Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Second-Hand Christians

“So Abram went, as the Lord had told him, and Lot went with him.”

Lot wasn’t Abram. The Lord didn’t speak to Lot directly as he had spoken to Abram. The Lord didn’t “appear to” Lot.

Abram went; Lot went with. Abram went as the Lord had told him; Lot went as Abram told him.

That Righteous Man

That doesn’t mean Lot had no relationship with God, of course — though we may wonder at times how transformative it was, given a few of the independent choices he made and the dire consequences of those choices to his family. I suppose we could view Lot as the amiable doofus trailing along in Abram’s wake, magnetized by his older relative’s prophetic charisma. But that’s not the apostolic take on Lot. Peter calls him “that righteous man”. Lot was tormented by the lawless deeds he saw and heard around him when Abram was nowhere to be seen and could offer no opinion about the habits of Sodomites. At least Lot had God’s mind with regard to sin, and he probably had God’s mind with regard to the trip to Canaan.

He just had it second-hand.

When he left Haran, Lot was in the right place, doing the right thing, with the right people. But his guidance from God was pre-processed. It didn’t come to him directly through God’s word. It was Abram’s experience with God, not his.

Many Lots

I know many Lots, and I’ve known many over the years. I’d estimate maybe a third of the Christians I know are a little bit like him, and I suspect there are larger numbers of believers of this type in institutional churches, where they have absorbed teaching “pre-chewed”, if you like, by a true minister of the word, and have put the little they know faithfully into practice. But it never occurs to them to seek God’s mind directly. Perhaps they don’t trust their own ability to interpret God’s word, and prefer books about the Bible to the Bible itself.

When you are sitting around a table talking about the things of God, these are the Christians whose observations are all, well ... second-hand. Whenever they open their mouths, someone else is doing the talking; they reliably quote other people’s insights about scripture rather than scripture itself.

Milk and Meat

Now, quoting other Christians is not a bad thing, and I do it once in a while too: Ryrie, Anderson, Lewis, Gooding ... many things worthy of repetition have been written over the years by many a good Christian man. But the spirit of Lot doesn’t make independent observations about scripture sprinkled with the occasional reinforcing quote from other saints; it quotes constantly, and not just from the purer streams. It is also more likely to cite Beth Moore than Chesterton, who is by far the more difficult read. In fact, the spirit of Lot is all but unable to tell you anything it has discerned for itself. It needs milk, not solid food.

And what is milk? It’s food somebody else has processed for you first. “By this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God.” You are incapable of learning for yourselves, says the writer to the Hebrews.

What a sad statement.

The Exactest Knowledge

Aristotle wrote, “Before some audiences not even the possession of the exactest knowledge will make it easy for what we say to produce conviction. For argument based on knowledge implies instruction, and there are people whom one cannot instruct.” This is quite correct. There are people who cannot process information dialectically. A barrage of data points leaves them cold. That doesn’t mean they never learn, but their learning is not “based on knowledge”, let alone “exactest knowledge”. Rather, it’s based on visceral impressions and stirred emotions; strong feelings generated by people who have learned truth (or lies) for themselves and can pass along their findings rhetorically. The ‘Lots’ in the audience get to the right (or wrong) answer because it ‘feels’ right, or because they trust the person who has told them, not because they have truly grasped and owned the truth, or tested it by comparison to the scriptures.

Now, feelings can be wholesome and correct at times, but they should never be the final word for us. David’s repentance over the matter of Bathsheba and the murder of Uriah came by way of strong feelings that swept over him when Nathan told him a parable. He had the right reaction, not to the word of God, but to a principle of the word of God pre-processed by another man and presented to him rhetorically in story form.

A Temporary Lot

Such a dull spirit was not normal for David. At other times, he wrote powerful things directly at the behest of heaven, without the need of intermediaries like Nathan. “David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord.” What a remarkable statement! The man spoke the very words of God in one moment of time, but needed the parable of a prophet to stir him to action at another. He had stopped applying God’s word to his life, and now he couldn’t hear it anymore. His conscience had become temporarily dull, and his conduct was for a time determined by his feelings, good and bad, rather than by the expressed will of God. That is not enough. God demands (and deserves) to rule over both heart and mind.

In short, then, we can all be Lot once in a while. But the spirit of Lot should not characterize us. We need to be able to hear the Lord’s instruction to us directly. The mature “have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil”.

Directly to the Word

Constant practice means we go directly to the Word even when the Word seems to say nothing special to us. I have that experience all the time. I read through three passages of scripture every morning, often without having any new insight, without being particularly moved one way or another, without feeling that I have discovered any special thought for the day.

So what do I do then? I get up tomorrow morning and do exactly the same thing. I go to the Word for myself. One day next week, conviction will hit me like a thunderbolt, and I’ll start to apply some principle of scripture of which I’ve previously been ignorant, and which the Spirit of God has now impressed on my heart. But if I don’t persist in training myself to listen to God directly, I can never come to that point.

Going Out and Going With

Now, I certainly read the commentators, but only a tiny fraction as often as I read the Bible itself, and only after I’ve tried to understand scripture for myself first. Hey, we all need one another. We all benefit from the spiritual insights of other Christians. I’m not saying we should be independent or willful in our understanding of God’s word. Lot made his mistakes, and Abram made mistakes too, despite directly experiencing the presence of the divine.

But what we know of Christ cannot be all second-hand. The occasional glass of cold milk is perfectly fine; living permanently attached to a teat is not.

Be a Christian who “went”, not just a Christian who “went with”.

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