Is God's Influence Not Enough?
I read a comment yesterday by an active 'theologian' insisting that it is not enough to believe and teach the truth about our God as non-violent, who forgives and loves unconditionally and that He demonstrated that effectively at the cross. We must also embrace the truth that it is necessary that our own lives become like that ourselves by being transformed from the inside out. We must also be careful to teach that believing in such a God does not preclude the fact that many are going to be lost and will suffer terribly from the results of sin if they do not repent and turn to be healed by God. At least that is the gist of what I remember getting from his comments.
While in principle I am not disagreeing with any of his points, I find something still slightly dissonant in this line of logic. As I was waking up this morning, the thought suddenly struck me that one of our penchants has long been to try to segregate aspects of God's truth/character into seemingly opposing facets when in reality they are only different descriptions of the same thing. It was Lucifer who was the first to attempt to convince others that God's justice and mercy were somehow in tension with each other and were incompatible when in reality they are not at all. We have been stuck in that faulty thinking ever since and the true gospel is designed to rid us of this kind of divisive thinking about God.
Is it true that it is not enough to simply believe in a God who never takes offense, who refuses to stoop to using any of Satan's methods of violence, intimidation, fear or arbitrary punishments? That is already too much for most Christians to embrace, much less people of other religions. I will readily agree that there appears to be a large segment of people that might be in danger of becoming too complacent and who might choose to live in what is labeled a 'cheap grace' mentality by endorsing such a view. But is the problem with the truth itself or is the problem in the spin that is put on the truth?
I am coming to see more and more clearly that one of our greatest difficulties in taking hold of truth is the distorted definitions we have been given for nearly all the words and terms in religion. Belief or faith is one of those terms that has largely lost its original meaning. Along with that we also fail to take into account the real nature of how a human is designed as described in Genesis. We are clearly told that we were created as images of God. An image is very much of a passive nature. A mirror produces an image of whatever is in front of it. And the unavoidable truth about a mirror is that it cannot produce anything different of itself apart from whatever is in front of the mirror. Whatever the mirror 'looks at' is what the mirror is going to look like. A mirror never produces light of its own.
I believe that addresses the problem we have in trying to understand the difference between believing and acting out our beliefs. When we begin to appreciate the fact that we are only mirrors and cannot generate any 'light' from ourselves, it then becomes clear that true belief/faith/trust – all the same word in the Greek – will always result in corresponding life actions/changes just as changing the direction of a mirror will result in changes in what is reflected.
The 'new light' that many of us are beginning to see in the true gospel is being labeled by many as what was known from many years ago as the 'Moral Influence Theory'. I have pondered over that notion for a long time and wondered why it seems to be such a threat to so many. I am beginning to wonder if it is not because such detractors fail to believe that all of us are merely mirrors. They believe that it is simply not enough to believe the real truth about God but that somehow we must add something to it ourselves, we must work up some additional righteousness to prove that we really believe or we can help God prepare ourselves to enter heaven.
But isn't that the same as saying that a mirror must be required to somehow contribute more to what is seen in it other than reflecting what is placed in front of it? A true mirror cannot help but reflect what it 'focuses on' for that is simply the very nature of a mirror. If we look at a mirror and don't like what is seen there, we don't usually blame the mirror but rather realize that the problem is in what the mirror is reflecting, not the mirror itself. I will agree that there are times when a mirror can be defective in various ways and may need cleaning or repair, but that is outside this metaphor for the point I am trying to make here. But in many people's minds it is not, for they insist that when Adam sinned he changed the way his mirror worked and the problem now is that humans must get their own mirrors working differently – with God's help of course.
Yet the more I learn about God and about how we are created, the more suspicious I am becoming of that line of logic. I am coming to see more and more that the real issue is our perceptions of God, the one in who's image we are created. The problem is not so much faults in our mirror, though mental illness and other such debilitating factors certainly can have such effects; but the biggest problem is how we perceive God's attitude towards us. I have come to see that it is impossible for anyone to act differently than their heart's perceptions, what they really think and feel about God deep inside.
Confusion arises when we find discrepancies between what we say we believe about God and how we treat others or live our lives. We call this hypocrisy, but again we looking at external issues and failing to go deep enough to discover the real cause. A hypocrite is not actually inconsistent at all with what they really believe about God; they are just inconsistent between what they profess to believe and what their heart really believes about Him. I have come to see that if you want to know the real truth about what you honestly believe about God, just examine closely your attitudes and treatment of those around you, especially those who trigger you and mistreat you. That is the most accurate measurement of your real beliefs about how God feels about and relates to you.
On the other hand, I am writing a new commandment to you, which is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true Light is already shining. The one who says he is in the Light and yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now. The one who loves his brother abides in the Light and there is no cause for stumbling in him. But the one who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes. (1 John 2:8-11)
Over the past few years as I have discovered more and more of the authentic definitions in the Bible itself for the terms it uses, I see that they actually contradict and are often even opposite of the assumed definitions commonly inferred. I am also seeing how pretty much every facet of truth is simply a way of seeing God's character from a slightly different direction. It is like examining a diamond from various angles and coming to believe that we are looking at different objects when in reality it is simply another face of the very same object. So we get into heated arguments like the proverbial group of blind men attempting to describe an elephant from differing positions around it, thinking they each have the greater truth. Yet the closer I come to understanding the true nature of each term and facet about God the more obvious it becomes to me that the core essence/color is really one cohesive nature.
I have been immersing myself intensely for many months now in the writings of John because I am convinced that this disciple seems to have grasped the real truth about God more succinctly than almost anyone else. And since I earnestly want to come to know and reflect what he seemed to grasp, I decided the only way I knew to get there from here was to simply soak in his writings until they finally began to have a genuine effect on my thinking and perceptions about God. By beholding we become changed. Sounds a lot like what happens to a mirror, doesn't it?
I must confess that I am coming to experience a taste of what I was hoping would happen. It feels like it is only a slight beginning, but I am finally for the first time in my life beginning to sense that the more I focus on the real truth about God that He has been seeking to show me for so many years, the more I sense those same elements beginning to make subtle changes in the way I feel towards others around me and even myself. I find new hope and faith and even love beginning to awaken in a heart that has been so damaged and abused and suppressed that I have often wondered if it was beyond repair. At times I still wonder if God can pull it off and heal me enough to be converted and begin to effectively reflect the kind of life I read about in the gospels. But I have to trust that He can finish what He has begun and that has to be enough, for I find I am incapable of producing anything good enough to add to what He has promised to do in and through me.
I know all of this can begin to sound like typical theological arguments, but I am talking about what is going on at the heart level here, not intellectual or theological beliefs, even if they do sound similar. I am more and more aware that obsessions with theory can very often block the kind of heart work that God must do in a person if they are ever to be prepared to live in the fiery presence of God's passion. I am having less interest in debating theology as I used to enjoy doing so much while finding myself straining to simply learn how to listen to the gentle Spirit that is so easy to miss because of all the distractions and background noise from what is around me. I am also learning that the only way I can keep improving in my ability to discern that quiet voice is by intentionally limiting more and more the outside distractions from so many sources designed to instill opposite views of God into my psyche.
It is becoming clear to me that most of the media, the religious exercises, the entertainment, the music that is unavoidable when one goes to shop and most of the books we read are all designed to reinforce lies about God intended to destroy confidence in what He has been revealing to me over the past 30 years. But I am also finding by experience that as I choose to throttle back the insistent onslaught of information and influences designed to block me from perceiving and embracing the real truth about the goodness of God, it becomes easier to actually appreciate that goodness and to have it take effect in my own heart. Then I notice that it begins to be reflected in the ways I relate to others.
So, is it really true that mercy and justice are in tension with each other as many insist? Is it true that the moral influence theory is not enough to save a person from the disease of sin? Is God's influence on my life not enough to change what is reflected from the mirror of my heart?
I suppose I can't come up with the complicated answers that many would demand and that there is no shortage of religious experts who could shred everything I say or believe and make me look like a fool. There may be gaps in the original theory by that label; I don't claim to be an expert in that field. But what I am coming to know is that the only effective way I am finding for experiencing authentic changes in my own stubborn heart is to keep my attention focused on what God has been revealing to me about His character and His heart that is so strikingly different from what I have thought about Him most of my life. And I can testify that the more I embrace the amazing, sometimes almost scandalous revelations He has been pouring into my life, the easier it is becoming to make sense out of all the tangled arguments raging around me and the simpler it is becoming to see what is really light and what is tainted with darkness and fear.
One of the verses that recently riveted my attention was one that I had read for years with little comprehension until I sufficiently embraced what I consider these advanced views of God's true character. It is an insight that I believe John wanted to make so emphatically clear that it couldn't be missed, even though we have managed to marginalize it anyway.
This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:5-7)
If it is really true that I am nothing more than an intelligent mirror, and that my own option is to choose what picture of God I am going to focus on and believe in, then it is imperative that I allow the real Father God of heaven to continue to unveil the light of His true glory/nature to my heart as I turn away from every other misrepresentation of Him in favor of the truth as it is in Jesus. I cannot afford to assume I can find that level of clarity from the Old Testament as helpful as that might be to introduce me to the basics about Him. I must make the revelation of the truth about God as revealed exclusively in Jesus Christ the supreme focus of my attention and affections if I am ever to be transformed into His image and avoid being conformed or squeezed into any mold that is different from Him.
I am coming to know that justice and mercy really are not different when they are carefully examined. I am coming to know that faith and obedience are not differentiated in heaven's perspective as I long thought they were. Rather, I am coming to see that what God must have if anyone is to ever have any hope of living in His presence for eternity, is their affections, their trust, their heart. But this will be impossible as long as we insist on clinging to opinions about Him that block our hearts from trusting Him. For it is impossible to trust someone whom we believe is not worthy of our trust, which is why it is so vital that we come to see the real truth about His nature in a way that elicits trust naturally.
I have come to resonate more and more with the anthems in the book of Revelation that exhibit the attitudes and beliefs of those who finally 'get it', who have come to see the real truth about what is going on with God. They can no longer restrain themselves from spontaneously praising Him who has proven Himself so worthy of all their trust and will stop short of nothing to prove His trustworthiness even to the point of death.
"Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created."
And they sang a new song, saying, "Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth."
Saying with a loud voice, "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing."
And they sang the song of Moses, the bond-servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, "Great and marvelous are Your works, O Lord God, the Almighty; Righteous and true are Your ways, King of the nations! "Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy; For all the nations will come and worship before You, for Your righteous acts have been revealed."
(Revelation 4:11; 5:9-10, 12; 15:3-4)