We lie when we claim that unexplainable things are in fact explainable. God is transcendent and beyond even the shadowy wisps of imagination in our finite minds. The Trinity, for instance, is not as simple as a metaphor of water (ice, water, steam) or an egg (shell, white, yoke). Sometimes I think we would be better off if we just said, “These ideas are so beyond me that if God did reveal them to me, I am pretty sure my brain would explode.”
Tony Kriz has an article in Leadership Journal’s online magazine in February where he tells a story about leading an evangelism seminar. He subtitles the seminar “Cross Spiritual Communication” or “How to talk about your faith without being a total jerk.” He then starts the seminar with “How do we Christians lie… How do we lie when evangelizing?” He says the room ends up being like “pure discovery in action.” His seven “lies” that we make are as follows:
- We lie when we claim we are more confident than we really are.
- We lie when we claim that unexplainable things are in fact explainable.
- We lie when we don’t acknowledge our doubts within the drama of faith.
- We lie when we pretend like the Bible doesn’t say some really nasty things when in fact it does.
- We lie when we claim we understand other beliefs, faiths and world views.
- We lie when we claim that all of our beliefs are a “10”.
- Finally, and most importantly, we lie (insidious and barbaric lying) when we pretend like we really, really, really love the other person when in fact we don’t.
Tony has some valid points. He is saying we are often not sharing our faith, but our church’s faith. He is saying that what we share is not actually what we are living. I wanted to take some time over the next few weeks to talk about some of these issues Tony brings up, in part because it is not my experience that he is correct, nor that he has approached this matter in the best way possible.
Last week we looked at number 1 and 3 on his list. Today we will look at number 2. Understand that by “lying” he insinuates that we intentionally lead people astray, and I don’t believe most people do that. I think the bigger problem is that the church hasn’t taught people to think for themselves. In our time together I try to bring relevant truths out of the Scriptures for us in how we live our lives. I try to bring principles that are beyond specific situations, principles that help guide us in our Christian walk. For example, the purpose of our life is to be like Jesus in our thoughts, words, and deeds. If we even just kept that in the back of minds (in the same way as the “What would Jesus do?” movement) we would have something to guide us throughout our day.
Do we see the glass half full or half empty? Do we look at what we have, or what we don’t have? In terms of God the truth is we don’t know all the answers, or have everything figured out. But we can know the important stuff. Deuteronomy 29:29 says, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may observe all the words of this law.” We do have some things of which we can be certain – those things that God has given us. As Nazarenes, we believe there are four parts to understanding Truth. One of the things we have is Scripture. These 66 books written over some 2000 years is the final revelation of God to the church today. The Scriptures provide us not just the story of God from creation to Israel, but of the incarnation from heaven to earth. The life of Jesus, while only partially recorded, is plain for all to read in the New Testament. As we share our faith, the things we believe, we need to know this book because the Bible reveals God and who we are as humanity before God.
It is not just a case of knowing this book – we need to understand how to properly interpret as well. Hermeneutics is the study of Scripture, of drawing out of the written word what the writer was thinking when he or she wrote what they wrote. Often we take a verse and jump right to the 21st Century. While there are so many things relevant to today, we need to understand the principles behind what was written and why it was written first.
For example, the doctrine of the Trinity is established by looking at the whole of Scripture. Yes, we see God the Father, God the Holy Spirit, and God the Son in the baptism of Jesus, but we see the individual work of the different members of the Trinity in many other places. We are not in the dark because He has revealed Himself to us. On Mt Sinai, in the incarnation, and at Pentecost we see the three members of the Trinity revealed. Trinity is the name we give to trying to understand God as He is revealed. While Tony says that attempts to put words to that revelation is a “lie”, it is totally appropriate to talk about the nature of God, even if we can’t fully explain God or who we are before Him. We will never fully understand God – He is too big, too infinite for our finite minds – but that doesn’t mean we have to just say, “He’s too unknowable, so let’s talk about something else.” There should be mystery in our faith – if we could fully comprehend God, He wouldn’t be a very big or awesome God. Every analogy we use will fall short, but the analogies are starting points for the broader discussion and understanding of “Who is God?” We are not lying when we express our understanding of God, as inadequate as it may be, as we seek to understand Him better.
The stories of God, and the teachings of people in both Old and New Testaments wrote out of God’s inspiration – it is God directly and specifically revealing Himself to humanity. Wesley insisted that scripture is the first authority and contains the only measure whereby all other truth is tested. It was delivered by authors who were divinely inspired. It is a rule sufficient of itself. It neither needs, nor is capable of, any further addition.
The second tool we have to understand truth is reason. Wesley wrote: “Now, of what excellent use is reason, if we would either understand ourselves, or explain to others, those living oracles”. He states quite clearly that without reason we cannot understand the essential truths of Scripture. Reason, however, is not merely a human invention. It must be assisted by the Holy Spirit if we are to understand the mysteries of God. With regard to justification by faith and sanctification Wesley said that although reason cannot produce faith, when impartial reason speaks we can understand the new birth, inward holiness, and outward holiness. Although reason cannot produce faith, it can shorten the leap.
Tradition is the third part of understanding truth. Wesley wrote that it is generally supposed that traditional evidence is weakened by length of time, as it must necessarily pass through so many hands in a continued succession of ages. Although other evidence is perhaps stronger, he insisted: “Do not undervalue traditional evidence. Let it have its place and its due honour. It is highly serviceable in its kind, and in its degree”. For him it supplies a link through 1,700 years of history with Jesus and the apostles. The witness to justification and sanctification is an unbroken chain drawing us into fellowship with those who have finished the race, fought the fight, and who now reign with God in his glory and might. Be careful, though, in thinking that much of our tradition goes back to the ancient church. Most of our tradition is only 200-300 years old, if not newer. True tradition goes back much further – and then you have to understand the reason behind the tradition in the first place. Is it just a roast pan tradition?
Experience: Apart from scripture, experience is the strongest proof of Christianity, especially for the individual. “What the scriptures promise, I enjoy”. Wesley insisted that we cannot have reasonable assurance of something unless we have experienced it personally. John Wesley was assured of both justification and sanctification because he had experienced them in his own life. What Christianity promised (considered as a doctrine) was accomplished in his soul. Furthermore, Christianity (considered as an inward principle) is the completion of all those promises. Although traditional proof is complex, experience is simple: “One thing I know; I was blind, but now I see.” Although tradition establishes the evidence a long way off, experience makes it present to all persons. As for the proof of justification and sanctification Wesley states that Christianity is an experience of holiness and happiness, the image of God impressed on a created spirit, a fountain of peace and love springing up into everlasting life.
So, yes, we don’t know all the answers. That takes nothing away from our faith. If anything, it should spur us on to deeper study, to more concentrated prayer, to more involvement in the discussions of things of which we are not sure. pursue God, and He will be found.