Saturday, 15 October 2016

Which is the Real God

Which is the Real God

Xenophanes, a 4th century BC Greek philosopher wrote:The Ethiops say that their gods are flat-nosed and black, while the Thracians say that theirs have blue eyes and red hair. yet if cattle or horses or lions had hands and could draw, and could sculpt like men, then the horses would draw their gods like horses, and cattle like cattle; and each they would shape bodies of gods in the likeness, each kind, of their own.”

This was an astute observation. We all have a tendency to suppose God must be like us.

Sometimes this is fairly harmless: those of us who went to Sunday School half a century ago in an Anglo-Saxon community may remember pictures of Jesus as blue-eyed and golden haired! Likely in an African-American Sunday School he was pictured as African-American. Neither is likely to portray what a typical first century Jew looked like. Fortunately it really does not matter: the vital point is that God took human nature and was born into our world. Certainly this required being born at a particular time in history, in a particular place, inheriting the particular human genetics of his mother, and being either male or female. Also it is likely God chose each of these to suit his purposes. But those features – for instance what Jesus actually looked like - which are omitted from the Biblical record we should presume are not important.

Most times supposing God to be like us is disastrous. When we suppose that God is us writ large – that his moral character is like ours, his political views mimic our views, his concerns are a reflection of our concerns – we have simply created a god in our own image. What we then worship as God is, to the extent our image deviates from the God who actually exists, an idol.

We have verses like Isaiah 55.8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts neither are your ways my ways declares the Lord” as examples of the error of supposing God is just like us.
Psaml 50.16ff is even more explicit:
 But to the wicked person, God says:
What right have you to recite my laws
    or take my covenant on your lips?
17 You hate my instruction
    and cast my words behind you.
18 When you see a thief, you join with him;
    you throw in your lot with adulterers.
19 You use your mouth for evil
    and harness your tongue to deceit.
20 You sit and testify against your brother
    and slander your own mother’s son.
21 When you did these things and I kept silent,

    you thought I was exactly like you.
But I now arraign you
    and set my accusations before you.

This gives a chilling reminder that this bubble of self deception will be burst when we stand before the real God for judgement and offer us no protection.

The human tendency to fashion a comfortable (for us at any rate) god in our own image goes a long way to explaining the atrocities committed down the ages in the name of God by people who professed to be pious. In the field of government the proper reaction to this is not to say “there is no God” but rather “humans can abuse and debase anything – even the knowledge in our hearts and in scripture about God”. The remedy then is not to sweep scriptural argument from the floor of debate but to recognise human fallibility try to protect against its insidious effects.

Even if we are not “the wicked” of Psalm 50 we still see the world through coloured mental spectacles. For Democrats God is either non-existent or is a Democrat. Similarly for Republicans God surely exemplifies all that they hold dear. Thus when we reason from our existing mental and moral base we are almost bound to go wrong – all the time feeling we are being pious and secure in the belief that scripture – as read by our spectacles that block out everything that conflicts with our presuppositions – fully agrees with us.

Jeremiah encountered this problem with the theologians of his day Jeremiah 8.8 “‘How can you say, “We are wise, for we have the law of the Lord,” when actually the lying pen of the scribes has handled it falsely?” His problem extended to the entire “organised religion” - of his day when he prophesied the coming judgement on Jerusalem (Jer. 26.8) “ But as soon as Jeremiah finished telling all the people everything the Lord had commanded him to say, the priests, the prophets and all the people seized him and said, “You must die! Why do you prophesy in the Lord’s name that this house will be like Shiloh and this city will be desolate and deserted?”

In my lifetime I have seen a radical and thorough-going shift in protestant churches in Australia and I gather similar changes have happened in Canada and the US in Episcopal and similar denominations.

In my youth mainline protestant churches were conservative, and up to the Vietnam War patriotic and militarily hawkish. Post Vietnam they gradually became anti-war, even to the “over-realised eschatology” of believing there could be a world without wars this side of heaven. At this point I am not interested in where a biblical position lies in this matter: I am just highlighting how the mainline churches changed their spots.

In morals, churches of my youth were conservative. From the 60's “sexual revolution” on they became more and more aligned with the popular ethos. In 1988 I put a motion to the Anglican synod in my diocese condemning abortion on demand. There were such howls of indignation when I began to speak that debate had to be suspended. Two thousand years of Church belief had suddenly become as much a heresy as Jeremiah prophesying judgement on Jerusalem. Churches were notoriously silent as abortion became “normal” rather than “killing your baby”. Adultery and fornication ran rampant – bringing in their train unhappy lives and marriage breakdown with all the attendant misery harm and frequently sexual and physical abuse of children from a non-biological father. Again churches which now have so much to say about secular politics were silent watchmen.

I expect that anyone foolish enough to speak in any church synod criticising the current darlings of secular progressive socialism: anthropogenic climate change and Muslim “refugee” immigration would fare as Jeremiah did. However here I am not here arguing either policy to be good or bad: I am pointing out that churches have in a short space of time changed their core beliefs. In particular they have changed their proclamation: once it was salvation of humankind through Jesus alone; now these “new gospels” are deemed more important.

Paul wrote in Romans 12.2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will ishis good, pleasing and perfect will.

As I see it so many churches and church people have done exactly the opposite: they have conformed completely to the pattern of this world. They have then gone a step further and abandoned their first duty to proclaim the truth that is in Jesus. This is nothing new, again going back to Jeremiah: “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water. (Jer 2.13)

Thus in examining the nature of good government one has both to be scrupulously careful to see past one's own bias and also to realise one's best appeal will be to current non-believers, and that faithful remnant of believers who have not followed the majority into worshipping the spirit of the age.

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