Monday, February 24, 2014

God's Trustworthy Mysteries

The other day, I found a book about moral philosophy and curiously browsed through it. It didnt take long before I got irritated at the authors blatant disregard for authority. They argued that an authority is not a reliable source for learning how to be moral. They pointed to the Bible as an example. Due to their confusion about the historical-cultural context of the passages quoted, they didn’t give any legitimacy to the God of the Bible’s authority in moral matters. They think that just because an authority says something is right or wrong doesn’t mean it is truly right or wrong. To them, reason is the true test for determining the legitimacy of what is believed to be moral. 

This is the problem with humanity; apart from the revelation of the Holy Spirit (see John 16:13; Eph. 3:5b), none of us can acknowledge the authority of God in our lives. We simply become ignorant of anything divinely authoritative and live lives that deviate from his will. Left to our own devices, we can never understand that God’s authority is a good thing and something we can trust.

For us Christians, the necessity of trusting God’s authority in revelation is something that many of us have forgotten, or at least ignored. The New Testament exudes a mysterious aspect of God’s plan of revelation in various places, which often state that Jesus is the agent through which God’s mysteries are understood (Rom. 16:25; Eph. 1:9; 3:4; Col. 2:2). Before Christ, much of God’s plan (especially as it pertained to Gentiles; Eph. 3:6) was hidden from the people of God (Luke 10:21-24; Eph. 3:5). Before such revelation, the people of God were called to trust God’s authority because he was God (Isa. 55:8-9).

It’s important to understand that God has always had his reasons for what he reveals and what he doesn't reveal. He has the proper authority for his methods. Similar to the ways in which he mysteriously allows evil to happen (Gen. 50:20; cf., 2 Cor. 4:17), God dictates what we know and what we don’t know. For instance, there was a reason God didn’t want Adam and Eve to know good and evil (Gen. 2:16-17). God planned for them to live innocently without the knowledge of good and evil because (I surmise) that moral knowledge would have incited them to sin (this is perhaps Paul’s reasoning in Rom. 7:7-12). Similarly, the concealment of the purpose of Christ from the people of the Old Testament (Luke 10:21-24) and the concealment of the reality that Gentiles would be members of the same body as Jews (Eph. 3:4-6) both served purposes which only God could fully know.

God’s ways will always be above ours (Isa. 55:8-9) and we may never know the answers to many questions we pose. If that’s true, then why do we think it’s a copout to defer to God's authority in ambiguous and confusing matters of life? Why do we think it’s bad when we don’t have an answer to skeptics of the faith? Granted, Peter does tell us to have an answer for those who wonder why we have the hope that we do (1 Pet. 3:15), but we still need to trust God to give us those answers (Matt 10:19-20). If we don’t know something about the ways of God, it’s not a victory for unbelievers (if it’s ever been about winning and losing anyway), since God will eventually provide the right knowledge we need, even if the answers are not what we or the skeptics expect. Christians who don’t have the answers needn’t fret since God will always provide the right answers at the right time for the particular situation.

The single, overriding principle behind the solution to this debacle of our unknowing is the foundational trustworthiness of God. Christian life has always been about God. Since the beginning of our very existence--our very universe--it’s been about God. The dependency of humanity on God is quite a humiliating reality, but it is one a wise person accepts, especially in matters of life’s mysteries. Dependent humans must always trust a dependable God if they are to receive what they need.

We must not exchange our trust in God for our desire for answers. Job demanded to be answered by God, and what did he get? He got four full chapters of unnerving rhetorical monologue (Job 38-41) that completely humiliated him and put him in his proper place (Job 42:1-6). How many of us would like to see God respond to our complaints in such an unnerving way? Wouldn’t we rather live in obedience to him and trust him to provide what we need at the proper times? 

Whatever mysteries that life may hand to us, we can trust God to give us what we need to know at the proper time. What we may want to know is whole different matter, and God knows that. Our wants are trivial and they change with maturity, but our needs always remain the same. Our need for the proper revelation is always constant. God is our ever trustworthy parent, who will always look out for us and tell us what we need to know for the matter at hand despite our nervous confusion. He has the proper authority for his methods.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Love Will Always Surprise Us

I know the topic of love is such a common one, but I think it’s common because it’s so immensely powerful. The reason so many of us talk and sing about it is because of it’s ability to make us risk life. Surely, to say anything about the topic is begging it to be drowned out by the rest of what has already been said about it. 

But perhaps that is the problem after all.

The problem with love is that it has become severely hackneyed. The constant reminders of its effects and power by those around us, by those singing the love songs and by those in spheres of influence have turned the most powerful, collective human force into a cliche. Worse yet, the banality, or cliche, of love has made all its lesser forms appear to be all that love has to offer.

And yet, love still finds ways to weed out our stagnant attitudes of resignation; it always finds new ways to call us to risk living life. 

Personally, love surprised me when I sat staring at my newborn son. I could not shake the sense that a new force had now merged into my personal story when we locked eyes. No amount of parenting classes, no amount of time, no amount of counsel from the experienced can prepare a man to look upon his first child. As I stared into his searching eyes, my mind failed to grasp the source of his power, which imprisoned me in a hopeless spiral of emotion. He entrapped me just as a finite mind is entrapped when contemplating eternity. Love was at work and no amount of assertions to the contrary could make me disbelieve it.

Love tends to jump out at us when we least expect it, and for those who think that love has passed them by, it’s wise to remember that love is not weak enough to avoid us. We must trust love to find us and do its work with us. Like God, who covertly sneaks around looking for ways to rouse us to risk life and trust people with our hearts, love covertly implements its tactics against the lonely and downhearted. 

Despite living in a world where the constant drumming of love has made the term hackneyed, I believe that love is still more powerful than the most disarming of numbing spells. True love always finds a loophole in this world of overuse--and misuse--of love.  

Speaking of True Love...

The Apostle John tells us plainly that “God is love” (1 John 4:8b). If God is love, then anything pertaining to genuine love ventures into his territory. The statement is loaded with simplicity that tempts us to underestimate its potency, but we must not mistake simplicity for deficiency. It is simple because it says all it can say; God encompasses all that love is. What more is there to say? Knowing more of God is to know more of love. 

Dabbling with love is sure to incite God’s love, which is risky. It is the most serious risk anyone can make because God is never unwilling to do what is necessary. God will always seek to craft us into better human beings, which will require pain. Yet to live in a risk-filled life of love is exactly what we all crave. Further, God is the one who implanted the desire of a love-filled life within us. Despite what the inner voices say, it is good to desire love. 

We are thus faced with a question: dabble with God’s love and experience the most risk-filled life with him, or strive to live without love and experience a mundane existence, trying to catch a smile occasionally. The choice begs our response daily.

Although the world attempts to dilute its power and misinterpret it, love is able to stare the world in the face and smile because God is its definition, and the world is no match for God. People will overuse the term and misuse its power, but God never will. We are at war, but God is still in control. God is still love and true love is still controlled by God. In that fact we have comfort. Love will find us and surprise us.

The power of love is that it will always be love, regardless of how far we may drift away from it. Despite it being hackneyed, love still exists in a world that has never been more needful of its resolute definition.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Evil, Meet Good, Your Worst Enemy

There is one truth that confounds me more and more as I grow older, and that is the reality of evil. Bad things do not lessen in intensity; they only grow. This is especially true to a maturing mind, for as one grows older, more implications are found in evil deeds. 

For instance, when one is young, seeing the story of a murder on TV comes across as confusing, but when one is older, it comes across as tragically demoralizing. Evil may still confound and confuse maturing people, but I think that its impact on society and ourselves is the chief concern of a maturing person. It’s hard to not take evil to heart.

I hate how this world enjoys draining good people dry. 

Then again, it makes me wonder: am I included in the evil I see? I may like to think of myself as a “good person,” but am I capable of evil? Of course I am.

I may not be out among the riffraff, but I can certainly contribute to the evil I see if I would simply fail to do what is right. Every time I fail, evil prevails. 

Every time a murderer fails to rethink their decision to kill, evil prevails. Every time a thief fails to stop stealing, evil prevails.

So it’s not so much about the increase of evil; it’s about the decrease of good. When we do good, evil loses.

It doesn’t help, though, that so much evil is done by others. We may be able to keep ourselves relatively “good,” but how can we compete with everyone who does evil? How can we stop a killer who has the means to do harm to those we love? How can we diminish the evil in others?

Is nihilism the only response to this reality?

“This light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Cor. 4:17-18)

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Rom. 8:18)

Are these passages of hope the answer to our problems?

They seem so groundless. How can we verify their validity and certainty?

Well, we can’t verify them because if we could, there would be no need for faith. In some strange plan, God desires us to come to him and trust him by faith alone--without the conviction of proof. Does that negate the hope for the goodness of Heaven that awaits us beyond the evil world in which we live? Certainly not!

How can it? If we truly believe that this evil that we despair of now will pale in comparison to the eternal good that awaits us, how can it negate our hope?

How can a temporary pain negate the joys of eternal goodness?

As we continue to witness the evil that plagues the world, I think it’s wise to remember that the future hope of Heaven is available to those who trust God. The power of evil pales in comparison to the power of Jesus. Likewise, the reward that faith in him brings diminishes the failures of this evil world. 

When we fail, we let evil win, but we know that one day failure will no longer be an option. So why focus on failure? What good will come from constantly focusing on failure? 

So I ask again, how can we diminish the evil in others? 

We must meet evil with good. Of course, when we do good, there is no guarantee that evil will not find us, but at least we will meet that evil with good. After all, one act of goodness might be all a person needs to see to turn from their evil. Maybe in some way, our doing good will affect others, but even so, what matters is how we respond to such evil, not how they respond to us. 

Changing people should never be our goal. Our goal should be to introduce them to a freeing Goodness that is far more appetizing than the evil that entraps them.

What else is there for a good person to do in the face of evil than to be good? God has always been good, and he calls us to be good as well. We will fail, yes, but like I said before, it’s not about our failures. What matters is how much we love the good and reject the evil. Our failures cannot overwhelm God’s goodness, which is what ultimately matters.

We can trust God to do the good thing, even if we are prone to despair of the evil around us and in us. Our future is in his hands, and it would be wise to remember that his goodness is the only way in which we can access it. Entering into Heaven is not up to our lack of failures. We may feel undeserving of the glorious future that awaits us in Heaven, but our own self-perceptions are nullified in the presence of God’s perceptions. 

He says, “Welcome,” and it is wise to accept it. We may not feel deserving of such a welcome, but he welcomes us nonetheless. No more evil will plague us, and no more failures will entrap us. What we despair of now will not even be in the picture!

I want to live with my eyes on the future goodness that awaits and continue to meet evil with good--despite the cost. Let’s show people God, the Goodness that is more appetizing than evil.