Sunday, September 25, 2005

Better Than Wild Animals

In 1537, a frenchman named John Calvin penned the following words:

"You cannot find a man anywhere, however uncivilised or wild, who is without some idea of religion. This is because we have all been created to know the majesty of our Creator and, in knowing it, to think more highly of it than anything else... It is commonly agreed that to live without religion is to live in real misery and to be in no way better than wild animals."

Now, we know that the atheist believes that the thing which makes us better than wild animals resides in the meat between our ears, or more generally, in chance and evolution. It was a cosmic roll of the dice that mankind wound up where we are. We surpass all other earthy species in intellect, in the ability to reason and adapt, and the ability to create, but that is it -and we owe it to nothing else than natural selection combined with random chance and genetic mutation. To you I have nothing to say in this small article.

To the rest of us who acknowledge the Creator, who admit to seeing His fingerprint in creation, and who submit to the common seed planted in us that tells us our Maker is real, I submit that John Calvin was right. We are better than other created things, than wild animals, because our Creator has seen to separate us from them in ways other than by our intellect or powers of creativity. There is something more. We are the only creatures that express any form of religion. We are the only creatures created to know God personally and honor Him in ways none of the other creatures can, and the fact that we can always find a man who has some opinion about our Maker testifies to this.

Next, we notice that we have just about as many ideas about God as we do stars in the sky. Calvin wrote, "But there are many differences in the visible form that religion takes." This is obvious, since if there are varied ideas about who God is and what He is like there will likewise be varied expressions of those beliefs through varied forms of outward religion. Many people do not like to talk about God for the simple reason that disputes arise -it is uncomfortable. In many cases it becomes a battle of whose God is right, and we try to convince others of our view.

But at this point we all betray our genesis and diverge from reason. For though we know that God exists, we derive what we know about Him from our own imaginations. And this, of course, happens in varying degrees. There are many who completely fabricate their idea of God from their own powers of reason. There are others who invent and image of Him based upon their experience and what feels right. There are others who claim to have visions and dreams that inform them about God. There are still some who claim to have a holy book that tells them. And still there are others who actually have that which God has given us, and yet they still twist it and shred it so that God can be formed into an image that is more personally palatable or suitable to them.

Some imagine God is an impersonal force, and others say that God is Judge. There are so many different things out there. It is not good enough to say, "I have my opinion and I will rest upon that!" What if we are wrong? What matters, then, is not our opinion. What matters is not what others tell us about God. What matters is fact. What if God is Judge? Then we certainly would like to know this so that we can be sure we are in His favor. What if we already believe God is Judge? Then we certainly would like to know on what basis He will judge. It is foolish to go only that far and then flatter ourselves that God is just like us and judges just like we judge. The point is that we all have ideas about God, what we are willing to believe and not, yet we must seriously ask the question, "Is what I believe about God true?" Is it objectively true?

We may like to think that truth is relative, but reality does not function this way and we know it. "It is all relative!" we may exclaim, but we know deep down that this is illogical and only a cover-up for areas we do not want to investigate. If the traffic-light is red, I may not choose to accept that and plow through at high-speed, but I will learn soon enough that the reality of the red light matters. I can say, "Well, red means stop to you, but I like to think of it differently", but this is ridiculous. We do not live upon such principles, yet we invent them when we are faced with things we do not want to admit -such as that we may be dreadfully wrong and have no foundation for anything we believe. Let us not betray reason at this point, one of the things that sets us apart from the rest of creation. If we are truly better than the animals, and to be better, then let us demonstrate it. It may not matter at all that our idea of God differs significantly from the truth, but it may matter severely. It seems rational, at least, that we should have a firm foundation for what we believe so that we can be sure, as sure as we can be. We may not want to investigage these things, but if we seek to do any justice to the majesty of our place in creation, not to mention adhere to sound reason, then we must investigate them. If we ignore them they will not go away.

This, then, begs the next question. If we are to know God as we are called to as humans, or at least know about Him, how? Again, common sense would tell us that if we had something from God, Himself, that would be better than anything else. I can claim that I know a man because I see something he created and then fill in many details with my imagination, but I am probably more far off than I would like to admit. Having the man tell me about himself would obviously be far better. So it is with God. We can see His handi-work around us, but from this we can deduce little more than that He is powerful and creative. If He has given us something that tells us about Himself, that would do much more for us. Thankfully, He has.

Today we have a book, written words penned through centuries by inspiration of God. We call this the Bible or "Holy Scriptures." It is in human language, conveyed to us so that we can comprehend who God is and what He wants us to know about Himself and ourselves. The Bible testifies to its own divine origin. It says that it is "God-breathed..." (2 Tim 3:16) It comes from God. He "breathed" it out, in a sense -not physically, as if the pages formed from some kind of physical breath, but spiritually, from His Spirit, from His mind, and perfectly according to what He wants us to know.

Yes, there are many men who scoff at the idea of the Bible being God's Word. To them the Bible is foolishness. They will say all kinds of things against it, though few have actually read it. The truth is that they do not want to read it. There are also men who have read some of it, maybe as a child, and will say that the Bible cannot be a foundation for these things any more than anything else. "The Bible," they say, "can be made to say whatever you want." This is nothing but a tactic used to excuse then from giving careful attention to what it says. Those who say such things have probably never earnestly and honestly sought to know what the Scritpures do say. It is easy to agree that men twist the Scriptures to justify all kinds of atrocities or to support doctrines of their own imagination, but that is not the fault of the Scriptures. They are more than clear and sufficient in themselves, and it is the ignorance and evil of men that is to blame. The Scriptures are "profitable for teaching" (again, 2 Tim 3:16). They bring profit because they contain truth. Men will use many objections to excuse themselves, but their intent is simply to justify their neglect of God's Word. If they can come up with enough objections, they imagine, they will have excused themselves from being responsible to know what it says. However, the Bible still stands as what it is: God's written reveleation to mankind. Our errors and wishes do not alter objective truth.

Given this, it is the most foolish thing imaginable to take this book, this written revelation, and cast it into a corner or save it only for times when "spiritual words" are needed or "religious" occasions come up. Let us not be fools and use this book to exalt ourselves in our religion, as if our religion makes us great. Let us not take part of the Bible, the Word of God, but only parts we like, and then fill in the rest. How many men have died foolishly flattered and content with the idea that "God is love", yet knew nothing of Him in truth? More than we can number. Let us humbly take this book and read it, know it, and in so doing, know our God. Let it eradicate every false idea we have and sweep out the imaginations and replace them with God-breathed truth about our Creator. It is not just a matter of relgion, it is what we were created for.

So, reader, you may joke in your care-free manner, slap a friend on the shoulder and say, "I must be a wild animal," but that will not do. When you have a moment of quiet reflection, perhaps when you are laying in bed at night, it will come back to your mind. "How do I know what I think I know about God? How can I be so cavalier and just assume it doesn't matter?" Maybe you will dismiss the thought as quickly as it came and harden your heart to God all the more. Maybe you will have a spark of interest for a moment and then it will flicker and burn itself out. But maybe you will be prompted to investigate and learn things you never knew and even come to know this God who made us.

It is with this we have the greatest responsibility but also the greatest room for shame and failure. If we are truly better than wild animals like this, then we have a responsibility to actually know our God, personally. But on the other hand, I know many, even those who read this, will go uneffected and unchanged. Nothing will change in your practice or in your interest in God. I would be just as much of a fool if I failed to warn you of the foolishness you are entering into or remaining in. For you are not making yourself like a wild animal. You are dropping yourself below them! You are saying, "I am content in my ignorance, my own ideas, and trusting in myself. I am content knowing that I could be very wrong, that I have absolutely no foundation for anything that separates me from the animals, that the consequences may be horrific, but I would rather blindly and foolishly continue to suppress and ignore this fact and go on my merry way." You are saying that not only do you know that you are throwing yourself into the gutter, but that it is pleasing to you to remain there.

I pray this is not you, for the Lord has spoken that there will be a day when He judges the earth in pure, unadulterated righteousness. It will come, as He says, "like a thief in the night" - who knows, perhaps even tonight. It behooves us all to know about this if for no other reason than to be like a wild animal who instinctively runs to escape peril. But we are not merely wild animals. Show yourself to be a human and know your God as you were created to, and show yourself to be a human who is wise by knowing Him in truth. May His Spirit come and breathe life into this valley of dead, dry bones and kindle in us a seriousness and passion to know Him and know how it is that we may ever hope to come before Him.

"The grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands forever." (Isaiah 40:8)

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