Thursday, October 16, 2014

Who do you trust?

Lord, help me always to tell it like it is.

We witness to the Lord Jesus Christ wherever we are, as second nature, without thinking about doing it, without personal intention or expectation, only the unspoken prayer, “Give the increase.”

A co-worker calls to me from over the cubicle wall. “You gotta see this!” I get up immediately, drawn by the hint of incredulity in the speaker’s voice. I round the corner and sit in an empty chair near the PC screen, as my friend reads aloud to me what he’s found on the internet, “Man is willing to pay $50,000 to Jews willing to relocate to Dothan, Alabama!” and then, “Hey man, this is for you!”

Even though he knows I’m a Christian, there’s just something about the label “Orthodox” that makes this friend, and many other people I’ve known over the years, think that I’m some kind of Jew. It doesn’t help that I’m bearded. A short conversation sprang up between us on the subject of the news story that concatenated a whole string of facts and ideas. Jews leaving small town America for the big cities, then, the depopulation of Polish Jewry, leaving hundreds of abandoned synagogues and cemetaries all over Poland, then the instant celebrity of any Polish Jewish boy who actually wants to be bar mitzvah’d. Then, as invariably happens, food comes up. “Yeah, aren’t rubens tasty with kosher corn beef and swiss cheese? Uh, wait a minute, even though the ingredients are kosher, that combination isn’t. Why?”

Then the conversation moves along as to how the rabbis added layers of “kosher” laws to the original single injunction “You must not boil a kid in its mother’s milk,” and how ridiculous this is, in view of what Abraham and Sarah offered to God the Holy Triad at their campsite at Mamre. Maybe God didn’t like the taste of meat and dairy at the same dinner (which is what He was served up), and so the next chance He got, He laid down the law about the “mother’s milk and kid’s meat don’t mix” thing.
Then the talk moved on to what happened to the two angels that visited Lot in Sodom, and then what happened to the city, and how Lot escaped with his two daughters, his wife having looked back and been morphed into a salt pillar. And then how what happened next gave rise to the Orthodox saying, “Do not defile yourself in the wilderness, where in the city you were pure.”

I can’t remember the rest of the conversation, but I have to remark on the faithfulness of God, who does not let His Word go forth and return to Him void. Whether my friend identifies himself as a Christian or not, he could find meaning in, and welcomed the exchange of ideas and stories recounted on a colloquial level, in fact he initiated it. This is how we witness. We just remain willing to defenselessly and joyfully deliver the Message that He wants to send. He appoints the rendezvous, and it’s always, as Sergei Fudel calls it, “a miracle of unexpected joy” (Light in the Darkness).

Did I bring Christ into the conversation? Did I announce the “four spiritual laws?” Did I ask my friend if he is saved? No, that isn’t how it works. I have no agenda. But I am ready to say whatever I hear the Lord saying, and whenever the Lord commands it. “Not my will, Lord, but Thine!”
Another co-worker showed up with a question, and as I was actually on my way out the door when this conversation occurred, I just let it go with a “Good night, guys, have a good evening! See you tomorrow!”

On the drive home, I got to thinking. All these folks I work with are very nice people, and at least a couple of them have told me they were or are Christians, and in the past (I’ve known them several years) we’ve sometimes shared a little about our Christian lives, or at least our upbringing. I know what some of them reject. In fact, almost no one in my office “goes to church” except me. Yet, they’re all nice people. This is the product of religious Christianity. When C. S. Lewis said that Christ came not to make nice people but new men (Mere Christianity), he was writing about this very thing.
So, as I was driving home, I was turning over in my mind, what is the source of my belief, what does my life in Christ grow out of (for this is the only thing Christian life can really mean)?
I thought back to one of my favorite concepts, that though we have five sense organs to give us knowledge of the natural world, we have one sense organ to give us knowledge of God (I should say spiritual world, but that would not be enough). That sense organ is the brain, in which resides the mind. The mind is the eye with which we can see God—everything else we use it for are like “extras” thrown in by the Maker. The problem is that most people use the mind for very opposite purposes, either because they don’t know any better, or because they do, and they don’t want to see God (Romans 1:20-21). When people have asked me why I believe in God, I sometimes say, “Honestly, it’s not really belief per se. I just know He’s there. In fact, He’s here with us right now in this very room, as we’re talking. It’s like I can see Him, not with my eyes, of course, but with my mind. I guess you could say, with the eye of faith.”
Then as I drove along, I started wondering how people must see me, and others whom they know are followers of Jesus, or at least call “religious” folks. They sometimes know that we pray, or say prayers, or talk to God, or whatever. But they, even when they claim “to believe in a God,” simply don’t pray. They don’t really think that there’s Anyone there listening. I can see their point. On the purely natural level, there’s no evidence of anyone or anything that “hears” all our thoughts and words, and “sees” all our actions.

So where do we, where did I, get that notion in the first place?
I can see how people can accept the concept that there is a God, but not know anything about Him, because there’s nowhere to find “more information” except—in the Bible! And that Book has had the most wild history of promotion and defamation of any book known to man, not to mention a whole slough of writers intent on making us believe that though it’s God’s Word, it’s not perfect (implication, not reliable), and that it must be studied in the context of its time and place.

Back to the notion that Someone is there that knows everything about us, hears all we say and think, sees all we do. For me, that has come primarily from the book of Psalms, which is rich with detail on the nature of God, Who He is, what He loves, what He hates, what He does and can do (there’s nothing He can’t do, but there are things He won’t do). I’m sure there are many places in the Bible where God’s nature is revealed simply enough for anyone to understand, but for me the Psalms are that place.
Now this is where “faith” actually does kick in, even for me. It is by faith that I accept and believe that what the Bible says about God is true in the first place.

Yes, faith—this is the stumblingblock for those who may claim to “believe in a God,” but cannot bring themselves any closer, let alone confess Him before men. They may justify their disinterest by their agnosticism, and their agnosticism by their biblical illiteracy, and their illiteracy by the corruption of the institutions representing Christianity. But without taking the personal initiative to seek the Lord where and when He can be found (Isaiah 55:6), that is, in the Word of God, they cannot hope to be justified or become children of the Promise, putting false hope in the “goodness” they attribute to the “God” in whose existence they say they believe, but of whom they have no objective knowledge.

So then, though the mind can “see” God, only faith can tell us of His attributes, and “can guarantee the blessings that we hope for, or prove the existence of realities that at present remain unseen” (Hebrews 11:1). And that faith cannot be arrived at by any amount of human thinking or speculation. That was the heresy of the false gnosis of ancient times. Instead, we have been given (as the Jews say) “the precious Implement by which the world was created,” that is, the Word of God. We have been given it (again, as the Jews say) “not to be made into a spade to dig with,” in other words, not something to serve us, to bolster our opinions and thoughts. Instead, we have been given the precious Implement “through Whom all things were made” (Symbol of Nicæa), and Who alone can remake us, as the Psalms declare.
What is faith then?

Of course, in an everyday sense, it really comes down to trust. Without realising it, everyone lives their life day by day based on trust that “things are as they think they are.” This is like not being afraid to enter the highway and jump into a lane of fast-moving cars, because you trust that the fear of instant chaos, damage or death will keep everyone on the road in their lane. This is like not being afraid to fly to Japan on a jet airliner because you trust what the scientists have discovered about the laws of physics, you trust the pilots to know how to fly the plane, and you trust the entire apparatus of the airport maintenance system to make sure there’s fuel in the plane and so on.

In various other areas of life, we have come to trust, or have faith in the reliability of various human institutions, and so we are able to live our earthly lives and function in relative peace and stability. We know we can trust scientists, as long as they stay scientific. We know we can trust doctors and other professionals, as long as they stay true to their various disciplines. Why then this lack of trust, this absolute disdain of theologians and clergy, and of “organized religion”? Sorry to say, a large proportion of these people have not stayed true to their discipline, wandering where they don’t belong, or bending the Bible to fit their agendas. However, there’s nothing more I need say about it here.
What I want to say is one more thing. Just as we trust a scientist when he stays scientific, we should trust a theologian when he stays theological. What is the discipline of the scientist? To study the natural world, do experiments, get results and publish them, so others can duplicate them. What is the discipline of the theologian? To study the Bible, do experiments (follow Jesus), get results (the life of salvation) and publish them (make disciples of all nations). If a theologian can’t be found where you live, find them among the Church fathers, or become one yourself!

True science requires honesty, study and hard work, but it’s worth it. True theology, the same.

The true scientist trusts the natural world to be true, takes it at face value, tests it, confirms its truth, and himself can be trusted. The true theologian trusts the Bible to be true, takes it at face value, tests it, confirms its truth, and himself can be trusted.

Who do you trust?

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