written by God and forgotten; it is attended to by God Himself as He guides us through its pages. In this way, His word is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword.