Our lesson this week is about the reasons for our limited knowledge, so let's jump into our lesson and learn more!
Through a Glass, Darkly
By Stephen Terry
Commentary for the February 16, 2013 Sabbath School Lesson
“Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.” 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, NIV
The above passage is often repeated by Christians choosing to emphasize the idea of healthy living. While exercise, proper diet, adequate sleep and many other healthful practices are certainly ways to show our respect for our bodies, the verses have a far deeper import than simply good health. They speak to the very core of Christian experience—ownership. They assert that we do not belong to ourselves, rather we belong to God.
In the West and in particular in North America where there is a long tradition of rugged individualism, this is a concept that sometimes finds little support. The rugged individualist who is responsible for his or her own destiny and overcomes difficult odds by sheer grit and determination is a popular folk hero. Whether we consider John Wayne in his many roles, or Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo or Rocky Balboa, the go-it-alone hero is always a big box-office draw because these movies tap the core of the myth. They are not controlled by events; they shape them to their will. Even Han Solo in “Star Wars” was never controlled by the quasi-spiritual Force. Instead, he was taught to control and manipulate it. Consequently, many western Christians approach their relationship to God in the same way. They prefer to “go it alone” until it gets too tough to continue. Only then do they seek “power from on high,” power that they can use to continue on the course of action that they had already decided was where they wanted to go in the first place.
Perhaps this attitude was born on the frontier where neighbors were far and few between. Maybe the feeling was if you were not strong and self-supporting, nature quickly culled you from the population. While this Darwinian notion may feed the romantic stereotype of the rugged frontiersman, in reality, even though neighbors were spread thin, they still came together to help with barn raisings and other farm activities as needed. Neighbors would also hunt together. The hostile wilderness, rather than encouraging people to stand alone, instead brought people together for support and safety.
It is possible that the idea may have originated instead from the Old World of Europe. It may have sprung from the medieval romance of the knight errant. The television series “Paladin,” starring Richard Boone made an obvious link between that image and the one of the western hero. Boone, skilled with weapons (always an important part of the folk myth), advertises his skill for hire. Like the romantic knight errant, however, his skill is not for hire to just anyone. The cause must be virtuous. Woe to the man or woman who represents themselves as worthy for his services and proves otherwise. The paradox is that those who tap into this mythology, today, tend to deem their cause as just and virtuous even when it is not. Virtue, as with beauty, tends to be in the eye of the beholder.
As part of this mythology, Christians will often cite “God helps those who help themselves,” not realizing that this saying comes not from the Bible but from an almanac published by Benjamin Franklin. This is often interpreted in practice as going it alone until you can’t go any further, then it is OK to seek help. While it is not scriptural, it has taken on a life of its own everywhere, from private conversations to social media. Few understand the implications of such a belief. It implies that God is more concerned about whether or not a person deserves without respect to their need. This concept affects everything from our understanding of the character of God to our understanding of the character of mankind, who was made in God’s image.[i]
As the verse at the top of the page attests, the understanding of ownership weighs heavily in the balance when we consider the dynamics of the divine-human relationship. For instance, if we take a Deistic approach, we may assume that God, in spite of owning His creation, has little interest in His creatures. One would expect self-reliance to be a virtue in that scenario. This still might allow us to season life with a few miracles, here and there, if we can get the attention of such a disinterested deity. However, this seems far too much like the religion of those prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, whom Elijah chided about needing to work extra hard to get their god’s attention.[ii] In contrast, Elijah’s prayer was answered immediately. This does not seem to support a Deistic faith system. Instead, this identifies very well with a God that Jesus said knows the number of the hairs on our heads.[iii]
The Bible seems to argue very strongly in favor of a God who is not only aware of our day-to-day needs, but is actively engaged in our lives. So much is He involved with us that at times His communication with us is to let us know, “I’ve got this!” and all we need to do is be still and let Him work.[iv] With such a relationship our insistence on being rugged individuals, responsible for our own well-being, may actually interfere with God’s desire to inject grace into our lives. He enjoys working in our lives and does so often according to our faith in Him.[v] If we place our faith, first and foremost, in ourselves, then we may be limiting ourselves to only what we can provide for our needs and our safety. However, if we place that faith, first and foremost, in God, then we may find provision for our needs in ways and from sources that we would never have been able to see in any other way except through the eyes of faith.
Some may feel, like the Apostle Thomas, faith is not enough. We want proof of God’s love and care before we are ready to exercise faith. God will work with that, but He reminds us that the blessing is with those who have faith without proof.[vi] But why would God choose to relate to us in this way? Perhaps it is because of His ownership.
If we consider a secular example, we might look at a person like Steve Jobs. No one would ever have questioned why he would care about the Apple Macintosh personal computer. We would see that as a given because he invented it and manufactured it. Yet, even though we can understand such a relationship in terms of an inventor and his invention, we have difficulty understanding how a God, whom the Bible tells us created us, would be actively involved in fixing our flaws and making us successful.[vii] The Apostle John understood this about God. Perhaps this is why his gospel is so full of love and compassion. He saw a caring God actively involved not only in his life, but in the world around him, and in each of those actions, he could trace the character of love. No wonder he felt that “God is love.”[viii]
Because God loves His creatures, He makes provision for our survival and prosperity in this hostile world, tainted with the presence of evil. Satan and tens of millions of evil angels continually do their best to thwart those purposes.[ix] They would love to encourage us to rely on ourselves rather than God. They know that someone who does is weak and easy to conquer. This is the same tactic that Matthew tells us that Satan used with Jesus in the wilderness.[x]
First the Devil encouraged Jesus to use His own ability to create food for himself. But Jesus told him we should trust in God rather than ourselves. Then he built upon that response by challenging Jesus to prove that He could trust in God by throwing himself from the pinnacle of the temple. But Jesus knew that faith does not need proof, else it is not faith. Finally, the Devil told Jesus that if He came to claim the world, he could give it to Him. All He needed to do was to bow down and worship him. This was the very same temptation offered to Eve in the Garden of Eden. Don’t rely on God to make things happen. You are smart enough to see how you can accomplish your goals on your own. God requires too much with all this trust and faith and sacrifice stuff. Just go your own way, and follow your own drummer.
However, just like Steve Jobs with the Macintosh, if God created us then perhaps He knows best what will be necessary for our success. Perhaps we were never intended to “go it alone” as rugged individualists. Perhaps the God who walked with Adam in the Garden of Eden in the cool of the day,[xi] would still like to walk with us, today. Maybe He already is and our eyes are so focused on our own selves and our abilities we fail to see Him, just as Elisha’s servant could not see the chariots of fire surrounding the city of Dothan and protecting them from harm.[xii] Again, as Jesus told Thomas, “…blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”[xiii]
[i] Genesis 1:26
[ii] 1 Kings 18:16-45
[iii] Matthew 10:30
[iv] Exodus 14:14
[v] Matthew 9:29
[vi] John 20:24-29
[vii] 3 John 1:2
[viii] 1 John 4:8
[ix] Revelation 12:9
[x] Matthew 4:1-11
[xi] Genesis 3:8
[xii] 2 Kings 6:8-17
[xiii] John 20:29, NIV
"Seeing Through a Glass Darkly" February 16, 2013
Job 12:10; 1 Corinthians 6:19, 20; Genesis 3:17; John 12:31; 1 Corinthians 1:18-21
The majority of us have heard the term "acts of God." Generally when this term is used it is in the context of a legal conversation because many insurance policies exclude from their protection damaged caused by what they consider to be acts of God-tornadoes, earthquakes, hail damage, extraordinarily high tides, violent winds, and floods. We might also have fallen victim of a weather-related cancelled flight. The airline claims the weather was an act of God and therefore they are not responsible for our inconvenience.
"A particularly interesting example is that of "rainmaker" Charles Hatfield who was hired in 1915 by the city of San Diego to fill the Morena reservoir to capacity with rainwater for $10,000. The region was soon flooded by heavy rains, nearly bursting the reservoir's dam, killing nearly 20 people, destroying 110 bridges (leaving 2), knocking out telephone and telegraph lines, and causing an estimated $3.5 million in damage in total. When the city refused to pay him (he had forgotten to sign the contract), he sued the city. The floods were ruled an act of God, excluding him from liability but also from payment."1
Our Bible Study this week lets us ponder what such incidents in nature reveal or does not reveal about God.
We don't have to look too far back in time to the misfortune families in the Northeast states of America incurred during the recent storms they have suffered. First, Hurricane Sandy created violent winds and extraordinarily high tides that caused flooding and leveled homes. Next, a history-making blizzard left some of the same households, as well as millions more, without power in below freezing temperatures. Were these events acts of God or acts of the devil or simply acts of nature?
We know that people have been blaming God for what the devil has being doing. How can we tell the difference?
Paul talks in one of his letters to the church in Corinth of "seeing through a glass darkly," the title of our study this week.2 Paul uses this expression to explain that as a church they were not able to see clearly now, but when they meet Jesus face-to-face at the end of time, they would understand.
The same is true for us today. While on this earth we have a poor glimpse of all that is swirling around us as if we are looking into a dark mirror. In other words, we do not get the complete picture because in this fallen world we have an obscure or imperfect vision of reality. We have to be careful not to make any sweeping assumptions of what is or is not caused by God.
We do not now see clearly nevertheless at the end of time, we will.
2. 1 Corinthians 13:12
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