Saturday, April 2, 2011

God Wins (Part 2)

Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever LivedPopular Christianity seems have moved closer to ambiguity lately.  Questions, doubt and unknowns seem to have replaced truth, certainty and answers.  Doubt has become the new truth.  The growing opinion is that certainty=pride.

I have certainly known my share of arrogant theologians.  Blind certainty is no virtue.  None of us are comfortable with an unyielding debater who wants us to agree with him "because I said so."  But, does uncertainty really fix the problem?  I could be arrogantly walk off a cliff because I can't see it and refuse to believe it is there.  Or, I could stumble around in ignorance until I fall off the cliff I still didn't know was there.  The results are the same, regardless of my level of pride.  

The truth is certainty can be humble, because humility acknowledges the truth.  In this way, only the humble can be justifiably certain, because they submit themselves to the Truth rather than place themselves at the center of knowledge.  From the beginning of creation, man has wrestled with this fundamental question of surrender.  Have you ever thought about the fact that in Genesis, the Serpent begins his deception with the question: Has God really said...?

The Enemy's first step in bringing every sin, every death, every atrocity into this world was to make uncertain what God had made certain.  

He didn't stop there.  He followed his question with a statement: "You will be like God, knowing good and evil."  Satan invited Eve to jettison her certainty in God's revelation, so she could make herself the center of knowledge.  The lie that ushered sin into the world was that we could choose what is right for ourselves.  the Serpent says, "God's Word is uncertain. You must choose for yourself what is right and wrong."  Have you ever thought about what the world would be like if we didn't try to make unclear what God has made clear?

I am not so naive as to believe that everything is clear, that we should never  be uncertain.  The fact is there are a myriad of issues we cannot know with certainty.  There is no imperative to make certain what is uncertain.  It really doesn't matter that much if Adam and Eve had bellybuttons or if the army from the east in Revelation is China or Russia or some other unknown country.  What matters is a few fundamental and clearly revealed truths about God and our relationship with Him. 

Put simply, what matters is Jesus Christ and everything that is necessary to know Him.  These are the things that are quite clear in Scripture.  A face value reading with no re-interpretation of parables or poetry, with no effort to translate Greek words outside the context they were written in will give you the basic fundamentals of the faith (The Deity of Christ, His Resurrection, the Truth of Scripture, etc.).  The existence of Hell is one of those clear principles.  God says there is eternal punishment for those who don't know Christ (Matthew 25:46).  If we ignore this, we allow people to think that they will be okay even though they reject Christ.  It is a serious offense to let a man on his way to an eternity in Hell think that he is safe.  

The same can be said of the exclusivity of salvation in Christ.  Jesus said, "No man comes to the father except through me" (John 14:6).  It's a clear statement, one with eternal consequences.  There is no room for blurry lines here.  Gandhi did some good things, but if he never surrendered his life to Christ, he went to Hell.  Nice guys who love their families but don't know Christ still go to Hell.  Our good works get us nowhere (Isaiah 64:6, Ephesians 2:8).  God is clear about this.  

Certainty blurred to uncertainty has eternal consequences in this regard.  

Having read Love Wins, I can confidently say that Rob Bell never takes a universalist stance.  The reason I can say this with confidence is that Rob Bell does not take a confident stance on much of anything.  I could say that "Rob Bell strongly hints at poetic imagery that probably suggests that universalism is probably a better story that really, really seems to probably be what Rob Bell thinks he might probably believe."

On the one hand, I appreciate that he seems somewhat open on the topic.  On the other hand, if he wasn't going to say anything, he could have saved me $11 and not written the book in the first place.

Uncertainty is no virtue.

In a recent interview Martin Bashir confronts Rob Bell with some hard questions, uncomfortable, unpopular questions about God and human suffering.  (You can watch the video by clicking here.)  Some have argued  that Bashir was a little bit hostile in the interview.   I'm not sure it matters.  The world never guarantees us easy questions or comfortable settings.  In fact the hard questions almost always come with a bite, because the questioner is hurting and needs an answer, a certain one.  Rob Bell didn't have a certain answer for Martin Bashir.

My intention is not to attack Bell or to state all the things he should have said.  The fact is, interviews are difficult.  You usually finish thinking about all the things you wished you'd said.  Don't judge him for not being quick with words under pressure.  It's not easy to take on the biggest apologetic question in history on national television.

The point here is not Bell's mistake.  The point is that a certain answer would have been a lot better than an uncertain one.

Bashir wanted an answer.  The viewers wanted an answer.  The world wants an answer. I think even Bell wanted an answer.

Certainty has its place.  It is evidenced in our disappointment when we can't think of the right thing to say.  It is evidenced in the poignant questions of reporters.  It is evidenced when the bomb squad technician says "green wire."

We want answers.  We need the truth.  

We embrace uncertainty when we lose our source of truth and place ourselves at the center of knowledge.  We are afraid to have to defend our opinion, because we can't back it up.  So, we keep saying "I'm not sure about this" in one way or another.  It's not an effective way to handle a debate, and it's not an effective way to speak the gospel to a desperate world.  

There is some good news.  God never puts us in a situation to have to defend our opinion.  Our role as believers is to simply point to what He says, and let His Word stand.  It really is that simple.  I don't have to go in circles.  I can speak the Word of God with certainty, knowing it is true.  God said it.  I can certainly show my evidence for why I believe it is His word, but I don't have to defend it with explanations.  I don't have to prove God according to a limited, human definition of love.  I simply speak His Word and let His truth stand.  

God doesn't want us to be uncertain.  He wants us to be humble.  Humility, in the context of truth means putting God (not one's self) at the center of knowledge.

If you are interested in digging into this topic of revelation at an academic level, have a look at Has God Said? by John Douglas Morrison.  Great book on the topic!

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