Sunday, April 20, 2008

Theological Tyranny

Job 15—Eliphaz

Religious tyranny holds onto theology rather than on to God. It has its set of beliefs and refuses to adjust them when all around it is shown to be wrong. This is the problem the Pharisees had. They could not accept God the Father as Jesus presented him to be because it contradicted the castles of air they had built. They had taken what God had taught through Moses and twisted it out of recognition by all the traditions they had developed. These traditions had been created as an attempt to follow and obey what God had taught but in the process, in the focusing on their interpretations and understandings, they lost God.

I see a parallel to today. Many churches, theologians and Christians, when faced with new ways of God’s revelation to us assume that it must be from the devil because it doesn’t match anything they’ve understood about God. Rather than considering that perhaps they have not had a full understanding of God (and who does?) they assume that what is “new” is wrong.

Oswald Chambers’ discussion of Eliphaz’s speech to Job* makes sense but it jars what I have been taught. In the late 1960s and early 70s, when the Jesus Movement broke out in tongues a book my church published warned against speaking in tongues and attempted to prove that it was not God moving the speech of these people but Satan. In later years when the “Toronto Blessing” was high in the news, the whole idea of God knocking a person to the floor seemed ludicrous to me and to most of the people I knew.

I was intensely sceptical until a good friend came back from Toronto completely changed after falling to the floor because of God’s presence. This was definitely the work of God and not of evil and I had to re-evaluate my theology accordingly. Chambers writes, “Theology is second, not first; in its place it is a handmaid of religion, but it becomes a tyrant if put in the first place.” Dogmatism is never right. We will never have a complete and total understanding of who God is or how and why he does what he does. We must be willing to hold our beliefs loosely, willing to adjust them when an encounter with God disputes them.

Eliphaz and Job’s other friends were not able to do this. They “knew” that God brings punishment to the wicked and blessing to the righteous and since Job was experiencing everything they understood to be punishment, they concluded that he was wicked and deserved all he got. Chambers advises, “Never be afraid if your circumstances dispute what you have been taught about God; be willing to examine what you have been taught, and never take the conception of an [sic] theologian as infallible; it is simply an attempt to state things.” I agree.

Lord, please keep my eyes on you and not on my beliefs. Let me not be so entrenched in any theology that I miss seeing you and what you are doing.

*"Baffled to Fight Better" in The Complete Works of Oswald Chambers.

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