Thursday, December 13, 2007

People Should be Able to Believe What They Want

Common Objection: "Well, I just think that people should be able to believe whatever they want."

Response:
Does this mean that we should not force people at gunpoint to believe just as we do? Well, then I certainly agree. I should not hate my neighbor for not being a Christian. In fact, it is because I love my neighbor that I should seek to bring the truth to him.

What this objector is really objecting to is that Christians insist that their views are uniquely true and that others should believe in their views. To the objector, that is shrill, perhaps arrogant, and certainly intolerant.

But how is the objector any different? The objector is ultimately assuming, for various reasons, that what people believe about God or sin or man or reality is ultimately not as important as things like being tolerant or working for common societal goals. But this, itself, is a belief, a truth claim. It is the belief that"religious teachings" and their differences are really not important compared to other issues -maybe because they believe the differences are negligible to "God," or because other things have more practical importance in real life, or both. Thus, the objector is doing nothing more than saying "my belief is right, and yours is wrong" -the very thing they are saying we should not be doing.

Likewise, we are compelled to ask the objector, "How do you know it doesn't really matter? How do you know that if someone believes that Jesus is God in human flesh who died for our sins and another person doesn't, that it isn't that important?" When it comes down to it, the objector is claiming to have the kind of superior knowledge (what is true and what is important) that he says we are either arrogant or just plain wrong to claim to have. It is ok for him to know what the truth is (such as..."being sincere and nice to others is what counts"), but we are presumptuous or arrogant to say we do.

Ironically, the Christian faith gives us the only real ground for true tolerance, humility, and love. It is not a tolerance which is tolerant only to those who take the same view, that truth doesn't matter, but does not tolerate those who disagree. It is a tolerance that says, "The truth does matter, but the truth is that all of us are sinners and rebels against God." The playing field is level.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ destroys the myth that there are "good people" and "bad people" -maybe good people who have the right religion and bad people who don't, or good people who are "tolerant" and bad people who openly insist on absolute truths. It destroys the myth by saying we are all lost and in need of a Savior. It says that God, Himself, bridged the gap we could not bridge, and came to save us in Jesus Christ, and He did it by His grace, not because we somehow captured His eye or earned it or obeyed the right list of rules. Thus, our identity, our acceptance with God, is a gift to people who do not deserve it, and it is embraced as a gift, by faith alone. This creates room for true humility and compassion for others who, just like us, are rebels, enslaved to sin, and in need of the Savior, Jesus Christ.

Rather than needing to see myself as better than someone else or needing to resist admitting when I have sinned, since that would threaten my standing as one of the "good people," I can see myself as a person whose only real claim to fame or identity or acceptance with God is something freely given and wholly undeserved. This means I can simultaneously insist on the life-giving truth of the Gospel, without saying it doesn't matter, and love and be patient with those who constantly reject it, since it is by God's free grace alone that I am not still rejecting it.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Joylessness

It is common for us to associate joylessness either with external circumstances or with how we feel about ourselves, our self-esteem. So, in either case, something has happened, or is still happening, which makes us feel joyless or which makes us feel deprived of love and a good self-image, which makes us feel joyless.

We know, Biblically, that the kind of joy which does not depend upon circumstances or others filling our "love cups" is rooted in something higher, something transcendent. Yet, often times there are situations in which joy just seems to evade us. We know, looking at them objectively, that far worse things could happen. We know that our situation is not as bad as losing our whole family, or being tortured and imprisoned. It isn't as bad as about a million horrible situations our warped minds can think up. But still, for some reason, this one situation keeps arising, and just about every time it bowls us over.

It is not merely that joy is robbed from us. The hand-maidens of joylessness also creep in: discouragement, bitterness toward others, hopelessness, loneliness, and maybe anger and wrath. We may even know, intellectually, why joylessness exists and that it is an attitude of the heart. We can't control or change the circumstance -in fact, trying to is what has led to so much exhaustion and bitterness and joylessness, but we just can't seem to get our heart around the idea that we can be joyful in it.

Maybe there is a perceived (or real) "injustice" happening in our lives, maybe almost every day. Our attempts at remedying the situation have failed more times than we can count, and yet we awaken again to it another day.

Today was one of those days for me. It sounds simple: joy relates to Jesus Christ being the ultimate treasure of your heart, your Lord, your Refuge, your Hope, your Identity. But in practice it is sometimes very hard. You know He should be those things to you, but at that moment, for some reason, He isn't -something else is, and it has been threatened. It is funny how frustrating situations reveal the deepest idols of our hearts. Some are so deep that we can't even see them for what they are -we just know they are there.

What do I want?

Is it really such an ultimate thing?

What am I valuing or treasuring?

Has God ordained it for my good, to conform me into the image of Jesus Christ? (Yes)

Is my own honor something I should hold on to, or should I let go of it and consider it wonderful to be a servant? (The latter)

Am I focusing on the sins of others and how they have inconvenienced me? (Yes)

What is the LORD teaching me?