Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Ultimate Faith and Spiritual Battle

My available time to blog has been greatly curtailed and thus I am forced into brevity, blogging only snippets instead of essays. Did I just hear shouts of joy out in blog land? Anyway...

A discussion with a fellow Christian at work caused me to recall a quote from C.S. Lewis's The Screwtape Letters. This quote is one of the most profound spiritual statements I have ever read--a true favorite of mine. I thought I would share it and hope it raises some discussion.

Do not be deceived. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer understanding but still desiring to do our enemy's will, looks around upon a universe from which every trace of God seems to have vanished, asks why he has been forsaken, yet still obeys God. – Sr. Devil Screwtape in letter to subordinate devil Wormword.

Any relevant scriptures this brings to mind, please provide in your comments.


Suzie said...

I think of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego saying that even if God does not save them from the furnace, they will never bow down. Great quote.

Tony Arnold said...

Thanks for commenting Suzie. Your are right.

But if you do not worship [the image I made], you will be thrown immediately into a blazing furnace. Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand? Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to the king, "O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up."

Brent said...

How does one "obey God?" By doing everything that is commanded in the Bible? Suggested? Recommended? Or is it by doing everything that my pastor emphasizes in his sermons?

If another leader at my church asks me to do something, am I to accept his words as ones that somehow originate from God?

How about my inner self? Does my conscience tell me what I need to change in order to become obedient to God?

What about the Holy Spirit? Is there some source inside of us that comes from God that prompts us to obey him somehow?

I hate to open a can of worms, but I don't understand the obedience thing anymore.

jettybetty said...

"Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see." Heb 11:1

"And without faith it is impossible to please God." Heb 11:6a

Sometimes I can go for days--and not really understand what God is doing--but I have faith He's still sovereign--and He has everything under control.

Tony Arnold said...

Brent, sounds like you are asking for a set of rules and regulations or at a minimum a pretty specific set of guidelines. Your question is similiar to the rich young man's question in Mt 19:16-21.
Either that, are you are just trying to entrap with seemingly sincere questions, but your motive is otherwise.

The only answer I have is to study the words of Christ continually and spent geniune time in pray to God for His will and spend a sufficient amount of time just listening with your heart. My experience is that God will provide if you are geniune in your seeking.

I can only speak from my life experiences. I have little problem knowing if something is right or wrong. My problems come from not wanting to sacrifice my own desires or wanting to take the easy way out of things. If I do run into a situation where the choice might seem a little gray, there always seems to be a clear safe decision but it often interferes with my desires or is not comfortable for me to do.

Simple example: say you are unsure if it is okay to drink alcohol or not. Well you know abstaining is perfectly ok in anybody's book. So the safest choice is don't.

Now it is no longer choice of right or wrong, but whether I am willing to sacrifice something for God, even if it isn't necessary to do so. It is the widows offering. God didn't expect her to give the last of what she had, but she did. Christ said she gave the greatest because she gave out of her poverty. In my mind this includes poverty of spirit and understanding.

Now this is just a very simple example to illustrate the decision making process. Going back to Mt 19:16-21, what is it in your life that is the hardest thing to give up? For the rich young man it was simple, give up your riches. He knew what to do, but he wasn't willing to do it. And he went away sad.

What is it for you--that part which you wouldn't give up even for Christ? Probably not riches. But is it pride? Stubbornness? Your way of doing things? Your understanding of what you think God should be or do? We all have something. Find this and wrestle with it, you may find the answers to the real questions your are asking.

Anyway, I think Jettybetty is right on. I have gone years not understanding what God is doing, but I have learned through hindsight and experience to trust and have faith. He has never failed me. There are some things I don't understand that have never been resolved, and may never be, but I have faith. It is all I do have in these situations.

I will share one I struggle with and for which I have no answer or understanding. Why are innocent children in the world starving, beaten, abused, molested, murdered--suffering. It hurts, I hate it, and I don't understand God on this issue. But, God has demonstrated His mercy and existence in too many other areas of life for me to just dismiss Him and His ways. So I will trust. It doesn't mean I am comfortable or like His way. But my like or dislike is of really no consequence.

Try reading Isaiah 55. Maybe praying through it will help. Maybe not.


Brent said...

You are somewhat correct, Tony. I was wondering what type of response I would get and proposed the question, knowing what the typical Christian answer usually is.

What I have found is that those who claim to be obeying God may indeed not be doing so.

An O.T. example would be found in 1 Samuel 15:

1 Samuel said to Saul, ‘The Lord sent me to anoint you king over his people Israel; now therefore listen to the words of the Lord. 2Thus says the Lord of hosts, “I will punish the Amalekites for what they did in opposing the Israelites when they came up out of Egypt. 3Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have; do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.” ’

It seems to me that those who wrote this tradition felt that God himself told people to wipe out entire nations of people so that the world would know who the REAL God is. I absolutely reject any idea that the creator of all things wants his creation killing itself for some divine purpose.

The point I would make is this: be careful what you claim to be God's will and what you consider obedience to God. It may not be God who is talking to you, but your own self.

There are accounts too numerous to mention of people who claim to be living in obedience to God: Hitler (who killed millions); Martin Luther (who had dozens of people burned at the stake for claiming Catholicism in Protestant designated regions); televangelists claim that obedience to God is sending money to them; etc.


Tony Arnold said...

Brent, I admit I don't understand the OT accounts of God directing the Israelites to kill large groups or execute other such directions.

I would have to say I might have a better understanding if I personally had been told by God to do something or have direct, intimate knowledge of someone who has.

However, in my life God has worked in a definite, but more indirect method than telling me something out right. And I have never felt led by God to do something that seemed out of character with Christianity. Nor do I have intimate knowledge of anyone who has.

So the only obedience problem I have is one of willingness on my part to do all the things Christ asked of me in the NT or to follow all of God's indirect exhortations. My personal experiences have so far given me little understanding of the OT accounts referenced here. So I just trust God and continue to pray, study, and seek.

Also, I have yet to believe any modern person who has claimed to be led by God or claims to be following God's will in executing violence. Those include Pat Robertson and George Bush (who I voted I shamefully admit).

Brent said...

I can commend someone for trying to follow the ways of Jesus of Nazareth, as depicted in the N.T. However, how do we know that Jesus was sent by a divine being to tell us what we need to do in order to please that divine being? How do we know whether the Jesus that is depicted in the compilation of texts that we call the New Testament is accurate or that he is a figure that developed over time?

Tony Arnold said...

The Pharisees asked the same questions.

It all comes down to faith.


Tony Arnold said...

You don't have to trust the translations or the people who did them Brent. You can learn the ancient languages and study the orginal historical documents yourself and their historical train, just like the teams who developed the translations.

This is a huge undertaking however. But if you believe there is a conspiracy that has caused mutliple teams of linguists, archaelogists, scientists, etc. to pervert the historical documents, then this is the only way to verify for yourself what they say.

If you can pull this off, I am sure you will still find room for skepticism and doubt if you so choose.

Your a physicist. There are many theories you adopt and believe in although they are not completely proven yet, but they are the best interpretation of the facts so far. That is why you believe them.

Why do you have such a hard time with scripture. It is not just some story that man could easily manipulate. There many documents found over many different periods that have been poured over by experts in their fields, many not Christians. It would be hard to pervert their contents over centuries in a consistent manner.

You find this system of investigation and validation not only acceptable, but the only valid method in science. Why reject that method when applying it to historical text?


Brent said...

"But if you believe there is a conspiracy that has caused mutliple teams of linguists, archaelogists, scientists, etc. to pervert the historical documents, then this is the only way to verify for yourself what they say.

If you can pull this off, I am sure you will still find room for skepticism and doubt if you so choose."

My comment was not intended to present an idea about a modern conspiracy in which the biblical texts that we have were somehow changed to reflect a "false gospel."

I was referring to the probability that the earliest canonical gospel (Mark) was written around 70 C.E. (according to a majority of scholars). The Gospel of John is said to have been written somewhere between 85 and 120 C.E. That means that several decades transpired between Jesus' life and the first compilation of the events that surrounded his life. The earliest fragments of those original writings are dated to the early/mid 2nd century.

Scholarship has determined that scribes who copied Christianity's sacred texts often edited the copy they had in front of them. These edits were done to clarify sections that the scribe felt could be improved, to provide their own input to the text, and to remove items they felt were contrary to their understanding of the story or letter.

My conclusion (as well as that of many other Christians) is that the texts which we have today are a compilation of interpretive writings. What I mean is this: Those who wrote the originals were not "inspired" miraculously so that people 2,000 years later would know the truth of the events during the time of Jesus. The Gospels are a collection of writings which present the early Christian traditions that existed at that time (30-90 years later). The Gospels are not recorded history, but history interpreted.

Scholars now surmise that many early Christian writings are forever lost. When Christians began calling one another heretics in the 2nd century, some writings were probably supressed or destroyed altogether because they contained "blasphemies." It is not surprising that Constantine was sick of all the schisms in Christianity and decided to call the first council to get everyone on the same page. Unfortunately it was too late. By the 4th century too much damage to the various Jesus traditions had been done.

This isn't DaVinci code stuff here. This is information that historians have discovered over the last 2 centuries (expecially the last 20 years).


Tony Arnold said...

Informative points Brent.

Phil said...

Brent, if what you say is true, does that keep Scripture from being something that can and/or should be followed?

Amanda said...

Absolutely my favorite quote from the book. I think about it all the time, and wonder if I'm faithful in it.

Brent said...


I find "scripture" to be fascinating from an anthropological sense. It explains the human condition by using poetry, myth, narrative, parable and metaphor. Yes, it may also contain history as well.

So if you are asking whether something can be true even though it might not be historically accurate in the literal sense, the answer is "yes." I understand truth as an ever-changing and ever-evolving idea. From this perspective, I see the account of the creation in Genesis to be true but not True. In other words, Genesis 1 never happened but Genesis 1 always happens.

To view scripture as something to live by or follow is fine as far as I'm concerned. However, when selected ancient writings are classified as Scripture (which is an interesting study, by the way) and deified so that individuals can claim to "know the Truth," those followers will be exclusive, judgmental, arrogant, and condescending toward the rest of the blind world. In my opinion, that is not the love of Christ. It is triumphalism.


Phil said...

So how do you decided which parts of Scripture are worth following and which aren't?

And please don't think that I'm claiming that I don't selectively follow Scripture, because that would be the height of hypocrisy.

Brent said...


The best answer seems to be through the collective community. This is the best (in my opinion) but more difficult approach. Personalities clash and opinions differ across spectrums ofinterpretation.

So far in Christianity's history individuals with power have exerted their will upon the masses. This was more evident in the infancy of the Church. Today the same situation exists - those with power and influence are more subtle in their manipulation.

Brent said...

I must add that I don't think that the Bible is something that can be figured out. An open-minded community shouldn't set out on a mission to decide which books of the Bible to keep or throw away, which Gospel is the most accurate or who's interpretation of a passage is the best.

No. It may be healthier for the community (local as well as worldwide) to simply take a humble position and learn from one another instead of pointing fingers of condemnation at dissenters.

If this isn't done, Bishop Spong may be correct - Christianity may die.

JMG said...

To address the conversation that has begun as a result of Tony's original post, I've been learning lately about bible words and their tranlations and meanings. Words in one language don't necessarily have a direct coresponding word in another language, and just like in English, the Hebrew and Greek words have lots of different meanings dependent upon usage. Translators, when choosing the appropriate English word, had to first analyze the original for its intended meaning and then choose the closest match in English. (If you took a class in foreign language in high school or college, you did the same type of thing when you did translations--sometimes you chose the correct meaning and word, and sometimes you didn't.) One bible passage could have several different interpretations depending on what the translator believes is the contextual meaning and then the word that translator chooses to use for that meaning. And then of course, the English reader has to decide among the many different nuances of the English definition of the word. And how do we know for sure that the translator chose the correct contextual meaning to begin with?

I am of the opinion that the average bible reader is discouraged from using language tools for the purpose of researching all the possible meanings of words in the original language. Several reasons account for this: It takes a lot of time to do the homework--time most people don't have; The "experts" have already translated the bible, so who am I as a lay person to think that I'll find something new or different; Church leadership feels threatened when lay people examine meanings for themselves and challenge the establishment; People fear being branded a heretic for even asking questions, much less having a different opinion.

We as Christians are very, very afraid of having our long-held beliefs challenged. For example we've always been told and have believed that God is all-knowing, so when we are confronted with a passage such as in Genesis 18 when God tells Abraham that he (God) is going down to Sodom to see for himself how evil the people there are, we become uncomfortable. Perhaps this is a storytelling device used by the writer to help the readers relate better to God. But then we are plagued with the idea the other parts of the bible might be storytelling devices as well and might not literally be true. This shakes our faith, but instead it should make more resolved to learn more about what we have always believed is the divine revelation of God's word.

To go back to the original question, I think that the "golden rule" is a good way to decide what it means to obey God. Even if you don't believe in God, the golden rule is still a pretty good rule.