Wednesday, May 5, 2010

May 5

OT: Judges 21:1-Ruth 1:22

Okay, so I may have gotten a bit carried away with my reading yesterday, and then accidentally blogged ahead. Oops! But on the plus side, I've already finished up Judges!

The number one thing that strikes me about reading Ruth today (besides the welcome break from war and depravity) is what connects Ruth to God. Here are the famous words she says to Naomi: "Where you go, I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God" (16). So friends...why does Ruth choose to worship God? Is it because she has been rationally convinced of the logic of God's existence? Is it because she has seen clear evidence of His power and greatness? No. It is because she loves Naomi, and Naomi loves God.

Is that not remarkable? And yet, I see that phenomenon so clearly in life. People are not generally convinced of God's existence and of the need to worship Him through the use of logic and rationality. I would argue that most people aren't convinced of ANY of their most cherished beliefs through the use of logic and rationality, no matter what they tell themselves. Instead, we tend to believe the things we believe because the people we most love and respect believe those things (wow--that was a confusing sentence). The great majority of us Christians are so because we were taught by our parents. I believe honestly that it was their love, and not their logic that ultimately led us to our beliefs. At different times, we have all needed logic and rationality to bolster our beliefs (and that's why we have C.S. Lewis); at its root, however, our beliefs come from love.

The truly crazy thing is that the Bible so far has shown that the opposite approach--experience and reason--are actually NOT enough to hold a person to God. The Israelites whom God led out of Egypt, after all, personally experienced God in a clear, empirical way. God repeatedly urged them through Moses to rely on their rationality and logic ("Remember who saved you. Remember what you SAW.") And did that work? You would think so, but no, not so much. When hard times came and they had no food and water, their logic (and their memories, apparently) utterly failed them.

THAT'S why God tells us repeatedly to impart our faith to our children. Faith comes through love, and our children are the people we love most in the world. If anyone can convince anyone of anything, it is their loving parents. I believe that understanding that "love principle" can help us in our evangelism. I don't know of any people who converted to Christianity because they were rationally convinced by a debate between a Christian and an atheist. I know a TON of people who embraced Christianity because of the love and dedication of Christians who got involved in their lives.

There is so much more I can write about this idea, including a few caveats. I will resist, though, and move on to the NT. If anyone disagrees with this idea, however, I highly encourage you to weigh in. I feel that I may have put too much emphasis on the relational roots of faith and not enough on the rational...but as of now, I'm sticking to my guns:).

NT: John 4:4-42

Hmmm...this story offers an interesting counterpoint to my thoughts on Ruth. Is the woman at the well convinced of Jesus because He reached out to her or because He gave her some compelling evidence? According to her own words, it was because He gave compelling evidence; she tells the townspeople, "He told me everything I ever did" (39). And yet, I do see that the roots of her conversion are found in his willingness to talk to and engage with her, a shunned, Samaritan woman. I guess there is a balance in relationship v. reason, when coming to faith. If you think your parents are crazy, for example, you are not likely to embrace their faith, even if they are loving. Yet, I just know that in my life, whether I like to admit it or not, the most compelling "reasoning" for faith is to see people live it out in a clear way and to see them show Christ's love to me. And on the flip side, the most discouraging force in my faith is to see "Christians" who don't seem at all affected by Christianity, who are unloving and ungodly.

So here is my revised verdict: Reason alone doesn't convince someone to have faith in God. Instead, the most important factor in coming to faith is to experience the love of a person of faith. A Christian would argue that the love we experience in those times is God's love for us. As Christians, when we love other people, after all, we are loving them with Christ's love. It is He who taught us to lay down our lives for other people, to put their needs ahead of our own, to serve others in love.

Okay, that's where I am with that. There is a TON more to say about this passage, but in the interest of the thematic unity of this blog, I am going to move on now.

Psalms 105:1-15

Well, I'm glad I revised my verdict, because this psalm admonishes us to "Remember the wonders [God] has done, his miracles, and the judgments he pronounced" (5). According to my OT distinctions, these actions would fall under "reason." And reason is helpful.

I still don't think it's the most important factor, though:).

Proverbs 14:25

Solomon REALLY does not like deceit. False witnesses are not his thing.


  1. I agree with you that we learn from those we love (especially parents). But what about when our parents or other loved ones are terribly wrong? If God is going to hold us all eternally accountable for choosing or not choosing Him, it would seem that His perfect justice would require some opening for us to shake off our poor upbringing (or alternatively, His perfect mercy would take that upbringing into account when we are judged). The underlying idea that we win more souls by who we are than what we know remains true, though.

  2. True, true.

    Of course, I have no idea how God will judge us, but if I had to hazard a guess, I would guess that He judges us individually, according to our capacities. He is not going to judge me with the same measure that He will use to judge a severely mentally ill person, for example, or with the same measure He will use to judge a little child who died. Similarly, I have to hope that He will use a different standard from someone who was raised in a loving, Christian household, and someone who was raised in the Middle East, in a loving Muslim household. Or someone who was abused and mistreated as a child, which distorted their whole worldview and even their capacity to accept love. Again, I don't know anything about anything, but I have to think that God takes all that into account.

    The flip side of this theory is that God will judge someone like ME, who has been given every spiritual advantage, with a higher standard. Luke 12:48 says that, "From whom much is given, much is expected." I think that the same part of my thinking that gives me hope for those from horrible backgrounds (such as those scarred by abuse and neglect) also frightens me a little when thinking of my own judgment.

    In the meantime, my job is not to figure all that out, but instead to go on my best understanding of the Bible. And from what I can tell, what I am supposed to be doing is loving God, loving others, and telling everyone about Christ.

  3. Knowledge or hearing or reason may get you there but only love can keep you there. The thought of hell is certainly scary, but fear doesn't last; love does.

  4. OT: Very good point. I totally agree.

    NT: I love how Jesus disregards social norms.

    It is interesting to me that the woman seems to know something about God, or at least she seems like she wants to know something about God because of her question about the mountain and because she is expecting the Messiah. However, Samaritans were not "allowed" to worship God. I'll bet she was just hungering (uh, thirsting?) for Him. I don't think that is a fair "conversion" story then. She was already outside the door; she just needed someone to let her in, which ties in to what Jesus said about the fields being ready for harvest.

    Psalms: Yes, there has to be reason involved too, but even that reason is influenced by emotions. I can look in nature and think about the fact that God made everything, but that only has meaning to me because I already love God. An athiest can look at nature too and see only science (or whatever).

    I like verse 8: "He always stands by his covenant--the commitment he made to a thousand generations." That truth is the crux of everything. My whole worldview and everything I believe is based on the fact that I CAN TRUST GOD. He is absolutley, 100% steadfast. The more I rely on that truth and really BELIEVE that it is true, the better for me all around.

    Proverbs: This would be a hard verse to swallow if you had to testify against someone you love. BUT, I guess that goes back to trusting God. If we trust in His principles, then we know that following them will be better in the end, even if it doesn't seem like it at the time.

  5. You make a valid point that emotions are an important part of why people to decide to believe what they believe. However, I think that your position is not supported Biblically when you say,

    "Similarly, I have to hope that He will use a different standard from someone who was raised in a loving, Christian household, and someone who was raised in the Middle East, in a loving Muslim household. Or someone who was abused and mistreated as a child, which distorted their whole worldview and even their capacity to accept love. Again, I don't know anything about anything, but I have to think that God takes all that into account."

    That seems to be straight out contradicted by the many places in the gospels where it is claimed that believing in Jesus as lord and savior is the only way to escape condemnation. (See, for example, John 3:18 from our reading two days ago.) You can hope all you want, but your hope, in this case, is not Biblically founded.

    And yes, I am sure you can find verses that support your viewpoint. That's the "great" thing about the Bible: it can be used to support such a wide variety of contradictory theological views.

  6. Oh, Erika, Erika:).

    You are right. I can find verses to support my position, like the many indications throughout Scripture that God holds different people to different standards. However, I'm not sure what the point is of listing them, since you kind of dismiss ANY use of Scripture in your last paragraph (though, oddly, you still use it to support your own theory and to dismiss mine as not "biblically founded").

    Admittedly, a lot of my theory is simply my own hopes. It is based on my understanding of love--the love that God gives us for our children, for example. Christians do believe in the idea of general revelation, after all, the idea that you can learn about God from nature. My nature as a parent, I believe, helps me to understand God the Father. So while Scripture definitely never says that those who don't believe in Jesus will be saved, I have to hope that an almighty God who is infinite in mercy will take the complexity of our circumstances into consideration. In the meantime, I will be trying my best to fulfill the Great Commission in Matt. 28:18-20.

    Oh, and it is definitely true that the Bible can be used to support a wide variety of views. It is a complex book written over hundreds of years, and frankly, not all of us "get" it. In fact, no one really does, and that seems to be part of the point. It would have been nice if God had given us a clear manual with paint-by-numbers instructions. Unfortunately, He chose not to.

  7. Oh! How could I forget my ONE non-Jesus scripture! I mistakenly just said that there is no verse that indicates that if you don't believe in Christ, you'll still be saved. And I was wrong; there is one:).

    In Romans 2:14-15, Paul talks about the Law. It is part of a bigger discussion about what went wrong with humanity and why we needed Jesus. He does say in those verses that even those people who never received the Law and yet lived the principles of the Law by nature, then they show that they are a "law for themselves," as the requirements of the Law are "written on their hearts." That concept, combined with the different standards used and talked about throughout Scripture, combined with the possible interpretations of the sheep and the goat story in Matthew 25, inform my hope.

    But it's still just hope.