Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Redhead Returns

None of us knows God perfectly or understands him in every respect.

That statement will not come as a shock. To believe the human intellect capable of grasping the Infinite is ignorance and arrogance in near-equal measure. Theologians generally acknowledge this, and those who have seen God’s glory are frank in expressing it. Job said, “I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes”. Isaiah cried, “Woe is me! For I am lost”.

That said, John equates eternal life with knowing the true God and Jesus Christ whom he has sent. So while our knowledge of God may be incomplete, it is absolutely vital that the things we DO know about him are accurate.

Life and Relationship

Now, to be fair, I think John is talking about more than head-knowledge here. Eternal life requires a relationship; mere engagement of the intellect will not do the job. Correct thoughts about God are not enough in themselves; it is of family intimacy that John speaks, even if one party to the relationship is childishly immature in his knowledge of the Other.

But at what point does one’s understanding of God become so completely divorced from the reality that it is no longer God being described?

I thought Immanuel Can explained this rather well in a post on worship:
“One thing’s for certain: you can’t worship the Lord if it’s not really the Lord you’re worshiping.

To illustrate: suppose someone asked me, ‘Do you know Tom?’

‘Yes,’ I reply, ‘He’s a middle-aged man with conservative theological leanings, about six feet tall, with thick, white hair.’

‘Oh,’ they say, ‘That’s not who Tom is to me: to me, Tom is a twenty-year-old liberal-leaning redhead, about five feet tall, and female.’

What might we reasonably conclude? Only that we cannot possibly be talking about the same person. To know a person is to know him as he is, not as I would like, imagine, wish or delude myself I would like him to be.”
So you see the problem, and you see what’s at stake.

Calormene Theology

Despite the controversy around it in some circles (concern has been expressed that the character’s “salvation” endorses inclusivism), I always loved the story of Emeth, the young Calormene warrior in C.S. Lewis’s The Last Battle.

Emeth’s name means “truth” in Hebrew. He finds himself troubled at the portrayal of Aslan [Lewis’s Christ analogue] as the Narnian version of his own Calormene deity Tash, and so he demands to see Tash with his own eyes. He finds himself in what apparently is Aslan’s Country and subsequently encounters Aslan himself, who says this by way of explanation:
“I and he [Tash] are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him. Therefore if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath’s sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him. And if any man do a cruelty in my name, then, though he says the name Aslan, it is Tash whom he serves.”
Just so.

I Never Knew You

Let’s leave the fuss about inclusivism aside, because it’s really the second part of Lewis’s formulation here that interests me: “If any man do a cruelty in my name, then, though he says the name Aslan, it is Tash whom he serves”. This part of Lewis’s tale at least provides a useful analogy to God’s dealings with mankind: the Lord Jesus himself frankly declared that there is no talismanic effect in the mere invocation of his name:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ ”
These are not atheists. They say, “Lord, Lord”. They have served under the banner of Jesus Christ and have taken his name, but he refuses to acknowledge them because they never knew him. They did whatever they accomplished in his name for other reasons entirely.

That’s an alarming thought. So I’ll say this again: At what point does one’s understanding of God become so completely divorced from the reality that it is no longer God being described? Where is the boundary line?

A Monstrous Distortion

My own feeling is that some hyper-Calvinist theologians come frighteningly close to it. Their “god” to me seems monstrous. Calvin himself went back and forth on the issue of whether God is actually the author of sin. He at least saw the problem and tried to address it. Vincent Cheung, on the other hand, has no issue with a God who actively causes sin:
“When someone alleges that my view of divine sovereignty makes God the author of sin, my first reaction tends to be, ‘So what?’ Christians who disagree with me stupidly chant, ‘But he makes God the author of sin, he makes God the author of sin….’ However, a description does not amount to an argument or objection, and I have never come across a half-decent explanation as to what’s wrong with God being the author of sin in any theological or philosophical work written by anybody from any perspective. Whether or not God is the author of sin, there is no biblical or rational problem with him being the author of sin.”
“So what?” says Mr. Cheung.

Here’s what: “God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.” Period. “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” Period. “You are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with you.” Full stop.

When my understanding of God has become sufficiently distorted that it is no longer the true God it describes — and describes to GOD’s satisfaction, not mine — I am no longer in meaningful possession of the knowledge of God. And while I may be relating to something, I cannot possibly be relating to him.

If so, my salvation might as well depend on a twenty-something liberal-leaning redhead.

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