To Understand, Stand Under

(…continued from Original Sin)

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Don Carson has called this the de-godding of God.

It is putting ourselves above our Creator, judging Him, assessing Him.

Which of course is impossible. How can a created being truly understand its creator? As the apostle Paul says,

Who in the world do you think you are to second-guess God? Do you for one moment suppose any of us knows enough to call God into question? Clay doesn’t talk back to the fingers that mold it, saying, “Why did you shape me like this?”

Romans 9:20-21

And as God Himself says, according to the prophet Isaiah,

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
….neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
….so are my ways higher than your ways
……..and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Isaiah 55:8-9

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But the good news is, our Creator, God, is allowing us to have a relationship with Him. But it has to be on HIS terms. He has graciously taken the initiative and revealed Himself to us (and by “grace” I mean “unmerited favor”, meaning we did not do anything at all to deserve what He has granted). He has revealed Himself first through His messengers the prophets (like Isaiah, quoted above), and ultimately through Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1:1-3). This gracious self-revelation of our Creator is recorded in the Bible, rightly regarded by Christians as THE written Word of God.

And through His written Word, God has not only revealed who He is, but also who human beings really are—the only beings in all of creation who are created in His image, offered the incredible privilege of enjoying eternity with Him—forever!

Moreover, the Bible reveals not only  who God is, and what human beings really are, but also what is good and what is bad for us. Not just what is morally good and bad, but indeed what is truly good and truly bad for us, as graciously revealed by our Maker—who of course knows infinitely more about us than we ever can find out on our own.

But, just like Adam and Eve in the story, human beings rebel at this. We prefer to retain the idea that we can, in time, understand the whole universe, the whole of creation, including ourselves, without help from the Creator.

And some people, in response to the assertion that the Bible is the Word of God, get sidetracked in endlessly trying to prove that it is historically inaccurate and contains accounts which contradict one another and cannot be reconciled. The reasoning is that if it can be proven that there are errors or inconsistencies in the Bible, then it cannot be the revelation of an infallible God.

But so much precious time is wasted in this. I personally believe that everything in the Bible can indeed be proven to be historically accurate, and that the accounts there do not contradict one another. However, I also believe that concentrating in such efforts to “prove” and “disprove” every little account and detail could be a fatal waste of time.

As John Stott says,

The Bible is essentially a handbook of salvation.  Its overarching purpose is to teach not facts of science (e.g. the nature of moon rock) which men can discover by their own empirical investigation, but facts of salvation, which no space exploration can discover but only God can reveal.  The whole Bible unfolds the divine scheme of salvation—man’s creation in God’s image, his fall through disobedience into sin and under judgment, God’s continuing love for him in spite of his rebellion, God’s eternal plan to save him through his covenant of grace with a chosen people, culminating in Christ; the coming of Christ as the Saviour, who died to bear man’s sin, was raised from death, was exalted to heaven and sent the Holy Spirit; and man’s rescue first from guilt and alienation, then from bondage, and finally from mortality in his progressive experience of the liberty of God’s children. [1]

The pursuit of proofs pro and con the historicity and integrity of biblical accounts is, of course, useful—to a point. It is of course important to be assured that the BIble, in the forms that we have it today, is indeed a reliable transmission of the original documents. It is important to be assured that there are no historical errors nor unexplainable “contradictions” in the biblical accounts [2]. However, it is easy to focus so much on the pursuit of proofs and arguments pro and con these matters that one misses THE point: the need to have a right relationship with our Creator, and how God Himself has provided the means for such a right relationship.

No, created human beings can never fully understand their Creator. They cannot even truly, completely, understand themselves, and what is truly good and bad for them, without help from their Creator.

The only way to truly understand and know God, is to bow before Him in humility and to accept that He is God, and we are not. The only way to understand the Bible is to stand under it, accept it as the Word of the Creator, as indeed it is, and to obey His will as revealed in it [3].

We cannot stand in judgment of God, and say to Him, “Alright, big guy, if you can explain yourself to me, then I’ll do as you say.” No, that won’t work with God. Man’s way is “Let me understand first, then I will obey”. That may  work out fine in relation with other human beings and human authorities. But that is not the way we are to relate with our Creator. God’s way is: “Obey first, THEN you will understand“.

There is only one God, one Creator. We can have a relationship with Him, and we can know Him, and thereby also fully and truly know ourselves. But it has to be on His terms. The good news is, if we come to Him on His terms, He will reveal Himself more and more to us—as we continue to trust and obey Him. If we obey, then we will indeed understand. He will grant us wisdom and understanding—not only for this life, but for eternity.

He will not only guide us into the knowledge of good and evil, but also allow us to enjoy the fruit of the tree of life.

To be continued…

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[1] From “The Message of 2 Timothy” (The Bible Speaks Today series: London and Downers Grove: IVP, 1973), p. 102, as quoted in the May 21 2008 issue of the John Stott Daily Thought e-newsletter. Emphases mine.

[2] See, for example, the posts Are the New Testament Documents Reliable? and Are the New Testament Documents Reliable? What About the Differences in the Manuscripts?, and the comments to them.

[3] In his post Are There Errors in the Bible?, Tim Challies says, rightly:

After all, if something is the ultimate authority, to what else can it appeal? Were the Bible to appeal to our reason to substantiate its authority, it would implicitly show that human reason is a higher authority. 

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This is Part 3 of a series. Other posts in this series:

Part 1: Judging God

Part 2: Original Sin

Part 4: Dying for Rebels

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Dead at 28

I was very surprised and saddened this morning to read that Heath Ledger was found dead in an apartment in New York. An autopsy has yet to be conducted. He was 28.

A very promising life cut so short. Oscar nominee for Brokeback Mountain. Good choice of roles in other movies—Monster’s Ball, I’m Not There, Lords of Dogtown, A Knight’s Tale. We will be seeing him later this year as the Joker in The Dark Knight, the sequel to Batman Begins.

A sober reminder of just how fleeting our life is. As the Bible describes life this side of eternity, it is like a vapor in the wind, like grass that sprouts in the morning and withers at night (beautifully put into music in Casting Crown’s Who Am I?).

A very strong, though sad, reinforcement of the need to appeal to God to “teach us to number our days”—to grant us wisdom on how to live our fleeting lives. Also reinforces the urgency of Paul’s appeal to be reconciled to God:

       Anyone who is joined to Christ is a new being; the old is
gone, the new has come. All this is done by God, who
through Christ changed us from enemies into his friends
and gave us the task of making others his friends also.
Our message is that God was making all human beings his
friends through Christ. God did not keep an account of
their sins, and he has given us the message which tells
how he makes them his friends.

Here we are, then, speaking for Christ,
as though God himself were making his appeal
through us. We plead on Christ’s behalf:
let God change you from enemies into his friends!
Christ was without sin, but for our sake God made
him share our sin in order that in union with him
we might share the righteousness of God.[1]

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In the words of The Message:

       How? you ask. In Christ. God put the wrong on him
who never did  anything wrong,
so we could be put right with God.[2]

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Life is short and unpredictable. Be reconciled to God, while there is still time.

May God grant us all wisdom from above! God bless you!
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[1] 2 Corinthians 5:17-21, Today’s English Version
[2] 2 Corinthians 5:21, The Message
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“Teach Us To Number Our Days”

“Teach us to number our days”. I have often heard verse 12 of Psalm 90 quoted by preachers, and it has always resonated with me. It is a prayer for guidance—that God give us wisdom so that we may rightly value and live out our days, in the light of our lives’ temporalness and brevity this side of eternity.

So I thought it would be appropriate to meditate on Psalm 90 and make it as one of my prayers to God at the start of the year.

But as I was translating it so that it would be my personal prayer, I was stuck at v. 11.

In Hebrew, it looks like this:

Psalm 90 v11


 
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Literally translated, the above is:
Who knows the strength of your anger
and like the fear of you your rage?

Now that didn’t seem to make sense.

I turned to other English versions, to see how they handled this verse.

The Revised Standard Version (RSV), which is actually the one I regularly use in Bible study, has:
Who considers the power of thy anger,
and thy wrath according to the fear of thee?

The New American Standard Bible (NASB) seems to have a similar thought:
Who understands the power of Your anger
And Your fury, according to the fear that is due You?

In both RSV and NASB, the objects of the verb yada (know/understand) are both the power of God’s anger and His fury/wrath. This understanding is supposed to be in accordance with the fear that men ought to feel towards God. So according to RSV and NASB, the verse is asking: who understands God’s anger and wrath in the same measure as they fear God? (I take this to be a rhetorical question where the expected answer is “no one”.)
 
The New International Version (NIV) has:
Who knows the power of your anger?
For your wrath is as great as the fear that is due you.

This seems to be similar to the thought in the Contemporary English Version (CEV):
No one knows the full power
of your furious anger,
but it is as great as the fear
that we owe to you.

NIV and CEV are asking: who understands the power of your anger? It is actually as great as the fear that is due you.

Today’s English Version (TEV) or the Good News Bible has:
Who has felt the full power of your anger?
Who knows what fear your fury can bring?

Very different from the rest is the message in The Message:
Who can make sense of such rage,
such anger against the very ones who fear you?

Verses 11 and 12 are pivotal. The Psalm turns around them.

The verses that precede them tell how sinful human beings live their fleeting lives incurring the wrath of the eternal God, who has always provided refuge for them since time began.

The succeeding verses are a plea to God to turn His face again to His fallen creatures, bless them, enable them to appreciate His splendor and His glorious works, and also grant their own works more than temporal significance.

The key, I think, lies in understanding why the writer has made the wrath of God correspond to the fear of God.

I agree with the thought behind the RSV and NASB translations, although the way they have been rendered is not so easily understood.

The object of yada (know/understand/comprehend) is not just God’s wrath/anger, but also the fear of God. That is, no one fully comprehends God’s anger because no one has yet fully experienced it. And because of this, no one truly fears God the way they should.

That is why the writer of the Psalm asks God to enable  human beings to understand and fully appreciate that they are living their fleeting lives mostly in sin, because they do not truly fear God. This lack of fear is because no one has yet fully experienced God’s anger. But a day will come when God’s wrath against sin will be finally and fully poured out. God will not be mocked!

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. When we properly fear God, then we will be able to present to Him a heart of wisdom—fully comprehending His eternal nature and His holiness, and our own finiteness and sinfulness.

It is then with such a heart that we can ask God to turn His face towards us again and bless us, and grant us more wisdom, so that we can fully appreciate, more and more, God’s glory and splendor.

A prayer based on a loose translation of Psalm 90

O Lord, you have been our dwelling place
from generation to generation.
Before mountains were born,
even before you created the earth,
from everlasting to everlasting—
You are God!

You make human beings return to dust.
You say, “Return, children of men!”
A thousand years in your eyes are like a day,
like yesterday—it passes quickly,
even like a watch in the night.

You put them to sleep.
They are like grass which sprouts up in the morning.
In the morning it sprouts and blooms,
but in the evening it withers and dries up.

We are consumed by your anger.
We are terrified by your wrath.
You have set our transgressions before you.
Our secret sins are laid open before the light of your face.

All our days turn under your wrath.
We finish our years like a sigh.
The days of our lives are but seventy years
or if we are strong, eighty.
But even their best is full of toil and trouble;
they pass away quickly…and then we fly away.

Still, who fully comprehends the power of your anger?
Who fully comprehends the fear that is due you?
Enable us therefore to understand how fleeting our lives are,
so that we may bring to you a heart of wisdom,
giving to you the fear and reverence that is due you
.

Return, O YHWH! Until when?
Have pity on your servants!

Satisfy us in the morning with your covenant love
so that we may shout for joy and rejoice all our days.

Make us rejoice according to the days
that you have humbled us,
the years that we have seen evil.

May the glory of your works
be comprehended by your servants,
and your splendor by their children.

May the favor of our Lord God be upon us.
Make permanent the works of our hands for us.
Make permanent the works of our hands.

Amen.

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