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Monday, March 21, 2016

Speaking for God

On more than one occasion by more than one person I've been accused or heard the accusation of "speaking for God". You know how that goes.

Christian: "You know, the Bible says that those who practice homosexual behavior won't inherit the kingdom of God."

Skeptic: "You need to be careful. You're making your own opinions out to be God's words."

Christian: "Umm, no, I'm just quoting the Bible."

Okay, maybe it's not "just quoting the Bible" all the time. It might be an extra step. Like reading, "There is no other name given under heaven by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12) and concluding, "Jesus is the only way." You know, the exclusivity of faith in Christ. You see, it does not say, "Christianity is the only way to salvation", so concluding that is, well, just an opinion. Right? Or when Jesus gives the option of "Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and the two shall become one flesh'? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate" (Matt 19:4-6) or be a eunuch (Matt 19:12), we are not supposed to conclude that these are the only two choices? Either a man and a woman can marry for life or be celibate. You know, like the Church has understood it since the day He said it. But that's making my thoughts (read "the understanding of all of Christendom since the beginning") God's thoughts.

I'm trying to figure out what's being said here. When they complain that we read and feed back what the Bible says as true and call it "speaking for God", what are they saying? I can only think of a few things.

"I know what God thinks and that's not it."

This, of course, can't be what they're saying. I mean, that's just as arrogant as what they're decrying. Can't be it. Can it?

"I don't know what God thinks but that's not it."

This seems equally ludicrous. If you don't know what God thinks, you can't know what He doesn't think. You can't say with any certainty that this is not what He thinks.

"No one can know what God thinks."

Perhaps "know" is not the right word here. "Be sure"? "State with confidence"? It is, of course, an unprovable position. Isaiah didn't question it when he wrote, "The LORD says, 'I am the LORD, and there is no other, the One forming light and creating darkness, causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the LORD who does all these." (Isa 45:6-7) "Now, now," they'd have to say, "don't be putting words in God's mouth." Paul didn't quibble when he wrote to the church at Corinth, "To the married I give instructions, not I, but the Lord, that the wife should not leave her husband." (1 Cor 7:10) "Paul, Paul, who do you think you are? God?" Nor has most of Christendom had a problem with the plain texts of the Bible. It is God's Word. If it is clear, then, it is what God thinks, and saying so isn't putting my words into God's mouth.

Oddly enough, it appears that those who are complaining that a straightforward reading of Scripture -- reading it like it is written and taking it as it appears to mean -- is not a reasonable means of knowing what God thinks are pretty sure that they know what He thinks ... at least enough to know you're wrong. At least enough to know that you shouldn't be saying that you understand the passage or can draw reasonable and correct conclusions from it. They know that God wants you to be humble enough not to know if you know. Only in this day and age is embracing ignorance counted as humility.


David said...

I can't think of any time that willful ignorance is a good thing.

Anonymous said...

One way to KNOW something is true is to hear it straight from God.

But then I follow a Christian blogger who insists that no modern followers of Christ hear directly from the Lord. "Anyone who claims otherwise is a liar and not to be trusted," he tells us.

Certainly there is a history of misguided/dishonest people acting as though they hear from God. Joseph Smith is Exhibit A. I've long wondered what fraction of Smith's writings are deliberate deception of his gullible followers vs. Smith sincerely believing it.

Craig said...


This is one of those instances that hinges on who in the conversation sets the "rules' of the conversation as well as who sets the definitions.

As for setting the rules,we've seen an increasing number of people who are actively trying to turn the Bible into something other than the word of God. From the simplistic stance that declares that since some of the Old Testament has the appearance of being myth, therefore the alleged mythic nature of the Old Testament can be trotted out at will in order to support any given position. Yet, when pressed, these folks cannot actually identify any specific Old Testament passages that are demonstrably myth nor can they articulate any actual method to reliably determine which passages are myth and which are not. It boils down to how things seem to each individual interpreter. The other extreme is the more "scholarly" approach as demonstrated by the Jesus Seminar and their ilk. This, at least, has the appearance of scholarship and objective research even if it really comes back to a vote based on subjective criteria. By taking the God out of God's word, it allows them to dictate the terms on which the discussion happens. Terms which are entirely subjective and entirely in their favor.

Then we have the definition issue. This is mostly about setting up a false (in my opinion) choice between "fact" and "opinion". The first thing that happens is that the standard for referring to something as a fact is set arbitrarily and unrealistically high. In essence these folks define a fact as something that can be objectively proven in such a way as to convince a skeptic 100% of the time. Obviously this definition of fact eliminates virtually all of what most historians would agree are historical facts. For example, it in impossible to prove to a 100% certainty that Julius Caesar existed or that he did or said anything attributed to him. Yet virtually all reputable historians would agree that his existence and recorded acts are historical fact. (We could look at how a virtually opposite standard of fact is applied to the study of Darwinian evolutionary theory, but not here and now.)

Where this definition hurdle becomes even more difficult is when anything that doesn't meet the definition of fact, is immediately categorized as opinion. This categorization does not differentiate between the validity of different opinions. In the real world many people hold opinions that are counter to what virtually everyone agrees are established facts (Holocaust deniers for example), while other opinions are much more in line with reality (Holding the opinion that someone with an altar to Satan is most likely not a Christian for example). This allows any assertion, no matter where it falls on the opinion continuum, to be treated and dismissed because it's just an opinion.

The final piece of the puzzle is when people make statements in a way that would lead anyone with a passing knowledge of the English language to conclude that a statement of fact has been made (God blesses gluttons, for example), while allowing the maker to hide behind the "It's just my opinion." when pressed for support for the claim.

I believe that this is ultimately an unwinnable argument for those of us who take the historically Orthodox view of scripture and it's authority. As long as we are arguing against those who have asserted so much control over the parameters of the discussion before the discussion has even begun, we end up spending so much time simply trying to overcome the hurdles of rules and definitions that the discussion never even gets to the substance.

Sorry for the long comment.

Stan said...

Thanks for the long comment. Truth is I believe you're right.

Step 1: Define terms so that they cannot be met.

Step 2: Point out that those who are making statements have not met your terms.

Viola! It's wrong. It's opinion. It's purely relative and unprovable. "That's your opinion!"

It also smacks of truth. I mean, all we have is "opinion". You pointed out that the standard cannot be "to convince a skeptic 100% of the time." As in a court of law, "beyond reasonable doubt" is okay, since "proof" is impossible. So, "Well, that's what it says" and "That's how the Church has always understood it" and "That's what makes sense in context" and all should be sufficient, but if they're unwilling to hear it, it will never be more than "opinion" despite the "beyond reasonable doubt".

Craig said...

Also, since so much effort is going into undermining the authority of scripture, you can't even just say "Well scripture says..." because then you get some version of, "well that's what you think...". This gets really frustrating when it over some verse that is short, simple, clear, and virtually impossible to interpret in any way beyond the apparent clear meaning of the words.

I do realize that the approach that we are taking presumes that the people who have translated the scripture have accurately rendered an appropriate translation.

Craig said...

I've also seen a tendency to define things as "demonstrable" which can't actually be demonstrated and "biblical teachings" that can't actually be found in the Bible.