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Friday, September 14, 2018

A Little Misunderstanding

It's interesting to me how some popular concepts get blown completely out of proportion, even for Christians, without examining them at all. We know, for instance, that cleanliness is next to godliness simply because, well, we do. It is certainly not because it's in Scripture. We are all quite certain that "The Lord helps those who helps themselves" has got to be in there somewhere. It's not. Love isn't love if it's not voluntary. Well ... maybe, but I'd like to know what passage in the Bible you pull that out of. Beyond these, even some of what is in there confuses us.

One of our favorites is "Judge not" (Matt 7:1). That's tops for a lot of people; even those who don't believe in the Bible. I mean, look, it's in the Bible; it's even Jesus speaking. So clearly He was teaching that we shouldn't judge. Now, whatever you do, do not examine the context of that verse. Do not look around at all. Because if you do you will find that it absolutely does not mean, "Don't look at others to see if what they're doing is right." Why do I say that? Well, first we know that Jesus is listed as the Judge. He will be judging. But more importantly the context is full of judging. "First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye" (Matt 7:5). If the point was "Don't judge," then seeing the speck in your brother's eye would be irrelevant. "Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you" (Matt 7:6). Wait ... who is He calling "dogs" and "pigs"? Judgmental, isn't it? And we're supposed to know them (so we don't give them what's holy or pearls). "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits" (Matt 7:15-16). Great! Now we're fruit inspectors, too! See? This is not about not judging; this is about judging rightly.

One we really like is the obvious truth that God forgets our sins. You know that, right? "For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more" (Heb 8:12). Clear as day. (This is what's called "proof-texting".) So when we claim that God is Omniscient, we mean, "Well, except for the things that He's forgotten." And that is ludicrous. God is Omniscient. That means that He knows everything (John 16:30). So He cannot forget our sins. If He does, there are things we know that He doesn't. Nonsense. The text, as it turns out, does not say God forgets our sins. It says He doesn't remember them. Not the same thing. According to the dictionary, "remember" means "to recall to the mind by an act or effort of memory; to think of again." We use it exactly this way if we say, "Remember me to your wife." The point is not whether or not it resides in memory; the point is whether or not it is being called up for examination. God won't bring it up again, but He doesn't forget.

Along the same lines, I heard someone talking about this one the other day. As we all know, God cannot look on sin. Why would we say that? Well, the Bible says it. "You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong, why do You idly look at traitors and remain silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he?" (Hab 1:13) Isn't it obvious? Be very careful here not to consider the idea too carefully. First, the text is about God idly looking at traitors and remaining silent. The complaint from Habakkuk is that God has been looking at sin and doing nothing about it. (If you read the rest of the book, you find out the prophet is wrong about God doing nothing about it.) The point here isn't God's inability to look at sin. But rationally speaking, the whole concept becomes ludicrous when you take Scripture into account. We know that we have the problem of doing "only evil continually" (Gen 6:5; Gen 8:21). We know that "no one does good, not even one" (Rom 3:12) Not even one. If God cannot look on sin, God is, in general, completely blind in terms of this world. That's just crazy! This is why the New American Standard (for instance) translates the verse in question, "You can not look on wickedness with favor. The NIV says, "You cannot tolerate wrongdoing." The idea is not "He can't see it." The intent is that He cannot approve, cannot absolve, cannot overlook it. He can't look at it and do nothing.

It's easy to get tripped up when we trot out a nice-sounding verse and make it our own without actually examining it or thinking it through. Usually you'll find that comparing Scripture to Scripture is a pretty effective means of preventing this kind of error. You know, having your "powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil" (Heb 5:14). Ignoring the problem, on the other hand, doesn't help. Believing you're fine just as you are is a mistake. We all have something new to learn, some error to correct, some work to do ... this side of heaven.


Anonymous said...

No need to publish this comment since it is irrelevant to today's topic. It's just a request for a future blog post.

You probably read about an incident where a white police woman shot a black man in his own apartment. Early indications were she was confused about where she was. Yesterday on social media someone was complaining that the "oppressors" always find a way to smear a black victim, and in this case it was over marijuana supposedly being found in the man's apartment in a state where I think it may not be legal. The man had previously been described as a churchgoing Christian.

In particular I wonder what your thoughts are about narcotics use by Christians in both the context of where it is legal and where it is not legal.

(I have never tried the stuff, and I'm quite sure I won't try it even if my state were to legalize it.)

Stan said...

Yes, it's not relevant to today's topic, but since I published my views on it some time ago, I can easily point you to that answer here and be done with it.