Saturday, April 28, 2012
Musings on Faith and Life -- 3
So far in my musings about the meaning and purpose of life, I have tried to show that there is a God who exists and that he is greater than all that we can imagine and he created and owns everything and doesn't need our advice and counsel to figure out how to run the world. The second thing we looked at is the Bible's teaching that God's purpose for all he does is for his glory. We were created by him in his image in order to reflect his glory and majesty and when we get side-tracked from that we lose our focus and then find ourselves without meaning and purpose.
Within ourselves we know that something is not right with the world, or even with ourselves for that matter. We have a sense of the kind of love that should pervade human society and yet that love is woefully missing. There are some glimmers of it, but there are an awful lot of dark places. This is true on a global scale and it is true within our own circle of family and friends. Things often seem pleasant and people seem happy, but there is a lot of friction, discontent, abuse, and anger around. We know this is true and we know it should be better than it is.
In addition to interpersonal and international frictions it seems as though nature is messed up. In many ways nature is beautiful, but even there we see death, violence and a sort of unsettledness both in the living world and in non-living aspects of the world such as weather and geological instability. How are we to explain this. Atheists and naturalists have their ways, but to me these are not satisfactory.
The Bible's explanation is that God gave one specific negative command. Human beings in the person of the first man Adam disobeyed God's command and rebelled against the creator and owner. As a result he brought the curse of death upon the whole human race and upon creation itself. The Bible says that the whole creation groans. (Romans 8:22) We as people groan because we are plagued with sickness and decaying bodies. We groan because making our living is not easy. Nature resists our attempts to grow food and to build a decent life for ourselves. We find rust and decay affecting virtually everything we make and it takes work to keep things in good repair and working order.
When God cursed us he told us that disobedience would cause death. And that is what we see all around us. As time went on God gave us more and more commandments in order to show us his character and to allow us to see just how far from his path we have wandered. Through the ten commandments and other moral instructions given in the Bible, God shows us where the line is and we can see clearly how far we've fallen and how impossible it is to live the way God designed us to live. Sometimes we look at commandments as overbearing and authoritarian, but God is the one who designed us and the rest of the world. He is the one who knows how these bodies, minds and spirits work best. His commands are to provide a way of living that works best. Ultimately we find that we can't live by those standards even if we try. We don't have it within us to comply. That too is part of the consequences of our fallen nature. We don't really want to live like God wants us to. We don't want God to be telling us what to do. We want our independence.
God tells us in Romans 1:18 and following that the crux of the problem is that even though we know God is there and that he is powerful, we naturally do not give him the glory that he is due and we are not thankful to him for all that he has provided. We just assume we have a right to everything. We end up worshipping and serving created things such as ourselves or the stuff we can own more than we worship God. This leads to sins of every kind that Paul lists for us in this passage. The chapter ends with these sobering words, “who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.”
This is where many people jump ship. They say, “I just can't believe that being disobedient to my parents, or living in sexually immoral ways, or being selfish is worthy of the death penalty.” The neat thing about living in America is that we are free to believe anything we want and no one else can dictate our conscience to us. We can live in the ways described here and believe that we are just fine. We're allowed to do that. The thing we need to ask ourselves is whether all of this is OK with the God who is actually there. God is either like he is described in the Bible or he is not. At some point each of us has to come to grips with the possibility, and I would say reality, that God actually does have standards and that he actually does care how we live and that he actually does impose the death penalty on those who fall short of his standards.
Having said that, though, we need to resist the temptation to think that it is those other people who have that death penalty on them while we walk free. You see, the argument Paul is trying to make in the book of Romans is that every single person is guilty. In fact in the next verse after citing the death penalty, he makes this statement. “Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things.” Romans 2:1 I used to think this verse was not true of me. I would look at people who were doing terrible things and judge them and congratulate myself for not being like that. But this verse tells me quite clearly that I do the same things. Jesus for example tells us that to be angry is like murder in God's eyes. Lusting after a woman is like committing adultery. The standard is very high and I have fallen short. The death penalty looms.
Thus we end today's musings with the conundrum that God's standards are so high and so strict that we find everyone in the world is guilty before their creator and are under the just condemnation of God. Who then can be saved?