The more I talk to Christians about concepts and principles of the Christian faith, the less I am inclined to want to ever do it again. It is a lot like a fast-food meal. I probably indulge in one of those at the rate of one every few years, and every time I do, without fail, I always tell myself precisely the same thing: “Don’t ever do that again!”
I have come to the conclusion after many years of engaging Christians about their faith, that this is rarely a worthwhile endeavor. I think the place that has been established by the divine providence, wisdom and grace of God to do that is the pulpit or the Sunday School classroom. Outside of that, you will almost always be displaying God’s pearls to those who do not have the ability to distinguish them from costume jewelry. With the advent of blogging, the number of people with opinions built on foundations of sand seems to have increased exponentially.
What my experience has taught me (although I never seem to learn my lesson) is that most Christians’ personal library of doctrine consists of a stack of bumper stickers. They either reflect or consist themselves of one solitary “proof text.” The problem with establishing our theology on the basis of individual verses is there are 31,173 of them in the Bible! To establish any doctrine on the basis of only one of these verses would be like a sailor trying to sail to his destination on the basis of one number of one his destination’s coordinates of latitude and longitude. These efforts would be pathetic and just plain dumb, yet in my experience, this is how most Christians navigate the seas of biblical truth in their quest to establish their beliefs.
I like to ask tough and thought-provoking questions. I like to make people think. More than that, I like to think that I am doing Christian people a favor when I ask them to back up a belief with some Bible. We take so many things for granted when it comes to our belief system. It is as if we have suffered from arrested spiritual development and our theology is stuck on a 6th grade Sunday School level as a result.
When I ask people a probing, foundational religious question, they act no differently than would a person thumbing through their stack of religious bumper stickers frantically seeking which one to hold up. They are absolutely sure that “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life,” but they get a confused look on their faces when you ask them where that promise is found in the Bible. They are even more confused when it comes to other issues like the relationship of law and grace, God’s vengeance, God’s hatred for sin, God’s judgment, God’s anger, and the relationship between forgiveness and repentance. Unfortunately, one finds it exceedingly difficult to property exegete those elements of doctrine in the limited space afforded on a conventional bumper sticker.
What follows probing questions to the bumper sticker Christian types is always the same thing without exception: they feel the need to diminish you personally so as to then be able to discount the question by ascribing to it an evil or malevolent motive: “Oh so you just think God should squash everyone who slips up in life like a bug!” They can’t assail your position honestly and fairly, even though you may not have even revealed it yet, because the image of God that you are alluding to is not to be found on any of their bumper stickers, and that is for some inexplicable reason apparently very threatening and destabilizing for them. Their belief about God most often goes no further than their one solitary proof text: “God is love” for instance, and that text is never one to which they have dedicated any serious measure of study as God has commanded Christians to do. They feel highly threatened, for instance, by anyone who would dare suggest that one of the biblical adjectives used by God to describe himself is “terrible.” (Having the ability to bring terror.)
If one would describe Niagra Falls to you as “wet” and were doggedly determined to leave it at that, I think most people who had stood on the edge of the falls in Western New York would perhaps want to add to that description. Not only that, but what of the person who had ignored the warning sign, jumped the fence, gotten too close to the edge and been swept over the falls? I suspect that he would like to weigh in on the issue and extend the one word definition well beyond any one word.
Christians tend to think that when they get to Heaven, there will be a backslapping hug-fest with Jesus. I don’t think so. I think when we come face to face with God, we will have two primary thoughts that will burn in our souls like a handful of sun:
● I have seriously underestimated the holiness of God.
●I have seriously overestimated my own righteousness.
If you want to see how us lowly humans react in the presence of a Holy and righteous God, there are several examples in Scripture. The classic one for me is John on the Isle of Patmos in the presence of Jesus Christ in His fully radiant glorified body: “I fell on my face as dead.” (Rev. 1:17)
One day I walked across stone bridge spanning a large river. On the other side was a field dedicated to kite fliers. Some of the kites were flying several hundred feet high. I was drawn to a very old man flying his kite. I could see the string going up into the sky, but I could not see the kite. I looked and looked, but no kite was to be found. With my curiosity getting the best of me I asked the elderly man where his kite was. It has been forty years, and I have never forgotten his answer: “You aren’t looking high enough, young man.” Then he pointed up at a much greater angle. I followed his finger and there, up where the big planes fly was the little dot that he identified as his kite. “How much string to you have out” I asked him in amazement. “Over a mile he replied.”
Maybe you aren’t looking high enough for God. Maybe your God is too small. I strongly suspect that mine is. Maybe He can’t be defined by a collection of bumper stickers. Maybe it takes a lifetime of reading His Word, and like Jacob when he wrestled the angel, we need to cry out, “I will not let thee go until thou bless me!” Maybe you expressed that to God a long time ago, but maybe you tired and quit the wrestling match too soon. You’ll never get your hip dislocated by a stack of bumper stickers like Jacob experienced in his agonizing and relentless determination to be blessed of God, but neither will you ever feel the breath of God on your face as you wrap your quivering arms around His neck and cry out to Him that you will never settle for anything less than His best for you. That is called “The Victorious Christian Life” and it does not come cheap, though should it cost you your very life itself, it would be an indescribable bargain.