The God I Worship

I probably shouldn’t write angry, and so, this post may never see the light of day. I am angry. I have stumbled upon a practice that smacks of idolatry, and does so from Scripture. We sometimes forget that Satan quoted Scripture to Jesus as he tempted our Savior in the wilderness. Just because a believer quotes Scripture and relies on an interpretation of Scripture does not guarantee a valid view of our Creator and King.

The scary corollary to this is that, to follow a path along a wrong interpretation leads to idolatry. Was that saying too much? When I think about it, it angers me. When I assert my Master to be a certain way, and He has revealed Himself through Scripture in a way contrary to my assertion, I have a choice. I can either recant my assertion, or worship my god, the one of my own making, and not my Creator. Perhaps that is to state it too strongly, but I feel very strongly about this. I’m angry, as I have bleated repeatedly.

Here are a few things I’ve discovered as I’ve studied Scripture for the last 30+ years:

  1. God appears contradictory. He does, it’s inescapable, and we may not like it, but it remains true. We don’t have to fix it, it’s not something to be “figured out”, and it wasn’t a “mistake”. He reveals Himself that way on purpose.
  2. God defines “good” and “evil”, “life” and “death”, and is the Creator of all four of them. And, because we don’t understand these terms very well, we often miss that He causes all four. It doesn’t bother Him, that’s how He reveals Himself, wrestling with that is part of our walk with Him.
  3. God saves. He rescues people from the problem of death by providing life. He doesn’t have to, He chooses to. To do so, He chooses to suffer on our behalf. If a Creator capable of suffering is antithetical to your philosophical categories, then you have crucial a choice. And it is a choice between life and death.
  4. God loves and God hates. As with “life”, “death”, “good”, and “evil”, He defines “love” and “hate”. We either love and hate according to His definitions, or we choose our own definitions of those terms. Our terms will be wrong.
  5. The four preceding views are subject to change as my Master reveals more of Himself to me through Scripture.

A pause to calm down occurred between point 4 and 5. It’s been over a week now since I wrote the preceding paragraphs in anger. I feel much better, and clearer now…I think.

Here’s an example of what I mean. One of the characteristics of claimed of our Creator by many theologians, especially from the Renaissance, is that He is immutable: He cannot change, He never changes. The reasoning is that if He did, either He wasn’t perfect enough before the change, and improved; or He was more perfect before the change, and degraded. The basis for this are verses where God claims not to change:

God is not man, that he should lie,
or a son of man, that he should change his mind.
Has he said, and will he not do it?
Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?

Numbers 23:19 ESV

“For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.

Malachi 3:6 ESV

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

James 1:17 ESV

So, with such an array of Scripture behind such a view, how can we think otherwise of our Creator and Savior? Unless, of course, we have other Scripture where our Savior did change. One of my favorites is below:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.

Philippians 2:5-7 ESV (Emphasis mine)

How does an “unchangeable” God empty Himself? And if He didn’t actually empty Himself, how then was Jesus fully man? If He was fully man as Jesus, was He fully man before? I don’t think Scripture teaches that. In fact, what seems to be taught here in Philippians is that this humanity of Jesus was a change.

In other words, while clearly there things about God that He refuses to change, His purpose for instance, there are things that, to achieve His purpose, He changes about Himself. He was of a mind to destroy Israel in the wilderness, but changed His mind. God “repents” of a decision. He even was sorry that He made man, then sorry that He wiped out humanity in a flood.

So, what’s the point? It isn’t about the “mutability” of my Savior. That’s a minor issue in the face of the real one. The point is the danger of idolatry when we persist in our belief that our Creator and Savior is somehow other than how He reveals Himself in Scripture. That’s a serious problem, one where we prioritize ourselves and our culture above our Creator and Savior. Yet, even for this sin, our Savior has patience, and calls for repentance.


Divine Conundrum

Then He said to them, “How is it that they say the Christ is David’s son?  For David himself says in the book of Psalms, ‘THE LORD SAID TO MY LORD, “SIT AT MY RIGHT HAND, UNTIL I MAKE YOUR ENEMIES A FOOTSTOOL FOR YOUR FEET.”‘ Therefore David calls Him ‘Lord,’ and how is He his son?” (Luke 20:41-44 NASB)

Growing up, I looked at this question as the end-all, be-all of theological conundrums.  At this point, I’m wondering what the problem was.  The term “son” isn’t as simple as it is to us.  In our culture the word “son” refers to a male child of a particular person.  By extension we’ll allow the person to be one of a group (Sons of the Revolution).  But in Hebrew and many Semitic languages, the term has a categorical meaning as well.

A man seventy-five years old is said to be a “son of seventy and five years” in Hebrew.  So, when Jesus claims to be the Son of God, it’s not just a reference to His Father, but also a categorical reference to His divinity.  So here’s the problem: is “son of David” a progeny or categorical reference, or both?

The question as Jesus poses it refers to Psalm 110 where David refers to the coming “Messiah” as “Lord”, subordinating himself under the One referred to as his son.  My question is, is Jesus saying Psalm 110 means the Messiah is not a Davidic King?  It seems a lot of work was done to substantiate this quality of Jesus in Matthew and Luke, what with a Bethlehem origin-story, genealogy back to David, and the statement of Joseph’s family.  Is Jesus now saying in effect, “who cares?”  I don’t think so.

I think what Jesus is asking is for a different definition of the Messiah paradigm.  From the line of David shouldn’t include a definition of the kingship.  In other words, being a descendant doesn’t require all the other elements of the categorical reference.  So Jesus is free to be a King like David; yet with the additional elements missing from David’s kingship.  I think Jesus is expanding this categorical reference to include the other references to Prophet and Priest, not just “King”.  In this way, Jesus’ Kingship is greater than David’s.

And this is not to say that Jesus won’t be King or ruler.  He will be King, He will sit on the throne of David, but only in a sense.  He will be a king like David, yet He will also be very different.  Jesus says as much to Pilate when He tells Pilate that if His kingdom were here His people would be fighting here, and they’re not.  His Kingdom is not of this world.  His reign is not of this world, and His kingship does not belong in the category of earthly kings.  His kingship belongs in the category of David only in so far as David ruled the Chosen People as a man after God’s heart.  In this way, so does Jesus, but from the right hand of the Father.

So, the Psalm points to a type of king, one greater than David.  The kingdom will be greater than the Jews. The people will be more than one ethnic group.  The King will reign forever. And He will do so from a “Jerusalem”, but a new one.

I suppose what this means for me is that Jesus is like lots of things found in Scripture.  But none of them can fully describe Him.  He is a king like David.  He is a prophet like Moses.  He is a priest like Melchizedek.  I believe that, in Biblical Theology terms, this is “typology”.  I believe that Jesus merely limits how thoroughly we apply the type.  He is like those things, but He is not those things.  Jesus will always surpass our types, imagination, and dreams.  He’s really cool that way.

What’s your view through the fence this morning?

What Is Knothole Theology?

Imagine a bunch of kids watching a baseball game through the curved back fence.  Each one along the length of the fence looking through a knothole at the baseball action.  One can see a portion of the outfield, another two infielders, and the third can actually see home plate and the batter.  The batter hits a huge line drive deep into the outfield, and runs.  The third kid yells out, “It was a hard line drive!”  They hear the crowd on the other side of the fence go wild.  The middle one can see the two infielders anxiously looking back toward the outfield.  The runner passes through his view quickly.  He yells, “He rounded second!” And the first kid sees his outfielder grab the ball after a bounce and hurl it toward the infield.  The middle kid quickly shouts, “The second basemen got it, and threw it to home!”  And the third kid, yells out, “He’s safe! We win!”  They hear the crowd erupt on the other side of the fence and indistinct yelling.

How much could any one of the kids have really understood about what was going on without the other?  That’s the basis of Knothole Theology.  Without their view, the sound of the crowd would have told them something exciting was happening, but not what.  And their view may have shown them part of the action, but not enough to get a good sense of what was happening.  It isn’t without the view of all three that what was happening was understood.  And even three views from knotholes isn’t as good as being in the stadium.  There were a lot of details even they couldn’t see through the fence.

But what is Knothole Theology? Essentially it is a view of God through our ‘knotholes’ that gets better as everyone shares their view.  It is based on the conviction that God has not revealed Himself to any one person, but rather created a view of Himself that creates dependency on each other for clarity.

In more technical terms, it is a biblical ‘word about God’ dependent upon many perspectives. We all view God with the limited perspective as through a knothole in a fence. The view of God through the knothole is never complete, so we need the perspectives of others for a more complete understanding. Having said that, though, it is based on a few assumptions:

  1. The Bible is inspired by God
  2. The sixty-six books are the complete infallible inspired record
  3. God revealed what we need to know about Him through Scripture
  4. The purpose of God is to draw His human creatures into a relationship with Him
  5. The end result of this relationship is eternity in heaven worshiping Him

The purpose of Knothole Theology is really to gain a better understanding of what God reveals through Scripture.  In that sense it’s a biblical theology.  But in another sense it’s a theory of biblical interpretation, in that understanding is best with additional views.  It’s not an oversimplification to say that no one knows it all, but some views are better than others.  But this causes some problems; typically relational ones.

The purpose, with a focus on God, is easily lost when the participant are really more interested in the value of their view over everyone else’s view.  People can get offended that everyone didn’t consider them as important at they saw themselves, and so on.

Another problem with losing focus on God is when people desperately want a grand view, and they only have a knothole.  If their solution is make up what is lacking in their view with imagination, intuition, and deduction, they put themselves on dangerous ground.  There is some value in trying to see beyond the view this way, as long as what is seen is able to be clearly differentiated from what is surmised or imagined.  Sometimes being able to consider the views together, appreciate their gaps, and try to get a sense of what’s happening in the gaps is helpful.  But it must also be seen that way, not as a true view.  The reason for this is that the ‘views’ are, in a very real sense, given to us by God through His Spirit.

When Knothole Theology is practiced in small group Bible study, what is discovered is a much richer view of God, His character, His activity, and our relationship with Him.  This vivid view is capable of deepening our worship, our prayer life, and our daily activities.  It can be transformational.

So, this blog will be a beginning, limited view of a passage of Scripture.  What will make it great are the comments supplying missing views of the action of God.  The only ground rules really need to be that what we all be ‘at the same game’ (passage, or at least Scripture), and that we don’t lose focus on God.

Play Ball!