It is an never-ending source of comfort to be me that I am so frequently wrong.
Never-ending, because on a daily basis I manage to miss the mark more than once, whether I’m talking about the weather or making a mental judgment of someone’s character: I’m wrong a lot.
This is not an admission easily made in the country in which I live, the United States, which is plagued by a population of celebrities, politicians, military “analysts,” talking heads and torsos, and media columnists who are constantly prognosticating, analyzing, pontificating “what if?”, and arranging the details in a simplistic enough format so that the rest of us idiots can readily reach the conclusions they mean for us to reach.
They talk big, confident, and full of expertise — we’ve all met people like that. More than one small, family business has faltered and failed because its owners and top managers, insecure in their own ability to look at facts and make decisions, abdicate power to the aggressive, slick speaking consultant or expert.
Real Prophets Are Never Wrong
And when success eludes, those affected rarely look back — just as rarely as we look back at the words of the news commentators and analysts — and see if the predications of the expert really came true. It’s easier, somehow, just to believe and not question. (To those who make fun of us who talk about faith in God, I might point out that it’s a better bet than faith in analysts. They’re not prophets, although most make little effort to remind us of this.)
With that in mind, let’s also observe that prophets, true prophets, are never wrong because their source of information — God — knows the future. He’s the only one who does.
“No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father,” Jesus told His disciples in Matthew 24:36, after a long series of predictions about the future. To this day, we wonder, “Did all this stuff come true already? Or is it still come to pass? And when?”
Lots of Prophets
Good questions, and on the religious side of experts and analysts, there are plenty of pop-Christian TV personalities and mega-church moguls who will be happy to answer any that we have, completely and totally, fitting everything into a neat, and tidy, box. Those with enough money and resources launch book series or movies on the matters, disseminating their interpretation to a wider audience — the masses.
When the masses do not realize that they are composed of individual human beings, each precious in their Father’s sight, and each capable of reading Scripture, praying to God, and seeking wisdom for themselves, then we wind up with millions of people believing, and doing, unquestioningly what they’re told.
Such is the Christian church in America.
The Bible is not something that can be parsed and predicated, deciphered like a code, set out in segments and understood without any attendant inquiry, concerns, doubts, or sheer frustration at the number of unanswered questions. I am reminded of a book I read in 2014, published years earlier, which set out all the things that would happen in 2012, all in accordance with current events set in juxtaposition to Biblical truths. Amazingly, the writer is still writing, and selling, his books.
Humans Aren’t Inerrant
As humans, we like security, and predictability, and certainty, but we look for it in the wrong places. While those of us who are Christians worship a God who is all-knowing, all-wise, all-compassionate, and all-good (there is security and certainty in this, although not predictability), we rarely act as if we believe it, and can easily be led astray by a confident, assertive voice telling us:
“This is what God means. This is what He will do, and this is what He wants you to do.” even when the speaker’s interpretation results in the impression of a God who is NOT all good and compassionate. All the speaker needs to do is stand up straight, look us in the eye and say, “This is correct doctrine. I have a degree, and you do not. Believe what I say about current events, and the future.”
So we acquiesce, and accept, in much the same way we listen to the evening news.
But, “no man knows the future, who can tell him what is to come?” (Ecclesiastes 8:7), and
“The fool multiplies words. No one knows what is coming — who can tell him what will happen after him?” (10:14)
We can discuss, we can analyze, we can predict, we can draw what we think to be logical conclusions from the facts we are given, but ultimately, no human being can tie all those facts together in a handkerchief and say,
“Here. This is what will happen.”
This is why I am grateful that I am so frequently wrong: I am constantly reminded that I am not a prophet of God, but a daughter in His household, and my purpose is not to know the future, but obey my Father. Such is the purpose of all God’s children, and it is time that we sought the truth from the source: not the news analysis stations, not the pop-Christian equivalents, not the self-styled “leaders” who talk big, but give little — but God, and God alone.
Thank you for joining me a Commonsense Christianity, where my constant encouragement to my brothers and sisters in the household is that you read Scripture for yourself and gain enough confidence in God to believe that He will teach you what you need to know.
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You don’t have to be a student of political science to recognize that there is no perfect, man-made governing system.
Even democracy — which is not what we live under in the United States — works better on paper, or parchment, than it does in real life because, though we theoretically operate with the concept that every single adult — male or female — has equal say in how things are run, in reality the job is expropriated by a limited group that has the necessary money and power to get elected. (What percentage of U.S. Senators and Representatives are lawyers, versus the number who work at Wal-Mart?) Only a naive person would insist that the wishes of the masses dictate the decisions of the elect.
Sadly, there’s never a shortage of naive people, nor those who work upon their fears. And hence we get the system we are born under — be it communism, or despotism, or oligarchy, but the general result is that a small number of people manipulate the circumstances of the many. Regardless of the “ism” at the end of of political system, the result looks the same.
“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them,” Jesus tells His disciples in Matthew 20:25.
“Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave — just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
I cannot remotely imagine any civil government operating under this ideal, which is understandable because the nations and kingdoms of men do not honor the principles and practices of God.
The Church System
God’s church, however, is supposed to be doing so. Is it?
This would depend upon one’s definition of church, and if the operating definition is no more than a building in which one “worships” god, and the denominational association under which one does so (Catholic, Protestant, Baptist, Episcopalian, Emergent, the list is endless), then the church looks little different from any man-made governing system. It has its boards and committees and leadership sect and rulers who lord it over the laity (masses) in the pews. (If this sounds like a corporation, it’s not an accident as oligarchies — the man-made system under which the majority of the world groans these days — are marriages of government and business. Religion, as a business, can easily snuggle in.)
But what about another definition for church, one that accords more accurately with what is written in the New Testament:
God’s people, who, though they are many, are one in the body of Christ (not just one little cluster of adherents who meet in one building that is open from 9:15 a.m. to noon on Sunday morning), and individually one with another. (Romans 12:5)
The apostle Paul’s words in Ephesians 2:19-22 are ringing and strong, something we can grasp onto and say, “YES! I want that!” —
“You are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.
“In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.”
One God, One World — But Not Like Man’s
Long before the Rockefellers and the Rothchilds and the Bushes and the Carnegies and the men of money and renown dreamed of their global economy and One World Order, God set up a kingdom in which His people — His daughters and sons — interact together as one body, one temple, one spirit with one leader — God, our Father.
His is a kingdom that is not a democracy, not a republic, but a theocracy — in which there is one supreme ruler — God — who wields not only power, but compassion; not only justice, but mercy; not only wisdom, but love — the perfect and unfailing love of a Father towards His children.
No human ruler, no human system, no human government, no human church establishment, can do this.
And we don’t expect it to. But while there is no theocratic rule of man-made government (thank God! can you imagine being required to worship any human president, prime minister, or monarch? It’s happened, you know), there is a theocracy for the believers in Christ, and we are called to serve Him as our leader, master, monarch, and father (this latter being the most friendly and easily accessible concept).
Follow God, Not Men
This means that, as individual believers in Christ, we serve not the established church, not our denomination of choice, not the leadership and worship team of the building we frequent, not a mass-media nominated “national pastor” who writes books and visits the pope, but God the Father alone.
He commands our lives, our obedience, our thoughts, our loyalty, and our very souls, but it’s a good exchange, because He gives us, readily, His love, His compassion, His mercy, His teaching, and His guidance and help as He shapes us into being mature sons and daughters of His household.
When we are told, in Hebrews 10:25, to not give up meeting together, this is not a mandate that we be someplace specific every Sunday morning at 10:30. It is an exhortation that we seek out, however and wherever we can find them, fellow believers and we fellowship together, steel sharpening steel, something vastly different than man-made religious authority would have us believe.
We do not “belong” to a church, a building, a movement, or a denomination — we belong to God, and it is to God alone that we owe our lives, obedience, service, and souls.
Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I encourage God’s children to see themselves as just that — His children — and not limit themselves to human appellations (“I’m a Baptist,” “I’m a Pentecostal Christian,” “I attend the biggest church in Texas”).
Posts complementing this one are
The Misfit Christian (This is what you will find yourself to be once you start seriously asking questions. It’s not a bad thing at all, because the alternative is to accept everything you’re told, without question. Want that?)
I am writing this with a psychotic cat sleeping on my lap.
I recognize that, to people who don’t like cats (and even to many who do), ALL cats are psychotic, but this one is a rescue kitty, chosen by one of our adult children who wanted an animal to keep her company in her apartment, an apartment that does not allow animals, incidentally. So, we’re “babysitting” for an indefinite time.
This kitty’s particular psychosis is that she likes to hide in small, dark spaces — under furniture — a non-endearing habit that does not lend itself to her feeling more comfortable around humans. So therapy includes a lot of holding, loving, and handling.
She eats it up. But —
If you leave her alone, unsupervised, she slinks away to the nearest dark receptacle and hides, preferring obscurity driven by fear to interaction and warmth. However her “thought process” works — limited to the size and scope of domestic felinity — she knows that while she enjoys being loved, she is nonetheless convinced that she won’t be.
Afraid of God
This is a great encapsulation of how many Christians feel toward our Father in heaven — who is all love, all grace, all compassion, all warmth, all understanding, all goodness. We long for this love, search for acceptance, ache to be cherished and protected, and indeed, it is the central message behind Christianity. For many of us, it is the reason we became Christians in the first place.
(Others, not so fortunate, became Christians because they were told that, if they didn’t, the all-loving heavenly Father would send them to hell for eternity, and watch them burn. Even though He would fee bad about this, there was nothing He could do, because they didn’t turn to Him in trust and love. It’s highly understandable when people reject this belief system and look for something better.)
But back to those of us who rejoiced at hearing about Jesus because we were told about His love — so wide and long and high and deep that it surpasses our ability to comprehend it (Ephesians 3:18).
The problem is, for us who were quickly plugged into a proper place of “worship” and “discipleship,” settled down with books and studies and resources to learn about not God, but how we are supposed to “follow” Him, we truly don’t understand the scope of God’s love — not because it’s so big that we can’t wrap our minds around it, but because it’s so parsimoniously small that it looks worse than our own feeble attempts at loving others.
Rules and Regulations
This is the God of rules — all of them backed by Scripture — and His goal is not to make us more like Him — loving and perfect and gracious and kind and compassionate and joyful — but to follow the rules.
“We should obey the rules!” good citizens, and Christians who associate rule-keeping with righteousness (the word itself whispers “self” beforehand) insist. But rules, while not necessarily made to be broken, are made for a purpose — and when following the rules becomes more important than being the better person those rules are purported to encourage, then love, compassion, and acceptance absent themselves.
“Attend church. Read your Bible study guide. Pray 20 minutes every day. Obey the leaders. Join small groups. Tithe. Answer the moderator’s questions in Sunday School. Sing hymns and choruses and don’t complain about either. Only take one doughnut from the fellowship station.
“Don’t worry — because that’s a sin. Speak nicely about everyone — because otherwise it’s a sin. Trust God and love Him, or else you’ll sin. Think nice thoughts. Bad thoughts are a sin.”
We sin. And we sin. And we sin. And we sin.
And because we are reminded, all the time, of how every thought, every desire, every impulse, every single thing about us is sinful, we tend to think that God is focused on that, and He won’t love us the way we long for Him to love us (the way we were promised that He would love us), until we follow all the rules, just right.
But this is backwards. We cannot earn God’s love by doing right, but we can accept what He gives us, though we are still doing wrong:
“Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.
“Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him.” (Romans 4:7-8)
That is a blessing indeed, and one for which we can thank God, who justifies us freely by His grace, through Christ (Romans 3:24). He is our Father, and regardless of what our own experiences with earthly fatherhood looks like, deep down we all know that you don’t comfort a rescue kitty by yelling at it, you do not encourage a child to behave with honor by publicly humiliating him.
If we know this, God knows it better, because He is “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.” (Psalm 103:8)
“For a high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” (11, 12)
This describes a God of love, not rules and regulations, and how deeply we understand this depends, a bit, on which God we’re looking for.
Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity where I encourage you to seek — with passion and expectation — the deep, true, fulfilling love of God. It’s not worth looking for anything else.
Posts complementing this one are
The Misfit Christian (my book for people who start looking for God’s love as opposed to worrying about following all the rules they’re told He set up)
There is a tiresome joke among Christians about patience that goes like this:
“I don’t want to pray for patience, because by golly, God will send me all sorts of circumstances to try it!”
What’s not so funny is that, deep down, many people actually believe this, reflecting their impression of a marionette god, one that pulls our strings as if we were puppets, and if we don’t pray correctly — with enough caveats so that God doesn’t sadistically misinterpret what we really mean — we’ll wind up in trouble.
So, when we pray for patience, God gives a diabolical laugh (bit of an oxymoron there) and says, “Yesssssssss, my foolish child. I will give you all sorts of opportunities to develop patience!”
The Wrong God
Quite frankly, if that’s the kind of God we believe in, or we can even remotely attribute behavior to Him that, exhibited in a human, could rightly be called perverse, unkind, harsh, unfeeling, or callous, then we need to stop, reflect, pray, meditate, and ask God to show us who He actually is:
“How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!” 1 John 3:1 exults. “And that is what we are!”
Loving Fathers Don’t Provoke
This heavenly Father of ours has a far greater moral compass than we do, and if we, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to our children — bread, when they ask for bread; fish, and not snakes, when they ask for fish (Matthew 7:11) — then why do we belabor under the misapprehension that when we ask our heavenly Father for something we need — like patience, trust, or faith — that He’s going to answer the prayer in a fashion so distasteful and cruel, that we humans would never dream of treating our own children that way?
“Ah, but His thoughts are not our thoughts, nor are His ways our ways,” people so frequently misapply Isaiah 55:8 to explain away, or squash down, doubts about certain teachings we are instructed to believe (they vary, within the denominations) without keeping in mind another verse in Isaiah, 29:13, in which the same God observes our tendency to worship Him in light of the rules and doctrines taught by men.
The Doctrines of Men
Now it’s not necessarily so that human doctrine specifically teaches that God is nasty, but some of the beliefs we try to squish our feet into wind up pinching our toes. As a human, if your child ran into a house — against your express command — and that house began to burn, would you turn around and walk away, with the justification of, “I told him not to go in there, and he deliberately chose to disobey me”?
I don’t think so. If God would, then it is indeed true that His ways are not our ways, because our ways are better.
And that definitely ain’t so.
It’s not enough to say that we’ll understand someday, while we’re up in the bliss of heaven, which will somehow be perfect even though a number of our loved ones won’t make it because they didn’t say the right series of salvation words, in the right order, with the correct spiritual mindset, because if we cannot rely upon the deepest sense of our conscience — which God put within us — to help us differentiate between right and wrong, honorable and cowardly, righteous and evil — then what can we rely on?
If God seems small and mean — and the god that many people try so hard to follow does seem that way — then the problem may lie in the way we are viewing Him, defining Him, interpreting Him.
What may be known about God is plain to us, because God made it plain to us — “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities — his eternal power and divine nature — have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” (Roman 1:19-20)
This means that when we muse, “Gosh. If my child asked for help on a science project, I wouldn’t go out to the bar and drink,” we are exhibiting not only an understanding of good parenting, but of goodness itself.
As part of that good parenting, most of us wouldn’t take the project over from the kid and do it, and our help may possibly look different than what the child is expecting or hoping (especially if it’s the day before the project, given 8 months ago, is due). But because we are our child’s parent, he rightfully expects that, when he needs help and asks for it, we have an obligation to give it — kindly, wisely, graciously, mercifully, and well.
So also, can we expect fair, good, loving treatment from our Father, and when we are hurting and cannot understand, it is far better to approach Him with confidence and say, “I am hurting. I am confused. I don’t understand what is going on. But You do — and You are not cruel to your children. Walk me through this.”
Our first thought should never be one of doctrine, based upon man’s interpretation of words, but rather, the acceptance and awareness that God. Is. Love.
He is all good. He is all light. He is all that is perfect and desirable and compassionate. He is the ultimate of what we mean by the word, “humane,” because He is divine.
If any thought, any doctrine, any teaching, any precept leads us to think of God as other than completely loving and kind to His children, then we need to adjust our ideas about the doctrine, not our ideas about God.
So about that patience — if you feel the need to pray for it, then do so with confidence and trust, knowing that the very reason you feel such a desire to ask for it, is because God put that desire into your heart.
Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where for years I tried to love an unlovable God. When I began reading Scripture for myself, seriously, and praying for God’s teaching, I began to notice that quite a few things I had been taught don’t align well with what’s actually written in the Bible.
So I went on the one thing that keeps getting repeated: God is our loving Father, and I built on that. I would so rather know my Father than all the theological and philosophical arguments about Him.
Posts complementing this one are