For most, the process of becoming will involve living in the midst of theological tensions capable of pulling us part and causing much pain. There are no shortage of these points of contention as our many denominations are evidence of. One of these tension-laden God-thoughts that is currently front and center for me involves the judgement of God. While I am tempted to abandon this track (and I confess, all other tension producing God-thoughts), the wiser part of me (I pray) is hearing something like this; “The Truth is in the tension. Do not flee it. Do not fear it. Embrace it.”
That God judges, is ever so apparent in the Old Testament. Israel’s stiff heart seemed to regularly invite God’s wrath. Yet, in the New Testament judgement does not seem to be as prominent of a theme. (although Annanias and Saphira might beg to differ). Didn’t Jesus absorb all the judgmental wrath of God on the cross? So what are we to do with this tension between the Old and the New Testaments? Did God change between Malachi and Matthew?
How is God, the Judge expresing Himself under the New Covenant? What does that look like? If we back up just a bit to verses 9-12 we see a possibly overlooked aspect of God’s judgement that may shed some light on this question. Here God has “poured over them a spirit of deep sleep”. The consequence of God’s judgement was that the wise men and prophets (those called to lead) were stumbling around, and disoriented. Therefore, as a result of God’s corrective measures, we don’t find God’s people dealing with the more classic visible signs of judgement such as boils or natural disaster; instead we find them afflicted with something far less conspicuous – the illusion that their worship is acceptable to God.
In dealing with doctrinal tensions (particularly when I was younger and more certain), I wrangled with others on the ideas dividing us – hoping to win them over and thus create a unity of understanding. This unity was going to happen of course as they repented of their doctrinal error. I have to ask myself; Was it really unity I wanted? Or, is it possible (in my pride) I just needed to be right? Is it possible (out of my independence) I needed God to conform to my perceptions of reality so that I could maintain some degree of control? Is it possible (out of my insecurity) I developed inordinate dependencies on others who would agree and validate me? Well…looking back, I know the answer to these questions and all I can say is, “Oh the marvelous kindness and the wonderful patience of God.”
Even though I have repented of the notion of a knowledge-based unity I still cannot help but long for the unity Jesus passionately asked His Father for …..
…. that all of them may be one, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one — I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. John 17:21
I believe God intends to answer Jesus’ prayer. Here is a question; Do you think this unity will be achieved through a massive doctrinal reconciliation where we will all be converted to a common theological understanding and creed? If so, shall we use yours, mine or theirs? Verse 16 describes us as objects of clay in the hands of a potter. I am no biblical scholar, but I am thinking the clay may not pull this off.
When the Potter decreed that His Words (the scriptures) be left to us, was it His intent that they inspire solely by dovetailing into our existing grid of logic and reason? Did we anticipate that when the two-edged sword of His Truth touched our hearts that it would always draw an “Amen?” Were the scriptures left to us so that we could analyze and critique “the letter” of their content? Did the Potter intend for us clay-creatures to perfect our knowledge, form air-tight arguments about Him and then go out and argue the world into God’s kingdom? Is the foundation we are building on constructed from doctrines that we have systematized, memorized, and used to make rational sense of our lives? If it is, what is being built will not stand. I believe in kingdom that God is building there may be some significant demolition scheduled prior to construction.
In our newer grace-driven covenant, God the Judge has also revealed Himself as God the Father, having given new hearts to those who have entrusted themselves to Him. The Old Covenant, even though it was not without its own glory, was unsuccessful as God knew it would be in creating sons and friends. It depended on the Law and judgement to deal with a fallen nature. The New Covenant depends on God’s grace and His discipline (not judgement) to shape our new natures.
In the New Covenant, judgement has yielded to discipline. However as men who are saved, (yet still dealing with flesh) we are only partially awake. We are still being awakened from a deep sleep. However, If we will walk with Him in the Spirit, we will discover that He is providing sufficient alarms (personal and societal) to awaken us from our slumber. Any alarms going off within your hearing?
Our understandings, where they are constructed from mere human reasoning, must be demolished before we can awaken and lay hold of that for which we were laid hold of by Him. Our individual and corporate understandings and the religious institutions we have formed around them are in no way capable of containing and organizing the affairs of a God such as ours. If this has not yet dawned on us, we are still asleep to some degree.
My point? Our sleepiness, like Israel’s, (due to our flesh) contains elements of religious self-delusion. And, because of our dependence on our belief systems, we are not inclined to question them. That collection of ideas (we have deified) is the best we know. Why jack-hammer away on our own foundation? Because, in spite of the good we perceive it might have served to this point, it may be the enemy of something far greater the Master Architect is aspiring to build. How are we to know if God is undertaking something of this sort in our lives? See any attempts of demolition going on around you? Within you?
As usual, God’s projects will involve the Spirit invading the kingdoms of our own belief systems with His Word, disturbing our status quo thoughts and disrupting life as we have known it. We can participate with the Holy Spirit by asking Him, “Are these disturbing and disruptive things going on in me and around me intended as discipline? As wake up calls? Are You wanting to use these things to awaken me from specific delusions? Remember, the essence of a religious delusion is to be in a state of sleepy unawareness. Given our family linage, (going back to Adam) it will be to our advantage (as we have trended toward darkness) to keep certain prayers and questions always before the Lord, such as:
“Father am I just going through the motions of a well-established religious routine? Search my heart and expose me.”
If today’s passage has any application at all, it is as a warning to those of us who may think we (and/or our group) are the most doctrinally pure. The sleepiest among us may be those most confident in their orthodoxy as opposed to Christ alone. If we are cruising along on auto-pilot, comforting ourselves with favorable comparisons of our selves to some standard or another, we are asleep at the wheel and the Lord says…..
because you draw near with your words and give me only your lip service, and your reverence for Me consists only of tradition learned by rote, you have removes your hearts far from Me “ Isaiah 29:13
I write as one recently awakened (to an extent) from a religious delusion. The battle I faced with religion has as intense as any direct battle I have had with the more common foes of lust, greed envy or anger. From this experiential vantage point I offer an observation; In the insecurity imbedded religious bondage, I felt isolated and rejected by everyone who did not agree with me. I would instinctively create space between myself and those parties to avoid the pain of rejection. This dynamic which I observed in myself shed light on church splits, denominations and the general sense of disunity the Church has projected to the world.
To testify as to how God delivered me from this condition of heart, I present a phrase in two versions of Isaiah 29:13-14.
therefore behold, I will once again deal marvelously with this people, wondrously marvelous. (from Isaiah 29:13-14 NAS)
I’m going to step in and shock them awake, astonish them, stand them on their ears. (from Isaiah 29:13-14 MSG)
And, as one who is currently more awake (and alive) than he has previously been, I write to say that the alarms God used to awaken me had more of the MSG (shock) ring to it than the NAS (wonderful) ring to it. While the marvelousness of God’s ways have begun to find expression, the awakening itself felt anything but wonderful.
My belief is that the persuasive unity that God has slated for His Church will not happen as we all graduate from some grand and unified curriculum. I believe the Church will one day find herself in unity because all her individual parts have learned to respond to the Holy Spirit’s ongoing wake up calls. He wants us all to stand before Him one day, not with some diploma in hand, certifying our mastery of doctrine. He wants us to stand before Him with a history of His Spirit’s operation in our hearts, which has transformed us into lovers of God.
Won’t we be shocked and turned on our heads when we discover that our theological differences and the tensions they created were never intended to drive us into thousands of sects? (There are currently between 30 and 40,000 denominations!) Our differences, instead, can be our opportunities for love to triumph. Won’t it be wonderfully marvelous when we acknowledge that right now in our midst, He has provided everything (especially tension and grace) to live out of the unity of Christ’s life within?
Father, I believe that Your wrath that was rightly due us and that would have condemned us, was absorbed entirely by Your Son on the cross. And today, whether we refer to it as discipline or judgement, You have never taken any corrective measure with us Your children, that was without love and purpose and that did not have a wondrously marvelous intended outcome.
I pray that we might be awakened in our various camps if we are laboring under any “religious” delusions – giving us false comfort while our worship is actually unacceptable to You. Whatever is necessary Lord, would you draw us out into the light – out past the boundaries of our intellectual security into these places of potential differences and tensions where love will triumph over all fear – where Your Spirit of Truth is working to answer Jesus’ prayer – that we be perfected in unity so that the world may see us as one Body and know…. that You have loved us. Truly Father, that will be wondrously marvelous. Amen.