Friday, April 19, 2013

Losing God


None is righteous, no, not one;  no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good  not even one 

Romans 3:11-12

From IVP Commentary, Acts 17:16ff: 
God's... design (is) that men would seek him...this is, "the thankful and reverent longing of the whole man for God whose goodness he has experienced (Marshall)." Yet (our willful rebellion of) sin has interjected itself into the human experience, so that our "seeking" has become "groping," with no certainty of success, even though God is still very much present with us (compare Rom 1:18-32)... ignorance of God (groping after him) is morally culpable and must be repented of... Paul goes on to reinforce human responsibility for failing to seek and find God. He asserts God's presence in terms of our dependence on him. For in him we live and move and have our being. 
A student once told me I had satisfactorily answered all his questions, “Are you going to become a Christian?” I asked. “No,” he replied. Puzzled, I asked, “Why not?” He admitted, “Frankly, because it would mess up the way I’m living.” He realized that the real issue for him was not intellectual but moral. 
- J. Hampton Keathley, III
Once upon a time you dressed so fine You threw the bums a dime in your prime, didn't you? People'd call, say, "Beware doll, you're bound to fall" You thought they were all kiddin' you You used to laugh about Everybody that was hangin' out Now you don't talk so loud Now you don't seem so proud About having to be scrounging for your next meal. 
How does it feel How does it feel To be without a home Like a complete unknown Like a rolling stone? 
- Bob Dylan, Like A Rolling Stone

I. Losing God

"Where is God when..."

We have this idea that God has checked out early on the world, like a dinner guest who forgot to say goodbye. We blame God for being far away, and for not caring. We even speak sentimentally about how we'd like to find God, but it seems oooh sooo hard.

My friends, the problem is not with God, but with us. Actually, we don't care to find God; we half-heartedly sleepwalk through the monumental decisions of our life: only casting asides toward heaven. Did God see that? Is there a God, really? Really? We have a laissez-faire attitude toward self-government in particular, and the government of the universe in general. We cannot breathe or eat or run or jump or laugh or cry without God, but we do all things as if there were no God. We think it is God's responsibility to FIND us; well, He's been right here, all along. He never lost us. We lost him. Even more, we willfully ignored Him, pushed Him aside, pushed Him away. We lost Him in the same way, and for the same reason, a thief tries to "lose" the policeman chasing after him; we lost Him, on purpose.

God is not like the dinner guest who checked out early without saying goodbye; He is like the dinner guest we didn't invite, and when He shows up, we bolt the door, tell Him to go away, and pretend He is not there.

II. The Moral Of The Story Of Unbelief
... the deep problems of (answering the unbeliever's questions) are not finally intellectual, but ethical.- Reason and Revelation
We have lost God, on purpose, in a high speed chase. Unbelief is, then, not primarily an intellectual, but a MORAL problem. We don't want to believe. We hate the truth, and we hate God. We want to do things our way in a dark corner of the universe; we want God to leave us alone.

John 3:19-21:
And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.

The message of the Bible, or the gospel, is always equated with truth and it is presented as the opposite of error. Further, the Bible teaches us that man can know the truth and that God holds man responsible to know it. God plainly holds men responsible for not receiving and believing the truth (Rom. 1:18; 2:8; 2 Thess 2:10-12). Such verses would be meaningless unless there was some kind of clear and objective evidence by which men could come to a knowledge and conviction of the truth. If such were not the case, God would not hold man responsible for there would be no way to tell truth from error. Many like to make the claim there is no absolute truth or that you cannot know the truth. They claim you really cannot know truth unless it can be verified by observable scientific testing and data. Morally, philosophically, and theologically, everything is simply relative. This is agnosticism, but the agnostic’s position is really unsupported by the evidence. Pilate’s reaction to Jesus’ statement when He was on trial may be an illustration of this not just because of what Pilate said, but because of what Christ first said to Pilate. Christ said, “everyone who is of the truth hears my voice.” Pilate then replied, “What is truth?” (John 18:37-38) Like all atheists, practical, intellectual, or philosophical, or like an agnostic, Pilate thought he could excuse himself from moral responsibility to God and humanity, or to truth itself by claiming truth cannot be known...But in this statement, Christ shows us that knowing truth is ultimately a moral issue. Those who are of the truth, those who really want to know, can and will listen to the evidence that God has given us so that men may know the truth. The apostle Paul teaches us the exact same thing in Romans 1:18f. The fact is there is tremendous and bonafide evidence that there is a God out there, He exists. The problem is not one of evidence, but of rebellion and negative volition to God (Ps. 14:1; Rom. 1:21, 23, 25, 28; 3:9-18). It is a moral problem. The moral issue always overshadows the intellectual or evidential issues...It is not that man cannot believe—it is that he “will not believe.” Jesus pointed the Pharisees to this as the root of the problem. “You refuse to come to me,” he told them, “that you may have life” (John 5:40). He makes it abundantly clear that moral commitment leads to a solution of the intellectual problem. “If any man’s will is to do his will, he shall know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority” (John 7:17). Alleged intellectual problems are often a smoke screen covering moral rebellion... The question is often asked, “If Christianity is rational and true, why is it that most educated people don’t believe it?” The answer is simple. They don’t believe it for the very same reason that most uneducated don’t believe it. They don’t want to believe it. It’s not a matter of brain power, for there are outstanding Christians in every field of the arts and sciences. It is primarily a matter of will.
-- from: 

III. Knowledge of God In The Old Testament

The Old Testament reveals the richness of what it means for God’s people to know Him: knowing Him is a to be a life-changing personal engagement. God’s people are to acknowledge him in all their ways (Proverbs 3:6): there's no corner of life into which His light should not shine; no matter too small, or too great, in which to seek His counsel. We say, dismissively, "God does not care about little details." The reality is: we don't care for God to care about little details. If we did, we would pray about such things.

We are not to boast in wisdom or strength, but in the true knowledge of God’s character as a kind, just and righteous God (Jer. 9.24). Indeed, God’s promises culminate in his people knowing Him (Jeremiah 24:7, 31:34). Knowing God is the purpose for which we (and the universe) were created; it is the highest knowledge we can attain; it ought to be the consuming passion of our lives.
You know, sometimes on foolish television or radio panels, or being interviewed, someone asks me what I most want, what I should most like to do in the little that remains of my life, and I always nowadays truthfully answer, and it is truthful, 'I should like my light to shine, even if only very fitfully, like a match struck in a dark cavernous night and then flickering out.'... One of the Beatitudes that had for some reason never before impressed me particularly this time stuck in my mind and has stayed there ever since. It is: Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God. May I commend this Beatitude to you as having some bearing on our present controversies and discontents. To see God is the highest aspiration of man, and has preoccupied the rarest human spirits at all times. Seeing God means understanding, seeing into the mystery of things. It is, or should be, the essential quest of universities like this one, and of their students and their staff. Note that the realisation of this quest is achieved, not through great and good deeds, nor even through thought, however perceptive and enlightened, certainly not through sensations, however generated, nor what is called success, however glittering. The words are clear enough— Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God (Malcolm Muggeridge, Another King). 
True knowledge of God is essential, especially, to what it means to be the redeemed people of God. When the Hebrew word for 'know' (yd‘) is used with reference to God it, “refers to a practical, religio-ethical relationship[1].” That is: a relationship which impacts all of life. A real relationship with a real Person; God is a Person. He is not a concept to be considered, but a Person to be loved and engaged. God is Personal, and our relations toward Him should be Personal. When I say He is a Person, or He is Personal, I mean: One who is close and engaged and feels and relates and responds.

God is not the "unmoved mover." He responds, and we respond, in this relationship. We can make Him happy, or sad; we can push Him away, or draw closer to Him; we can love Him; we can bask in His love; we can communicate with Him, as if he were in the same room: He is, always, in the same room. He constantly communicates with us: the Bible is his Love Letter, His Book of Fatherly Counsel, even we might say, His Diary. We can know Him more tomorrow than yesterday; we can spend a lifetime knowing Him more each day; We can be surprised by Him; We can make Him angry; We can disappoint Him, but He will never disappoint us; we can break His heart; We can cause His heart to burst with joy. 

The Old Testament also speaks about not knowing God: ignorance of God. Sometimes, this comes from simple youth and lack of instruction. In Samuel 3.7, the fact that Samuel did not know God was  “an expression of religious inexperience due to the absence of previous revelation or encounter.[2]

Yet, ignorance of God, when referring to the Israelites most often, “appears in combination with parallel verbs as a way of expressing apostasy and religio-ethical decline (1 Sam. 2:25, Job 18:21, Hosea 4:1ff, Jeremiah 9:1).[3]” In other words, blame-able distancing of God. This is the situation in Judges 2:10:
And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers. And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel.
When Judges asserts that the Israelites did not know the Lord, it is condemning an immoral forgetfulness: a rebellion of remembrance. Their lack of knowledge is illustrated by the fact that they “did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals (2:11).” They did not simply lack cognitive information, they, “forsook the Lord, the God of their Fathers, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshipped various Gods around them (2:12).”

Note: there is ALWAYS ethical decline when we are ignorant of God. Ignorance of God is what leads to ethical decline.
More than half a century ago, while I was still a child, I recall hearing a number of older people offer the following explanation for the great disasters that had befallen Russia: Men have forgotten God; that's why all this has happened.
Since then I have spent well-nigh fifty years working on the history of our Revolution; in the process I have read hundreds of books, collected hundreds of personal testimonies, and have already contributed eight volumes of my own toward the effort of clearing away the rubble left by that upheaval. But if I were asked today to formulate as concisely as possible the main cause of the ruinous Revolution that swallowed up some sixty million of our people, I could not put it more accurately than to repeat: Men have forgotten God; that's why all this has happened.
What is more, the events of the Russian Revolution can only be understood now, at the end of the century, against the background of what has since occurred in the rest of the world. What emerges here is a process of universal significance. And if I were called upon to identify briefly the principal trait of the entire twentieth century, here too, I would be unable to find anything more precise and pithy than to repeat once again: Men have forgotten God.
The failings of human consciousness, deprived of its divine dimension, have been a determining factor in all the major crimes of this century. The first of these was World War I, and much of our present predicament can be traced back to it. It was a war (the memory of which seems to be fading) when Europe, bursting with health and abundance, fell into a rage of self-mutilation which could not but sap its strength for a century or more, and perhaps forever. The only possible explanation for this war is a mental eclipse among the leaders of Europe due to their lost awareness of a Supreme Power above them. Only a godless embitterment could have moved ostensibly Christian states to employ poison gas, a weapon so obviously beyond the limits of humanity.
The same kind of defect, the flaw of a consciousness lacking all divine dimension, was manifested after World War II when the West yielded to the satanic temptation of the "nuclear umbrella." It was equivalent to saying: Let's cast off worries, let's free the younger generation from their duties and obligations, let's make no effort to defend ourselves, to say nothing of defending others-let's stop our ears to the groans emanating from the East, and let us live instead in the pursuit of happiness. If danger should threaten us, we shall be protected by the nuclear bomb; if not, then let the world burn in Hell for all we care. The pitifully helpless state to which the contemporary West has sunk is in large measure due to this fatal error: the belief that the defense of peace depends not on stout hearts and steadfast men, but solely on the nuclear bomb... Today' s world has reached a stage which, if it had been described to preceding centuries, would have called forth the cry: "This is the Apocalypse!"
Yet we have grown used to this kind of world; we even feel at home in it... Dostoevsky warned that "great events could come upon us and catch us intellectually unprepared." This is precisely what has happened. And he predicted that "the world will be saved only after it has been possessed by the demon of evil." Whether it really will be saved we shall have to wait and see: this will depend on our conscience, on our spiritual lucidity, on our individual and combined efforts in the face of catastrophic circumstances. But it has already come to pass that the demon of evil, like a whirlwind, triumphantly circles all five continents of the earth... (Aleksander Solzhenitsen, Men Have Forgotten God).

In Judges 2.10, ignorance of God is specific: they did not know 1) God's Work, 2) What God Had Done For Israel.
And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel.
This lack of knowledge is integrally related to the fact that new generation did not know the deeds of God. Keil and Delitzsch argue for the translation, “After them rose up a generation who knew not the Lord, and also (knew not) the work which he had done to Israel[4].” The children of the Israelites were to be taught (lit. know) the great deeds of God, Dt. 4.10:
...the Lord said to me, ‘Gather the people to me, that I may let them hear my words, so that they may learn to fear me all the days that they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children so.’
To not know what God has done is a step towards woeful ignorance of God. Indeed, “The OT derives the knowledge of God from those outstanding events in which God has evidenced or is showing the interest in the subject (e.g, Exodus 9:29, Leviticus 23:43, Dt. 4:32-39).[5]” 

The new generation did not know the deeds of God; in addition, they did not know God how these deeds applies to them: "what he had done for Israel." The deeds of God were not a litany list of miracles performed in far away places, like impersonal magic tricks; they were a roll call of God's loving care for His people, what God had done for them. True knowledge of God is found at the intersection of God's work, and my (or our) own life. For example, many speak sentimentally of the cross of Jesus Christ; many can recount historical facts about the cross; far fewer can say, with the apostle Paul, "He loved me, and gave himself for me (Gal. 2.20)." The mighty historical acts of God must careen into our own lives as deeds, not just done, but done for us.

So, when Judges 2:10 comments that the new generation did not know God, it condemns culpable lack of intimacy with God related to ignorance of his mighty deeds for US.

IV. Good News

We have a will-full, blame-able, morally culpable ignorance of God; this is a moral, not so much an intellectual, problem. This is the case, not just with the non-religious, but with all of us, "None seek him (Romans 3:11)." The only hope, then, is that He would seek us, and find us: that he would take back what he finds  even though, He never lost us.
What, then, are You, O my God— what, I ask, but the Lord God? For who is Lord but the Lord? Or who is God save our God? Most high, most excellent, most potent, most omnipotent; most merciful and most just; most hidden and most near; most beauteous and most strong, stable, yet contained of none; unchangeable, yet changing all things; never new, never old; making all things new, yet bringing old age upon the proud and they know it not; always working, yet ever at rest; gathering, yet needing nothing; sustaining, pervading, and protecting; creating, nourishing, and developing; seeking, and yet possessing all things. You love, and burn not; You are jealous, yet free from care; You repent, and have no sorrow; You are angry, yet serene; You change Your ways, leaving unchanged Your plans; You recover what You find, even though You never lost it... You pay debts while owing nothing; and when You forgive debts, lose nothing. Yet, O my God, my life, my holy joy, what is this that I have said? And what says any man when He speaks of You? Yet woe to them that keep silence... (Augustine, Confessions, Chapter IV).
Here's good news: Jesus came to seek and save — not those who know the way; not the those who know their place in the world — Jesus came specifically to seek and save the lost, "The Son of Man came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10)." Not the seekers of God, but those who have lost Him, and find themselves lost without him: these are the very ones He came to seek. Good news: if you feel lost, like a small child in a strange and frightening town — you qualify; if you feel sure you have taken a wrong turn — you qualify; if you feel yourself offtrack  you qualify. Do you feel yourself a lost lamb with no direction home? You qualify. Do you want someone to take your hand, and lead you home? Do you feel ignorant? Do you want to learn something new everyday? You qualify.


Come, ye weary, heavy laden,

Bruised and broken by the fall;
If you tarry 'til you're better,
You will never come at all.
Not the righteous, not the righteous;
Sinners Jesus came to call. 
Let not conscience make you linger,
Nor of fitness fondly dream;
All the fitness He requireth
Is to feel your need of Him.
This He gives you, this He gives you,
'Tis the Spirit's rising beam.

[1] Johannes Botterweck and Helmer Ringgren, tr. David E. Green, Theological Dictionary
     of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986), 450.
[2] ibid. 469.
[3] ibid. 469.
[4] Keil and Delitzsh Commentary on the Old Testament, 268
[5] International Dictionary of Theology, 43

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