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Perception, Reality and theological impotence

Discussion in 'General Theology' started by nikolai_42, Feb 12, 2003.

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  1. nikolai_42

    nikolai_42 Active Member

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    When it comes to the things (esp. the nature) of God, why is it that perception seems to play as much a role as the truth? You can talk to one man who exudes warmth and compassion and mercy but may have no standards when it comes to behaviour or right and wrong. And you may also talk to another man who has standards that are immovable. There is right and there is wrong and the bar is raised and you know EXACTLY where it is. Yet in this man there is no concept of forgiveness. The standard has been set and if you do not meet it, tough cookies - you failed. And both these individuals may well claim to portray God. And I don't doubt that they both believe they do. But our natural response in the presence of both of them is different. With the one, we may relax, we may find no condemnation, but we may grow lazy. With the other, we may strive to meet that goal, but if we fail, there is no hope, there is nothing that can be done and no effort made to remedy your failure.

     But in both men, there is to be recognized that they may (this has to be judged on an individual basis, but for theoretical purposes, it must be conceded that they) have touched something of God for they both exhibit some of His qualities. So the question then may naturally occur - "Who is closer to God?". Or "Who more accurately portrays God?".

    While perusing an article by D.A. Carson entitled "On Distorting the Love of God"( http://www.antithesis.com/features/love_01.html ) , I had a clarification of some confusion that has arisen in my spirit due largely to contradictions that plague the church as I have experienced it. Having been to many denominations, even within the confines of single churches I have found those falling into one category AS WELL AS OTHERS falling into the other category. And between churches in single denominations the same thing - overriding acceptance as well as overriding judgement in the pastors. And of course, between denominations there are general tendencies and trends that mark the more liberal denominations as against the more conservative ones. But even there, the trend SEEMS to be towards the more tolerant type I outlined. Not that those who lean towards it are that way, but that there appears to be more of a merciful attitude than one of highlighting a specific standard.

     Now, I must say ahead of time that the article I mentioned devolves (in my opinion that is what it does) into an argument that God loves the elect more than any and it becomes a piece simply meant to support Calvinism, but in it, Carson makes some interesting comments. One is this (bold is his emphasis):

    To put this another way, we live in a culture in which many other and complementary truths about God are widely disbelieved. I do not think that what the Bible says about the love of God can long survive at the forefront of our thinking if it is abstracted from the sovereignty of God, the holiness of God, the wrath of God, the providence of God, or the personhood of God — to mention only a few nonnegotiable elements of basic Christianity.

     He had just finished commenting on the influence of modern cinema on our understanding of things (with which I agreed) and then on Tolkien's and C.S. Lewis' portrayals as contributions to the same (though he distinguished them, as they were from a bygone era) 'indirection' (love's only requirement is that it be comfortable although Lewis and Tolkien seemed to have a higher view).
    The influence on culture has been, as Carson points out:

    ...the love of God in our culture has been purged of anything the culture finds uncomfortable. The love of God has been sanitized, democratized, and above all sentimentalized.

     He continues, and points out one of the thoughts I am trying to convey. That is, that the expression of God's character is not ever completely expressed properly. In fact, in society, we simply go from one extreme to another. Now, it's love and acceptance:

    It has not always been so. In generations when almost everyone believed in the justice of God, people sometimes found it difficult to believe in the love of God. The preaching of the love of God came as wonderful good news. Nowadays if you tell people that God loves them, they are unlikely to be surprised. Of course God loves me; he's like that, isn't he? Besides, why shouldn't he love me? I'm kind of cute, or at least as nice as the next person. I'm okay, you're okay, and God loves you and me.

     But where my contention with Carson (only generally) and theology (generally and because its nature is to intellectualize everything) is illustrated where he says:

    The first three difficulties stem from developments in the culture that make grasping and articulating the doctrine of the love of God a considerable challenge.

    And here is where I feel (the point of my essay is not to castigate Theology as a study but I do wish to point out its contribution to the problem Carson here displays) theology generally has missed the mark. He says, in essence, that our modern culture has made the love of God something difficult to grasp and articulate! Yet, the bible is replete with those who truly encountered God on a personal level (a prime example being King David...another being Job...still another being Saul of Tarsus) and out of their mouths came expressions of God's character, nature and love that are unmistakeable in their utterance.

    "4 For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O LORD, thou knowest it altogether.
    5  Thou hast beset me behind and before, and laid thine hand upon me.
    6  Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it.
    7  Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence?
    8  If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there.
    9  If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea;
    10  Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me."
     Psalm 139:4-10

     Here is a God David cannot comprehend, whose praise he utters countless times in the book of Psalms.

    "1 Then Job answered the LORD, and said,
    2  I know that thou canst do every thing, and that no thought can be withholden from thee.
    3  Who is he that hideth counsel without knowledge? therefore have I uttered that I understood not; things too wonderful for me, which I knew not.
    4  Hear, I beseech thee, and I will speak: I will demand of thee, and declare thou unto me.
    5  I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee.
    6  Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes."
     Job 42:1-6

     Here the mere voice of God brings Job to his knees in repentance. I realize this is part of what Carson was getting at, but part of this love, part of the expression of God is that it is unutterable. Just the encounter with God brought Job to repentance, truth and he saw the counsel of God. And the rest of his days were blessed because of it. Yes, a 'tough love' but a very simple one - experiencing the presence of God. Yet the theorists desire to tell us that we have a 'challenge' in expressing the doctribe of the love of God?!? Talk about hubris! No mere doctrine, but an expression of His presence in one's life!

    "  For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,
      Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
     Romans 8:38,39

    " O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!
      For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor."
     Romans 11:33,34

    " That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love,
      May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height;
      And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God."
     Ephesians 3:17-19

     And the Theologian wants to express the 'doctrine of the love of God' to combat the ineffectual faith? The Theologian desires to bring all these things of God to a carnal level - a level that the human mind can grasp -- by study and understanding and deduction. No, the love of God, the character of God, the expression of God cannot be brought down to that level. For those who met God knew the inexpressible nature that they confronted. To think we can express that is arrogance - it is the pride of man displacing faith in God. It is the man wanting to replace faith with things seen, manipulable and INTO AN IMAGE. The passage in Romans 1 that speaks of that has one thing at its core - faithlessness because of lack of thanksgiving. The unthankful heart is the perverted heart. It is the heart that has strayed from its first love. It is self-trusting and no longer brought low by the glory and love of God. It relies on the mind rather than the spirit in communion and constant communication with the Living God. When such a wonderful thing as the character and love of God is brought down to a point where we think we can grasp and articulate it, it is no wonder that the world knows nothing of the true love in our lives.

     
     
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  2. nikolai_42

    nikolai_42 Active Member

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    For here is the thought that drove this post. When the perception of the love of God, the understanding that we have of it by what others have articulated to us, supercedes the importance placed on actually finding and experiencing the love of God in all its awful, terrible, humbling, powerful, blazing, unfathomable glory, has theology not become little more than an arm of the scientific community - elevating the human mind to a place that would make the architects of the Tower of Babel envious? When we even compare those respected theologians of days gone by and those of modern day, when we look at the character of the old writing, do we not find the expression reliant more on spirit than letter? Do we not find that the things of God's glory come through more in the manner of expression than the specific letter of it? Yet today, one might easily mistake a theologian for a textbook writer. The spirit of writing has become mechanical, cold, heartless. The study has become such that a computer could do it - and indeed it would not be surprising to find a computer composing essays for theologians in the near future. When the love of many grows cold, it is seen more in the manner and spirit that prevails than in the doctrines that are supported. Though those doctrines generally follow the trend set by the spirit, they are a poor, often late indicator of the decline of the spirit.

    The reality of experiencing God's love and knowing it may well be on the decline as man seeks for comfort and heeds his own itching ears. But the mind of man, no matter how hard it tries, can never express God's love or character even remotely. It can only be done through communion with God in the Spirit. A man's behaviour may be alterable by giving him laws and ordinances, but they will never become truly effectual unless internalized. This can only be done by the Spirit of God. Theology of today is a reflection of the spirit of the age. While doctrinally supporting many good and scriptural things, it has long been an expression with little more spiritual value than a good Quantum Physics dissertation. Unless the spirit is brought in line with God('s), the letter will be eternally dead - whatever it says.

    Which brings me to the ultimate question of this post. Does it matter whether we can articulate the love of God? Does it matter whether we even grasp it? Are these not exercises of the mind? The reality is that men will not be changed by articulation or grasping a concept, they will only be changed by the reality. And regardless of the generation they live in, the result will always be the same if there is no personal encounter with God - stagnation and death.
    Only the spirit can articulate things of the spirit - leaving it to the mind is useless. And the 'challenge' is not to formulate the proper articulation, the 'challenge' is to wait on the Lord until He answers out of the whirlwind. My guess is that if even one theologian did this, the result would be repentance in sackcloth and ashes. This act would be far more important and effectual than any essay they could conceive of. The words in his mouth, were he to wait on the Lord, would move mountains - and they would not in any way resemble a textbook. They, as the Lord who provided them, would be spirit and life!
     
  3. Reformationist

    Reformationist Non nobis domine sed tuo nomine da gloriam

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    I think part of the problem is that the world, including Christians, works on the basis that regardless of how long someone has been saved they should be a Bible scholar.  The result of this that I have seen is that we have a skewed view, from the get-go, of the redemptive, efficacious work of Christ and, in our efforts to grow spiritually, we pursue our faith believing we have to meet God halfway, and in doing so we latch on to doctrines which appeal to us based on our experiences in our heathen life.  For one person the result may be to swing to the opposite end of the spectrum, i.e., had they been compassionate, forgiving, though carnal, people before being regenerated they become judgmental, even condemning, self-righteous believers who are railing on and on about how others should strive to exhibit the love of Christ, though they seem to not realize that in doing so they fail in that regard as well.  This, in my opinion, is the most common result of someone's newly established personal relationship with God.  Haven't you ever felt like Christians are the most judmental people in the world as if they've completely forgotten that they were saved by grace and seem to operate under the farcical belief that they were worthy of redemption? 

    I think it matters whether or not we place value in doing so, and therefore strive to do so.  We are fallen, though regenerate, finite, though eternally saved beings.  The nature of God is so foreign to us due to the Fall of man that we tend to place as much emphasis on what we view as a successful Christian as God places on what a truly successful Christian really is.

    I'd have to say that I believe "grasping" the concept of the love of God is probably a factor that significantly affects the way we deal with others.  So yes, it matters.  Of course, "grasping" the concept of the love of God is a process that God works out by sanctifying us.  Immature Christians should be taught to be slow to speak so that they are conformed without having to experience a whole lot of temporal effects of putting off the old man.

    I have to disagree.   In my experience the "reality" of a situation tends to do very little, at least initially to conforming us because we are rarely enlightened to our own depravity.  It is God's sanctifying work that regenerates the mind and enlightens the soul.  So, unless the reality that you are talking about is the sovereign work of God, I'd have to say that I disagree.

    I don't know that I'd say "wait for the answer."  We already have the answer.  Hope is not wondering whether there will be an answer but rather being confident in the truth of God and knowing that He will accomplish what He Wills and eagerly awaiting whatever it is that the Lord shall reveal.

    God bless my friend and thanks for your well written insight,

    Don
     
  4. nikolai_42

    nikolai_42 Active Member

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    Thank you, Reformationist, for your consideration in reading the entire post. While I don't agree with all you've said, your spirit in posting is much appreciated. Now, if I may quote some of your post, I'll respond.

    You said:

    For one person the result may be to swing to the opposite end of the spectrum, i.e., had they been compassionate, forgiving, though carnal, people before being regenerated they become judgmental, even condemning, self-righteous believers who are railing on and on about how others should strive to exhibit the love of Christ, though they seem to not realize that in doing so they fail in that regard as well.  This, in my opinion, is the most common result of someone's newly established personal relationship with God.  Haven't you ever felt like Christians are the most judmental people in the world as if they've completely forgotten that they were saved by grace and seem to operate under the farcical belief that they were worthy of redemption? 


    Yes, I fully see and agree with what you are saying here. Humility seems to be a sadly lacking virtue amongst believers in the church visible. Although I also have to say that I have come to see that, while non-believers often seem to be more aware of and sensitive to human frailty, there is a freedom that allows a believer to exercise strength and forgiveness in circumstances no unbeliever ever could. It also affords one discernment that a non-believer has no concept of. But, yes, I see and agree what you are saying. In fact, I believe the Lord showed me that the church of Laodicea is a mirror of today's church. We think we have all we need...we are content because our physical situation is one of leisure, but in reality we are naked, blind and poor (spiritually). That is one of the things that got me posting. The church needs to recognize its poverty.

    Another thing you said:

    I'd have to say that I believe "grasping" the concept of the love of God is probably a factor that significantly affects the way we deal with others.  So yes, it matters.  Of course, "grasping" the concept of the love of God is a process that God works out by sanctifying us.  Immature Christians should be taught to be slow to speak so that they are conformed without having to experience a whole lot of temporal effects of putting off the old man. ...
    In my experience the "reality" of a situation tends to do very little, at least initially to conforming us because we are rarely enlightened to our own depravity.  It is God's sanctifying work that regenerates the mind and enlightens the soul.  So, unless the reality that you are talking about is the sovereign work of God, I'd have to say that I disagree.


    It may be that I wasn't clear here because it sounds to me like you are saying that the representation of a situation is more important than the actual underlying truth of the matter. If that's not the case, I apologize for misrepresenting your thoughts. That's really what I'm getting at. When a man 'meets' God, there is an undeniable change that no intellectual wrangling can bring about. There is a 'knowing' of His presence and His voice. There is a sense of His very nature that no words can imitate. But while no expression can really convey God or His love and character, the spirit of one who has met Him is unmistakeable and WILL come through in their expression. If it doesn't, then they are relying on another's representation of the truth - an intellectual inquiry - and not encountering God directly. There is NO WAY a description even of God's power can do what His very power can. When one has been touched by His power, that man's entire expression changes and he is able to spiritually affect others - not describe what has affected him. The mind cannot do this no matter how hard it tries (and theologians seem to try to do this nowadays).

     I don't know that I'd say "wait for the answer."  We already have the answer.  Hope is not wondering whether there will be an answer but rather being confident in the truth of God and knowing that He will accomplish what He Wills and eagerly awaiting whatever it is that the Lord shall reveal.

    Amen! And when one encounters the Lord, that which can only appear to men as a 'hope' becomes a prophetic reality!

     

     Thank you again for your kind response.
     
  5. Reformationist

    Reformationist Non nobis domine sed tuo nomine da gloriam

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    Sad as it is to acknowledge I'd have to say that I agree with this assesment.

    I completely agree with this.

    I'm sorry.  I think I did misunderstand you.  Either way, I totally agree with what you've said here.

    Amen! right back at'cha!! :)

    God bless,

    Don




     
     
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