Saturday, October 11, 2008

A Confusing Contradiction

“By every standard we know, saving one, the God of the Bible is a confusing contradiction to Himself.” – Oswald Chambers*
A startling remark. Isn’t God the same yesterday, today and tomorrow? Yet the God who told Abraham to kill his son, later gave the command, “Thou shall not murder.” He told Hosea to marry a prostitute despite his law against adultery. When Jesus sent out the 70, he told them nothing would hurt them, yet later he warned his disciples that they would be killed. Paul advised the Corinthians to bear injustices brought against them but when he faced Festus, he appealed to Caesar.

What does Chambers consider the one standard by which God is not contradictory to himself?
...the standard of personal responsibility to God on the basis of personal character [where]...decisions are made on the basis of personal character in its responsibility to God. The blunder of the saint lies in saying, "Because I decide thus in this crisis, therefore that is the rule for all.’ Nonsense!
I find this a curious stance from someone who wrote a hundred years ago. In a day where people define truth by what seems best to them, many of us today cling to the concept of Absolute Truth. Is there such a thing or does the idea of Absolute Truth keep God in a box as dangerous as a theology that conforms to whatever a person desires?

Chamber writes:
As soon as the gates of the head are closed on our experiences we limit God, and by sealing our minds we limit our growth and the possibility of graduating in Divine guidance.
Have I sealed my mind? Am I thus limiting my growth? I have observed a great range of things that people claim to be experiences with God. Some have been very bizarre. I’ve also noticed a tendency amongst many Christians to rise in fear when they see or hear of unusual manifestations or practices that are claimed to be of God. “It is of the devil!” some declare. Is it truly? Because the same accusation was hurled at Jesus, it seems prudent to be cautious with such statements.

Chambers says:
If I allow that God teaches me to walk in His will, I shall allow my neighbour, whom I love as myself, the same certainty, although his way may seem so different.
Can I do this? Jesus warns us against wolves that masquerade as shepherds. If I “allow my neighbour...the same certainty,” how do I distinguish the difference?

Chambers quotes Professor W. James (American philosopher, psychologist and teacher who lived from 1842 to 1919):
...the problem how to discriminate between such messages and experiences...has always been a difficult one to solve, needing all the sagacity and experience of the best directors of conscience. In the end it had to come to our Imperialist Criterion. "By their fruits ye shall know them," not by their roots.... Our practice [what we do] is the only sure evidence, even to ourselves, that we are genuine Christians.
I remember when the “Toronto Blessing” began to be talked about. I was enormously skeptical. People falling down by the touch of God? It was a ludicrous thought to someone (me) who had been raised to believe that speaking in tongues was of the devil. I was curious, however, and searched diligently to learn all I could. Then one day a friend told me how she had gone, also curious but skeptical, to see this thing for herself. She spoke of the scorn she felt for those who were falling over, moved by the hysteria of the moment. And then she fell--touched by the hand of God, she said--and her doubt disappeared. While on the ground, she met God in a new and radical way.

I knew this woman. She and her husband were pillars in our non-charismatic church, solid people without a whiff of mystical nonsense. What she told me gave me reason to re-evaluate my stance on the matter but I still doubted. As I watched her in the subsequent weeks and months, however, I saw a dramatic change in who she was. She was walking with God in a way she never had before, with an intimacy unfamiliar to me. The fruit of her experience convinced me that she indeed had met God in this strange manner.

Does that mean that all who fall over do so because of the touch of God? No. There will always be those who mimic the real for reasons of their own and Satan is forever creating counterfeits. On the other hand, it is important that we do not limit God by our own experiences and theology or seal our minds against the unfamiliar and unknown—easy things to do because they feel safe.

Father, you are the God of the unexpected, the One who breaks all moulds I try to pour you into. You are the same yesterday, today and forever but who you are is beyond my comprehension, you are too big for me. You are too big for any box I may create for you with my doctrine and theology. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day knew the Scriptures intimately but too many missed recognizing you because of the theological boxes they had built. I don’t want to be like that, God. I want to be open to whatever you choose to tell me or show me. I want to keep my mind open to whatever possibilities you might bring my way. Help me to do this, Lord, and help me too, to realize that what you show others, you may not show me; that you walk with each of us in unique ways tailored to who you made us to be. Thank you, Father. So be it.

* All quotes from "Christian Disciplines, Volume I” in The Complete Works of Oswald Chambers. p. 269, 270.

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