Commitment: One Who Dwells Faithfully with God

When we as confessing believers in Christ talk about commitment, what do we mean? Do we approach this act from the view of the world or from the view of a holy God?  Psalm 15 provides deep insight into the way of commitment.  This article focuses on the opening statement:

“O LORD, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill?” (15:1-3)

These two rhetorical questions guide the reader to a series of answers. The questions intend to direct attention to genuine commitment to God and people. Two words key the reader into the meaning of genuine commitment: “sojourn” (יָג֣וּר) and “dwell” (יִ֝שְׁכֹּ֗ן).  The first word means to remain, inhabit, abide, or continue.  The second word translated “dwell,” takes on constancy, perpetuation, or permanent residency.  The two words express different status and timing.  Charles John Ellicott (1819-1905) suggests sojourning signifies a guest status (Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers, Psalm 15, https://biblehub.com/commentaries/ellicott/psalms/15.htm).  A little context from Genesis places a guest status in an honorary light as though they belonged there.  Abraham welcomed his guests of angels with very high regard (Genesis 18:1-8).  They were, because they came to Abraham as faithful messengers of God, and one was God!

However, when joined with “dwell,” in addressing the same person, this sojourning regards these guests as more than temporary.  They came as guest but staid as permanent residents.  They made commitment to YAHWEH, the God of all creation and the personal God who welcomes the faithful.  They committed to the God of their eternal home yet to be realized.  They not only sojourned but continued faithfully with their God.  Commitment to such people raises faithfulness to the highest priority.

They walk, speak, and do according to their dwelling faithfulness (15:2).  Nothing deters them from their walking, speaking, and doing God’s will.  With these three acts, they have four people in mind: the neighbor, a friend, a vile person, and those who fear the LORD (15:3-4).  To the first two, the person who commits to God’s wills in walking, speaking, and doing also commits wholeheartedly to one’s neighbor and friend.  One who fears the LORD receives honor beyond a neighbor and friend.  Walking close, speaking well, and doing good show this exemplary honor toward those who fear the LORD.  There is a sense of faithfulness in doing these.  That is, a person who sojourns and dwells with God never breaks commitment to neighbor, friend, and especially to those who fear the LORD.

We will explore neighbors, friends, and those who fear the LORD in more depth in subsequent articles.  We will also examine walking, speaking, and doing in more detail.  These acts towards these groups of people lead to a subsequent crescendo in 15:4, which brings commitment to that which aligns with commitment to God.  Where is your commitment to both God, neighbor, friend, and those who fear the LORD?  Does it last or is it like chaff that blows away when the winds become inconvenient?

“In the Bible, spirituality and ethics go hand in hand; piety and conduct cannot be divorced. There are consequences to our beliefs and spiritual commitments, and these pertain not only to this life but also to the life to come” (Carson, D. A. The Cross and Christian Ministry (p. 81). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.).

Who is God? Part 3

Those who worship the God of the Bible in spirit and in truth need to be careful not to reduce the Most High to nature, being, evolution, process, humanity, or even religious experiences…No church can long serve the God of truth with an untrue and diminished view of who He is.”

– Gordon R. Lewis & Bruce A. Demarest, “Integrative Theology”

If you conducted an on-the-street survey with the question “Who is God?” how many different answers do you think you would receive?  Given the number of gods that inhabit the minds of individuals, countless gods could outnumber a single nation.  The survey could not offer a list.  The New Age borrows from the old age of ancient Greece and Rome.  The Pantheons would be a meager bunch compared to the number one could count today.

Many gods have arisen because people have sought to imagine God according to the elements of creation. They then depart from the path of knowing the one true God onto another dark, dangerous, and destructive road of idolatry. The study and knowledge of God is a thoughtful lifelong process requiring dependence on Him and what He reveals to us in the Bible.

No one can know God rightly without God first revealing Himself to that person. A corollary to this truth is that no one can then seek after Him unless God first not only reveals Himself but also draws the heart to Him (Romans 3:10). For unless God takes the initiative with each act, everyone in his or her human condition will seek another path.  Many have claimed that people across the world cry out for God and seek after Him.  If we are to believe Paul the Apostle in his statement in Romans 3:10, these many cry out for that which is greater than themselves but one like them.  They want a savior much like Israel wanted a king like the other nations.  Corruption brings about such perverted desires.  Albert Mohler refers to these perverted religious desires as making God into a “therapeutic category” (The Eclipse of God at Century’s End: Evangelicals Attempt Theology with Theism).  Paul quotes from the Psalms of the Old Testament:

The LORD looks down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there are any who understand, who seek God. They have all turned aside…” (Psalm 14:2-3)

When the real God shows up, people exclaim,

“That’s not God, not the god I desire, one I can see, feel, and hear, one who pats me on my back and consoles me in my predicaments, one who gives me wealth, health, lots of toys, recognition, and popularity (instead of ridicule).”

C. S. Lewis wrote,

A subjective God of beauty, truth and goodness, inside our own heads— better still. A formless life-force surging through us, a vast power which we can tap— best of all. But God Himself, alive, pulling at the other end of the cord, perhaps approaching at an infinite speed, the hunter, king, husband— that is quite another matter. There comes a moment when the children who have been playing at burglars hush suddenly: was that a real footstep in the hall? There comes a moment when people who have been dabbling in religion (‘Man’s search for God!’) suddenly draw back. Supposing we really found Him? We never meant it to come to that! Worse still, supposing He had found us?

– Lewis, C. S., A Year with C. S. Lewis (p. 3). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

As people reject the true biblical God, they create Him according to their imagination, raising in their minds what they want Him to be according to their own desires and their alienation from God. They then design an entire worldview around this god or these gods, projecting on these deities an authority that actually shifts this authority away from God to themselves. Note, it is not to another god to which they shift authority but to themselves. Once they have established their own authority, they can then project on themselves their present condition and include it into their worldview (“I’m OK, you’re OK, but others outside of our circle are downright nasty.”). As a remedy, they offer their own solutions from human-centered philosophy, religion, and psychology.

Seeking?  Yes.  Spiritual?  Yes.  Religious zeal?  Yes.  Seeking after God?  No, that is until He finds us and gives us a willing heart and mind.  All the rest of our seeking, according to Lewis, is dabbling in religion.  God is not at all what we make Him to be.  However, He is everything we need Him to be given our current state of affairs in this destructive, unenviable, hopeless, and violent environment in which we find ourselves.

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:16-17)

God loved.  He gave.  He sent.  He saved (delivered from destruction).  In His matchless initiative, He reached out to us in our religious dabbling, philosophizing, and therapeutic machinations.  No initiative on our part comes infinitely close to His strong hand of mercy and grace.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

An Atheist Theological Position and Faith

I recently engaged some atheists concerning their claims about how they see the God of Christians.  One claim an atheist author made was that the Christian god is simply one of the imagination.  This god exists because Christian believe this god’s existence.  The actual statement is, “they [gods] exist because you make them exist” (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/godlessindixie/2014/10/24/god-does-exist-2).  The author goes on to state,

You were likely taught from your youngest days to believe in this entity, and some of you have spent a lifetime cultivating a way of thinking about and perceiving a world which includes this Being in the midst of it. You were taught to listen to the thoughts and feelings in your own head and consider that some of them may very well be this Person communicating with you, telling you things you should know. You’ve spent many years reading a text which you were told represents the right way to think about this person, and if you’ve had as long as I had, you were able to internalize its vocabulary and its thought forms until they became second nature to you. In short, you do experience this person as if he were a real person, and it won’t do you any good for me to stand here and tell you he does not exist. That’s simply incorrect. He exists because you make him exist.”

In other words, God is not a matter of epistemology, belief system, or even reality, but simply of one’s imagination.  I posed a challenge to this claim (and a claim it is) that it is no more than the logical fallacy called a straw man or even a false attribution.  It is also an epistemological one for the one making the claim.  Let us examine the claim from these perspectives.

First, let us look at the logical fallacy.  A straw man argument is positing a position to someone that the person does not hold.  The person doing this sets up what is known as a straw man, that is, a false position.  Then the person making the claim begins either attacking the straw man or making statements about it rather than addressing the real position the other person actually holds.  Another logical fallacy could also be applied to this type of claim called false attribution.  A false attribution is falsely attributing a position to another the other person does not hold or one that is irrelevant or biased to support one’s claim.  In neither case does the one making the claim present an argument on the merit.  That is, the claimant fails to address the other person’s position at all through evidence or reasoning.  All this atheist could do is make the claim and use a work of fiction to support it without any further support other than repetition of the premise:  it is all in the mind or imagination.

After a brief interchange when I brought up this atheist’s straw man, he replied with other logical fallacies:

1. That I missed his intent, which was “to explain to other atheists something they may not be getting about believers.”

2.  That his experience as a former Christian and seminary graduate supported his claim

The first argument simply affirmed the false attribution logical fallacy or a lie by continuing to attribute a false position to Christians.  The second argument was another logical fallacy known as “appeal to authority.”  Appeal to authority is an attempt to sidetrack the discussion from the claim through appealing either to another authority (“So and so says…”) or oneself as an authority rather than address an argument that supports the claim (or an argument on the merits).  That is neither one supports a person’s claim.  One is using what is false while the other sidetracks from a claim by going elsewhere.

I then addressed the claim altogether with another argument: “If God did not exist, people would not have any thought of the existence of God.”  They could not imagine God or even think or discuss any kind of divinity.  The first atheist dropped out of the discussion while a few others entered it. One atheist tried to counter this by claiming that we imagine certain fictional science fiction characters, and they do not exist: i.e., Superman, Buck Rodgers, etc.  Fiction writers create fictitious characters from what they know in the material created order.  To refer to them by name is simply an action of assigning a name to things that exist.  Fiction writers know about human beings or other types of beings within the created order.  They then dress them up in a certain garb or identity and name them.  This action does not address what one does not know or the non-existence of something or God.

For example, God asked Adam to name the animals.  If animals were not of the material world, Adam would not have the foggiest idea about animals.  Nothing could come to mind.  Their existence and the knowledge of that existence comes before naming them.  Some may ask, “What about the unicorn?”  The unicorn is a horse with a horn.  Horses exists, and animals with horns exists.  People see what is in existence, integrate these existing things, and assign a name to it in the same way Adam did.  The atheists in the discussion continued to bring up these examples with different other fictional characters, claiming that they did not exist except in the imagination.  However, regardless how many examples one gives, the same argument applies.  These fictional characters are representations of what already exists.

That returns us to the original claim – if God did not exist, no thought of divinity apart from the created material world could be imagined or entertained in our thoughts.  Furthermore, atheists could not even make the claim that God does not exist.  If He did not exist, why do they continue to make the claim that He does not exist?  It is a claim without meaning.  They would not be making any claim at all, because they could not entertain what does not exist in their thoughts.  All their claims about the non-existence of God amounts to no more than a personal attack on those who hold that God exists.  Nothing more.

Atheism is actually a theology that requires faith as much as Christian theology also requires faith.  All of us must have faith whether that faith is in humanity (humanism), other religions (pluralism), or any other kind of -ism in the world.  Too many unseen elements exist in the material world and beyond it to simply rely on empiricism or related approaches.  Our finiteness prohibits us from an all out claim or disclaim of God.  Atheists must believe God (or gods as they put it) does not exist.  They cannot provide evidence from the material world or anything beyond finite knowledge to make a claim of the non-existence of God.  Inasmuch as atheists make claims for the non-existence of God, no scientific method can prove such non-existence or even offer evidence at the very least.  They must accept such non-existence on faith that their theology of no God is feasible.

Consequently, atheism offers no more than a comparative faith.  It is far less tenable to believe in the non-existence of something than in the claim of what exists.  It is also more difficult to develop a theology around non-existence than existence.  I would rather place my faith in the God of the Bible than in faith in a non-existence of the Divine.  The biblical God gives far more substance and evidence, for it has the backing of history and creation.  These will be explored in future posts.

Opposition to Religious Freedom

While opposition to religious freedom continues to raises its ugly head, little do those who oppose religious liberty understand that freedom of speech and the practice of religion are integrated.  Any attempts to chill either is oppression and violation of the First Amendment to the US Constitution.  The suppression of free speech is also a suppression of religious freedom, and the opposite is true.

The mayor’s office in Houston is another incident where both freedom of religion and speech have come under attack.  Mayor Parker recently sent a subpoena to several church pastors demanding that they send their sermons to the mayor’s office for review if they have certain words or phrases in them: homosexual, her name, or any other similar wording.  In other words, if the pastors do not comply, they would be in contempt of court and be prosecuted.

The Houston mayor’s office received a notice not only from the pastors’ attorney but also from the Texas State Attorney General’s Office and the Federal Human Rights Commission to stand down and cease her actions.  They knew that the mayor’s office was in violation of First Amendment rights and that the Mayor was stepping out on a dangerous cliff.

Attempts to silence the gospel has received its challenges over the decades, but the action of the Houston mayor is rather blatant.  Hobby Lobby won at the US Supreme Court in their case over paying for abortion drugs in their insurance premiums.  Such lawsuits and opposition to religious freedom and speech would have been unheard of a century ago, but religious freedom receives increasing opposition in our society as the “god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4) attempts to turn the hearts of individuals to himself and away from God.  The Apostle Peter aligns with the Apostle Paul when he claims that Satan is like a roaring lion roaming around seeking those he wants to devour (1 Peter 5:8).  Satan has placed his own hatred in the heart of those who oppose God to stand up against those who place their faith in Him.  We should not be surprised at his tactics, but rather we should learn about them to be able to stand up against those who side with Satan.

When those in power attempt to suppress the gospel, they must find or create a message to replace it.  That message arises from debauchery and deceit.  Such a message looks at wrong and calls it right and demands that people must embrace that wrong through oppression and suppression of the truth.  A path exists from seeing wrong as benign to ignoring it, acknowledging it, accepting it, embracing it, and finally practicing it.  Once a wrongdoing enters the stage of being seen as a neutral practice, that opens the door to considering it as benign.  As benign, wrongdoing can be left to grow within a society much like a benign tumor grows in the body.  This benign tumor can displace other organs, and a wrongdoing seen as benign can displace truth through shifting it to “your truth may not be the same as my truth.”  At that stage, truth becomes rejected in favor of some sort of alleged neutral ground.  Once this neutral ground is established within the mind, the person becomes an evangelist for spreading this benign message (or new gospel) to the community at large and outward to society.

Modern philosophy is like this benign tumor by relegating wrongdoing and evil to a neutral ground.  However, such relegation is not a neutral act as no act is neutral.  Actions and practices step out from belief systems.  Belief systems are not neutral or benign.  Rather, they are advocates of one’s worldview or philosophy of life.  One’s worldview does not sit benignly in the mind taking neutral positions on practices one encounters.  People vote their positions in the public square.  As a person encounters a particular practice, thinking, or behavior, one either accepts or rejects it depending on that person’s worldview.  Accepting a new way of thinking can cause a shift in a worldview for incorporating what one accepts for making subtle changes in the worldview.  If the incorporated thinking or philosophy comes in conflict with a component within one’s worldview, a struggle ensues until the new thought process or behavior is accepted or rejected.  All of us are tempted with such recurring conflicts.  The rejection of one way of thinking must transpire for the acceptance of another way of thinking.  Neutrality calls for co-existence, but co-existence cannot occur when a struggle happens over conflicting philosophies concerning thinking and behavioral practice.  Like a tumor, the new way of thinking or belief displaces the existing way of thinking or belief.

Neutrality then follows the path of rejecting existing philosophy past ignoring the new to acknowledging, accepting, and embracing a stance, worldview, or lifestyle of a new worldview, paradigm, or philosophy.  Acceptance turns into advocacy much like what has happened within the Houston mayor’s office.  The mayor not only rejected the biblical worldview for belief and practice, but she embraced a worldview opposite the biblical one to the point of practice and advocacy.  Practice turned to evangelism for her worldview as she pressed it on the pliable and malleable Houston City Council to rule according to a tyranny of the minority.  She was never neutral but an evangelist for a specific worldview that opposed the worldview of pastors she subpoenaed.  Hers was an opposition toward suppression of these pastors’ speech and religious practice.

Neutrality much like tolerance cannot exist when there is opposition and conflicting worldviews.  “Tolerance” is a smokescreen for the intolerant statement “my truth may not be your truth.  Truth is not neutral nor tolerant of a lie.  Rather, it creates a dividing line between what is right and wrong.  It leaves no neutrality.  The source of truth is God whose truth is universal and stands opposed to all worldviews that reject truth.  There is no “my truth may not be the same as your truth.”  That statement has its source in worldly view and not in God’s view.  When one makes such a statement, they exclude all other worldviews and reflect intolerance of others while embracing “my truth.” The perspective of “my truth” is no more than a limited grasp of an alienated state from and opposed to God.  It not only rejects God as the source of truth but other belief systems through the stress of “my truth.”  It is ultimate intolerance.  Intolerance leads to suppression and oppression of opposing worldviews and ultimately opposition of religious freedom and free speech.

For this reason, the Founding Fathers of our nation incorporated the First Amendment into the US Constitution.  They recognized humanity’s fallen state from God and sought a higher law founded upon unalienable rights conferred by the Creator.  They saw God’s truth as the ruling truth over the intolerant “my truth may not be the same as your truth.”  They saw God’s law as the prevention of oppression of religious practice and speech.  They knew that when humanity embraced God as the source of truth, they could live with one another in spite of conflicts and differences.  The gospel is the message for ultimate freedom for embracing the way God originally created us and to live according to the truth found in Jesus Christ who claimed,

I am the way, the TRUTH, and the life (John 14:6).

“My truth may not be the same as your truth” Is this true?

From time to time, I hear someone saying, “My truth may not be the same as your truth.”  Because postmodern thinking has infiltrated this generation and our Western society with its relativism, many make this statement without realizing what they say.  They do not realize the problems arising from this statement.  Some do, but use it as an escape hatch for shutting down an argument in which they do not wish to engage.  Those shutting down an argument cannot defend their own position.  Others also look at this statement as conclusive, the end of all argument, and an inescapable “truth” without a legitimate rebuttal.  Are these conclusions really that air tight or do they simply teeter on the cliff of irrationality, reducing argument and communication to meaningless?  Let us examine the logic and philosophy behind this statement and dig to the root of it.

The book Nothing But the Gospel addresses this argument, stating,

Many today reduce truth to “my truth may not be the same as your truth.”  Such an assessment of truth cancels it out by reducing it to millions of individual opinions.  In doing so, truth itself depends on humanity and not on God, and reduces it to non-existence.  Such so-called truth relies on the limitations of finite beings living in a temporal existence and ignores the unknown” (p. 76).

That is, one making this claim about truth asserts a self-defeating argument and redefines the meaning of truth.  Opinion substitutes for truth and makes truth dependent on the limitations of an individual, group, community, or society.  By redefining the word, the user becomes enclosed in his or her own limited existence beyond which another “truth” claims to exist.  That is, all “truths” are mutually exclusive and only valid within a specific circle.

Moving outside one’s circle of truth into another person’s circle is non-negotiable depending on the flexibility of one’s “truth” principles.  It also expresses a statement of intolerance and standard.  That is, if your truth is different from mine, then anything beyond my cocoon of truth has little relevance.  Not only does it have little relevance, but if I cling heartily to my truth, your truth can be very offensive to me. Such offense lends to alienation and conflict while cutting off discourse and association.  The more firm the stance on one’s truth, the greater the intolerance of another person or group’s truth.  Of course, this assertion remains unstated until “truths” clash.  Then the banners raise and protests begin.

This statement about truth also raises what one attempts to avoid: absoluteness and a sense of right or wrong.  By making the statement about truth as possessive or belonging to one person or group as opposed to another, a sense of absoluteness arises.  One who makes the claim will not state outright that another is wrong, but when one makes such a claim, that person excludes the claims of any other “truth.”  An attitude of intolerance confirms this absoluteness, which eventually surfaces when one holding the claim is pressed in a corner.

Furthermore, truth cannot stand alone.  It must be practiced.  Otherwise, it is ethereal and has no substance or connection to the real world.  Practice makes truth reality.  Practice expresses and distinguishes between right and wrong right and wrong.  That is, a person behaves in a manner one believes to be a right course as opposed to a wrong course.  People make judgments and engage in actions based on personal standards.  We often hear the phrase when asked why a person acted in the way one did, “It was simply the right thing to do.”  Trust depends on telling the truth or exhibiting certain attitudes or behaviors.  People realize that specific attitudes and behaviors are common within groups, communities, and societies.

A person making a claim about “my truth” soon discovers isolation.  Others outside of the realm of another person’s truth then begin to view the person clinging to a “my truth”  as an oddball.  Consequently, the truth of truth is its relevance beyond one person, and if beyond one person, to how many more will truth apply before it reaches its limitation?  If truth has limitation, it then exhibits the same claim as truth limited to one.  The group or community making the claim, much like the individual, soon discovers isolation, and not only isolation but also intolerance of other groups, communities, and societies.  Have we not seen the results of this throughout history?

Therefore, is truth or a claim of truth a problem or the individual making the claim about truth the problem?  Some may say neither is a problem.  Why then does intolerance or conflict arise with the statement of “My truth may not be the same as your truth?”  Does truth contribute to intolerance or conflict?  The Bible claims that the suppression of truth gives rise to everyone claiming their own truth,

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Romans 1:18).

The suppression of truth arises from what the Apostle Paul asserts as “unrighteousness,” that is, the refusal to recognize and follow God as the source of truth.  He goes on to write,

…because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen” (1:21-25).

In the absence of divine truth and its practice, individuals adopt their own “truth” and fail to recognize that it must be practiced.  Therefore, the problem resides with individuals. They end up practicing a lie while laying claim to “My truth may not be the same as your truth.”  When asked about that person’s truth, the next claim comes forth, “That (practice) may be OK for you but not for me.”  In making this statement, one integrates practice with one’s statement of truth and the admission that it must be practiced.  By doing so, one establishes a standard for one’s view of truth and its practice.  That standard not only applies to that individual but also to the group or community with which the individual is involved until the scope of this standard becomes wider to a society and beyond.

Paul explains the logical conclusion of a person or society establishing its own “truth” – setting up a divinity or idol for the society after first rejecting God.  Under the umbrella of another divinity, individuals begin to practice dishonor, intolerance for others, deceit, and any number of other practices Paul mentions.  Conflicts and destructive behaviors arise as each society clings to its own set of “truths” and looks upon other societies as oddballs.  Power resides in those (the dictator) who hold sway with their “truth.”  Has history not shown these consequences, especially when people depart from the living God and fail to give Him the worship due Him?  Worshiping the God of Jesus Christ brings all claims of truth and their conflicts to an end.  Since He created all that exist, He alone determines truth for that existence.  Jesus said,

I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).

He alone establishes the truth for all to follow and reconciles all to it and God through Himself.