Many argue that faith is personal, that it’s different for all people, and that we must respect people of all faiths, and even those of no faith at all. I agree on all counts. But in this forum, I like to put forth my own set of personal beliefs – and those of anyone willing to add to the discussion – under the presumption that if you’re here reading this, you have at least some interest in matters of eternity.
I think that probably the most fundamental error in any discussion of faith starts with the words, But I think God is… Any discussion of faith that starts with those words is typically akin to a talk show or even a political debate, because it implies that the “question of God” can be resolved and solved by open debate and public consensus. But if God is real – and looking at it logically – this assumption is absurd. It presumes that we can make God in our own image.
But before we get into that analysis, let’s first spend some time pondering an issue that provides the entire reason such a discussion is even necessary…the rejection of Jesus Christ.
Why is Jesus Christ so “offensive” to so many people?
I can come up with two answers to this question. The first involves the judgment and hypocrisy that often comes from us Christians; we’re most assuredly guilty of this charge, but we’ll tackle that topic in a future post.
As to the second…
Do you believe that anyone has the ability to foretell the future? Some people believe in the prophecies of Nostrodamus, the 16th century French chemist who wrote of all sorts of predictions through his quatrains which many believe have come to pass. But here’s another prophecy from an even better known “prophet”, that has unequivocally come to pass:
” If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first…If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also” (John 15:18,20).
Those words were spoken by Jesus Christ nearly 2000 years ago, and they’re as true today as they were then. But why? Why did they hate Jesus then, and why is he still hated today? And since he departed the physical confines of the world nearly 2000 years ago, why does anyone care enough to be offended? Jesus didn’t come to rearrange social orders, to topple governments or to change national boundaries. So what was it about him that so many found and still find so displeasing?
Here’s my theory… take a definite position on anything, and one thing is guaranteed: many people will hate you. Jesus was very definite, he spoke with the authority of someone who knows. But in our human-ness, we don’t like definite – we prefer the wiggle room that uncertainty provides. People who are definite about things – especially in matters we can loosely call “virtues” – tend to make us nervous. Though we’re loathe to admit it, at the depths of our souls we’re only too aware of our shortcomings as human beings and of our guilt in the face of truth. And the more powerful the truth that one utters, the more repulsed we are at hearing it.
Rhetorical question: Does the fact that a teaching offends us make that teaching invalid?
A more modern reason to reject Jesus
In today’s world, there may be an even more basic reason so many dismiss Jesus as irrelevant: fewer people believe in a “god” of any sort.
Previous generations lived a mere heartbeat away from death, and they knew it. It wasn’t at all uncommon for people who grew up before World War II to have experienced the death of an immediate family member, often a childhood sibling. It was hard not to cling to faith as the last, best hope.
But we’re largely insulated from that view of death – if not from death itself – by today’s complex global systems, public safety nets, medical advances, technological breakthroughs and the ever-present and increasingly convincing entertainment media, all of which combine to deliver to us a compelling message that we’re masters of our own destiny.
This has become the ultimate “religion” of the 21st century. We don’t like to dwell on death, and like to think that one day death itself will be destroyed by our completely irrepressible, always advancing technology. As an extreme example, some people even choose to freeze their bodies at death, placing their hope in the fact that blessed technology will find a way to resurrect them to new life.
Jesus promised that if we believe in him, we would have eternal life. But eternal life with who? With God. He promised to bring us to glory. What glory? The glory of God. He promised that we’d be delivered from eternal wrath? What wrath? The wrath of God.
But if there is no God, there is no wrath, so why do we even need savior? A savior from what? The question of belief in Jesus Christ then, is even more basic than any objections to his claims and teachings.
Now, back to But I think God is…
OK, this has been an admittedly long wind-up to the main topic in the title of this post, but given the depth of the subject matter, the table first needs to be set.
I contend that one of the core objections to Jesus Christ is either an absence of belief in a sovereign God, or a lack of understanding of the nature of God. That lack of both belief and understanding is in evidence in the way we speak of God. If we preface our discussions of God with “but I think God is…” what we’re really doing is opening the possibility of creating a God of our own choosing – making God in Man’s image. As a matter of pure logic, that thinking can’t be right.
This assertion starts with a mistaken premise: that the God of the Universe is (or must be) limited to what we think he is or should be. We’re making up our own God from, presumably, a long list of buffet table-like multiple choice items. Is that who God has to be, someone who fits our idea of who he is?
Assuming that were even possible, would a God constructed by any human being be remotely capable of being the God of the Universe? To think as much is a contradiction in terms.
So let’s flip the direction a bit. Rather than beginning a discussion of God with “but I think God is…”, let’s instead start by listing some things God isn’t, based on little more than logic:
- God isn’t constrained by the limits of our understanding
- God isn’t constrained by our ideas of right or wrong
- God isn’t some sort of cosmic genie waiting to do our bidding in order to prove his existence or worth to humanity
- God isn’t constrained by our understanding of science
- God isn’t beholden to our individual opinions of who he is
- God isn’t beholden to the court of public opinion or even to the court of human law
Some would like to believe in God, but want a god who will “behave” (according to the values of good and evil we hold important). As well intended as that may sound on the surface, it means only accepting a limited god. This is not at all unlike paganism, which established many gods, all of whom had certain powers and certain weaknesses. But those are not gods at all; they’re more akin to super humans. In our own day super humans take the form of fictional characters in popular culture, like movies, TV and magazines. We love the idea of concentrated power, but only when we think we can control it. And when the hero is a super HUMAN, he or she can usually be controlled by something or someone.
A true God is one who is beyond our imaginations and unconstrained by our personal preferences. In a world where we’re told – and even directed – to be masters of our own destinies, that’s a hard pill to swallow. After all, a true God would have absolute power over us.
That’s a frightening proposition isn’t it, maybe even more than we can stand?
But our fear doesn’t mean God doesn’t exist. Either he does or he doesn’t, but if he does, then yes, he has absolute power over us. Our choice then is either to believe or to reject the idea of an all powerful God- but not to construct one based on our own preferences.
Only when we begin to grasp the concept of the absolute sovereignty of God do we begin to develop an understanding of who Jesus Christ is and why we need him. He is our path to that God who has absolute power over us.
If we’re serious about the searching for or knowing God – and we should be – we need to begin by asking the right questions and, more important, not running away from any answers we get. Beginning the conversation with But I think God is is never the place to start that discussion with.
What are your thoughts on this subject? Must God be who we think he is?